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Dealing with Shame

Having worked in the people business for nearly 30 years, I’ve come to believe that shame is one of most destructive forces in our culture. Unlike godly sorrow, which is based on truth, shame is based on lies.

Guilt is believing you did a bad thing.

Shame is when you believe you are a bad person. Believing this lie then leads to all sorts of faulty thinking:

  • I’m a failure
  • I’m not important
  • I’m unlovable

I have seen shame drive a 14-year-old girl to an eating disorder because she didn’t like how she looked. I’ve also seen shame keep middle-aged men from relationships for fear of self-disclosure.

I believe there is only one permanent, lasting solution: The death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. Only the gospel can remove our shame and restore our proper identity as children of God.

My freshman year of college, I signed up for a class on New Testament Greek – at 7 AM in the morning! My professor would arrive, walk over to the trash can, and use his foot to stomp down the trash. Then he would ask a volunteer to recite a memory verse.

I’ll never forget when a student from California raised his hand and recited this verse:

Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame. – Genesis 2:25

Dr. Flatt nodded his head and simply said, “That is in the Bible.”

Why did the writer decide to use the word “shame” to describe their state of mind? Why not say they were “naked and confident or naked and without fear.” Why mention shame?

I believe it was to underscore this fundamental truth: Shame was not a part of God’s original creation.

It’s why this verse is about more than just the absence of clothes. It’s about the absence of barriers between Adam and Eve and God.

Unfortunately for Adam and Eve and every one of us, this intimacy with God comes under attack. The first six verses of Genesis 3 tell the story of the serpent convincing Adam and Eve to disobey God. This event is often referred to by theologians as The Fall. It’s when everything began to fall apart. In fact, the fall out is immediate.

Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves. – Genesis 3:7

The first time the word naked is used in Genesis 2, it means being without clothes. In Genesis 3, it’s a different form of the word.

In chapter 3, it’s not that Adam and Eve simply realized they weren’t wearing any clothes. It was the first time they had ever felt vulnerable, exposed. It was the first they felt ashamed.

To cover up their shame, they go looking for fig leaves.

While we might find that humorous (how many fig leaves would you need), everyone has a favorite fig leaf. What’s your go-to fig leaf? Is it your work? Sex, drugs, or rock and roll? Hours spent on video games, Facebook, or Netflix?

For some of us, our fig leaves show up as overconfidence and boastful attitudes. We overcompensate and overachieve.

But there’s a problem: We don’t have enough fig leaves to cover our shame. But we keep trying. One falls off and we put them back on.

When we feel godly sorrow, it produces positive change – what God calls repentance. Shame, on the other hand, produces isolation. Like Adam and Eve, shame causes us to hide from the one who loves us the most.

8 Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. 9 But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?” 10 He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.” 11 And he said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?” – Genesis 3:8-11

This isn’t the end of Adam and Eve’s story. Were there consequences to their actions? Yes … they had to leave the garden, experience pain in childbirth, and work the land. The ultimate consequence would come in the form of physical death.

But God doesn’t send them on their way with fig leaves.

Up to this point, God has displayed power over creation. Now he shows his compassion:

The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them. – Genesis 3:21

Here’s the good news: Shame isn’t the end of your story either.

In Genesis 3 we get the first glimpse of how God handles shame. But it’s only in Jesus we find complete response.

Which leads me to a story.

By middle of Luke 8, Jesus has already performed two miracles: he has calmed a storm and healed demon-possessed man. As you would expect, word about Jesus begins to spread.

As he and his disciples are traveling, he’s met by a Jewish religious leader. While the common people loved Jesus, not so with the religious leaders. His fiercest opposition came from the Pharisees and Sadducees, experts in the law, and local power brokers.

The man who approaches Jesus is a synagogue ruler. In other words, he controls the worship environment for his local community.

He’s also a dad – and this is why he’s coming to Jesus. His 12-yr-old daughter was dying. He swallows his pride and seeks out Jesus. When your daughter is dying, your religious opinions aren’t as important.

Jesus agrees to go.

As Luke tells story, the crowds almost crushed him. Let’s just say they weren’t practicing social distancing.

Along the way, a lady tries to meet Jesus – only she’s not as important as the synagogue ruler and no one tries to clear her path. If anything, they try to keep her away.

For 12 years, she had a continual discharge of blood. In religious terms, she was unclean. Defiled. For 12 years she would not be welcome at the temple or synagogue. For 12 years, she had lived in isolation.

For 12 years, she had lived in shame.

Not only that, but she had exhausted all her money on doctors who had been unable to help her. What would you do? Stay at home? What’s one more year when you’ve already spent last 12 feeling ashamed of who you are?

Maybe she had heard about Jesus healing the demon possessed man and thought, “I can’t be any worse than that.”

She doesn’t stay home. She has a game plan. She’s not going to ask Jesus for healing, she’s going to try and touch him. That’s all. Can you picture her pressing through the crowd, simply trying to touch Jesus?

When she finally reaches him and is able to touch Jesus, she’s healed immediately.

Remarkably, Jesus knew Jesus knew something unusual had happened. There was a transfer of power – surge of energy. Someone touched him. Peter, like I would probably do, speaks up and says, “Uh, Jesus, we’re like in the middle of crowd.”

The woman could have slipped through the crowd and went back home. But she didn’t. Instead, she steps forwards and falls at his feet. She’s trembling. Is it because of the recent power surge? I don’t believe so.

Being the center of attention is the last thing she wants. She’s trembling because of her shame.

What does Jesus do?

A touch of his garment has healed her disease but it hadn’t removed her shame. His words will do that:

“Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace.”

Some you need to hear those same words today. You need to know that you are a son or a daughter, a child who belongs in the family of God. You need to hear that you can be healed. You can go in peace.

What is the key? According to Jesus, it’s your faith.

It’s not your perfection or ability to fix your own problem. It’s where you place you trust.

Faith is your willingness to trust in the power of Jesus, his death and resurrection.

When you do, sins are forgiven, shame is removed, and your proper identity as a child of God is restored.

Experience and Background

  • Professor at Warner University
  • masters in business administration (mba)
  • presenter at the WFX National Conference
  • former president, Church Planters of the Rockies
  • helped start 2 for-profit tech companies

Sermon Videos

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Coaching Opportunities

One of the things I enjoy the most is helping individuals or organizations reach their full potential.  It’s been said, “everyone wins when a leader gets better.”

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