Without Pasture

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LoDebar.

It became the hometown of the hidden prince of Israel named Mephibosheth. Having been crippled when his father fell in battle, his nanny on the run dropping him, he is hidden by well-meaning people trying to preserve the life of this little guy who threatened the new regime taking over the kingdom.

Soon enough, Mephibosheth had forgotten his birth name, which spoke to strength and honor, defeating the enemies of Israel and God, and identified with his new name: breathing shame. Here in this hidden place, he learned what it was to live in a barren land. LoDebar means “without pasture.” In an agricultural/nomadic society, no one would want to pitch their tent in a place where their flocks and crops could not flourish. And yet this is what LoDebar represented: a dry, barren place with no fruitfulness.

It was here he learned not to trust. It was here he learned the accusations that were made against the new king, ones of fear and torment that the new king wanted him dead. It was here he learned to fear.

We all find ourselves in LoDebar at times in our lives. Some people out of despair choose to stay and make a life there. Others of us travel through and hopefully move on quickly to safer lands. But it is a reality of our faithwalk that we will find ourselves in places without pasture at times.

What happens when we’re in a dry place? Jesus found himself there, right after the greatest event of his life. He was in the water with John, his cousin, who had just dunked him under and baptizing him, when God the Father spoke out of heaven and people heard Him say “This is my beloved Son in who I am well pleased.” What an incredible moment! Wouldn’t you love to have a moment where God rends the heavens and speaks out on your behalf? To validate your existence and declare his pleasure over you?

And this is what happened to Jesus. Fully God, but yet fully man, he still needed his Father’s approval and acceptance and endorsement. But it was from this place he found his own LoDebar. Being led by the Holy Spirit, Jesus ends up in the wilderness, or desert, and there he is confronted by his and our enemy. The enemy begins his attack with seven little words: “If you are the Son of God…” These words have weight, they have power. They question Jesus’ very existence and purpose in life, as well as his identity.

The same goes for us. When we find ourselves in those dry, barren places, where there seems to be no refreshing for our soul or recovery from the battle, into that place comes a spirit of accusation. Just like the words that bound up Mephibosheth and threatened Jesus, the voice speaks to us that we are not who we thought we were. The truth of our identity as a child of God comes under attack, as if we were Jesus when we hear the voice say “If God really did love you, then why…”

How we respond in LoDebar makes all the difference of whether or not we will survive here or build a home in this place. Will we choose to accept the accusations of the enemy or will we trust the words we have heard before, those of love and grace and truth? Whose voice will we allow to become loudest in our ears?

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Redeeming Disgrace

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Returning to this thought about shame and grace, let’s look at one of my favorite stories from Jesus’ life. (I’m sure my church gets tired of me bringing this story up so many times, but I believe it is so current for today’s world!)

“The religion scholars and Pharisees led in a woman who had been caught in an act of adultery. They stood her in plain sight of everyone and said, ‘Teacher, this woman was caught red-handed in the act of adultery. Moses, in the Law, gives orders to stone such persons. What do you say?’ They were trying to trap him into saying something incriminating so they could bring charges against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger in the dirt. They kept at him, badgering him. He straightened up and said, ‘The sinless one among you, go first: Throw the stone.’ Bending down again, he wrote some more in the dirt. Hearing that, they walked away, one after another, beginning with the oldest. The woman was left alone. Jesus stood up and spoke to her. ‘Woman, where are they? Does no one condemn you?’ ‘No one, Master.’ ‘Neither do I,’ said Jesus. ‘Go on your way. From now on, don’t sin.’ ” (John 8:1-11, The Message)

Did Jesus condone this woman’s sin? No. Did Jesus give permission for the rest of us to do what she did? No.

But did Jesus condemn her and shame her? NO. There is not one hint of shame in his voice. Moments earlier, this woman had been ripped from a bed of adultery, probably barely dressed and thrown in the center of a group of angry men. Shame was most likely her only clothing.

The very word shame means “a painful feeling of guilt, unworthiness and disgrace.” To be disgraced actually means “to remove dignity.” Sin strips us of our dignity. It “dis-graces” us, taking away the grace we enjoyed from others and the grace we received from God. Shame keeps us in that place of “dis-grace.”

This woman had been totally disgraced. Was she guilty? Yes, she knew that. She wasn’t stupid. Everyone knew the punishment for her sin was death. But the shame of that moment, before those “religious” men, had to be worse to her than death!

Jesus does not lend his voice to their disgracing, shame-filled rhetoric. But instead, He releases her and restores to her the dignity she’d lost. Was Jesus soft on sin? No! But neither did He deal with her through shame! “Go and sin no more!”

I love something that Mike Yaconelli said in his book, Messy Spirituality. He said we must not condone sinful behavior, but it is the Church’s job to redeem sinful behavior. What a great description of what Jesus did for this woman.

There are so many Christians (and non-Christians alike) who battle with shame everyday of their lives. This shame and guilt stands between us and a successful walk with God. Guilt and shame is not of God. He lovingly convicts, speaks truth in love, but never will take our dignity and disgrace us. That is the work of the enemy, trying to keep us from God!

Shame keeps those sins that we have placed under the blood returning to our lives. It does this by reminding us of the past and the failures we’ve had. It convinces us that we cannot live this life as God desires, so we give back into that former sin and it creates a cycle of sin and shame again and again.

All of this affects how we walk with God. St. Iraenus said, “The glory of God is man fully alive.” God gets His greatest glory when man is fully living who he was created to be! Shame seeks to keep us from being “fully alive.”

Remember what Mephibosheth’s real name was? It was Meribaal, meaning “defeater of Baal.” Each and every one of us has been given a name, in the God-created spirit man inside us which is in direct proportion to the call and purpose of our lives. Even though Mephibosheth left his true name or identity behind, God had not forgotten who he truly was.

Shame may have come to “dis-grace” you and take you out of your destiny, but God has not and will not let that be the final word on your life. You may be someone who sinned knowingly and willingly, but I tell you, shame is not your portion! Grace is still available. Pardon is still available. As the old song sings, “there’s still room at the cross” for you.

(Taken from Chapter 4 of The Embrace of Grace: Moving from Rejection to Adoption.  Image: Woman Caught in Adultery, John Martin Borg, 2002)

Dropping the Fig Leaf

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As followers of Christ, even though we know in our minds we have been forgiven and can be forgiven of every sin, sometimes we still battle with this enemy called shame.  Many times, shame will bring up things from the past—long forgiven.  Other times, it merely keeps us from forgiving ourselves in the sins we deal with as Christians.

I remember once praying for a Christian friend who was really struggling with an addiction to alcohol.  As I prayed for him, I saw him sitting in an old-time, western-like jail cell.  He was by himself with a bottle of liquor.  As I watched, I moved further back to see that the cell doors had been unlocked and opened wide, yet my friend still sat inside, bound to the bottle.  Shame had tied him to that addiction though the Lord had already made the way for him to be free.

Shame replays the mental videos of our secret sins or thoughts or failures that make us feel unworthy and unforgivable.  Our hearts begin to shrink, as we wonder what others would say, “if they only knew.”  So on comes the fig leaf, our false self, that image we present to others: that way we want them to see us.

Guilt and shame hides the image of God that our spirits are recreated in at the point of salvation, so we cannot see our true glory.  Its first goal is to keep us from God’s presence, and then from anyone who could truly “know” us and thereby heal us through true communion and spiritual intimacy.  We are once again driven away from others.

Even though shame can use any sin or event in our lives, the biggest factor it thrives on is in the area of intimacy in relationships. It’s goal is to isolate and make us feel alone in a crowded world!

Understand that intimacy in relationships is not limited to sexual intimacy. It is the richness of expression and understanding of each person. It requires us to be vulnerable in our emotions and in the sharing of our failings and weaknesses. So, fear of being exposed in areas we don’t want to share can come from shame and close us off from others and keep intimacy from happening in our relationships.

Until we face the fig leaf, we will find ourselves hiding, never really experiencing true freedom in our friendships or relationships with each other. Jesus said the greatest laws were to love God and love others as ourselves. But so many of us are bound by the fig leaf of shame, we have no real respect for our own lives and our own place in this world, so we cannot really love others.

But God does not leave us in our shame.  In fact, Jesus comes to break the cycle of shame in our lives, being shamed himself, taking our shame upon him on the cross.  Beaten, stripped and naked on the cross, Jesus bore our shame.  He is not willing to leave us in this state alone, but enters it with us and bears it.  He is not ashamed of us and bears the weight of it and carries it away.

Now we are called into His presence, like Mephibosheth of old, and invited to be received by the King.  So many of us think in terms of “receiving Jesus,” but how often do we think of being “received by Jesus”?  He is waiting for us to present ourselves to him, naked emotionally and spiritually vulnerable, without our fig leaves to hide behind.  He is not ashamed of us, but receives us with grace.  Then, we will be clothed with his righteousness – something we could never do on our own.

The Fig Leaf

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

In the Garden of Eden, there was no shame. Theologians have talked about how the glory of God clothed them. But I propose that it was more than just that. Adam and Eve lived in a state of being known.

Intimacy is the act of being known. It is state of being understood on more than just a surface perspective; it is more than just a physical relationship. Intimacy is the experience of being truly known on the deepest levels.

This is the atmosphere that Adam and Eve lived in with each other, and also with God. They lived in the perfect harmony of being known without any fear of rejection or shame. They were open to each new experience found in the Garden and in relationship with their Creator.

Until sin… Until rebellion…

The moment they disobeyed, sin entered the human experience and with it came shame, fear and separation.

They immediately recognized that they were naked. They took fig leaves and began to cover themselves. This was the first time they had any separation between them. Then God comes into the Garden in the cool of the day for their normal time together…and they hide. Now not only they are separated from each other, but they also are separated from their God.

Shame drives a wedge between us and those we love. It will create a “fig leaf” that we use to separate our real selves from each other.

Author John Eldredge says that our fig leaves are our “false selves,” those personalities that we present to people, protecting ourselves from really being known.  The problem is that we all deeply, truly want to live in a state of being known by someone.  This is a root of the rampant sexual immorality we see in the world.  It’s not about the sex…it’s about being known.

But even sex doesn’t create the intimacy we’re really looking for, because even in that act we can still “wear a fig leaf.”  We hide behind the carefully constructed self we present to others and inside we still are looking for someone to know us.

This is the price of shame…separation and loneliness.  It comes to destroy trust and break what real intimacy we have.  It is not God’s desire for us to live with shame.  What will it take to reject shame, and lay down our fig leaves?

Grace is Not Ashamed of You

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Mephibosheth didn’t start out with such a horrible name to pronounce.  In fact, his father had given him a completely different name:  Meribaal.  While that doesn’t seem much better to us modern people with names like John and Sarah, in the ancient world these two names were worlds apart.

Meribaal meant “defeater of Baal,” who was a false god, an idol, worshipped by pagan nations.  His father, Jonathan had believed that his son had a great future before him.  Maybe he would one day sit on Israel’s throne as king, being the royal son of a prince of Israel.  Maybe Jonathan saw him defeating the armies of pagan nations and bringing down the false worship of a false god.  So he named his son with great potential and purpose.

But then Jonathan died in battle, and Meribaal was dropped by his nanny, ankles crushed, never to walk, let alone lead a nation.  Rushed into hiding, he is raised in obscurity by friends far from his home and his original purpose.  A new name is given to him, or maybe taken on by himself, we don’t know:  Mephibosheth.

This name brings a new meaning and with it a new definition of this man:  “breathing shame.”  How sad it is that the defeater of Baal should become one who is now simply breathing shame.

Shame in what we have done or what has been done to us can become a defining factor in our lives.  It can so consume us, if we listen to its lies, to the point we become named by it.  It becomes who we are.

I have met some of those people who will not look you in the eye for fear that you might see their shame.  It’s almost as if they introduce themselves as “Hello, I’m shame.”  And this is what Mephibosheth actually did every time he said or heard his name said.  Shame for what was, but could never be again.  Shame for failure, yet not his but still owned anyway.  Shame that his purpose and destiny now would never be what it was supposed to be.

Shame is a trap of the highest order.  It wraps it’s tendrils around our feet and says you can never be a good person, after what you have done.  It denies us access to the good things of life and God, for fear of other finding out our shameful secrets.  It tells us the God himself is ashamed of us, and keeps us from drawing near to the One who loves us in spite of what has been done to us or what we have done ourselves.

So we give up and allow ourselves to fall into other sin, deeper sin, because if we are already ashamed and separated from love why should we care what other sin we indulge in.  And then more shame arrives and the cycle begins again.

This is why what David did for Mephibosheth was so powerful.  He called him to the throne room, unashamed to have this crippled prince in his presence.  God calls you and I also to his presence.  Dirty, ashamed, worried, fearful, crippled…we are accepted into the King’s presence.

God is not ashamed of you.

Just as the prodigal’s father ran to him, putting his arms around him and kissing his face, probably dirty with the waste of the pigs still on it, God desires you and I to know that no shame can keep him away.  He knows what he has named us and that name cannot be destroyed no matter what mud we fling on it.

Grace is not ashamed of you, He gives you power to change, to heal, to restore, to rediscover who you really are.  But we have to accept his offer to come to him, to come to the throne room and receive his love.  Will you do that today?  Will you take all your shame and your fear and walk into the throne room with it and present yourself to the King?

Trust is the victim of rejection.

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When we are rejected, dropped by those who we thought believed in us or loved us, trust is what is fragmented. Sometimes the one who has fallen and dropped us will seek to repair the damage, asking forgiveness, which is a very good thing. But depending upon the severity of the break, trust will take time to heal. Other times, those who have dropped us don’t care or don’t even know they have caused damage. And this speaks to us: you are not worth it; I reject you.

It’s been said that rejection is the doorway through which much of our spiritual and emotional struggles will come in life. No one is immune to the sting of rejection. It lurks in the shadows and speaks it’s lies that we are not worthy, there is something wrong with us or that we are not good enough. This is the luggage we can carry around with us into every new friendship, relationship, job or neighborhood.

Before we can ever learn to trust again, before we can heal our broken feet, we must deal with this devil of rejection. And it is this that King David dealt with first with Mephibosheth (2 Samuel 9) by calling him to his presence. He did not reject Mephibosheth. Even his servant, Ziba, was quick to let the king know that there was something wrong with this young man, that he was defective, not worth the time of the king of Israel. Yet, David decides that he wants to give favor to this broken one: favor not rejection.

Some of us have perfected the state of being rejected into an art. We have received it and accepted its lie to the place where we even will reject others before they can reject us. We downplay our good qualities in deference to all our flaws and refuse to receive the slightest compliment. We cannot believe that anyone would really be our friend, or truly believe in us, because rejection has made its home in our psyche.

Yet it is into this Grace walks. Grace says “come to My throne room and be the center of my attention.” Grace says “let Me enfold you in My arms and thwart the lies from your ears.” Grace says “you are loved and you are worthy just because you are.”

God begins the healing of our trust by calling us to him, just as we are, flaws and fears and all. Jesus says to us: “You did not choose me, but I chose you…” (John 15:16a) He has chosen us. We are not alone.

Crippled Feet, Broken Trust

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When he was just a young boy, his dad, the Prince of Israel, had died in battle along with his grandfather. Fearing for the life of the royal heir, his nanny had snatched him up, ran for safety with him in her arms. That was, until she dropped him. Mephibosheth’s ankles had been crushed and never would heal. He was crippled. (2 Samuel 4:4)

Though we might not have a physical ailment keeping us from walking, I believe most of us can look to at least one or two (probably more) times in our lives when we we’ve been dropped emotionally or spiritually. Just like the young man’s story, someone we looked to for protection, for loyalty, for love or for covering had failed us and we were dropped.

It might have been a family member who physically, emotionally or sexually abused us or a teacher who told us we would never amount to anything. Maybe it was a spouse who left us or a minister we trusted who betrayed us. It might have been an organization, a job, a church or something we invested our whole heart and soul into only to find that we had been deceived and used. Personally, I know the pain of being dropped, having placed my trust in others who I thought had my best interest at heart, and only to find out that I was merely a vehicle to build their kingdom, expendable. I’ve been in the place where people who should have known me and my heart believed lies and turned away and cut me from their lives.

All these things and many more like them happen every day, and it leaves us saying this:

“I will never trust again.”

With this vow of our heart, our spiritual feet get smashed on the rocks of rejection and betrayal. Suddenly, the ease with which we built relationships before vanishes and we struggle to get our footing in life. It’s hard to move forward in life, make friends, and build a future when you find your trust crippled. It is easier just to close the door behind us and stay locked away with these damned feet that won’t work. We have been cursed, and we have believed the curse.

It is into this desolation that grace comes. It can be fearful at first, when the beginning peeks of light spread out underneath the door. When grace comes calling for us, we seek to hide behind our wounds, because it’s easier to accept the worst than believe it can get better. Why would God care about us, when deep down we believe, he is to blame for this? Couldn’t he have fixed it? Couldn’t he have protected us? Why now should we trust? How can we trust even if we wanted to? Our feet don’t work.

Yet the King is calling us. He is inviting us to his throne room. He comes for us. Can we trust, just one more time? Will we be willing to let down our guards, just one more time to see what grace can do?