The Ineffectiveness of Shame

But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height… The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

1 Samuel 16:7

When engaging in social issues, we must remember that the above scripture verse is true of the victim and the victimizer. God sees people differently than we see them. We see a “scary black man” and the Lord sees a gentle friend and father. We see a “blue collar white guy” covered in demonic-looking tattoos and the Lord sees a teacher and a mentor to young men.

One thing we learned when we started a nonprofit to fight human trafficking in the Baltimore area was that you can’t create cultural/systemic change with shame. We saw some organizations trying to do just that. But shame creates either defensiveness or hiddenness in the person who needs to hear your message. They will either become more entrenched in defending their sin or just learn how to hide their sin better. Trying to shame people into change is the opposite of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Not only that but, practically speaking, shame doesn’t work.

Instead, the message must be delivered with hope. We must see people the way God sees them, past their sin and into who God created them to be. In our case, instead of trying to shame men into not buying sex or pornography, it looked like inviting men to be the protectors and defenders of the vulnerable that God had created them to be. It meant not only raising awareness but raising hope and rejecting shame.

Shame disempowers and debilitates people into inaction. It does this to the very people you need to be active and engaged. If shame is your primary way of trying change the culture of racism, it’s time to find a more effective tactic and one that aligns with the gospel of Jesus Christ.

This is what is so radically different about the gospel. God looked at Saul (who would become Paul) and instead of just seeing someone who was persecuting the Church, He saw the future apostle who would write most of the New Testament. If Saul the persecutor lived in our culture today, one group would try to shame him into changing and another group would just want to sentence him to life in prison. If it was up to these groups in our country, Saul would have never become Paul.

Whenever one person dehumanizes another, they themselves become dehumanized. Whenever one person degrades another, they themselves become degraded. Both the victim and the victimizer simultaneously get degraded and dehumanized in the same act of injustice. The antidote is seeing the image of God in the victim and calling out the injustice. The antidote also involves seeing the image of God in the victimizer and bringing conviction instead of shame. Conviction is a combination of hard truth mixed with hope and love. Conviction says your actions are wrong but your identity was created for more. It speaks to the heart of who God created a person to be.

True conviction always carries with it hopefulness. This is what allows a person not to retreat into defensiveness or hiddenness. It’s hope and love that help someone face their sin long enough to move into repentance. Shame can never do that.

Jesus, help us to have eyes to see people the way You see them. Help us to see past the sin in a person’s life and into who You created them to be. And move us past shame, Lord. Convict us of our own sin and give us the hopefulness of the gospel, that You are changing us from the inside out through Your Holy Spirit. May we not shame ourselves or others. Instead, Jesus, may we move from conviction into repentance. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Not Simply With Words

…our gospel came to you not simply with words but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and deep conviction. You know how we lived among you for your sake. You became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you welcomed the message in the midst of severe suffering with the joy given by the Holy Spirit.

1 Thessalonians 1:5-6

The result of Paul’s ministry to the Thessalonians was not just that they intellectually agreed with the gospel, but that they imitated his way of life. They not only welcomed the message of the gospel, but they did so with joy in the midst of severe suffering.

How was it that Paul was able to see such life transformation from the proclamation of the gospel?

Notice how the gospel came to the Thessalonians. It came not simply with words but with three additional essential elements. You see, when the gospel comes simply with words, at best the result will be intellectual assent. The gospel was never meant to show up just in words.

Paul lists the three additional and essential elements that need to be there with the proclamation of the gospel: 1)power, 2)the Holy Spirit and 3)deep conviction.

Wherever Paul went, he not only declared the gospel but demonstrated the gospel through signs and wonders. People got healed. People got set free from the demonic. The gospel showed up in words and in power. Paul describes this reality to the Romans this way:

I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me in leading the Gentiles to obey God by what I have said and done—by the power of signs and wonders, through the power of the Spirit of God. So from Jerusalem all the way around to Illyricum, I have fully proclaimed the gospel of Christ.

Romans 15:18-19

For Paul, in order to “fully proclaim” the gospel of Christ, it meant that the power of signs and wonders and the power of the Spirit of God had to be there. Which leads us to the second essential element: the Holy Spirit.

It wasn’t enough for people just to encounter the truth in their minds, they had to encounter the Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit that brings healing to the deepest part of our souls. It’s the Spirit that convicts us of sin and empowers us to encounter God the Father. When Paul proclaimed the gospel, he didn’t just want philosophical agreement. He wanted people to have an encounter with Jesus through the Spirit. This brings about the final essential element: deep conviction.

If the power of God and the Holy Spirit are there with the proclamation of the gospel, then deep conviction is sure to follow. As people have encounters with the truth of who God is and who they are, deep conviction of their sin and gratitude for God’s unconditional love and grace will be the natural byproducts.

For too long the American church has lacked deep conviction. We’ve given half of our hearts and a part of our lives to Jesus, when the truth is that we were bought at a price. Christians that are “all in” seem extreme to us because we’re so comfortable in our bastardized version of the faith. Unfortunately, the gospel came to us simply with words and produced Christians who intellectually dissect and under-live the gospel.

We need a generation in the American church that can proclaim the gospel and bring with it power, the Spirit, and deep conviction from a life fully surrendered to God.

I Had A Dream

“We both had dreams,” they answered, “but there is no one to interpret them.” Then Joseph said to them, “Do not interpretations belong to God? Tell me your dreams.”

Genesis 40:8

Joseph was a dreamer (Genesis 37:5-9) like his dad Jacob (Genesis 28:12-17). Joseph, like the prophet Daniel (Daniel 2 & 4), was also able to interpret dreams through the gift that God had given him.

Dreams are one of the primary ways that God talks to people. One reason this seems to be the case is that it is one of the only times our rationality doesn’t get in the way of God speaking. Dreams from God are often highly symbolic and need the help of an interpretation in order to understand them. It’s like the creative writer who has to find a way for their inner editor, the rational side of the brain, to be quiet so that their creativity can emerge. Otherwise, they experience writer’s block. If they are able to silence their critical thinking, they get into a zone where the creativity flows and the story takes on a life of its own.

This is the same reason God speaks to us in our dreams. He wants a blank canvas on which to paint without our doubts, cynicism, criticism, and rationalism plugging our ears.

A few weeks ago a guy in our church had a dream where he was told to go back for prayer after one of our church services. He obeyed what God told him to do in the dream, received prayer for physical healing, and he was healed! It wasn’t an audible voice of God in His dream, but more of an impression. It was just slight enough to ignore if he wanted to and yet just strong enough to obey if he was willing to step out in faith. He chose to obey, stepped out in faith, and he got healed.

I was praying for a friend the other day, and I asked the Lord to reveal the source of some of her struggles. A few days later she had a dream that highlighted the main source of some of her issues. The Holy Spirit answered our prayer by giving her a dream. The dream made things crystal clear.

I value counseling and psychology. I was a Family Studies minor in college where our main focus was learning the dynamics of family systems theory. Psychology is important and valuable. Unfortunately, parts of it have led us to devalue our dreams. Our culture chalks our dreams up to being totally from our subconscious or some weird reaction to the food we ate the night before. And while this is true of some dreams, it is not true of all dreams.

Our dreams have three sources: 1) our subconscious; 2) the enemy and his kingdom of darkness; or 3) the Holy Spirit. We need to pay attention to our dream if it seems meaningful or significant. It could be a way God is trying to speak to us. We may need others to pray with us for discernment and for an interpretation. If we have dreams that are full of fear, terror, or disturbing and dark imagery, it may be an attack from the enemy. If it doesn’t seem to have a message and doesn’t seem to be significant, it may just be our subconscious or something we ate. All three are real possibilities.

But just because it isn’t always the Holy Spirit doesn’t mean that it is never the Holy Spirit. Many people who say, “I just don’t hear from God,” don’t understand the different ways that God can communicate with us.

Right now, throughout the Middle East, hundreds and hundreds of Muslim people are having dreams of a man in white who says his name is Jesus and who sends them to go talk to a local missionary in order to hear more about who He is. Muslims are coming to faith in Jesus by the hundreds through these kinds of dreams.

In the Bible, dreams have always been a way God speaks to people, and dreams will continue to be a way He speaks today.