Closure from Past Guilt and Shame


[This is an excerpt from Secrets to a Happy Life, based on the story of Joseph in the Bible. Joseph’s brothers at long last bow before him, not realizing his identity…]

When the brothers made the epic trek to Egypt, they stood before the Prime Minister to buy grain. He just happened to be their long-lost, mortally-offended brother. Joseph recognized his brothers, but they didn’t recognize him.

This made for all kinds of comical irony.

The Bible describes four cycles in their conversation, and it wasn’t good. Joseph initiated each cycle with an accusation:

  • Genesis 42:7 “he spoke roughly to them.”
  • Genesis 42:9 “he said to them, ‘You are spies!'”
  • Genesis 42:12 “He said to them, ‘No but you have come to spy out the land!'”
  • Genesis 42:14 “And Joseph said to them, ‘It is as I have told you, you are spies…'”

What was going on?

God was slapping them upside the head with a life-defining truth: the greatest disaster that can ever happen to a human being is settling into a lifestyle beneath your true identity.

So, in his mercy, God freezes his children before the mirror of truth and bids us take a long hard look. What might you see?

  • Deception, conniving, a false front
  • Bitterness, resentment, an unforgiving heart
  • Revenge, passive-agressiveness
  • Evil, cruelty, meanness, abuse
  • Selfishness, narcissism, self-justification, self-promotion
  • Broken relationships
  • Theft, greed, coveting, grasping, pleonexia
  • Slander, backbiting, gossip
  • Plotting
  • Rebellion
  • Pride, self-righteousness, religiosity, judgmentalism
  • Exclusivity, racism, sexism
  • Hypocrisy
  • Woundedness, neediness, desperation
  • Temper, rage, seething hostility
  • Self-pity, self-loathing, self-destruction
  • Despair, quitting, giving up

Welcome to the human race: you have baggage.

When you deny it, your baggage defines you.

easter2010baggageWhen you admit it, your identity in God begins to define you.

God has a place for all that baggage: at the foot of the cross where Jesus died. Leave it there. Let it go. Because Jesus will carry it far away over the ocean of God’s forgiveness and drop it into the depths of forgetfulness.

Your past need never haunt you again. It doesn’t define you. It need not dominate you. Yes, there might be consequences – lasting and difficult – but they do not change your identity in Christ. You are who God says you are, no matter what the evils, losses, traumas, and bullies from the past say about you.

Until you shed the false identity crusting over your true self, your glorious true identity stays mired in the dirt.

Because of Christ’s Cross, closure for past guilt is your birthright in the family of God.


[as always, sharing is appreciated, thanks]

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Grace’s Gold Standard

One of the most frequent questions I’m asked goes something like this:  I know I’m supposed to show grace, but my teenage son just broke some rules in a major way; am I just supposed to let it slide?

Or… a teacher might hear this one:  I’m sorry I didn’t finish the assignment, but I ran out of time. Will you show me some grace and give me an extra day?

An employer might hear: Yeah, I’m late again, and I missed my sales goals again, but things aren’t going so well at home, so can you cut me some slack?

Or, from your alcoholic, mooching brother-in-law who wants to live in your spare bedroom: You talk about God’s love all the time, why won’t you show me some and let me move in?

The root question is this: what does grace look like in relationships when the other person blows it? Does grace-living require me to always let the other person off the hook?  How can I show grace when someone else acts irresponsibly, dangerously, or unprofessionally?

It’s not an easy question. There are competing values at stake. On one hand, we want to show the love, forgiveness, and grace of Christ. On the other hand, we want to maintain standards, excellence, and integrity in our family, classroom, or workplace.  How do we fit these values together?

The Golden Rule offers a perfect guideline: “Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 7:12, NKJV).  And, “And just as you want men to do to you, you also do to them likewise.” (Luke 6:31, NKJV).

The Golden Rule presumes that we want others to treat us well. We have an innate desire (when we’re sane) that those who deal with us will act in our best interests — especially in our best long term interests. If that’s the standard we wish others would express toward us, then it’s the standard we should express toward others. Always act in the best long-term interests of others, as best as you can figure it out.

So, that son who broke your rule; what consequence will be in his best long term interests? That employee who misses meetings or deadlines or targets: is there a true alignment between their skills and their position’s needs? That student who chronically turns in papers late: will letting them slide do them any favors? Does it help them improve in the long run?

Some years ago in Chicago, I walked a difficult journey alongside a friend whose wife was about to leave him for another man. My friend was friends with “the other man”, and felt torn between anger and, as he put it, “grace.”

I said, Can’t grace be angry? Can’t grace enforce righteous, personal boundaries? If you were messing up, wouldn’t you want someone to confront you and speak the truth in love? Then apply the Golden Rule. It is acting in love and grace when you exercise your parental, or employer, or teacher, or leadership role to design or speak-forth consequences that are in the other person’s best long term interests. Showing grace isn’t for wimps. Tough-love is not an oxymoron. (Happily, that man and his wife reconciled and are now missionaries in Asia.)

How many times did Jesus get in his disciples’ face and call them out for fear, lack of faith, and general sissy-hood?  It’s a mistake to think that grace is always soft, that grace is always nice, or that grace always lets people get away with junk. Not so. Jesus, full of grace and truth, nailed his friends to the wall when they blew it. Not always; sometimes he let it go. But he saw no contradiction between acting in grace and chewing out stupidity in people who knew better. He loved his friends too much to let them wreck their lives making self-destructive or self-indulgent choices. He would not stand by silently. He would not subsidize their self-destruction or failure.

Love does not coddle people into a life of mediocrity.

Love acts in the other person’s interests even when you have to play hardball.  Yes, there are plenty of times for the soft-touch, the gentle spirit, and the hand of help or forgiveness. Most Christians know that. What they need to hear is that grace has muscle, too.

The tricky part is deciding what’s called for. When a street-person asks for money, what’s in his or her best long term interest? Healing. Deliverance. Probably the local mission or shelter.  BUT… sometimes, what’s in their best long term interest is a gift right then and there. Sometimes, they need food, or hope, or a loving touch immediately.

So what should you do?

Prayerfully follow your gut instinct, trusting God to guide you. You can’t tell the future, so sometimes you will give; other times you won’t. Sometimes you’ll give your son back the car keys, other times, you won’t. Sometimes, you’ll let your salesperson come in late a few times, other times, you’ll have to draw a line.  It’s nuanced. It’s not cut and dried. It’s heartfelt. You have to lean on the Lord.

But it’s always doing for others what you (on your best days) would hope they would do for you: show respect and love, even if it has to be tough love.

Grace has muscle. Grace is tender and tough. Here’s loves bottom line: are people who want to better their lives (and not everyone does) better off long-term because of their relationship with you?

Ted Haggard — Born Again Again?

tedhaggard2When my friend, Donny, invited me to visit with him and Ted Haggard, I jumped at the chance. I raced to a local hotel, and joined the conversation in progress. You can read Donny’s excellent series of articles here.

I arrived with a healthy dose of cynicism, even though my wife tells me I’m too trusting and too forgiving. Before me sat a man whose face I’d seen on the evening news, and whose story offers a moral fable to anyone willing to listen.

Emotion gushed from him.  Contrition. Anger. Sadness. Humor.  I could see why he rose to the levels of leadership he did–Ted Haggard can be a force of nature. He admits his wrongdoings, and freely talks about them.  He shared painful parts of his life that made me feel like I was treading on holy ground. Embarrassing stuff. Hypocritical stuff. Sad stuff. Vulnerable stuff.

At times I got the sense I was  viewing a stop-motion snapshot of a fast moving object. He has not finished working through his moral/sexual issues… but he’s come a long way. I’m sure his answers to Donny’s questions will be different a year from now.  He’s still moving. Still changing. Still in God’s school of redemption.

It’s not my place to tell his story… I can only tell mine.

Mine is that I believed him.  I think he’s being real. In my Inner Mess book, I talk alot about secrecy and how it feeds our guilt and shame.  Ted recounted 30 years of highly public ministry, and yet a deep secret shame that got “shouted from the rooftops.” Who can’t understand that?

Could he be faking it?  Of course. Could I be naive? Maybe. But I can’t operate under that assumption.  I don’t want to be that cynical.  I can’t see his heart. I can only take him at his word, and if I get burned, so be it.

Should there be ramifications? Yessir.  Who should inflict them?  Not me.  Probably, not you either.

Perhaps this Scripture applies:

“I am not overstating it when I say that the man who caused all the trouble hurt your entire church more than he hurt me. He was punished enough when most of you were united in your judgment against him. Now it is time to forgive him and comfort him. Otherwise he may become so discouraged that he won’t be able to recover. Now show him that you still love him.” 2 Corinthians 2:5-8, NLT.

In the movie, Notting Hill, Julia Roberts plays a famous actress, Hugh Grant a working-class bookseller.  In a famous scene, Julia’s character says, “I’m just a girl, standing in front a boy, asking him to love her.”

That scene flashed into my mind while I visited with Ted. In that moment, in that hotel lobby, he wasn’t a famous celebrity. He wasn’t a mega-church pastor. He wasn’t the leader of the nation’s evangelicals.

He was just a guy.  A messed-up guy, like me. Like all of us.  A guy who’s trying to put his life back together; trying to be true to his heart and family and God. A contrite guy reaching out for God’s healing. And the church’s acceptance. I’m just a guy, sitting in front of some brothers in Christ, asking them to love me. How can you possess an atom of compassion and say no to that spirit?

Doesn’t Christ’s Cross pay in full for every sin? Isn’t the Gospel about hope through Christ for the worst of us? And the worst parts within us?

Ted talked about his pastoral friends abandoning him. He admitted he brought it on himself, but he felt shunned. On the same day we met, I heard of another pastor who had a moral failing. I found him on Facebook, and messaged an offer of friendship, prayer, and redemption. I’ll leave the consequences to others. Could it be that we’re too quick to gang up on a brother who messes up?  I can’t say. I just know I’m going to change my ways.

I felt humbled after our meeting. Introspective. Moved.

Most of all, I felt grateful… to God… for his mercies… new every morning.

I’m glad for that.

I pray God’s best for Ted Haggard and his family.

[Donny… thank you for inviting me]