Human Effort

Everything Depends on God's Mercy


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Robot Preacher

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A church in Germany has created some international headlines with an experiment in robotic “blessings”. Below is a video of the creation and how it works. This robot has a touch screen set of buttons where you answer a series of questions like what language, male for female voice, and would you like a printed copy. Once the input is selected the robot raises robotic hands from which light shines forth and then the robot blesses those standing in front of it.

News articles focus on robots replacing the clergy or on how the church feels about using technology in the church. While this robot is not exactly cutting edge and it is just a little bit silly the idea is interesting in this technological world. What if instead of the Terminator and Skynet destroying mankind robots became apologist fuelled by big data to speak life with reasonable answers to a world with questions about Christ and the cross.

Gutenberg invented the printing press and revolutionized the world by allowing the written words of God to be placed into the hands of every person on earth. That technology strengthens the church. What if now an Azure platformed chat bot could provide theologically sound and consistent answers to anyone in the world at any time? Said bot could even direct the questioner to a local church where relationships might be found the way God intends.


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Cultural Appropriation

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The concept of Cultural Appropriation is an idea that is more mainstream and has now reached the latest front in the culture wars. Recently two entrepreneurial women started a food truck that was well received in a community of Portland Oregon. In an interview about their inspiration and success the women tell a story about visiting Mexico and learning all they could about the tortilla making process. Once the puff piece hit the local news there was a backlash from the community to such an extent that the owners closed the food truck and shut down the Facebook page associated with the business. The backlash was because the women, who appear to be white, were accused of stealing tortilla making intellectual property from the poor of Mexico for their own benefit. The reaction is understandable even if misguided when looking at the world from the eyes of those that objected. To understand the reaction, one must understand the history coming to light of real theft that happened to black individuals throughout the history of America. Take for example the article published, ironically, by Shaun King in multiple publications last year on the history of Jack Daniels. This history tells the story of how a black slave owned by a white preacher taught the future owners of the Jack Daniels brand how to make the iconic whiskey. This story neatly sums up the idea of appropriation and theft of intellectual property without compensation to the slave and his descendants. That is not the American dream and it is a truly unfair and unjust evil. Seeing the world from this prism it is logical then to decry these two women for stealing from another culture for their own financial benefit.

While the reaction to the food truck is exactly the conclusion many want it is flawed. There is a problem with this world view that wants to equate the food truck to the evils of the slavery era. The flaw, the result, means we as an American people, regardless of background, cannot blend and intermarry to become one people. It means that culture can only flow in a single direction from majority to minority but never minority to majority. Those steeped in this world view see nothing wrong with proclaiming safe spaces for people of color or even more boldly demand a day without white people.

This is simply the conclusion, the logical end, of cultural appropriation defined in such a way that these two women were inappropriate in their business model and intellectual property.

Take music for example. If I listen to rap music, a music that is not native to my cultural upbringing in majority white suburbia, I will internalize it and make it part of my culture and my home. My kids who are musically talented might like that genre and take it up as their own. They might even perform their own version of said music publicly one day. Would that be acceptable to the arbiters holding the keys of what is appropriate and what is not in regard to cultural appropriation?

While there was and still are evil appropriations that must be acknowledged does society really want to swing this concept out so far to the fringes that the color of one’s skin determines what food or music might be used in life? If so it is a depressing path of isolation and separation of peoples I am afraid.


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Gamer Evangelism

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18 “Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool. Isaiah 1:18 ESV

I have been a gamer since the day my father brought home an Atari back in the early 80’s. I would rather be behind a computer on a game than at a party (sad I know). I have always been drawn to the computer screen. In college I saw something new a first person shooter, Doom, played across a local network in the dorm. It was glorious. And then I found a way to play X-Wing vs. Tie-Fighter over dial up with a friend. The online world exploded the intensity and fun of gaming. This world became fully realized when I first signed up for x-box live to play Halo2. I was hooked fighting in ranked matches on this FPS (first person shooter) gaming platform and it was awesome. I am older now and do not play any of these kinds of games anymore because it seems there is a season to everything and my season of life has moved on. I do have an admission to make however. There is a new game I am hooked on. It has been a long time since a game has entertained me for any length of time. I am almost embarrassed to admit that a grown man is playing Pokémon Go but hey it is true. I like the novelty of it not being a game that one sits in their home to play. It is a game that encourages people to explore and move outside in the sunlight. To be honest I look forward to where this kind of platform will go in the future.

As with everything we do in life moderation is required. If you drink, drink in moderation. If you watch TV, watch in moderation, If you facebook, facebook in moderation. Same with games. Everything has a time and place. And this brings me to the point of this post beyond reminiscing about past gamer days. What was the witness left along the way or was it only a diversion of empty hours wasted?

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When I played Halo online my gamer tag was a Bible verse. This tag stuck out and created endless opportunities to connect with other Christians and more importantly allowed an opening for conversations about Christ. Typically I would get a question what does Romans 9:16 mean? My response “it does not therefore depend on human desire or effort, but on God’s mercy” (I have carried that tradition into this very blog Human Effort). Or I would get immediate insults for bringing anything Christian into the game. I remember one young man that as soon as he saw my tag in the party started mocking me for being Christian. He was spouting what could have been written on any Atheist propaganda web site. I answered a few of his mocking questions and then he turned serious. Several hours of in game conversation moved quickly as he asked and I answered questions in a real meaningful way. He had never been in a conversation like that and I could tell it moved him. I don’t know his name or more of his story in real life but I do pray that it was ground plowed in a God honoring way.

One other aspect of those halo days was the discipleship I received from another gamer who has the spiritual gift of evangelism and he used that gift online. I am now friends in real life with this brother. I have been to his home and he has been to mine even though we live in different parts of the country. Our bond in Christ is real, strong, and has endured for over 10 years. He repeatedly shared the gospel in game and kids responded praying to accept Christ. I was blown away every time it happened. It was amazing to hear him use words I could have said and then to see a response in ways that I never experienced. I witnessed his gift and gravitas lift up Christ and then the Holy Spirit moved on these hearts. Hearing this first hand over and over opened my eyes and changed my walk with Christ.

While I do not have that kind of online interaction anymore, I am working it out in real life serving others as Christ leads, I do want to interject Christ into anything I can in the public square. I have found a few ways to do that with Pokémon Go. I would encourage other Christians reading this to think about their own entertainments and diversions. Are you leaving a witness of Christ behind in that life and culture?

Because Pokémon Go forces the gamer out into the real world to stops and gyms it is easy to spot people playing the game. Even more interesting is that Churches seem to have a greater chance of being a gym where much of the action occurs in game. The beauty here is that people playing must come to that location in order to interact with the game. Imagine lost people willingly showing up at a Church. Christians must use this to their advantage.

First rename your Pokémon with a Bible verse. When you insert this Pokémon into a gym it will be recognized by other gamers and could be an encouragement to them. You never know what response the Holy Spirit is placing into the hearts of others.

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20 the sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the day of the Lord comes, the great and magnificent day. Acts 2:20 ESV

In the first picture of the Larpis I named Isaiah 1:18 the Pokémon is an ice type that has an attack of blizzard. So I felt that an appropriate verse might be that the blood of Jesus washes our sin white as snow. In this second picture I renamed the Vileplume to Acts 2:20 because this Pokémon’s primary attack is a moonblast. I wanted to remind the gamer that God is in control of all the elements and that these will fade away on the great day when He returns. For the faithful gamer immersed in the stats of a game world this kind of care and Biblical relation to where they are at might connect in a real way even if interaction is limited to a kind of Easter egg.

The second interaction is a truly evangelistic opportunity and it is physically meeting those people who are training their Pokémon in the gym at the same time and place as yourself. Observe people that might show up to the same gym each day or week. Pray in advance for an opportunity to speak with them and if the opportunity presents introduce yourself. Ask if they are one of the avatars in the Gym. Be ready to note who you are in game (my avatar is aSinnerSaved and that alone is a conversation starter) and see where the conversation will go. Maybe they will ask about the Bible verse that your Pokémon has been named for. Be prepared to know the verse. Most will want to know if you know what the verse is.

If you have practice sharing Christ with others then this is an easy call however some people reading this are intimidated by the idea that their game has now crossed over into real life people who live in the same community. That is understandable but engage, keep the conversation real, and know your story. You do not need to be a master of apologetics. Be ready to share, in a brief few minutes, who God is to you and why Christ maters in your life. You never know where that conversation will go. God and His Spirit are working in ways that I rarely expect.

I would love to hear stories or other ideas in regard to evangelism in the public square so do not be shy use this comments section!


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Christ > Race

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What if you were related to a King from a faraway country or maybe your family happened to be related to someone even more awesome like Lebron James who is the current King of basketball? Ancestry and relations that hold great, famous, and wonderful people is a fun topic to think on. Movies are made about this (Luke I am your Father). The Bible hosts several geologies that link together famous people. The original patriarch’s descendant from Adam to Noah. The Jewish nation from Abraham to King David. And the genealogy of King David to Jesus as a baby born in Bethlehem. Who we are is very much wrapped up in who our families are and where they came from. It is no surprise then that how the world perceives and treats people can be directly related to ancestry. One of my favorite shows on television is called “Finding your Roots”. I enjoy the detailed research and the way the host, Henry Louis Gates Jr., unveils knowledge of the past to his guests. Sometimes the events and history he shows to the guest is amazing and emotionally powerful. There is good and bad in those family trees. Sometimes ancestry can be used in evil ways. Racial and ethnic pride is might be the ugliest use of the genealogy of ancestors. Hate or approval might be bestowed just from the color of someone’s skin. The reality is that people like to categorize themselves into nations and tribes. People prefer to be around others like themselves.

It would be interesting for me to know more about my genealogy. Mostly however the background of my family is unknown to me and I have not pursued knowing the truth because I wonder if my fascination with knowing is rooted in a vanity about the past that has no use in the future.

While genealogy is a hobby for some it could mean being part of the power structure to some societies. Who your parents are could carry serious privileges and unlock doors to wealth and success. Genealogy and proving historic links to be part of the power structure was something that Paul warned Christians against. He did not want them to be caught up in things that are not factual or relevant to God’s kingdom.

4 nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith. 1 Timothy 1:4 ESV

Devotion to endless genealogies describes a worldly focus of pride in things are not constructive to the present. Genealogies and learning ancestry are not bad in and of themselves because even Jesus needed to establish a pedigree in the line of King David to be the messiah. It is good to know and relevant in proving citizenship and understanding of where one has come but at the end of the day it should not be all consuming and it should not be divisive. Paul warns his other apprentice in similar fashion.

9 But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless. Titus 3:9 ESV

Where one comes from can be a distraction in regard to where they are going. Are you white and do not like to associate with people of color? Then you are allowing your past to cause quarrels and dissensions that are unprofitable and worthless. You are also just flat out sinning against your brother in Christ. Are you a person of color and harbor ill will toward the callous, privileged, uncaring white guy living an oblivious life in his suburb? Well you may be perpetuating speculations and controversy due to genealogies by pre judging based on ancestry. Note: Life is hard for the prince, the pauper, and all of us in-between. Everyone and I mean everyone has hidden sins and demons to face. Paul has harsh words for us Christians in this current age.

3 for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way? 4 For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not being merely human? 1 Corinthians 3:3-4 ESV

Look at the world and see that it is normal for people to segregate and commune with those who are like themselves in a worldly way. Jealousy of others who appear to have more is powerful when living in the flesh. If I fellowship with a Christian from anywhere in the world it should be that our unity in Christ stands taller than nationality, skin color, political affiliation, or family background. If not, then Paul is telling us that our dissension is worthless and unprofitable because it is of the flesh and we are behaving in a human way.

But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. 1 Corinthians 3:1 ESV

William Barclay puts what Paul is saying this way. “Paul is talking about the difference between the person who is spiritual, and who therefore can understand spiritual truths, and the person who is [not spiritual] who interests and aims do not go beyond physical life”. If we are stuck on national pride, where someone is from, or the color of their skin (or if you have ill feelings toward the people who are in the first category) then we are not ready for the spiritual life. The obsession and focus does “not go beyond physical life”. We are much too obsessed with this earth, this life, and a desire for this world to be fair and accepting. Note: This world is not going to accept a follower of Christ any more than it accepted Christ when he was here. Stuck in infancy in the relationship with Christ we struggle with the worthless genealogies that mean nothing in God’s spiritual kingdom. The fact is all men are related no matter the nation or color. We all go back to one set of parents in Adam and Eve both physically and spiritually. They held the genetic make-up of every person living on earth today and they held the image of God that is also in the make-up of every person living on earth today. We all are just a shadow of their perfection in the hands of God our Creator. We are all brothers and sisters. Don’t let a genealogy separate the body of Christ that should be united under his Lordship.


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From Darkness to Light

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God loves His Creation even a creation that is cursed, broken, and rebellious. Thankfully the creator God understands that mankind is weak and slaves to the sin nature and curse that invades every thought and action.

The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever. He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust. Psalm 103:8-14 ESV

He has written the most perfect rules of engagement like the Ten Commandments and this Law convicts our heart, makes us aware of our shortcomings, and brings us to account before our Creator.

For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. Romans 3:20 ESV

For example take this picture. On one side is a clear perfect section that represents perfectly following the law or doing the right thing in every thought and action. On the other side is a darkness that represents perfectly breaking the law and obscuring the clarity of God’s purpose and love for each of us. What do we find in the center? A murky gray area where most people try to live. How close can we get to the dark area without actually crossing over? Where is that line in every thought and action?

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The problem with us and our thinking is that God is perfect and holy. He does not play games with our sin and selfishness. While we try to be good His law demands perfection. If we do not live in the perfectly transparent and perfectly just section then we have broken the law.

“No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money. Matthew 6:24 ESV

God in his loving mercy promised to give people a new heart that would break for Him. A heart that would have faith in Him. A heart that would serve Him over the desires of this world. Now is the time to put your faith in Him. Serve Christ, be born again and he will melt the heart of stone and provide you a new heart that wants to move away from the darkness of rebellion and isolation. You can trust this Creator because he created each and every one of us. So put away the law and have faith in Him by stepping out and repenting of whatever you serve today that is not your Creator.

And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, that they may walk in my statutes and keep my rules and obey them. And they shall be my people, and I will be their God. Ezekiel 11:19-20 ESV

 

 

* Revised and Updated. First published on Human Effort Sept 2013.


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Everyone Loves a Party

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Jerika Bolen is a young girl with spinal muscular atrophy. It is a disease that destroys nerve cells that interact with voluntary muscle movement. She has a ventilator for breathing assistance much of the day and she is in a significant amount of pain trapped in a body that will not function as it was originally designed. What has captured the news for this story is that this 14 year old has decided that she wants to be moved into hospice and taken off of her ventilator which will end her life earlier than if she continued on in the present state. It is no small choice the young lady has taken and I grieve with her and her family that this cursed world would even need such a choice. I am not in her situation so I cannot speak to this being a good or bad choice. I would only say that as a general rule human life even when difficult should be something all of us would fight to preserve.

What I would speak to is the reaction and obligation of the community. Jerika wanted to have a party to celebrate what little time she has remaining. The grand idea of going out with a bang. YOLO. Those close to her raised money and planed an event to celebrate. Jerika has an amazing support team. Maybe a better support than many in her situation. There was even a local reporter there to cover the event and it was published in the USA today. The quotes and story in that article are just astonishing to me.

The reporter Jim Collar opens the article with a profound quote, a question from Jerika about all the people who have given her attention in this event. Her question is profound and it is a question that I would like explore.

“It’s awesome,” she said of Friday’s party. “It’s fun. It’s a lot of people, and they look up to me. It’s kind of scary because I don’t know what they’re looking up to me for.”

When you throw a party people will show up. It is a fact of life. Add free food and even more people will show up. But this party was even more than that it is a going away party if you will. People attending might have answered Jerika’s question on why they look up to her with something like she is inspirational, she is brave, she is amazing for such a young girl, and she is strong. Many people may be moved by her story and her choice, and all of those things may be true about this 14 year old who has lived confined by this for so many years. But why such attention now? How should we respond?

First the party is a wonderful thing. This money raised by the community and the show of support from the community is an awesome gesture. People want her to know that she is loved. Jesus in the lead up to his eventual crucifixion is given an extravagant gift by Mary. She washes his feet with an expensive perfume. Judas, who ultimately betrays Jesus, objected saying the money received for that perfume could have been spent on the poor.

6 But Jesus said, “Leave her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. 7 For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you want, you can do good for them. But you will not always have me. 8 She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for burial. Mark 14:6-8 ESV

A celebration of a life in advance of their death is a perfectly wonderful way to honor them. When I read about the donations, and the community support of this young girl I know that it speaks about the mercy we all want for our own lives when we see someone in such pain. Interviewing people who came to the party the reporter captures an interesting quote from the father of a family that drove thousands of miles to this event to meet the young girl they do not know personally.

The long drive was worth it to see her smile, and “out there on the dance floor looking like she’s living life,” he said.

“Looking like she is living life” is an interesting phrase, because I think this might contain some unrecognized honesty about the situation. This dance floor is life and it is living but it is not real life. The dance floor is always only a temporary distraction and entertainment from real life lived out day to day. For those that live daily with pain, a loved one who cannot take care of themselves, or any number of ongoing permanent disabilities a recognition that when the party ends Jerika will still be in pain, she will still need support from nurses and loved ones to care for her every moment and need. That realization is also reported in the article as the grief of the moment overtakes Jerika’s mother.

But as midnight arrived and the lights went on and the banquet hall began to empty, Jen’s emotions began to crack. The reality of what’s to come began to settle in. Prom planning had helped take her mind off her daughter’s coming death. Now what?

Now what indeed. The party is over and a hospice awaits. Will it take days, weeks, or months for life to end? Is the pain so great that this is the only answer? Are her family and friends so few that there is no one to share the effort of daily care? Are the financial cost so great that it would be better, honorable, and responsible to choose such terms at this point in life? I do not see the answer being yes to any of these so why?

Worn out and a lack of hope. It comes to this. What is the point? Why should she continue in pain, why should she be a burden, and why should she be a drain on resources of the community? Going back to the words from Jesus to the disciples “you always have the poor with you” is a reality we must accept in this broken, sinful, and cursed world. When Jesus speaks about the poor he is not only talking about those who are in simple financial destitution. He is talking about people who have no hope and are worn out. He is talking about people who are powerless and hidden from society. I believe in many ways Jerika and those who are unable to fully participate in society and those cut out of many joys of life feel this kind of powerlessness in a real meaningful way. It breaks my heart. God has created us as relational beings both with other people and with himself. Jerika and others in her situation within our own communities need to know that they are loved. They need to know they are loved by providing attention and acts of service toward them and their caretakers. Through Jesus and his saving power everyone has hope. Everyone has purpose. God has unlimited powers of peace and love. Are we working in our own community to serve others with that love that has been so richly poured out?

25 For I will satisfy the weary soul, and every languishing soul I will replenish.” Jeremiah 31:25 ESV

To anyone that is struggling know that God loves you. Know that He has a plan for you in this life and in the perfect eternal life to come. Do not grow weary, do not give up hope. Trust him for each day. For those of us that know people who live life in pain each day reach out and be a friend. Show your smile, give encouragement, and serve them in love.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. Hebrews 12:1-3 ESV


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Despising the Shame

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Shame means different things to different people. Sex and nakedness might be seen as shameful to some but celebrated by others. Honor to avoid shame even unto death is the type of shame Hollywood once made movies about. There is even a term called fat shamming to shame people who are fat into eating less. People every day in every culture are made to feel shame. Shame is not intended to be an abusive thing. In fact shame is a result of the fall and curse of man. In his book Future Grace John Piper lists shame before God as something of a cornerstone of Christian faith.

He states that shame is a results of a realization that we have offended God. In the Bible shame is a foundational concept from the beginning with Adam and Eve being “naked and not ashamed” (Genesis 2:25 ESV) to the end when Jesus tells us that nothing shameful will be allowed in His holy city (Revelations 21). Shame from sins against God, the rebellion in a heart, and all the ways of selfish ambition that humans pursue cling to people and manifest itself in different ways. Adam and Eve’s natural state was unashamed because they were not under any judgment before God. That unashamed state changed after they rebelled, but the good news is that God has undone that shame through Jesus to one day restore the unashamed state of creation. Although sins are shameful, through Christ one will not be put to shame by God. I myself am reconciled to my Creator because of His love, mercy, and grace.

For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. Romans 10:10-12 ESV

If Christ has removed my shame before God then why does society continually trying to shame others and why do I personally feel shame before other men? In this Piper lists a second kind of and this shame is not from God, but from ourselves because of the pressure we feel from society. The author of Hebrews writes that Jesus despised the shame that society placed on him. The shame of being beaten, the shame of a conviction that led to Him dying between thieves, the shame of betrayal by the hands of a close friend, and the shame of mockery from the crowd as they placed the crown of thorns on his head. He despised this shame directed at him by the culture and society.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 12:1-3 ESV

This might be one of my favorite descriptions “despising the shame” in the Bible. Like Jesus Christians must realize that as they obey and love the Father they too will face shame. That shame may not be death on a cross, but society will place shame on the follower of Christ. Insults of being stupid to follow a magical sky god or being backward in thinking that marriage is a unique relationship between a man and woman. Fellow believers it is time to learn to shake it off and even learn to despise the shame heaped on us by society so that we too can see the “joy” set before us. Paul in his letter to Timothy encourages Timothy to not be ashamed of the prison that Paul is in and to not be ashamed at the suffering that would come from sharing the good news about Jesus.

Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God. 2 Timothy 1:8 ESV

When I think of this shame that society brings it is a personal shame that is very real for the person that must bear up under the glare of being pushed out of the market square. It is a shame for refusing to condone the sexualized nature of society, and a shame for believing that God is the creator and not a randomness that the every so sure atheist “scientist” demands everyone follow. However the most real and intense shame that I must learn to despise is that of sharing Jesus to a culture that thinks such things should be kept private.

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. Romans 1:16 ESV

Shame is not part of God’s plan for His children. It is time to stop placing shame on ourselves because of what other people think and remember that the only real shame has been undone by what Christ did on the cross for us.

* Revised and Updated: Originally published on Human Effort 2013