shame

The Power of Mercy and Love

Over 50 years ago, Martin Luther King Jr said that Sunday morning was the most segregated hour in America. This was because of the common racial separation within most churches. Some churches are working to change that but it's still prevalent.

But there's another type of segregation or division in many American churches. It's been around for a long time. It plagued Jesus and contributed to His arrest and crucifixion.

The trouble is, we—the church—say we want to welcome "sinners" into the church but when they come they often don't feel welcome. Probably hundreds of books and conferences and blog posts address the issue but with minimal impact.

Many things contribute to this dilemma but the real issue is the heart of the matter. A simple story involving Jesus, a religious leader, and a sinful woman illustrates it best.

A story within a story

Jesus told many parables, some short and some longer. Each one teaches a simple truth and is told within a specific context. The setting or situation preceding or following the parable gives insight to the purpose of the parable.

We find a short, simple parable in Luke 7:40-43 where the situation is critical for understanding its truth. Here's the parable—

“Two men owed a moneylender some money. One owed him five hundred silver coins, and the other owed him fifty. When they couldn’t pay it back, he was kind enough to cancel their debts. Now, who do you think will love him the most?”

Jesus was invited to Simon the Pharisee's home for a meal. During the meal, a woman with a bad reputation came in looking for Jesus. Simon's inner thoughts scoffed at the idea that Jesus was a prophet, let alone the Messiah because of this woman's attention to Jesus.

This prompts Jesus to tell this short parable of a moneylender forgiving what was owed by these two debtors. The amounts were considerable. The 500 silver coins were equivalent to twenty months of wages while the 50 coins represented two months wages.

The Pharisee answered Jesus' question at the end of the parable, “I suppose the one who had the largest debt canceled.” Jesus agreed but confronted Simon about the Pharisee's self-righteous, judgmental attitude towards the woman.

Those of us in the church too often fit the profile of Simon the Pharisee. We are quick to judge others as less than ourselves and forget the suspended judgment God showed us because of His mercy.

A study of contrasts

The two characters who interact with Jesus are polar opposites. On the surface, Simon the Pharisee represents the religious elite. He was well-learned in the Scriptures and traditions of his faith with an elevated status and reputation.

The sinful woman had a shameful reputation. She was well aware of her diminished status but she knows of Jesus and of His message to repent because the Kingdom of Heaven was near (Matt 4:17).

This woman risked rejection by both Simon and his cohorts and Jesus. After all, she knew what she deserved, unlike the Pharisees who considered themselves to be godly.

Oddly, no one dismisses her. Did she already know Simon and his cohorts from previous encounters? Her many sins (Luke 7:47) were likely known by many men.

Judgment and mercy

This story reveals a powerful picture of judgment and mercy.

Jesus was invited to the home of a prominent religious leader accompanied by other men (Luke 7:49). Women were only present as servers of the food and had little status then.

In those days, people didn't eat at tables with straight-backed chairs but reclined on the floor, often leaning on one arm while eating with the other hand and with their feet extended outward.

The woman approaches Jesus at His feet away from the table of men. At first, she stands weeping then bends down as she wets the Lord's feet with her tears, wiping them with her hair, and kissing them with affection and respect.

She opens a vial of expensive aromatic oil and begins to anoint His feet. It's an act of submission and worship. She pours her heart out to Jesus with her tears and the oil.

She was an immoral woman and Simon knew it. So he wonders how Jesus could even allow her to touch Him. Surely this Jesus couldn't be a prophet or the Messiah!

Simon couldn't see beyond her past or her gender. He didn't see her as Jesus did.

The power of mercy and love

The parable's powerful message is revealed as Jesus explains why He told it to Simon (Luke 7:44-47). It exposes the superficiality of Simon's self-righteousness.

This sinful woman with the shameful past showed a respect for Jesus unlike Simon.

Guests were customarily greeted with water to wash their dusty feet, a kiss of acceptance, and oil to anoint their wind-blown hair. Simon offered none of these to Jesus.

This woman washed Jesus' feet with her tears and hair, then kissed and anointed them with oil. Her respect was genuine. Her broken heart pursued Jesus in hope of redemption and she received it.

Simon the Pharisee didn't realize his own need of forgiveness because he was so full of himself. Another parable illustrates the strength of this self-righteous condescension towards others (Luke 18:9-14).

Unmeasured mercy and love

The simple truth of the parable and the whole story is summed up here—

“I tell you, her sins—and they are many—have been forgiven, so she has shown me much love. But a person who is forgiven little shows only little love.” (Luke 7:47 NLT)

God doesn't measure out His mercy and love, we measure it. We limit it based on our measure of others and we see ourselves as an exception to the rule. But this is self-deception.

How have you seen this same condescending attitude in your own heart? I know I've seen it in mine!

God's work of redemption is based on the Lord's nature and the power of His mercy and love. It will always be greater than any religious or spiritual status we think we hold.

This woman humbled herself, sought out and pursued Jesus, risked rejection and humiliation, and poured herself out at the feet of Jesus through her tears, kisses, and expensive fragrant oil.

This is a picture of worshipful surrender and submission to the Lord.

If we say we love Jesus, how can we offer anything less to the Lord than this woman did?

The full story in its context is found in Luke 7:36-50

If you're a follower of Jesus and part of a church fellowship, beware of a hardness of heart towards others creeping in and taking hold. It will limit your full devotion to Jesus and it will be felt by others. Self-righteousness excludes others and gives a distorted image of the Lord.

When we are mindful of how great the Lord's forgiveness is for us, we are less likely to look condescendingly upon others. When we find ourselves drifting towards self-righteousness, it's time to repent—to surrender our heart to the Lord and the power of His mercy and love!


If you're wondering if churches are still racially segregated, here's a post regarding that— The Most Segregated Hour of the Week?

Shame, Blame, and Consequences

unsplash / veerterzy

unsplash / veerterzy

What's the purpose of an investigation? In an objective sense, it's a (hopefully) systematic examination of facts that includes observations and draws a conclusion. When an investigation is done, whoever is conducting it may say they want to "discover the truth... uncover facts, or get to the bottom of this," whatever that might mean.

I tend to be a bit cynical about investigations, especially if there's an agenda. The motivation becomes a search to discover a certain truth. In other words, it becomes a search for who to blame more than seeking some objective truth.

The crazy thing is, we play the blame game a lot, either to place blame, shift it, or dodge it altogether. Why? It comes naturally!

The next episode

Over the past two weeks, I've looked at the beginning of all stories in a simple way. First, we looked at the Creation story, which culminated in the creation of people in God's image.

Next, I considered how what started as innocence in paradise ended in shame, along with why this happened.

But all of this is only the beginning of God's story of redemption. This post will focus on what comes next—shame, blame, and the consequences of a choice by the first woman and man.

Where are you?

After eating the fruit of the forbidden tree, the man and woman—Adam and Eve (Gen 3:20-21)—realized they were naked, experienced shame, and tried to cover their shame.

God came through the garden paradise and expected to see His most prized creations. But they hid from God. The Lord called out to the man, "Where are you?" So, Adam explained they were hiding because they were naked. They were ashamed.

God's next question zeroed in on their problem. "Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?"

A very personal relationship

Let's pause in the story to consider the nature of this situation. The relationship between God and the man and woman was personal. They communicated to one another directly.

The man and woman each had a personal independent and free will, yet they knew God for who He was—their Creator and the Creator of all things.

Their freedom was only limited by one command—not to eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Of, as I call it, the FOMO tree.

Once Adam and Eve's distrust of God and their choice to ignore God's command was discovered, a cascade of consequences began. The primary consequence was a change in their relationship with God.

The blame game

As soon as God asks Adam if he ate of the forbidden tree, he blames Eve, "The woman whom you gave to be with me...." (Gen 3:12)

Do you see how quickly the man shifts the blame (responsibility) back onto God and the woman.?

The woman is also quick to blame the serpent, "The serpent deceived me, and I ate." Now, what she said was true, but she was quick to deflect blame just as the man did (Gen 3:13).

The serpent didn't have this option and God deals with him first.

The consequences

Before diving into the cascade of consequences, it's important to note that God also suffers a consequence from all of this. His beautiful creation was disrupted and only He could set things right again.

Within the consequences that follow, a prophetic promise of redemption is included.

The serpent

The first consequence is putting a curse on the serpent. From this point on the serpent would have to crawl on its belly and "eat dust" (Gen 3:14). So, apparently, the serpent went from being clever to being cursed—a snake below all other creatures.

Also, there would be an ongoing conflict with the woman's offspring (seed) and the serpent's offspring. The serpent's head would be crushed after he bruised the heel of the woman's offspring (Gen 3:15).

The woman

The woman's three-fold consequence starts with pain, increased pain when giving birth to children. I've watched my wife give birth to our four children and I can confirm that this consequence continues. 

The other consequences go together. Here's what the text says—

Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you. (Gen 3:16 ESV)

The original language (Hebrew) indicates that it's more like—

"You will want to rule your husband, but he will rule over you." (similar to Gen 4:7)

The man

Because the man gave into the woman and ate the fruit, the very ground he was taken from in creation would now be cursed (Gen 3:17). In a sense, this is where all environmental problems began (Rom 8:19-22).

Now the ground would be infested with thorns and thistles and painful work. He worked in the garden before, but now things would be different. No more paradise watered by God. Now his work would be watered with his own sweat (Gen 3:18-19).

The curse of eating the fruit of the forbidden tree would be death. This is what God commanded the man before the woman existed (Gen 2:17). It's here the continuing cycle of birth and death began—

...for you are dust, and to dust you shall return. (Gen 3:19)

God

How did God suffer consequences? He had to cover Adam and Eve's nakedness and shame with the first animal sacrifice (Gen 3:21).

Then the Triune Godhead—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—had to banish the man and woman and their offspring from the garden they once ruled.

And the Lord God said, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.” (Gen 3:22 NIV)

God posted a great angel with a flaming sword at the east end the garden of Eden, to guard the way to the tree of life.

Not only was God's beautiful paradise spoiled, so also was the very personal relationship He had with Adam and Eve.

The promise of redemption

If the man and woman ate of the tree of life, they and all other generations would be condemned to a life of shame and endless death with no hope of redemption.

The light at the end of the tunnel of the cycle of birth and death is found in the curse of the serpent—

I will put animosity between you and the woman— between your seed and her seed. He will crush your head, and you will crush his heel. (Gen 3:15 TLV)

When Jesus was crucified on the cross, it appeared all had been lost. The Messiah was killed and His followers and others thought that was the end.

The serpent (the devil) deceived Judas Iscariot into betraying Jesus so He would be crucified, but there's more to this prophetic promise. "He will crush your head."

This is what God said to the serpent and it came to pass through the resurrection of Jesus from the dead (Col 2:13-15).

His glorious resurrection restored hope beyond death and opened the door of redemption for all humanity!

Do you realize when you look for blame or defend and justify yourself?

Have you personally experienced God's redemptive love in your life?


This week is often referred to as Holy Week. We look ahead to Good Friday in remembrance of Jesus' death on the cross and to Easter Sunday—Resurrection Sunday.

Easter is our reminder of God's redemption—our rescue by Him from the sentence of eternal death and the promise of eternal life—through a personal trust relationship with the Lord.

The FOMO Tree

unsplash.com_RBico

unsplash.com_RBico

I had two personal encounters this week that illustrate the present polarization in America. The first was a young millennial guy I met in a Starbucks parking lot. I saw his lavender, yellow, and blue school bus and remarked that I had friends who had one like it back in the 70's.

It was a throw-back moment seeing him with a 'fro and full beard, tie-dyed shirt, and beads telling me of the protests he and his group had gone to on behalf of Native Americans. It was reminiscent of the hippie movement of my day.

My second encounter came at a dinner with friends. During casual conversation, one of the older persons expressed his agreement with the current crackdown on illegal immigration, but with a broad, derogatory statement about all immigrants.

Both individuals are convinced of their very different views on current cultural issues. What a contrast! How did we, as citizens of the United States, get so polarized? It's nothing new and yet, it's not political. It goes deeper than that.

Back at the beginning

Last week, I looked at the beginning of the story of redemption in the Bible. The primary reason the Father sent His Son Jesus as the Redeemer of humanity is God's original purpose for creating humankind—humans were originally created in His image (Gen 1:26-27).

Each person, since the beginning of creation, has the imprint of God. But God's original purpose and design went awry.

After forming the first man (adam in Hebrew) from the basic elements of earth and breathing life into him, God placed him in a beautiful garden—a paradise. In the middle of this well-watered paradise, God planted two trees—the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen 2:7-9).

God gave the man permission to eat the fruit of all the trees except one—the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

God also created a life partner for the man who fit him perfectly. The man (ish in Hebrew) called her woman (ishshah in Hebrew) because she was literally part of him (Gen 2:20-22). They lived together naked and without shame, innocent of any evil (Gen 2:24-25).

God was content with all that He created and He said it was all good (Gen 1:31–2:3).

The beginning of FOMO

This is not a fairy tale. There is no "happily ever after" in this story. Although the first man and woman were in a state of innocence in paradise, it didn't continue that way.

Among all the creatures God created, one was especially clever—the serpent. He could speak to the humans and one day he approached the woman and questioned if God told them not to eat the fruit of any tree (Gen 3:1).

The woman clarified there was only one tree they weren't to eat from—the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The serpent countered this truth with the first lie—

You won’t die. God knows that the moment you eat from that tree, you’ll see what’s really going on. You’ll be just like God, knowing everything, ranging all the way from good to evil. (Gen 3:4-5 MSG)

Here is the first occurrence of FOMO—the fear of missing out. The serpent's question created doubt and his lie stirred up a well-spring of insatiable curiosity. He deceived her into thinking God was holding out something better from then than what they knew.

FOMO is not based in culture, trends, or even curiosity but now it's embedded in our human nature. We and our self-will don't want to miss out on something better. We don't want to be denied what we want or could have.

The fall

And so, the woman looked at this beautiful tree and its desirable fruit that would make a person wise. She reached out, took the fruit, and ate it. Then she gave some to her husband.

After they ate the fruit, their new insight made them realize they were naked. They saw each other without the innocence they knew before. Shame set in, so they hurried to cover it with a garment of fig leaves (Gen 3:6-7).

They fell from the perfect relationship of trust they knew with God. They crossed a line, one they couldn't erase. Only their Creator would be able to restore the relationship back to what it had been.

Most of the time, I hear the fall of humanity reduced to an issue of disobedience. Consequently, redemption is focused on dealing with sin. Indeed, it was disobedience to God's command not to eat of that tree which is sin—it missed the mark of what God intended.

But, it's the lack of trust in God that led to FOMO and led to their selfish choice of disobedience. It is not just a matter of bad morality but a bad choice and broken trust.

The story so far

This isn't the end of the story but here's a summary of what's taken place so far.

God created the earth and universe and all that exists including all life on earth. He created a man and woman who were naked and unashamed and placed them in paradise with two exceptional trees, they were not to eat the fruit of one.

A talking creature deceived the woman into thinking God was holding something back from her and her husband, so they ate the fruit of the forbidden tree. As soon as they ate, they realized they were naked and tried to cover their shame with leaves from a tree.

The story continues, but here are two important things to remember about God's redemption of humanity so far—

  1. All humans were created in the image of God—we all have God's imprint in us
  2. Trust was broken between God and the man and woman, which precipitated a selfish, willful decision on the part of the man and woman to rebel against God's authority

Next week

Next, I'll look at the consequences of this break in the relationship of trust between God and the man and woman (Adam and Eve), and the consequences for the serpent.

We'll also get a glimpse of God's plan to restore what was lost in paradise.

Until then... if you have some thoughts or questions on all of this, please comment below or on Word-Strong's FaceBook page.

Thanks for reading and sharing!