I’ve been making a new friend in the Tenderloin (let’s call him, Stan) who opened up his life a bit to me the other day. He told me that 20 years ago when he was dealing dope and ripping people off he murdered two people. In spite of the state of his heart at the time, he was conscience stricken and turned himself in and did 12 years in a federal prison. Since then he’s spent all these years in another prison called, “guilt and shame” for how he took those lives and devastated their families and friends. I asked him if he’d ask God for forgiveness. He said he’d talked to God (having grown up in a Christian home he knew to do this), but had no sense of freedom from the daily and intense shame of it. I spoke to Stan for quite some time about how Jesus was willing to carry our shame and cleanse us from it’s stink.
If it was sinking in, it wasn’t very apparent to me. I went away, honored that my new acquaintance would be so vulnerable with me but very burdened about the burden he had been carrying for so many years. It started me thinking about all of my friends and acquaintances in the street ministries I’m involved with in the TL, the Mission, and the Haight who are weighed down in the same way with shame and regrets for horrible mistakes made in the past.
The next time I had an opportunity to preach in the TL, during one of our services I gave a message called: “Shame OFF You!” Here’s the gist of it in its sort of raw and street-preachy, first-person form.
How many of you have heard these words, “Shame on you! You’re shameful! You should be ashamed of yourself!”? I know of a very wealthy man who saw, pursued, slept with, and impregnated the wife of one of his employees. Then, to cover it up, he had her husband murdered. To make things worse, he was a well-respected and God-fearing man. When confronted with his sin, he felt excruciatingly guilty over what he’d done. With such sin on his conscience he should have been ashamed! He had shamed his family, his friends, and his God! Shame on him!
I can relate to shame and an intense sense of regret. I have so many “I wish I woulda’s” and “I wish I wouldn’ta’s!” My many mistakes throughout life come back to haunt me sometimes. Shame is like a kick in the solar plexus every five seconds! It takes all the wind out and leaves you in agony.
King David of course is the man to which I refer. When he finally got around to repenting and unburdening his soul to God, he wrote a poetic prayer in his journal. It’s called Psalm 51. It goes like this:
1Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. 2 Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. 3 For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. 4 Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are proved right when you speak and justified when you judge. 5 Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me. 6 Surely you desire truth in the inner parts; you teach me wisdom 7 Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. 8 Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you have crushed rejoice. 9 Hide your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity. 10 Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. 11 Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. 12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.
This is the right thing to do with the guilt and shame of our pasts. This is how we approach God with our sins. Until we do, we’ll be dragging heavy bags of our mistakes around with us wherever we go. Only God can free us of the shame of both what we’ve done and what’s been done to us. “Have mercy on me… wash me… cleanse me… create in me a pure heart…!” This is the prescription for getting shame OFF of us. People will say to us, “Shame ON you!” but God says, “Shame OFF you!”
When I feel shame it’s like trying to drive my car while looking backward instead forward. My eye is always on my past stupidities while careening into danger ahead. Living in shame is trippin’ on what’s past, and when you do that you tend to run into things in the present. The longer you’re fixated on the past, the more things you run into in the now. Now you’ve created an endless cycle of destruction. You’ve done things for which you’re guilty, and unless you let go of the past and look forward, you’ll keep doing stuff that shames you. This makes you even more apt to keep looking back in shame instead of ahead, and more apt to keep crashing and burning, and so on…
If you hold on to your sins instead of bringing them to God, you’re doomed to either repeat your mistakes over and over, or you’ll feel so shameful about them that you refuse to do anything at all of much worth. You figure you’re pretty much worthless anyway, so why even attempt to pick yourself up and try to live a worthwhile life! To God, you are “unworthy” – yes! But “worthless”? – Absolutely, not! You’re worth so much to him that he gave his most valued possession to buy you! He loves you so much that he sent his Son to die in your place, rise again, and offer you a totally clean slate along with a pure conscience!
Have you driven a car at night and had some joker behind you with his high beams on? All you can see is the annoying glare in your mirror. It blinds you so much you can’t see in front of you! Shame is like that, and the devil loves to annoy you like this with what you’ve done in the past. You can’t change the past, you can’t turn off the other guy’s high beams, but there is a solution.
Even God can’t change the past, but he can change how it influences us. The past doesn’t have to blind you or bind you. Jesus, in his infinite mercy, pulls up in between you and those glaring guilt-lights. He passes the annoying high beam guy and drives in between you and him. He’s in the middle, absorbing the shame of your past in his own perfect self. The past itself is still there, but he comes in between and makes it so we can see what’s ahead, so we can go forward again!
So you say, “But I shamed myself. It’s all my fault. I produced this guilt by using, by dealing (I got other people hooked so I could pay for my habit), by cheating, and conning, and stealing, and committing adultery. I was beating down people, lying, hating, neglecting my family, abusing my children, raping, wife beating, and murdering! It’s all on me. I did it and I can’t take it back!” Yep. All true. Like David, you have no one to blame but yourself. And you’re right, you can’t get it back. It’s done and there’s nothin’ gonna change that!
But I do have Good news for you! You can’t change the past, but you can get free from it! There’s freedom from the shame of the past – and it’s called, “Forgiveness!” That’s why Jesus died in your place, to take away the guilt of your past. He doesn’t rewrite history, but changes your relationship to it. Jesus pulled in between you and your shame. He took the brunt of your shame on himself when he died. He absorbed your guilt and dealt with it. Good good good news! The best news I know!
Someone else says, “Yeah, but not only did I shame myself, but I was shamed by somebody else. I was beaten, and raped, and abused, and neglected by other people. But the shame I feel from it is as foul as if I’d done it to myself.” My friend, though those horrific things done to you were not your fault, you’re right – the stink of shame still sticks to you. You’re not guilty for those things, but you feel it as though you were. The shame you feel, even though it wasn’t you’re doing makes you feel as though it was. You still feel foul and worthless for the crap that people heaped on you. That’s exactly what it is – crap! And what’s the worst part of getting crap on you? The stink! That’s the devil’s plan, to get you to stink, if not to others, at least to yourself. He wants to get you in the sewer – one way or other. He’ll either lure into the sewage or get someone else to shove you in! Either way, you end up with the stink on you…
Shame stinks! I’ve noticed that even when you get cleaned up, you can sometimes still smell it – it’s in your smeller! I once worked on cattle ranch with the highly technical task of repeatedly putting shovel to manure. It was the smell that inspired me toward a different career path. I could smell it even when I was away from it. I got all cleaned up at the end of the day, but the neurons in my brain wouldn’t let go of the stink! The stink had been ON me, and even though I got it washed off, there was something IN me that made me feel like I still stunk! Shame is like that. The stink is either ON you, because of your unforgiven state, or it’s IN you; and even though you’re forgiven, you can’t seem to let it go.
Again – Good News! There is a way, and by the way, only one way to get the smell of shame off you – it’s Jesus!!! His blood takes the shame off you and out of you! If you’ll turn from your way of doing things and believe his good news, your shame will be taken off in a moment of time. And then if you’ll persist in believing that he really does forgive you and cleanse you from all your sin, you’ll find that the smell in your smeller will subside. More and more will you experience the peace that comes from knowing in your knower that God wants you, loves you, forgives you, and releases you from your shame. If you’ll let him, Jesus will change both what’s ON you and IN you!
You can’t shake it off. You can’t pretend it off. You can’t drink it off. You can’t smoke it off. But he can “wash” it off!
Shame OFF you my friends!!! Shame OFF you, in Jesus Name!