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This was the way an American visitor described to me the preaching he'd heard across many UK churches: "It cuts like a hammer."

This is not how cuts are meant to be made, nor how preaching should feel. But there was something about the description that rang true. Have you heard preaching that 'cuts like a hammer'? I have.

Cuts are meant to be precise. The preaching this visitor heard, though, was occasionally forceful but rarely targeted. There was a kind of power but it was not incisive. The Bible's commands and examples were preached but the effect was merely to convict the hearer of a generic sinfulness—an ill-defined but pressing sense of unworthiness.

I recognise the dynamic. And I think I know some of its drivers. To uncover them I need to use a few key terms over a number of posts. First we'll think about the 'law and gospel distinction', then we'll think of the different uses of the law. In a future post we'll press into a third distinction: the difference between flesh and Spirit. In short, I'll argue that cuts-like-a-hammer preaching mashes up the first distinction, fudges the second and seems oblivious to the third.

Law and Gospel

The law and gospel distinction is the sort of thing laid out in Galatians 3 or 2 Corinthians 3-4. There Paul contrasts the promise and the law; the gift and the command; the Spirit and the letter — one brings life, the other brings death. Luther summarises it in the introduction to his Romans commentary:

“The law uncovers sin; it makes the sinner guilty and sick; indeed, it proves him to be under condemnation... The gospel offers grace and forgives sin; it cures the sickness and leads to salvation."

These are different ways the word strikes us. In command-mode, God says "You must" and the aim is obedience. In promise-mode, God says "I will" and the aim is trust. Of course the two cannot be divorced (obedience arises from faith, after all, Romans 1:4), but they should not be confused either. The trouble is, they are very commonly confused. It's what Mike Horton calls "golawspel."

When the point of the sermon is simply explaining the next ten verses of Philippians everything is given the same weighting, purpose and tone. The victory of Jesus may well be referenced (or assumed, it's rarely preached), and the law is likewise brought, but not too heavily or specifically because we're aware of the dangers of legalism. Our antidote to legalism, however, is not a life-giving gospel raising us from the dead. Instead preachers give a generalised, "Gosh, it's tough isn't it? I struggle with this (in non-specific ways), don't you? Let's pray for the Spirit's help." It's golawspel. And it cuts like a hammer.

The Three Uses of the Law

Classically the three uses of the law are described as a curb (its civil use), a mirror (its theological use), and a guide (its pedagogical/teaching use).

So the law brings...

...order in the world,

...conviction to the sinner, driving them to Christ, and,

...guidance to the Christian, (though only the gospel can empower such obedience).

The preaching that 'cuts like a hammer' tends to have an ambivalent attitude to the third use of the law. It kind of believes that the law can teach us the good life. Certainly such preachers have no problem deriving 'applications' from their texts — "What this means for Monday morning, etc, etc." But these applications fall along well-worn lines (Bible reading, prayer, evangelism) that bear little relationship with the actual commands and examples of the text.

Such mid-level guilt is actually surprisingly popular. The praise of choice from congregants meeting the preacher at the door is still: "Thank you, that was faithful, clear, and challenging." That's the chilli sauce we like to have on our biblical expositions: application—challenging application. We like to put ourselves under the word, to bear its burden and accept its heavy weight, then we've done business with God.

In effect, such preaching falls between two stools. It avoids getting too specific in its 'third use'  applications and it avoids being too condemning in its 'second use' proclamations, so it ends up just making people feel quite guilty about their Bible reading, prayer and evangelism. It cuts like a hammer.

Next time we'll look at a third distinction: between the flesh and the Spirit. But for now, do you recognise the 'cuts like a hammer' stereotype? What do you think drives it?

vine2It's a question commonly posed among Christian ministers: Am I called more to faithfulness or fruitfulness?

When you realise that there can be great "ministry successes" based on "secret and shameful ways", you start to prize faithfulness all the more.

When you see dry-as-dust ministers making no impact but claiming a justification in their plodding "faithfulness", you might start to prize fruitfulness.

Which is it?

Three initial thoughts:

1. If the purpose of the discussion is to make ministers feel better or worse about themselves, it's almost certainly the wrong discussion. If it becomes about managing our own egos in ministry then we're already on the wrong footing. Too often we take sides on this one because we want to insulate ourselves from critique (if we're 'faithful' but fruitless) or to congratulate ourselves (if we're 'fruitful' but faithless).

2. The benefit of the "faithfulness" side is that it prioritises what God is doing in us before it considers what God is doing through us. This is good. God does not treat His children as means to an end, but as ends in themselves. The faithfulness crowd focus - or at least should focus - us on what God is up to in their own walk with Jesus before they ever consider "bums on pews."

3. The benefit of the "fruitfulness" side is that no-one can be fruitful without abiding in the Vine. It's possible to be a stone-hearted servant lacking any kind of vibrant relationship with Jesus. "Faithfulness" can become a cloak for "doing your duty" and all the sins of the prodigal's elder brother come into play. The fruitfulness crowd focus - or at least should focus - on an expectant and lively communion with Jesus that just does bear fruit. It's not the busyness of the builder, laying brick upon brick. It's the organic growth of the branch that will be fruitful in connection with the Vine,

So it seems like both sides have good points to make: faithfulness makes me think of God's work in me before all else. Fruitfulness makes me think of my position in Christ before all else. But in practice I find that both positions can unwittingly distract us from our true focus. The faithfulness minister can be too keen to protect their own ego when proper critique and hard questions may be in order. The fruitfulness minister can end up viewing "abiding in Christ" as a means to their real end - ministry "success".

But if John 15 is properly in view then the faithfulness minister is directed to the true nature of faithfulness - not bricklaying obedience, but intimate communion. They are also challenged on the issue of fruitlessness - not, notice, "numbers." But still, we should be asking about fruit. Galatians 5 fruit is a good place to start: love, joy, peace, etc... Jesus does not merely say "Plod along, the outcome is immaterial." He said "If you make your home in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing." (v5)

Does this fruit go beyond character formation? Well Jesus did say that the fruit itself will abide (John 15:16). It is people who abide in Christ - not simply your Christian character. Therefore it is appropriate to ask "Are others growing in the Vine through my ministry?" No? Then something's up. And Jesus tells you - abide in Him (v4), let His word abide in you (v7), pray (v16), love (v17) and you will bear fruit: promise. True faithfulness does result in fruitfulness.

And for the fruitfulness crowd - remember: the fruit is not the point. The Vine is. It's easy to get convicted about our lack of fruit in ministry and to make that the reason we return to the Lord. Well praise God that something reminds us to commune with Christ. But desire for results isn't the best motivation is it? Let's never seek fruit for the sake of fruitfulness. That would be like using your spouse simply to have children. The truly faithful do not seek first fruit - they seek first the Lord. In Him - and only there - they are fruitful and multiply.


Original sin is a bit of a passion of mine (committed sin too but in a different way). I bang the 'original sin' drum in posts like these:

The Good News of Being Condemned Already

Original Sin (for the Evangelists Podcast)

The Importance of Adam

I'd love to see a proper renaissance of this teaching in our evangelism. Unfortunately Christians shy away from it for several reasons - not least a loss of confidence in the historical Adam. But let me leave that to one side and here sketch out three good reasons our culture ought to resonate with original sin and then address three dumb reasons why it really doesn't.

Three Reasons Our Culture Should Love Original Sin

It's holistic

We all know that we're perishing physically. We're born into a terminal condition called life. The Christian faces the fact that we are whole persons. We refuse to believe in a divorce between our physical state and our moral/spiritual state. We're born perishing - that's just a fact. There's no need to appeal to some other magical realm where we remain pristine and virtuous. Original sin treats us as whole people - dying on the outside, dying on the inside.

It's communal

Yes we live in an insanely individualistic age but actually the language of community is hugely prized. We're in this thing together. That's what original sin says: We're all in the same boat. No use pointing at the bad folks over there. I am them and they are me and we're all in a mess. Original sin levels the playing field and brings us together in the same place - a place of authenticity...

It's authentic

These days authenticity plays really well. If you can fake this you've got it made. Well here's a doctrine that says we've all got deep, deep issues. And no-one can claim an exemption. Nobody's perfect. Here is the death of all judgmentalism - no-one has achieved a different class of moral existence. All those religious types who think they're better than others are, beyond question, hypocrites. Original sin says we're all the black sheep of the family, so let's stop pretending to be 'on the side of the angels.'

Having said all this, here are Three Reasons Our Culture Hates Original Sin

We think we're immortal (The myth of limitless potential)

Modern westerners are in complete denial about our creaturely limitations. We spend our lives seeking to avoid and reverse our mortality. Actually we don't face our physical perishing so it's no wonder we can't face our spiritual perishing either.

We think we're islands (The myth of individualism)

For all our talk of community, our doctrine of humanity is thoroughly individualistic. I might like to get together with others, but it's my personal desire here that's important. I'm a community kinda guy. That's how roll. When the community starts making claims on me, I cool off big time. When you start telling me of my corporate identity and responsibility, I'm likely to get pretty offended.

We think our decisions make us free (The myth of choice)

It's so incredibly stupid and enslaving and obviously untrue but we are captivated by the idea that we create our own identity through the exercise of our personal choices. I know, I know - the multiplication of choices mostly ends up paralysing us (see, for eg, this TED talk on the Paradox of Choice) but still the mythology persists. And the  slogan "it's your decision" is so overwhelmingly persuasive it seems impossible to counteract.


Let's keep holding out the holistic, communal, authentic side of this message and let's keep chipping away at the delusions we tell ourselves: that we're immortal; that we stand alone; that we create ourselves. Let's point out our mortality and our limits. Let's highlight the failures of individualism. Let's spotlight the slaveries we bring on ourselves precisely when we make our bold choices.

And all the while, our goal is not to burden people under the conviction of sin but to awaken them to the reality we all face. The whole point is to wake up the world to the obvious: we're sick. To embrace this truth is not our damnation, it's our salvation. For Jesus did not come for the healthy but the sick. He did not come to call the limitless, individualistic self-creators but only original sinners.



We're always making a thing out of things that aren't things. There's a technical term for this but I'm just going to call it thingification. The name's not important. What is important is that it's ruining your Christian life. Let me show you how with reference to 6 things that are commonly thingified.


Grace is not a thing.

"Grace, Grace, Grace" we sing. And I think "She sounds awesome, I wish I could meet her." But I can't meet her because there's no such person. There's only Jesus who is given to me by the Father apart from any desert of my own. That's grace. But grace is not a thing. Grace is the gift of a Person and if I want to know more grace I need to train my eyes on Jesus. Then I'll see how freely He's given. At that point I have an experience of grace, but my experience won't be of a thing but of a Him. (For more see here).


Faith is not a thing.

"We've got to have more faith" we cry. And so we check the little perspex window on our heart to see if the faith pilot-light is flickering strong. Oops, looks like it's going out. Quick, turn the faith tap to maximum. But  how? What is faith? Again, it's not a thing. Faith is to recognise and receive Jesus (John 1:12-13). He has been graciously given, therefore we trustingly receive Him. But faith is not something we dredge up out of our inner spiritual life. If you want "more faith", don't look for faith - look to Jesus. That's how faith comes. (For more see here).


Prayer is not a thing.

"I need to work on my prayer life" we say. And we mean it. But so often what we mean is "I need to improve at this spiritual discipline because my lack of proficiency reflects badly on my stature as a Christian." Or maybe we want to improve because we want to "improve our relationship with God." In some ways this motivation is even worse because it pictures "my prayer life" as the thing that connects me to God, rather than Christ. Then it becomes very important to focus on "my prayer life" but as something quite separate from focusing on Christ our Mediator. So we force ourselves to go to the prayer meeting and hear someone pray: "Please may God bless this work..." And we think, "Huh? I thought we were praying to God? Are we? Or are we performing a thing called prayer in front of one another?" Perhaps the pray-er does manage to address God but then mixes up the Persons. At that point you have to ask: Has prayer become a thing that we do. Should it not be an enjoyment of our adoption before the Father through union with the Son in the joy of the Spirit? But so often, don't we find that prayer becomes a thing we must get right. And a thing that stands between ourselves and communion with God? (For more see here).


Bible Reading is not a thing.

"I must read my Bible" we vow, "every day, come rain, hail or shine." Well alright but why? Another spiritual discipline to master? A duty to tick off the list? If we manage it, is there not a sense of "Phew, job done!" But what if "Bible Reading" isn't a thing in the Christian life. What if Bible Reading is simply how the Father speaks His word to us in Christ and by the Spirit. What if Bible Reading is not a thing we need to get right but a word in our ear from our gracious God? (For more see here).


The Sermon is not a thing.

"What did you make of The Sermon" we ask each other after the service. Suddenly The Sermon is a thing - a thing in between the preacher and the congregation. It's a production that we then pass comment on. And from the preacher's point of view the same thingification can happen: "we prepare and deliver a sermon" rather than "herald God's word to a congregation." Unfortunately this thing arises in between preacher and people - a thing that will be dissected and focused upon by both sides. But really there is no such thing. There's only God's word coming down through the preacher's lips. There's only a congregation hearing the voice of the living Christ. The Sermon is an artifice. It is not a proper object of our attention - only the Christ which it proclaims. (For more see here).


Discipleship is not a thing. (Updated)

"The church has woefully neglected discipleship" they lament. We all give a hearty 'Amen' then we look in our Bibles for the word "discipleship" and, shock horror, it's not there. The word "disciple" is certainly there, but discipleship? No, the Bible is not interested in disciple-craft. Jesus does not want us to be good at the art of following Him. He just wants us to follow Him. Yet, might it be that discipleship is one more concept that takes us away from Jesus Himself and makes us dwell on a thing in abstraction from Christ? It's worth considering. (For more see here).


What do you think? And are there other aspects of the Christian life we thingify?


Blown AwayYou may know that Emma and I have three little ones who are with Jesus (for more read here). But today we can announce that we have a fourth little one who is with us - in utero at any rate. It looks like this little one might see the light of day! In other words, we're pregnant! But I put it like that because, well, that's kinda how pregnancies are it seems: incredibly precarious and surrounded by uncertainty and death. But that's where the life and hope is.

We're taking a while to get used to the "life and hope" stuff - this pregnancy has been 'touch and go' at many points and Emma and I have been stuck down some very deep pits in the past. We're also aware that we have travelled with many other couples through childlessness and the news that we're pregnant will, understandably, be received by some with grief as well as joy.

These sorts of things always seem to get missed off the Facebook Status Updates. And that's probably why we've mainly avoided Facebook during struggles with childlessness. Those status updates aren't wrong - simple expressions of "We're pregnant!" aren't wrong - but it's struck me powerfully today that they're by no means the full story. And it's worth giving space for that full story at points.

All that being said, now is a time for rejoicing. And as we allow others in on our news, you help us find our bearings. Now is the time to say "The Lord has been good." And you have no idea how good He's been! Not many years ago I thought I'd have to bury my wife, now we've got a nursery to decorate. The Lord is so good!

So with the bigger story in mind, and in fellowship with one another, celebrate with me what God has done:

Some wandered in desert wastelands,
finding no way to a city where they could settle.
 They were hungry and thirsty,
and their lives ebbed away.
 Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble,
and he delivered them from their distress.
 He led them by a straight way
to a city where they could settle.
 Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love
and his wonderful deeds for mankind,
 for he satisfies the thirsty
and fills the hungry with good things." (Psalm 107:4-9)



Daniel Rowland"I like this tune," I said to my translator above the noise of the choir, "What are they singing?" He almost had to yell: "This is a very popular hymn in Malawi. It's called Just because you go to church doesn't mean you're going to heaven." "Oh" I said, watching the choir dance up and down the aisle, singing the chorus for the 50th time. Someone slid into church late, hoping to go unnoticed. He failed. Perhaps I'm imagining it, but some of the singers seemed to direct their words pointedly at the late-comer:

Just because you go to church doesn't mean you're going to heaven.

Well, it's true. And certainly you can understand the urge to sing it where nominal church attendance abounds. But it doesn't really capture the dominant note of the Bible. You see the Bible, more often than not, speaks of church as heaven.

"You have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly,to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven." (Hebrews 12:22-23)

Because you're going to church you are going to heaven. You see that's also a biblical truth - a central one. I don't mean that every church-goer is guaranteed paradise, I mean that - right now - church is paradise. Forget the final reckoning for a moment, church is heavenly - that's the overwhelming witness of the Bible.

Daniel Rowlands, one of Wales' mightiest preachers, would watch his congregation walking to church on a Sunday and remark: "Here they come, bringing heaven with them."

That's the emphasis in the Bible. And yes, some who came to Rowlands church may be in hell right now. But not because they didn't taste heaven in church, they did (Heb 6:4-8). Everyone did - that's what church is. 

There can be an unhealthy preoccupation among evangelicals with distinguishing the visible church from the invisible elect. We're always looking past the tangible concreteness of our actual brothers and sisters, gathered around the word, the bread and the wine. We want to say "Yeah, whatever, those are just externals. The real issue is down deep in your soul." And so we encourage the spiritually serious among us to be deep-soul-divers, trying desperately to plumb their own depths. All the while it's church - in all its ordinariness - which actually does the deep work in us. The word exposes and heals us, the bread and wine nourish us "deep down", our brothers and sisters en-courage us in ways that nothing else can.

Church is heavenly. Whatever heaven we seek which is not intimately tied to church might just turn out to be a false spirituality. I fear that - in that false sense - there are some people so heavenly minded they're of no churchly use.



2104bf27cee12d1f1387d06961bf536cShould Christians see non-Christian counsellors?

This is a question that divides evangelicals, sometimes sharply. But perhaps it's not the question to ask. At least not first. Perhaps the better question with which to frame the discussion is this:

Where (if anywhere) might counselling fit into Christian discipleship in the life of the church?

Here we're dealing with first things first. Healthy, well-balanced living is a matter of  Christian discipleship - learning Christ and letting His reality shape all our thinking, feeling and behaving. The context for that discipleship is the body of Christ - the church. Think of Ephesians 4: there is incredible maturity and growth available in the renewal of our minds (v14-32). But the context for it all is the local church (v1-13). I say local because you cannot imagine Ephesians 4 happening in some "invisible church." Our growth happens in community with others where our church leaders exercise their word gifts (v11-13). The local church is the place where lives are put back together.

So where does counselling fit in? Well it certainly can fit in. There are areas of expertise that a counsellor might have that may not be covered by your local church. There can be many reasons you might want to talk to someone with wisdom and experience from beyond your own context. But the heart of the issue is this: the counsellor must not become a de facto Pastor. Whatever counselling is sought, it would probably need to be self-consciously time-limited. It will certainly need to be talked and prayed through with people from church (whether friends or pastoral leaders). But if that's happening then seeing a non-Christian counsellor for a limited time, regarding a limited issue and with local church prayer support is a viable option - certainly it is if your Pastor thinks so.

The real problem, it seems to me, is having a counsellee looking to a counsellor as a Pastor - a shepherd of their soul. Unfortunately though, this happens all the time. And the problem is not limited to counsellors. So many want their soul's deepest needs to be met through celebrity online preachers, through parachurch ministries, through conferences, through GOD TV, through the latest Christian paperback. This is the problem, and you'll notice it's a problem even if the spiritual shepherd being sought is Christian. Even if their doctrine is completely orthodox, the problem remains.

On the other hand, consider this scenario. Let's imagine the person you love is falling into a big black hole called anorexia - this is Emma's and my story. In that case there will be professional help available  - not always very much, not always very helpful and not always very easy to access. But nonetheless there will be opportunities to access care from beyond the local church and, most often, beyond an explicitly Christian context. What should you do?

My advice: take everything that's offered with both hands, but pray through it with folks from church. Christ and His people really do have the answer to eating disorders but there's also wisdom out there about the nuts and bolts of battling it. Through it all, church should absolutely maintain spiritual oversight and care but church should also acknowledge where others have useful expertise. The problem comes when Christian leaders equate expertise with soul care. In that case leaders who feel "out of their depth" in terms of expertise will hand over their people wholesale to the experts.

This happened to Emma and I several times. We would go to Christian leaders with our problems only to be told they were "too much" for them to handle. This was understandable - they were "too much" for us too! But instead of maintaining soul care while delegating specific expertise, they washed their hands of both.

The greatest help we had, beyond the Lord's own intervention, was a Christian couple who admitted frequently their own inadequacy. They had no idea about eating disorders but every Monday night they opened up their home and we talked. Emma could speak about the professional help she was receiving and we prayed together. Very simple. Very profound. And it was all possible because these Christian leaders did not consider their limited knowledge to limit their ability to care.

Can non-Christian counsellors be helpful? Of course. Can they be unhelpful. You bet. But the need to find "an answer" to the counselling question betrays a deeper problem - we feel like the counsellor, whether Christian or not, is the answer. We treat outside helpers like alternative shepherds when really they're just vets.

For my money the real issue is dethroning the counsellor from the position of Pastor. Once this occurs, their doctrinal orthodoxy is still important, but less so. You see shepherds can bring in vets to help the flock. And those vets may be a brother, or they may be from a different tribe. That's of secondary importance. Whoever the vet is, the real issue is that the sheep know the voice of their Shepherd and the continued care of their God-given undershepherds.

burgundyA Parable (Which May Just Have Happened).

Once upon a conference, an unknown speaker gave a talk to a small seminar grouping. Let's call him the Little Fish.

Later the Little Fish listened to a moderately well-known speaker at a larger seminar grouping. Let's call him the Big Fish.

After the seminar the Little Fish spoke to the Big Fish and shared his appreciation of the Big Fish's ministry. The two spoke for a good 5 or ten minutes but as they left the seminar room together the Big Fish spotted the Biggest Fish.

The Biggest Fish was the plenary speaker for the whole conference, and there he was, waiting for an elevator. Immediately conversation with the Little Fish was cut short.

"Hello Biggest Fish." said the Big Fish. "Are you off to dinner? Can I join you?"

The Big Fish and the Biggest Fish entered the elevator. The Little Fish smiled and walked on alone - praying forgiveness for any times he'd done the same.



praying otterA semi-imagined conversation

-- Right.  Bible reading.  Here we go - Speak Lord, your servant is listening.  Ok, Matthew 11:28.  Jesus said "Come to me all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest."  Ok, good verse.  Well said Lord.  Now let's get down to business.  What's this verse really saying...  Well of course "rest" is theologically loaded.  Right from the seventh day of creation we see eschatological perfection modelled in Sabbath....

-- Glen!

-- Speak Lord, your servant is listening.

-- You've already said that.  And I've already spoken...

-- ... Oh indeed you have Lord and now I'm allowing your word to inform and shape my theological precommitments that I might be transformed by the renewing... Well you know how the verse goes.  Anyway I find it fascinating that you say v28 right after v27 when you declare the trinitarian, christocentric dynamic of all revel...

-- Glen!

-- Speak Lord, your servant is listening

-- Are you?

-- Well trying to.  That's why I'm deploying all the hermeneutical tools in my considerable arsenal.  It allows my whole theology to be shaped by these concepts...

-- Concepts?  Glen, have you actually come to me for rest today?

-- Well...  My plan is to get a properly nuanced theology of rest in place.  And once I have this understanding I imagine the experience of rest will sort of, I don't know, umm....

-- Glen?

-- Speak Lord your servant is listening

-- Maybe later...




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Yesterday was self-injury awareness day. Here's a re-post of something I wrote this time last year.

Emma's great introduction to self-harm issues makes the vital point that self-harm is a universal human problem. It's not "the crazies over there."  You and I self-harm every day.  Don't believe me?  Just take note of your self-talk next time you fail at something or get even mildly embarrassed in a social setting. You - like me - will be abusing yourself in ways you'd find shocking if it were directed at others.

None of this is to minimize the deep struggles which self-injurers face when they cut themselves with knives rather than words. But it is to say "We're all in this together" and everyone can empathise to some degree or another.

I thought that here I'd throw in a couple of thoughts that I've found extremely useful from Dan Allender. His talks called "The Wounded Heart" have been foundational for my own pastoral theology (the book is good, but not a patch on the talks).

At one point he talks about the human personality, created with dignity, fallen in depravity and then adulterated with layers as we try to manage life.

It looks something like this...
The Wounded Heart

Beginning from the centre, there are certain things we tell ourselves - strategies for negotiating a fallen world.

Dignity and Depravity:  “I don’t want you to see how bad or how good I am.”

We say both.  I certainly want to cover up my short-comings, but I also want to hide my giftings too. If you know how good I am you'll want more of me. And I'm not sure I'll be able to meet those expectations.  And so I hide.

Shame: “I’m exposed”

I don't need to tell myself to feel shame. At the speed of light, exposure unleashes the engulfing flood of shame.

Contempt (for others and for self).  “I hate you / I hate myself."

There are only two covers for shame - the righteousness of Christ, or hatred.  If I don't receive the covering of Christ, I take my revenge on whoever stands to remind me of my failures.  God reminds me, so I hate Him.  You remind me, so I hate you. And I constantly and inescapably remind me. So I hate me. With frightening ferocity.

Performance: “Here’s my long-term strategy for minimizing shame/exposure in the future.”

Because the experience of shame is so horrific, I devise schemes for avoiding it / handling it when it occurs. For all of us, we avoid circumstances in which it might arise. But if I can't seem to escape those feelings I will hit upon a strategy for managing that shame. Sometimes these strategies will be very elaborate and all-consuming. That's part of the (sub-conscious) plan though. I'm heavily invested in being able to handle these hellish feelings.


Self-harm might seem irrational as a response to our negative feelings, but there is some sense to it. My control-seeking flesh would love to locate the problem in me so that the solution is also in me. My horror at being exposed is thus quickly (instantly in our experience) turned to hatred and this hatred is turned on myself.

The expression of this hatred in self-harm does give relief in the short-run.  I can incarnate the problem – turning the shame into a tangible target for my hatred.  But in doing this I'm redefining my problems.  Instead of dealing with my real problems - sin and depravity - with the blood of Christ, I localise and domesticate them: ‘I’m so stupid/I’m so ugly’ - and it's my blood that pays.

In all this, I incarnate the problems, I take responsibility, I suffer and bleed for them.  But all the while my High Priest stands before the Father, pleading His own blood for me.  And Jesus says:

"Glen, your problem is not that you're ugly, fat, weird, dumb, awkward, a loser. Your problem is far greater than that!  No animal blood could atone for your sins. No human blood could atone for your sins.  Only the blood of God could make things right (Acts 20:28). But my blood has been shed. And it totally covers you.

I have included you in my death. I have put the old you to death. You were crucified with me and no longer live. It's all been judged. It's all been satisfied. And now you're risen with me, far beyond sin, death, judgement and hell.  There can be no condemnation for you. You belong to me and the Father beams at you with pride.

When you feel you need to pay - I promise, it's finished. When you feel you need to suffer - I've gone to hell and back. When you feel that you're exposed - I am your covering.  When you feel you're too ashamed - you're spotless in my sight."

You have been given fullness in Christ, who is the Head over every power and authority. 11 In him you were also circumcised, in the putting off of the flesh, not with a circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ, 12 having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead. 13 When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, 14 having cancelled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross...

20 Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules: 21 "Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!"? 22 These are all destined to perish with use, because they are based on human commands and teachings. 23 Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3 For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.

--Colossians 2:10-3:3

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