By Pastor Glenn Pease
It is on the highest interest level to hear of people's most embarrassing moments. Jane Wyman tells of hers. She was preparing for very important guests and she put a note on the guest towels that she had so carefully selected. The note read, "If you use these I will murder you." The note was meant for her husband, of course, but in all the excitement of her preparation she forgot to remove the note. When the evening was over and the guests had departed she discovered the towels were still in perfect order, as well as the note itself.
She wanted to crawl into a hole she was so embarrassed. Something like this happens to all of us at some time or other. Carl Michaelson tells of his little girl coming in with a tear in her pants and his wife was angry. She had done this too often, and she said to her, "Now you go to your room and sew up that tear." The poor little kid never had a needle in her hand. The mother went to check on her a little later and there were her torn pants on the floor, but no little girl. She went searching and when she saw the light on in the basement she called down, "Are you down there running around with your pants off?" There was silence, and then a deep voice responded, "No madam, I'm just reading the gas meter." Talk about embarrassing!
Art Linkletter tells about one of his most embarrassing experiences on his once popular show People Are Funny. They had an auction offering the person in the studio who contributed most to charity the chance to come up and hit him with a chocolate cream pie. The highest bitter was a sweet little gray haired grandmother. She wrote out her personal check for 200 dollars. She picked up the pie and smashed it completely across his face. Then she twisted it which forced the meringue under his eyes. He said he would never forget that experience, but to add to the embarrassment her check bounced, and he knew he had been had.
Life is filled with embarrassing moments. We feel embarrassed as children about our silly mistakes that everybody laughs at. Then as teens we are embarrassed about our zips, our clothes, and quite often about our parents. But it works both ways. And when we become parents, we are often embarrassed by our children, and their behavior.
Shame because of our feelings of inferiority and our sinful desires are a normal part of everyone's life. A Christian father writing in Moody Monthly says the most embarrassing thing he ever did was reading the Bible with his children. The first thing they asked was why did Abraham lie about his wife Sarah? His daughter asked, "Daddy didn't he love her?" Then came Lot in Sodom and they wanted to know why the town homosexuals wanted to beat down the door of Lot to get at his guests. Things did not get better when he got to David. Questions about adultery and murder were not comfortable for him. He switched to Proverbs for a while, but then had to face: "Daddy, what's a prostitute?" It was one of the hardest things he ever did because the Bible deals openly with all the things that shame and embarrass us. But it did force him to prepare his children for the real world.
The feelings of shame and embarrassment are not all bad. Peter the Great was once so angry with a servant on his boat that he was going to throw him overboard and let him drown. The servant reminded him that this would go on his record for all of history. This reminder cooled him off, for he did not want the shame of that blot on his record. Shame prevented his sin. This is the positive value of shame.
We need to be sensitive in some areas of life or we lose the ability to blush and nothing embarrasses us anymore. We become hardened to the sinful nature of man. This is going on all the time in our culture. People are on talk shows openly sharing their sex life. Articles in the paper deal with the most intimate aspects of life, which were once preserved for the eyes of professional people only. We are an open culture, and our children now watch on TV things that would have turned most people's faces red with embarrassment only a generation ago.
There is no doubt that some openness on sensitive issues is good. The Bible itself is quite open, but the fact is, if the openness does not carry with it a sense of shame and embarrassment it is harmful. Paul in the last part of Romans 1 tells of how God gave people over to a depraved mind. They felt no shame about anything. They did every kind of wickedness and not only felt no shame, but gloried in their evil, and enjoyed the evil of others. The worst judgment that can happen to a culture is to lose its sense of shame. That is the bottom of the pit when man gets so depraved that nothing produces shame. Abraham Heschel, the Jewish author, in his book What Is Man? writes, "I am afraid of people who are never embarrassed by their own pettiness, prejudices, envy and conceit, never embarrassed at the profanation of life. What the world needs is a sense of embarrassment."
On the other hand, we have a world filled with people who are neurotic because they are ashamed and embarrassed about their bodies and their normal sex desires. Christian counselors by the thousands are busy every day trying to help Christian people get over their shame that robs them of the joy God intended them to experience in marriage. Shame over the legitimate enjoyment of sex is a curse. In the Autobiography of Gandhi he tells of the night his father died. He was by his bedside until 11 P. M. when his uncle came to relieve him. He went to bed with his wife and enjoyed the pleasure of lovemaking. Later the message came that his father had died. He felt shame and wrote,
"So all was over! I had but to ring my hands. I felt deeply
ashamed and miserable. I ran to my father's room. I saw
that, if animal passion had not blinded me, I should have
been spared the torture of separation from my father during
his last moments. I should have been massaging him, and he
would have died in my arms. But now it was uncle who had
had this privilege. He was so deeply devoted to his elder
brother that he had earned the honor of doing him the last
services! My father had forebodings of the coming event.
He had made a sign for pen and paper, and had written:
'Prepare for the last rights.' He had then snapped the
amulet off his arm and also his gold necklace of tulasi-
beads and flung them aside. A moment after this he was
The shame, to which I have referred in a foregoing
chapter, was this shame of my carnal desire even at the
critical hour of my father's death, which demanded wakeful
service. It is a blot I have never been able to efface or forget."
Over the years I have counseled a number of people who feel this shame and guilt because they were not there when a loved one died. They may have been enjoying some valid pleasure of life at the time, and they are ashamed of themselves for their self-indulgence rather than self-sacrifice. It may be just eating or sleeping, but they feel guilty and ashamed. The goal of the counselor is to help them get beyond their neurotic shame and see that nobody can be in a state of perpetual self-denial. Even in a crisis we need relief, and some enjoyment to balance out the burden.
So what we have is a crazy paradoxical world where there is both too much shame, and also too little of it. This brings us to Paul's dealing with this very issue in writing to the Romans. Human nature hasn't changed, and the issues of Paul's day are the same as those we deal with in our day. In 1:16 Paul says, "I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ." So we can deal with the Christian need to overcome shame in dealing with the Gospel and other religious issues. Then in Rom. 6:21 Paul uses this same word in referring to their former lives of sin. He writes, "What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of?"
What we have here is Christians who are on both sides of the fence striving to not be ashamed of certain things, and at the same time trying to maintain shame of other things. Unfortunately, it often happens that we feel the shame where we shouldn't, and don't feel it where we should. We have shame we are to ship out, and shame we are to shape up. It is not shape up or ship out, but shape up and ship out. Paul is dealing here with-
SHAME WE ARE TO SHIP OUT.
Paul was not ashamed of the Gospel when he wrote, but he was earlier in his life. He was ashamed that Jewish people were claiming that Jesus was the Messiah. He was a man who was crucified as a criminal, and it was embarrassing for people to honor him. He wanted to hunt them down and rid the world of such people. After Jesus confronted him on the road to Damascus he was never ashamed of Jesus again. Then he was ashamed of his stubbornness and blindness that made him a persecutor of Jesus. Not all people have such a dramatic event in their lives.
Timothy was one of the great men of the New Testament and a favorite friend of Paul. He was not a bold personality, but was rather shy and timid. He had to fight with shame in identifying with Jesus. Paul had to give him a pep talk in II Tim. 1:7-8, "For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline. So do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord, or ashamed of me his prisoner. But join with me in suffering for the Gospel." Poor timid Timothy had a crucified criminal as his Lord, and he had a jailbird for his leader. It was hard to be bold with these embarrassing credentials. How would you feel if an interviewer looked at your resume and asked about your present status as follower of public rioter and prisoner Paul, and partner in stirring up hostilities in many communities over the teachings of an executed criminal in Israel. This might bring a blush to any man's face.
Peter was a bold man and thought he could take on the Roman soldiers single handed with his one sword. But when he saw Jesus in bondage he denied he even knew him was a servant girl said he was a follower of this prisoner. He was ashamed to be linked with Jesus at that point. We do not have to face what he did, but we all have the battle with shame in identifying with our Lord in a world where his name is often used as a curse word. It is a common battle that Christians have to try and overcome that shame that keeps them from being a witness to their faith in Christ.
Jesus had to endure shame as he hung on the cross, and was nearly naked in public. His disciples had forsaken him, and the people were mocking him. It was the ultimate in embarrassment, but Jesus rose above it and conquered the shame of it. Heb. 12:2 says, "Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and set down at the right hand of the throne of God." Jesus looked beyond the shame to the purpose of God in saving millions by his act of sacrifice. He shipped out the emotion of shame and took on the emotion of joy, for he saw the unseen values of all eternity that would come from this event.
Paul did the same thing. If he would have looked only at the visible it would have been embarrassing. He was serving the Lord of all and yet was often in prison and going through all kinds of hardships. But Paul did not look at the negative but at the positive. That is why he could say he was not ashamed of the Gospel. He knew it was the power that would save lives for all eternity. He had insight into the invisible and the ultimate victory just as Jesus did. You overcome shame by developing an emotion that is even stronger. Paul writes of his victory over shame in II Tim. 1:11-12, "And of this Gospel I was appointed a herald and an Apostle and a teacher. That is why I m suffering as I am. Yet I am not ashamed, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day."
We are often ashamed because we do suffer. We are ashamed to be bold for Christ because we fear people will say, "If being a Christian is so great, why are you more poor than my non-Christian friends? Why do you have as many problems as anyone else. Your life is no dream come true." We are embarrassed by this reality. It would be easy if being a Christian made you superior to everyone else, but that is not the way it works, and so we have shame. Almost every educated man alive had a better life than Paul did, and they were not being stoned and run out of town, or being arrested. He was seen as a fool by the wise of his day, but he was not ashamed because of his confidence in what was ahead in Christ.
In our day the shame is made even worse by the preaching of the health and wealth gospel. A true believer is supposedly never to be sick or in debt. Life is just a bowl of cherries for the believer. This perversion so contrary to the New Testament is an embarrassment for we can seldom live up to this false image, and so we do not claim to be believers as we should. Paul, on the other hand, gloried in what he suffered for Christ. Everyone could see he was not rich and was often in trouble of one kind or another, and he also had his physical problems. He was not embarrassed by all of this negative at all, for he saw the positive he had in Christ.
In our culture, however, we are often embarrassed by any level of failure for it looks like we are not blest of God is we are not on the highest level of success. Anything less than the best is an embarrassment. Beatrix Potter, the English writer, wrote the tale of Peter Rabbit as a girl. As she grew older, richer, and more successful, she became embarrassed by her early work and never allowed Peter Rabbit to be mentioned in her presence. It is a quirk of human nature, but the more successful we become the greater the danger of being ashamed of Jesus.
Charles Colson in his book The Struggle For Men's Hearts and Minds gives this analysis of American Christianity: "We live in a time that would seem to be marked by unprecedented spiritual resurgence; 96 % of all American say they believe in God; 80% profess to be Christians. Yet families are splitting apart in record numbers. Countless millions of unborn children have been murdered since 1973. And there are 100 times more burglaries in so-called "Christian" America that in so-called "pagan" Japan. Why this paradox between profession and practice? Why is the faith of more than 50 million Americans who claim to be born again not making more of an impact on the moral values of our land?"
"The answer is what Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German pastor martyred y the Nazis, labeled cheap grace: the perception that Christianity offers only a flood of blessings, the rights of the kingdom without responsibilities to the King. This easy believism fails to take biblical truth to heart and fails to act in obedience to the Scriptures. The result is a church which increasingly accommodates secular values. Not knowingly, of course, but simply by gradual acceptance of secular standards which have become comfortable."
He is saying, in essence, that we as American Christians are embarrassed by the Gospel. It does not fit our idea of what is acceptable, and so we have tailored it to fit the way we feel so we can be more comfortable with it. The paradox is that the only way we can get back to Paul's position of not being ashamed of the Gospel is to add to our lives shame for all that is not the Gospel. We need to be embarrassed by all of the false gospels of our day. We need to feel shame for all the perversions and rip-offs that operate under the name of Christian. Shame can be an asset. An honest look at our own sinfulness will prevent us from being hypocritical and holier than thou in our approach to witnessing.
We need to be honest about the reality that we are not saved because we are better than others. We have the same problems and the same tendencies to sin as anyone else. We have the same temptations, and the same desires for success, fame, things and pleasure. People need to know that salvation is not earned by being better, but it is a gift that comes when we have faith in the one who offers it, and that is by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. We do not want people to focus on us, but to look to Jesus who alone can save.
Frederick Buechner was a chaplain as a Christian Academy. One day he was walking through the slums of Manhatten, and on the wall of an abandoned building there was a mass of graffiti. There were four letter words, names of lovers, and right in the midst of all of this someone put "Jesus Saves." His first reaction was embarrassment to see that message in the midst of all that profanity. It shocked his sense of Presbyterian propriety. He tried to figure out why he had such a revulsion to that message, and he concluded he was embarrassed for lack of faith.
He really had lost his conviction that Jesus could save people out of the sewer they were living in. He expected Jesus to save only the clean and respectable people. He realized he was embarrassed because he had lost his awareness of the power of the Gospel. That is why any of is ashamed of the Gospel. It is because we have lost faith it its power to save anyone who will believe. We need to ship out this shame and regain the faith of Paul that made him unashamed of the Gospel. This will lead us to be more bold and powerful in sharing this good news with all whom God brings us into contact.