Monthly Archives: December 2017

Four Dangers We Might Be Missing

Faith and family

Connections Magazine, January/February 2018

Four Dangers We Might Be Missing

by Marcus J. Carlson

The world has changed and continues to change rapidly. While there are many things that are no di erent from decades or generations before, there are also many things that have changed dramatically from one generation to the next. In our globalized, technology-rich culture, the rate of change seems to be ever increasing. The burden of following Jesus and raising kids in today’s world is often understated. I have yet to meet anyone who does not have some fear about the world in which their children and grandchildren will grow up in. While we can point to many specific cultural and institutional challenges, there are several underlying challenges I nd most people miss, and they are far more dangerous than many of the external issues we fear as followers of Jesus in a broken world.

There are four specific words I think highlight some of the most signi cant, dangerous and toxic elements of the world today: division, fear, guilt and shame. These are not new concepts or dangers, but their in uence in the church and world today are of great concern.


Currently, the entire purpose of government and media seems to be to distract and divide. We spend hours ghting over insigni cant issues that we have been manipulated into thinking are significant issues. We no longer seem to know how to agree to disagree, and often evaluate people based entirely on their political viewpoints and perspectives. We draw lines in the sand as we assume those who think di erently than we do are the enemy. We have bought into the mindset that there are only two ways to think, and our current view is right while the other is wrong.


Guilt is also a toxic force in our culture and our churches. Guilt, though it may seem Biblical, is not. Guilt is not of God and is a tool of the evil one. It is neither Biblical nor healthy. In my work across the country and the world as a pastor, speaker and educator, I have found guilt and shame to be some of the most powerful and destructive forces in the world today. This is true both among those who are Christian and those who are not. It is true among every generation and every age group.

The real problem with guilt and the feeling it elicits is that it seeks to continue to punish people for their shortcomings, mistakes, failures or o enses. Guilt allows us to dwell in our sins instead of embracing forgiveness in Jesus and living in the grace of God. Most people confuse guilt and remorse. Remorse is the recognition that something wrong has been done and should not have been done; it is a call to live di erently. Remorse is Biblical and healthy. Guilt is the idea that we must continue to live in and punish ourselves for our sins. This, of course, is a blatant denial of what Jesus did for us on the cross, dying for those very sins. Remorse is a value of discipleship; guilt is a rejection of God’s grace.


We react to the news story of the day out of complete and utter fear. The media, government, marketers and even many leaders in the church create a great sense of fear in us in an attempt to motivate and sometimes manipulate. We are a divided people, but unnecessarily so. We can value, love and be in relationship with someone who disagrees with us.

The opposite of fear is love, but fear is easy, sells well and is something that is a powerful motivator. If we are honest with ourselves, many of our reactions, especially negative and divisive ones, are rooted in fear. The only fear we have ever been called to have is of God, and many argue that fear is more about respect than it is being scared.

If the opposite of fear is love, the antidote to fear is trust. At the core of our faith is the principle that we are called to trust God in all things, and the practice of faith in everyday living is to grow in that trust of God. In fact, many of the uses of the word “faith” in the Bible refer to trust. Consider this as well — in almost every instance in the Bible where God appears, the first words God offers are “do not be afraid.” From Moses to the shepherds in Bethlehem, we see a God, we see a God who sees fear as a primary issue to address.


If guilt is a feeling, then shame is an identity. Guilt tells us we must focus on where and what we have done wrong, where we have fallen short of our expectations, the expectations of others and the expectations of the culture as well as our perceived expectations from God. If guilt tells us we must focus on our sins, failures and shortcomings, shame tells us that our sins, failures and shortcomings are our identity. Guilt is about what we have done; shame speaks to who we are.

The message of shame is this: our identity is found in what we do wrong, nothing more, nothing less. But our identity is found in Jesus, not in our sins and shortcomings. Shame is a favorite tool of the evil one, as it forces us to live in our sin instead of living in God’s grace. The Gospel value that is the antidote to shame is repentance. Repentance is a healthy, Biblical approach that means to turn. It means with the help of God, we turn from the ways that are not of God to the ways of God found in the life, ministry and teachings of Jesus and in the Scriptures.

Embrace the Gospel of Jesus

Rather than embrace the lie being sold to us, this gospel of division, fear, guilt and shame, we must instead embrace the Gospel of Jesus. We must embrace the truth of God’s love and grace, the promise that is God’s covenant with us. We must not forget some of the most important tenants of our Lutheran faith: Word alone, faith alone, grace alone. Instead of this gospel of division, fear, guilt and shame, we must embrace the opposite of these ideas found in the Gospel. We must embrace unity, love and faith, remorse and repentance.

We have in front of us an incredible opportunity to change the narrative of the church and the world. The harvest is ripe for God to work in mighty ways in the midst of some of the most uncertain and challenging times we have ever faced in the church and the world. The choice is ours.

One thing is certain, our children do not stand a chance in this world if we pass on to them this false gospel of fear, division, guilt and shame. We believe in a God who has and who will conquer all. As parents and other signi cant adults in the lives of the children and youth of our homes, churches and communities, we are called to be leaders. We are called to pass our faith on to them and to equip them to be disciples in the church and the world in which they live. If we want them to have a healthy, life and world changing faith, we must ght and reject the toxic mindsets of division, fear, guilt and shame that have permeated our world and our faith today.

For more on this topic, contact Marcus at:
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