Offense

Crystal, unfortunately, hit the nail right on the head. She taught at church on Friday in Pastor Scott’s stead. Toward the end, she reminded us that, in not so few words, we’re offended by the call of Christ. This offense especially manifests when we’re living in disobedience to the Word and leads to roots of unbelief and bitterness.

Thinking about this some, and seeing a case study of it unfold in my life this weekend, the Lord is leading me into some new understanding on this.

For the past while, I’ve tended to consider offense and “being offended” as an interpersonal-relationship-with-human-beings thing. You say something insulting; I’m offended. You diss my best friend; I’m offended. You slander a minister I enjoy; I’m offended. You trash my sports team; I’m offended. And since I’m not often offended by other human beings—at least not for any length of time—I thought I was pretty good in this area.

A few of my friends and I are going through a curriculum called In Christ’s Image Training and one of the teacher’s goals is for students to have the “unoffendable heart of Christ.” I certainly didn’t for one second presume I had already arrived there, but I did consider myself to be on the way. With a lot of what people say and do, I’m indifferent. Treat me good: Thanks! Treat me bad: Oh well. Few highs, few lows.

But the idea of being offended by Christ and the cross… I hadn’t thought about that much. And… yeah… if I’m honest, I’m real offended by it. And that’s a problem.

A word picture

Consider this scenario: A cloth-wearing homeless man walks up to your door, having passed through your white-picket fence, across your green grass and onto your driveway, strolling by your mid-sized sedan. He knocks. You answer. He says: “Be my slave.” You scowl and say: “No way,” slaming the door in his face. You’re now deeply offended, wondering how someone could have the gull to command you to be his or her slave.

He knocks again. You consider ignoring him and not answering at all, but then decide to amuse the crazy man and see what he has to say this time.

“Really… you should be my slave!” he blurts out, knowing he doesn’t have much open-door time. “You’re living life all wrong and you’d be better off doing things my way!”

Door closes. And locks. This guy is nuts! He’s homeless and hasn’t washed in days… How could he possibly think he has a better way to live than I do?

That’s essentially the situation we have with Jesus—at least in 21st Century America. And we find it offensive. Deeply.

There are all sorts of directions I could go with this. My head is swirling with thoughts and conviction…

We aren’t the first ones

Jesus’ call has been offensive since his ministry began. His hometown was offended by him and he couldn’t minister to them as a result (Matt. 13:53-58). When we’re offended by the Lord, we, too, can’t receive His ministry because offense is ultimately unbelief (v. 58). And we have to believe to receive (Mark 11:24).

Christ’s own disciples (not the 12, but many among the masses of followers he had) were offended by His words. The end of John 6 tells this story. Many stopped following Christ as a result of how offended they were. Yet Christ didn’t soften the message and plead with them to stick it out. In fact, went on to prod even deeper with the 12. Surely we would have been offended by what he went on to say to them.

We live in a society on hyper offense-alert. The smallest thing could offend someone and set them off, so you had better watch what you say. The church has, unfortunately, fallen right in line with this phobia and has often compromised the highly-offense command to climb on a cross and die… the highly-offensive command to sell all you have and follow Him… the highly offensive command to turn the other cheek… to give the coat on your back… to love your enemy and pray for that person who persecuted you… to cut off your hand and gouge out your eye… to give your money away… to work for the common good… to eat with sinners, love prostitutes and adopt orphans… feed the hungry, touch the diseased, carry the cripples and clothe the naked… to give up our weekends and weeknights.

Why do we find this stuff offensive? Because we’re entitled. We’ve worked so hard… we’ve earned so very much… we have degrees and titles, offices and high-back leather chairs. We have IRAs and 401(k)s. We have acres and stories and square-feet. Bathrooms. Closets. Hard-wood floors and tile. We have all these ways of measuring our lives which surely, when added up, bypass us around the offensive parts of the Good News. Those parts are for other people… or for them back then. We think we’ve taken some sort of CLEP test.

It is good news, right? Yeah…the life God has for us is good news. But to experience and obtain it, we must die… just like Christ did. And for most of us, that’s not good news at all. That’s offensive news. We rather like the lives we’ve built for ourselves here.

That’s what makes the true call of Christ so much easier for the “underprivileged” to accept. Their roots in this world are shallow… they don’t have much evidence in the form of cars, TVs, food, clothes and paychecks to prove that the way they’re doing things is a better way. So they say: “Okay, homeless man. I’ll try being your slave. Maybe I’ll at least get fed a meal a day and have a roof to sleep under.”

So the homeless wacko gathers them around and begins teaching them. He says: “Blessed are you…” And He says it time and time again.

Who’s better off? The blessed slaves with nothing, or the offended independent with everything?

Coming to terms

Let’s start calling things what they are: offense. For me, I used to call things “confusion” or “misunderstanding” or “lack of clarity”. If I didn’t particularly like something God was leading me into or had done in my life or was asking me to learn, I would basically say “I’m not sure what’s going on.” I would play dumb—sometimes deliberately, sometimes not.

But I think the vast majority of the time, I’ve actually been offended by it. I think I’m offended by the fact that I can take a step forward in my climb up the mountain of God, and feel pretty good about it, only to realize there are thousands more to take, each one taking more strength and courage than the previous. I think I’m actually offended by the fact that I’m 28 and still single and that, in my mind, the Lord hasn’t deemed me ready for a serious relationship. Whether He’s saying this or not (and I don’t actually think He is) is beside the point. That fact is I’m offended even at the possibility! I think I’m offended that He’s asking for more and more of my time and that there are “plenty of other people out there” who hardly lift a finger for the Lord. And they’re still going to heaven.

This attitude of offense causes all sorts of problems in our relationship with the Lord. It’s bad enough when it shows up in our relationships with each other. But it’s even worse when it separates us from our source of true life. It all comes back to the fact that we don’t believe He is who He says He is and that we don’t believe He’ll do what He says He’ll do.
“Lord, I believe. Help me with my unbelief.”

Joel Maust

Joel Maust is a blogger, marketer and photographer living in the beautiful Flathead Valley of northwest Montana.