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.”
One reply on “Offense”
I thought about this particular blog entry when I read this today, so I thought I would post it. “Offense” is worth reading again!
BEEN THINKING ABOUT: THE LOVE OF GOD
I looked in the mirror and wondered if I was staring at one of heaven’s spoiled brats. After consuming more than my share of mercies, I could see in my eyes a sadness that reflected not what God had given, but what He had withheld. Questions formed emotional distance between me and the Father I was counting on. Why wouldn’t He answer my calls? I knew I’d let Him down in so many ways. But I didn’t want to feel like an unloved child any more than I liked thinking of Him as an emotionally distant or negligent parent. With thoughts I wished I didn’t have, I found help by reading again some of the story of another man who knew far better than I what it meant to have a bad day.
Why Was Paul Still Smiling?
In the apostle Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, he wrote about a series of hardships he had endured as a servant of Christ. Five times he had taken 39 lashes. Three times he was beaten with rods. Once he was stoned and left for dead. Three times he was shipwrecked (2 Corinthians 11:24-28). Then, as if these hard times weren’t enough, when Paul was troubled by a physical problem he believed was caused by Satan, he says his prayers for healing were not granted (12:7-10). Yet, Paul is still quoted today as a follower of Christ who sometimes wrote about the love of God as if nothing else mattered. In addition to his own problems, Paul carried the weight of his concerns for others. So, he wrote to followers of Christ: “I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, . . . that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man, that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height–to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:14-19). What did Paul know that we are missing? How could a man with so many problems be more sure of the love of God than we are?
What Are We Missing?
According to Paul, knowing we are loved is as important to our well-being as it is for an oak or cedar to have a healthy root system. If we aren’t well-grounded in the love of God, we are apt to be like a shallow-rooted tree that dries up in the heat or blows over in the wind. Being rooted deeply in God’s love, Paul could groan with a whole world of trouble (Romans 8:22-23) and still write, “I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (8:38-39). So how did he do it? How did Paul live with such tension? How could he see the love of God as if it were a huge ocean, while admitting to emotions that carried him up and down like a ship in rough water?
Why Was Paul on His Knees?
If Paul had concluded that seeing the love of God was nothing more than a moral obligation, he could have encouraged others to “just do it.” Instead, Paul wrote out a prayer to make it clear that seeing how much God loves us is not just a matter of opening our eyes to the obvious. His letter to the Ephesians shows why no one can claim credit for discovering on their own an ocean of divine love that is infinitely and eternally greater than any human love we have ever known. By saying that, he was asking the Father in heaven to help them see the depth and breadth of God’s love for all of His people. Paul was telling the Ephesians, and us in the process, that sensing the wonder of how much God cares about us requires the work of the Spirit in our hearts (3:16-19). Learning to catch a glimpse of the measureless love of God is something to pray for. It’s something to ask for ourselves, and it’s a way of interceding for those we care about. When Paul prayed that, together with “all the saints,” the Ephesians would discover the unmeasured depths of God’s love, he was including us in his prayer. Our circumstances don’t rule us out. Paul would know. He wasn’t writing his letter from a mountain retreat. He was writing in circumstances he would never have chosen for himself. He was writing from prison.
What Was Paul Seeing?
In the confinement of a Roman prison, Paul made no secret of where he found comfort and strength. Read his letter to the Ephesians and count the number of times he referred to the name of the One who died for us. His letters, like his life, showed that he was consumed, energized, and emboldened by seeing in Christ the proof of God’s love, not just for himself but for all of us. Look again at the apostle’s wonderful obsession. In his inspired prayer for the Ephesians, he asks “the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, . . . that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; . . . to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge” (Ephesians 3:14-19). Circumstances may shout that the Father in heaven is emotionally aloof or even negligent. But, as Paul discovered, the One who opened blind eyes, sent demons running, and bore our sins in His own body deserves far more trust than our circumstances.
Father in heaven, forgive us for trying to see Your love on our own. Please do for us what we can’t do for ourselves. Open the eyes of our hearts. Help us to look into the eyes of Your Son, to touch the scars in His hands, and to feel the warmth of Your embrace and tears for us, in Him. —Mart De Haan
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