Taking Offense
Taking Offense

Were you offended today?

We live in a society where taking offense is now the norm. And the catalog of culprits multiplies by the minute, with politics and religion topping the list.

Sadly, it seems our culture is especially offended by the claims of Christianity, more so than any other belief system. I used to think it was because of the exclusive salvation claims Christians make. But that’s not the case, since Muslims make similar claims.

Perhaps it’s because the enemy of our souls knows Jesus truly is the only way to the Father, and has blinded the eyes and stopped up the ears of those who need to know it. The exclusive claims of other beliefs continue to be proclaimed without obstacles because the enemy knows they don’t matter.

So what’s a Christian to do when others are offended by our faith in Jesus Christ? I recently read an article in which the author proudly proclaimed her refusal to apologize for the gospel and for her faith in Christ.

I agree with the apostle Paul who wrote, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile” (Romans 1:16 NIV).

Still, what if we do need to apologize, but not for the truth of the gospel message? Not for our faith in Christ. And not for the transforming power of God’s salvation by the Holy Spirit.

Content vs. Delivery

What if we need to apologize for the way we communicate that message?

We’ve all seen and heard derogatory comments by self-described Christians addressed to abortionists, homosexuals, and others who commit sins different from our own. Comments such as:

  • Judgment will come!
  • God will punish you for this!
  • You’ll burn in hell for eternity!

If we close our eyes, we can almost picture the speaker proclaiming the words with a fist raised high in anticipated victory over the forces of evil.

And the world continues to close its ears, shut its eyes, and turn its back on the gospel message.

But what if we said those words with a broken heart? If we spoke them from a place of tenderness for the eternal destiny of others created in the image of God? And what if we talked about hell with tears streaming down our face—grief stricken over the judgment to come?

Finally, what if the cry of our heart and our mouth is, “I love you and I don’t want you to experience that terrible judgment.”

What if we would say, “I was right there with you.” What if we would identify with the apostle Paul who said, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners–of whom I am the worst” (I Timothy 1:15 NIV). Not someone else. Me. Us.

But God. But God intervened. He saved me from my sin. He saved me from myself. And He saved me—us—for Himself. Not because we’re better than other sinners, but because of His lavish grace.

So what if we would apologize for our arrogance and self-righteousness? What might happen? We might still be mocked and denigrated, but that happens anyway.

Or…

Maybe, just maybe, the other person might walk away having experienced real love from an unexpected source. The kind of love the Holy Spirit can use to speak to their heart and mind long after the conversation ends.

Speak truth in love (Ephesians 4:15). Not arrogantly. Not rejoicing that “they’ll get theirs.” But with a tender heart and tears in our eyes.

Then if anyone is offended, it will be because of the gospel, not because of how we delivered the message.


 
Absolute Truth…or Not?

Is there such a thing as absolute truth?

If you answered yes, you share a traditional world view that is quickly falling out of favor in our culture.

If you said no, you’ve just contradicted yourself. Saying there’s no such thing as absolute truth is actually making an absolute truth statement!

Absolute truths are accepted in almost every meaningful discipline of life: mathematics, chemistry, biology. Two plus two equals four. Not three or five. It’s an accepted absolute.

So why, in a world where absolute truth exists in most disciplines of life, does it not apply to morality and spirituality? Who decided these two areas are an exception?

We’re living in a time when things are true until we don’t want them to be. Think about it.

  • By the world’s standards, a baby in the womb is a baby only if the mother wants the baby. Otherwise, it’s a “clump of cells.”
  • Our culture has decided binary gender—male and female—are now two of many options that are no longer exclusively male or female, despite physical biological evidence to the contrary. Gender is now “fluid” depending on the individual’s changing feelings.
  • Right and wrong are no longer absolutes, either. Now, what’s wrong for you may be right for me. And who are you to judge?
  • A recent Netflix documentary, Liberated, was created to “present the sexual landscape of our culture as it is rather than preach about it.” But critics were furious to learn it “showed the emptiness in hook-up culture and one-night-stands.” Apparently, it’s no longer acceptable to speak the truth.
  • Our culture decries control of the nation’s borders to stem illegal immigration in the name of children’s best interests, yet celebrates the legality of killing babies minutes before their birth.

It’s difficult to justify such contradictions in the name of logic and rationality.

We can call evil good and good evil, and claim truth is relative, but that doesn’t make it so.

We live in a world that demands hard evidence, yet refuses to believe in a Creator because they won’t recognize the evidence that’s there. This delicately balanced universe could not have accidentally evolved any more than a Rolex watch just happened to evolve into a sophisticated time piece.

People who deny the evidence of their own bodies in favor of gender-bending claims are basing those claims on feelings and faulty thinking, rather than biological evidence.

We follow scientists who teach the universe began with a “big bang,” but they can’t produce evidence or explain the source of the gasses that supposedly exploded.

So what’s a Christian to do? How can we respond in a way that engages the culture? How can we present evidence based on a biblical world view instead of simply arguing with those who disagree with us?

Follow the ABCs!

Ask questions:

  • Before sharing what you believe, ask what the other person believes and why.
  • Have they researched the topic for themselves?
  • What are their personal experiences related to the subject?

Be respectful:

  • Don’t demonize those who disagree with you.
  • Really listen to what they say…and what they don’t say.
  • Try to understand why they believe what they do. Are their beliefs influenced by past emotional wounds?
  • Be willing to “plant seeds” rather than “go in for the kill.”

Communicate compassion:

  • Care about the person more than you care about winning an argument. Be willing to build a relationship with them.
  • Leave the door open for further discussion. Most serious disagreements are not resolved in one conversation.

As Christians, we find ourselves living right-side-up in an upside-down world. But nobody promised it would be easy. Ask the Holy Spirit for the perseverance to stay true to the Person of Truth, Jesus Christ. Then speak the truth in love and live it out, regardless of others’ responses.

I suspect some of those who disagree with us may be secretly cheering us on. Because if we can live for the One who said, “I am the Truth,” it gives others hope. Hope that their shallow world, built on shifting contradictions, is not all there is to life.

And that can be the best truth of all.


 
Sympathy and Empathy

Do you know anyone who has lost a loved one? A spouse, a child, a parent?

I’ve watched people around me lose those they love through illness, accident, old age, or even by self-inflicted means. And I’ve felt bad for them. Sympathy. Knowing about their loss and pain, without truly knowing loss and pain of a similar magnitude.

Is sympathy enough?

Sometimes it has to be, because it’s all we have to give. Still, while we say we understand or we know how the other person feels, we may not. Not really. How can we, unless we’ve had a similar experience? Even then, no two people are the same, no two relationships are the same, and no two losses are the same.

But even though every loss is unique, it’s empathy—not sympathy—that enables us to reach into the depth of our own feelings of pain and loss as we come alongside other hurting people.

Never have I been personally aware of this truth as much as I am now. There’s a sisterhood—and brotherhood—who are members of a club no one wants to join. The pain of loss is often near, regardless of how much time has passed. It hovers just below the surface, breaking through at unexpected moments in ways that leave you gasping for air as though a drowning man.

But that pain is what enables one person to come alongside another and say “I understand” in a way no one else can. Empathy. My heart and spirit are touched when another widow shares her similar circumstance. Or maybe she doesn’t say anything at all. Sometimes it’s enough for our eyes to meet in mutual pain, or to share a hug for physical comfort.

The need for empathy also transcends personal relationships or shared loss. It’s needed on a grander scale in our culture and in our world.

We’ve lost our collective ability to empathize. And if we haven’t lost our ability to empathize, then in many cases we’ve lost our desire. In the process, we’ve become adept at dehumanizing our fellow human beings. Political victories take center stage and are pursued regardless of the cost.

What would happen if we acknowledged others as being motivated by their own pain and need for acceptance? How can we come alongside and say, “I understand,” and then offer biblical alternatives for addressing their pain?

To be able to say to the pregnant young woman, “I haven’t experienced a crisis pregnancy, but I know what it is to be frightened as I face the unknown future. May I offer you practical resources and also share with you about the One who holds that future?”

Or to say to the person who chooses to deny God’s existence, “Trusting God was hard for me, too, because I’d been let down too many times to ever want to trust anyone again. May I share how this changed in my life?”

To really listen to those with whom we disagree politically or socially, and empathize with their hopes and dreams, even though we disagree with their goals and values.

Are we guaranteed to make a difference on a grand scale? No. Still, we might make a difference in the life of one person. And perhaps that’s the work God has for us to do at such a time as this.

Sympathy says, “you poor thing.” Empathy says, “I really do feel your pain.

Empathy does not require compromising our values, but it does allow us to truly hear the other person’s heart before we answer. In that moment, the Holy Spirit has an opportunity to equip us to respond with love, grace, and humility.

So, the next time you find yourself feeling critical or being drawn into a disagreement, ask God for the ability to reach down into your own pain for the empathy the other person desperately needs.

Have you received another person’s empathy?
How did you feel as a result?


 
Justice, Mercy, or Both?

Look around. Listen to the politicians. Read the headlines. Talk to your neighbors and coworkers. It won’t take long before two themes emerge.

Justice and mercy. But rarely do these two words occur in the same sentence, or even in the same conversation.

There’s a lot of talk about justice. Criminal justice. Social justice. We have a keenly developed sense of what we think is right and wrong. We demand justice for ourselves and for those who need us to stand up for them.

Problem is, we can’t seem to agree on what justice looks like in every situation. What does justice look like for illegal immigrants? Or for babies developing in the womb?

It all depends on our worldview and the values we espouse. But if we’re honest, we have to admit that even if we hold a biblical worldview, we fall short in executing righteous judgment. Because there’s only one righteous Judge.

Then there’s the subject of mercy. I was challenged this week from the Beatitudes to consider what it means to be merciful. “Blessed are the merciful…”

Mercy.

I love the sound of this word when it applies to me. Who doesn’t want to receive mercy? On the other hand, not many of us want to extend mercy.

Most people, myself included, prefer to hand out judgment. You’ve wronged me? I want you to receive the consequences of your actions. My natural inclination is not toward mercy…unless I am the recipient.

Still, there’s at least one Bible verse that includes both concepts, justice and mercy, in the same sentence.

Micah 6:8 (NIV) tells us:

“What does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

We’re to act justly. Not demand judgment, but act with justice. Consider the other person’s circumstances and respond with justice, despite our own opinions or preferences.

We’re to love mercy. Interesting, it doesn’t say extend mercy. It says we’re to love it. Some translations use the word kindness instead of mercy. Because mercy is meaningless if it isn’t demonstrated in a tangible way.

But there’s a third part: “Walk humbly with your God.” In many ways, this is the most important phrase in the verse—the phrase that ties it all together. If we have a right view of ourselves in relation to the God we belong to, then justice and mercy will flow out of our relationship in Christ, prompted by the Holy Spirit who indwells us. Will we be perfect in our execution? Not even close. But we’ll be moving in the right direction.

Sounds good, doesn’t it? Still, there’s a hitch. The verse begins by saying this is God’s requirement for us. And the fact that it’s a requirement tells us it doesn’t come naturally. For if acting justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly with God flowed naturally, we wouldn’t have to be commanded to do it.

They’re not natural. They are intentional choices.

And perhaps, before we take on the problems of the world, we need to start closer to home. With our spouses and children. Our family and friends. The people we work with Monday through Friday and the people we worship with on Sundays.

What would life look like if we really did—intentionally—act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God?

Let’s find out!


 
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