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.


Just Because I Can Doesn’t Mean I Should

Another uproar. Another point of division in a divided country. Another debate about free speech.

The gifted, diverse cast of a Broadway play exercised their right to free speech by making a political appeal to a VIP in the audience.

Supporters of the cast affirmed their right of free speech. Supporters of the VIP expressed outrage that his right to enjoy purchased entertainment had been violated. Both are partially right and partially wrong.

There’s a larger issue here than that of defending our rights.

We’re big on rights in this country. We demand that the government protect those rights. And it seems our society is in the process of identifying new rights on an almost daily basis.

But just because we have the right to do something doesn’t mean we ought do it.

Legal isn’t always the same as moral.

And just because I can doesn’t mean I should.Just because I can doesn't mean I should

The New Testament speaks little about our rights, except to say Christians are to sacrifice them. One of the marks of a Christian is to put others’ rights ahead of our own. To prioritize their needs above ours. To extend forgiveness when it’s undeserved and to withhold criticism and condemnation even when it is deserved.

This perspective doesn’t fit our culture’s obsession with having rights and being right. And it certainly doesn’t seem appropriate in the dog-eat-dog world of politics.

Yet, for 2,000 years, to be a Christian usually meant being out of step with the prevailing culture. We cannot simultaneously reflect Christ and fit into the world. Jesus said His followers are in the world, but not of the world (John 17:16). There’s a difference. And when we fail to live out that difference, we fail to reflect Christ.

So the next time you and I are furious because our rights have been trampled, consider whether fighting for our rights results in failing to live for Christ. Do we need to say everything we have a right to say? Do we need to do everything we have a right to do?

What about extending forgiveness and grace?

How does humility and mercy fit in?

Might it be the very moment we give up demanding our right to something is the moment people actually see Christ in us?

Now that would be something to be truly thankful for this Thanksgiving.


The Best Defense is a Good Offense

Thirty years ago, I stopped a pickpocket. It happened on Nassau Street in lower Manhattan as I watched a man match his stride with the woman in front of him. When he was close enough, he reached into her coat pocket from behind and lifted out her wallet.

She was clearly oblivious to what was happening, so I said something. Actually, I shouted something. It wasn’t very profound. More on the order of, “Hey, you! That’s not yours! Give it back!”

The victim stopped and turned around. The thief did the same. Then he said something I’ll never forget. “Mind your own business!”

That’s right. He chastised me for interfering with his “business.”

I hadn’t thought of that incident in a while…until today. Today I received another one of those scammer calls. You know, the one where someone calls from “Windows” and says they’ve seen “suspicious activity” on your computer…and they can help.

I’ve received so many of these calls that I was getting aggravated. No matter what I said or did, I couldn’t stop them. But I confess lately I’ve been having a little fun at their expense. If they’re going to call for the purpose of scamming me and I’m helpless to stop the calls, it gives me a tiny bit of satisfaction to cause them grief, too. So I might ask them to repeat themselves umpteen times before I hang up. Or I might feign cluelessness about owning a computer, so how could they have received notification of suspicious activity?

Today, a scammer called (again!) and I messed with the caller (again!). But his response left me speechless…and reminded me of the pickpocket from thirty years ago. When he realized I wasn’t falling for his line, he chastised me for wasting his time! He had called me for fraudulent purposes, intending to scam me, yet he had the nerve to say I’m wasting his time?

Clearly the pickpocket and the scammer both subscribed to the philosophy, “The best defense is a good offense.”

Then I thought of how I often respond when I’m under the Holy Spirit’s conviction. Yup. The best defense is a good offense.

Lord, I know I’m supposed to forgive, but what she did is so much worse!
Lord, if I don’t get this job, then it’s your fault if I can’t pay my bills.
Lord, I know you said I need to put others’ interest ahead of my own, but if you want me to glorify you, I need that opportunity.

Sigh. What I need is humility. I need to call my behavior what God calls it. Unforgiveness is sin. Pride is sin. Selfishness is sin. The best defense is not a good offense. The best defense is humility and surrender to the Holy Spirit. Because, in reality, I have no defense of my own for sin. I only have the payment made by Jesus Christ on my behalf.

My best defense is my only defense. His name is Jesus.


A Writer’s Response to Correction

I recently submitted thirty-one devotions for a national ministry’s monthly devotional for their supporters. The batch I submitted last year had been well received, and I hoped for a similar reaction.

This time, the editor’s response was not quite what I expected. She complimented the writing style and general content, but the majority of my submissions were missing one required point set forth in their writer’s guidelines.

She wrote to tell me she had corrected a portion of the batch, and apologetically asked if I wanted her to continue correcting the remaining devotionals or if I wanted to complete the edits myself.

As I read her email, I realized there wasn’t one thing wrong with this picture, there were several…

First, I should have paid more attention to the writers’ guidelines. Having had my work enthusiastically received last year caused me to become overconfident. I relied on past experience and failed to confirm that my work met her requirements before I submitted it this time.

Second, she was apologetic when she informed me of my error. This editor was considering the purchase of work that did not meet her standards, and had gone so far as to make many of the corrections herself, rather than ask me to do it.

Her reluctance to hold me accountable surprised me. Then she said something that amazed me even more. Her reluctance stemmed from her experience that many writers take offense at the slightest bit of constructive criticism. They have responded to her with statements such as “Take it or leave it” or “God gave me these words so I’m not going to change them.”

I made the required corrections. She accepted the work and (cliché alert!) all’s well that ends well. However, this whole exchange caused me to think about other areas of my life.

How do I respond to constructive criticism from those around me? Do they see me as someone who arrogantly thinks she is always right or as someone who has a teachable spirit?

What about God’s instructions to me? Having read and studied the Bible for the past thirty years, have I become so familiar with God’s Word that I am overconfident about obeying what it says? Do I take God’s forgiveness so much for granted that my failure to obey His commands barely registers on my radar? Worse, do I rely on familiarity as a substitute for reading and studying on a daily basis?

What about you? When it comes to instructions – God’s or an editor’s (and no, they’re not the same!) – are you careful to read and follow, or do you presume that your past experience is a good enough guide?

When others offer you constructive criticism, how teachable is your spirit?


Next Page »