Publication: Pastoral Letter, February 2016
Dear Friend in Christ:
What I want to say in this letter is, “Get over it.” Get over the fence of offense. If we fail to get over offenses, we will miss the truth that offense conceals.
Let’s talk first about offense. “Offense” in sports is a good thing, but in society it has become a wound. Offenses are often now treated the same as a physical assault. We have become a highly sensitive culture. Using an incorrect word can get you fired, even if the offense was unintended. Famous people have been forever “blackballed” because they unintentionally offended. I think most of us are weary of “political correctness.”
We will use the word “offense” in this letter to mean a culturally incorrect expression that seems to demean or put down a person or group of people. To do so intentionally is wrong of course. But to be offended is to perceive that some person or group has insulted you or your group. I say “perceived” because the intention of the offender will likely be less important than the perception of the “victims.” The victims may in turn hurl an insult back at the offender, but it probably won’t matter. The offense has already occurred and therefore the victim feels “justified.”
I should also add that it matters who offends and who is offended. All offenders and victims are not treated alike. For instance, if you offend Islam you will likely be called a “bigot” or “Islamophobic.” However, if you offend Christians as a group, you will likely be excused. You will probably not be called “Christianphobic”, for example.
Of course, we who call ourselves Christians get offended too, usually by a fellow Christian who transgresses some sensitivity like appearance, tone, or the church that we attend. It could be a political preference, a Facebook post, being blocked, or “de-friended” that offends. Whatever the transgression, sensitivity seems to me to be on the rise and with it comes a polarization that has built fences and barriers throughout our social landscape.
So, is the real problem the offender or is it perhaps with the offended? For those of us who have supposedly died to ourselves, how hard should it be to actually offend us? Why is this business important? It is because offenses keep us from the truth about ourselves, others, and even the Lord.
Jesus the Offender
Yes, I know that God is love. “Jesus loves me this I know for the Bible tells me so.” But Jesus loves enough to tell the truth and that is where it gets “sticky”. There are numerous passages that tell us that Jesus offended people and that He was rejected for that reason. There are passages that tell us that Jesus’ Cross was an offense and that His Words were (see Isaiah 8:14-15; Matthew 11:6; I Corinthians 1:18-23; I Peter 2:7-8; Psalm 118; Isaiah 53:3; Galatians 5:11).
So what about Jesus offended people? The list of offenses is long! He came from a “nowhere” village (even they were offended); He claimed to be Messiah; He criticized the ruling class; He called people sinners; He warned them of the wrath to come; He violated the Sabbath; He violated rules of washing hands; He called the Pharisees “white-washed graves”; He volunteered to be crucified (a curse); He prophesied the destruction of the Temple and there are many other offenses, but these would be enough.
As Isaiah said, “He would be despised and rejected,” yet He was the “cornerstone” of what the Father was building. Apparently, cultures can be wrong; tragically and historically wrong. Their offense built a fence around truth. Offense hid the path of salvation.
Who Tells You the Truth?
There are some who will tell you the truth: little children, old people who have nothing to lose, drunks who don’t realize what they are saying, a few pastors who are on their way out (I have seen that), a rare friend, martyrs, and angry enemies (don’t accept all that enemies say). And, I should add to that list, the Holy Spirit tells the truth—He always does.
Why don’t more people tell us the truth? Because they know us. Yes, they fear a loss of friendship, a loss of support, reprisal, or doing damage to someone that they love, but do not love you enough to lose you. I do not suggest getting them drunk so they will then tell you—that would be a different spirit talking!
Getting Over the Fence
If offense is a fence that hides the truth from us, how do we get over it? That is a serious question. Jesus rebuked the devil when Peter was “pontificating”, but Peter got over it. How would you feel if someone rebuked the devil amid one of your statements? (See Matthew 16:21-23.) Peter had only moments earlier declared Jesus was the Son of God and was congratulated on the revelation from the Father. Now he was speaking under the influence of the enemy and was rebuked for it! But he got over it. Peter was offended at the Cross and denied Jesus, but he was forgiven and got over it to become the preacher at Pentecost. He got over the fence, came to the truth and dealt with it.
Of course it must be said that all offenders do not have truth or love as their motive like Jesus did. However, if we do not get over the offense, we cannot really evaluate what they said or what they meant by it. If we take no offense, then we can get to the truth. The Holy Spirit can help us to sift through words, motives, or slights to benefit even from bad intentions.
Those who were not offended in Jesus were able to hear what He actually said and see what He actually did.
For those of us who are Christians, we were baptized into Christ’s death. Offenses and rejection never deterred Jesus from His purpose or His love, even for His enemies. Offenses should not deter us from His mission for our lives. We are not victims if we get over the fence; we are victors!
Many years ago I was complaining to God about what I perceived to be false accusations and misperceptions propagated by opponents. “It hurts!” I said to the Lord. His response was clear, “What hurts isn’t dead yet!” I understood then that to get on with His will, I had to die to myself. Only then could I follow Jesus over the fence of offense.
There are many people who are locked out of progress and even real truth by the fence erected by some offense—real or perceived. Their ability to follow Jesus is hindered. They have become victims, not victors.
How Can I Do It?
- Love God and His truth more than yourself.
- Die to self and live for truth.
- Embrace truth that sets us free from self.
- Keep forgiveness immediately available in your arsenal.
- Do not immediately evaluate one’s motives.
- Remember Jesus, what He said and did with offenses.
- Life is lived forward but only understood backward. Your perspective will change.
However you get over offenses, know that they are part of life. Don’t be shocked (see Matthew 18:7). Set your mind to get over them and not allow them to deter you.
Try to avoid unnecessarily offending people, especially children, the weak, or discouraged. Many have been destroyed by casual, even unintended remarks or behaviors. Being offensive is dangerous in the eyes of God (see Matthew 18:6).
If you are offended tell it to the right people only. The right people are those who can help resolve it and not broadcast and multiply it (see Matthew 18:15-17).
If you know that you have offended someone, make every effort to apologize without excusing yourself for having done so or accusing them for being the problem (see Matthew 12:20; Isaiah 42:3).
I believe that it is a good idea to give someone the place to correct us. Give them permission to tell you the truth, arbitrate for you, or correct you. Otherwise, you may never hear something essential to your progress.
Why Get Over It?
Everyone doesn’t “get over it” and that is sad. I think that a lot of illness comes from unhealed hurt from some offense. And as I have said, “Truth is often missed and even the Lord is missed because of offenses.”
There other reasons for this letter. You do not need more “drama” as 2016 unfolds. You do not need to create problems or allow others to do so; that could prevent a “Happy New Year.” Don’t put your keys to joy in someone else’s pocket. You will have a lot more joy and peace if you avoid offending or being offended. Yes, offenses will happen, but get better at staying free from yesterday’s offenses. Keep the “fences” out of your life.
I am old enough to remember the Vietnam War; it was a tragedy and not a good memory. But now, I have Vietnamese neighbors. Recently, they invited me to dinner. It was a great experience. They also invited Russian friends. I got over the fence and met some nice and interesting people who are my neighbors.
I wonder how many of my Christian friends are living behind “fences”? Jesus did not live behind fences or offenses (see Matthew 24:14). He was free and called upon us to know the truth that would set us free (see John 8:32). Truth may be hidden behind past offenses, the truth about God, other people, or a change in worldview. If other religions or cultures are fence-bound, that is no reason for us to stay locked out. Don’t be afraid of the truth; be afraid of not knowing it. Yes, embrace it with your life; truth is worth it!
P.S. Mark your calendar for the May 11-13 CSM Gatlinburg Leadership Conference! Our theme is “UNSHAKEN” and will feature some great heroes in the faith, including Joseph Bondarenko and Takoosh Hovsepian, who have both overcome exceptional persecution and have found victory in sharing the Gospel of Jesus.
Also, please remember us in your prayers and in your giving during February. Our resources are very lean, even as we face significant opportunity for ministry. For more information, please visit
our CSM Store. See the card enclosed for an encouraging NEW audio Bible teaching resource that I recently shared at a Charismatic leaders conference.
Scripture reference: Isaiah 8:14-15; Matthew 11:6; I Corinthians 1:18-23; I Peter 2:7-8; Psalm 118; Isaiah 53:3; Galatians 5:11; Matthew 18:6,7,15-17; Matthew 12:20; Isaiah 42:3; Matthew 24:14; John 8:32