John 15:12-13 (NIV)
My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
For as long as I can remember our son has been fascinated with animals of all kinds. His childhood hero was Steve Irwin, the crocodile hunter. He would do documentaries on our family as though we were some wild pack in the voice of Jacque Cousteau. When he became an adult, he could finally begin to collect his menagerie. One of these creatures was a hedgehog. I had no experience with the sweet timid little animals when he asked if we could keep him for the weekend. After much begging by our youngest strategically facilitated by her brother, I relented and he came to our house for the weekend. For those unfamiliar with hedgehogs, they are like tiny porcupines covered in sharp quills that are quite painful. When in fear, he simply rolled up in a tiny poky ball of needles. One can imagine this was not the snuggly pet that my daughter thought he would be. We learned how to handle him in a way that he did not resort to his only defense. It took a great deal of patience and overlooking all the jabs to get used to his demeanor and how to hand him safely. Alas, we were sad (okay maybe not that sad) to see him go home.
I woke up this morning with people on my heart who have struggling relationships. Good people, wonderful individuals, and otherwise lovable creatures who somehow have become offended by another now living in discord. An offense can be anything that causes us to be displeased or offended. There is a wide range on the spectrum. It all produces the same result. Division, discord, bitterness and separation. These are hardly the qualities and traits that Jesus demonstrated or commanded us to have but human nature calls the shots sometimes. Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. How can we lay down our very life for another if we are unwilling to put our feelings aside to love them anyway?
Isaiah 44:21-23 (NIV)
“Remember these things, Jacob, for you, Israel, are my servant. I have made you, you are my servant; Israel, I will not forget you. I have swept away your offenses like a cloud, your sins like the morning mist. Return to me for I have redeemed you.” Sing for joy, you heavens, for the Lord has done this; shout aloud, you earth beneath. Burst into song, you mountains, you forests and all your trees, for the Lord has redeemed Jacob, he displays his glory in Israel.”
There are two sides to every offense. The one who is offended. The perpetrator of the offense. It really doesn’t matter which side we are on and quite frankly, knowingly or unknowingly, we all fall short in relationships. I love my husband and children with all of my heart. My greatest desire is to be a good wife and mother. I fall short. Constantly, because I am plagued with being human. The success and failure of my relationships depends solely on Christ. He meets my expectation when others fall short. He forgives me and removes my shame when others are unwilling to do the same. The Lord has swept my offenses away like a cloud removing my sin like the morning midst when the sun comes out. He has redeemed me. Grace is mine. It is given in abundance to not only cover my sins and transgressions against God but to be afforded others with great generosity.
I read a wonderful article on Charisma.org yesterday and shared it on Facebook. It was all about offense and the impact it has on today’s church. Satan is a cunning one. He plays on the emotions of others to suck the life out the modern day church. Until we individually and corporately begin to identify this thing called offense and deal with it directly, it will suffocate the Spirit in us and kill the move of God that we so greatly desire. Revival begins when we lay down our life. We have every reason to rejoice. Acceptance into the Kingdom of God as His Sons and Daughters is really the only affirmation that a person should ever need and enough to draw from for the rest of our natural life.
Ezekiel 18:30-32 (NIV)
Therefore, you Israelites, I will judge each of you according to your own ways, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent! Turn away from all your offenses; then sin will not be your downfall. Rid yourselves of all the offenses you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit. Why will you die, people of Israel? For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent and live!
Back to our little hedgehog friend with the sharp exterior, the Lord created him as such so that he would have a defense mechanism and means of survival. There are many poky people out there with sharp exteriors and hard hearts where bitter roots have taken hold and as means of self-preservation walls have been built around their heart. On the other side of the coin are those who feel valid in their assault on others, as humility is a sign of weakness. There are many reasons why people develop such an exterior but inside of them is a soft beating heart which has been battered and bruised. Putting our hope and expectation in other people yields nothing but disappointment. Only hope never leads to disappointment and His Name is Jesus.
It doesn’t really matter today if you are the offended or the offender, God loves us just the same. Separation is just as lonely as isolation so it really doesn’t matter what drives us apart. To Jesus the only thing that really matters is getting us back together. He died for every offense and hurt caused by human inability and weakness. Repentance is the solution to offensiveness. It is the only answer to being offended. This is not about anyone else but you and I individually in a relationship with Christ. To allow anyone to hold power over our mind, will and emotions more so than Christ is to completely reject His Love, Grace and Power which is complete. I can choose to not be offended by putting all my expectation in Christ not others because such a stance allows constant forgiveness because I need nothing more. I will not offend others if I walk in love following the example of Jesus Christ wholeheartedly. A prickly personality and tough exterior will never welcome people into this amazing love that we have discovered. The Lord is coming closer. He wants to give us a heart and new spirit that will allow us to move deeper in His Presence. To do so requires putting all our faith, hope, trust and expectation in Jesus again AND releasing every offense.
Matthew 9:4-6 (NIV)
Knowing their thoughts, Jesus said, “Why do you entertain evil thoughts in your hearts? Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’? But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” So he said to the paralyzed man, “Get up, take your mat and go home.”
Is it easier to say, “Your sins are forgiven or get up and walk?” It is definitely get up and walk which implies personal power over reliance on God’s Power. We get to participate in walking but the forgiveness of sins solely and completely is the Work of Jesus Christ. I can do nothing but accept it. To live freely and love completely in this life relies on our ability to accept the Love of Jesus as enough to love others without expectation. You cannot get offended if you have no requirement. It would have been absolutely ridiculous for me to get mad at that hedgehog every time he poked me. He was just trying to protect himself. He didn’t know better. How did he know my true intentions? So over the course of his visit, I learned how to handle him gently and lovingly so he knew that we meant no harm. If only we could learn to handle people the same way and with the same respect and compassion as the Lord loves and forgives us.
Matthew 17:24-27 (NIV)
After Jesus and his disciples arrived in Capernaum, the collectors of the two-drachma temple tax came to Peter and asked, “Doesn’t your teacher pay the temple tax?” “Yes, he does,” he replied. When Peter came into the house, Jesus was the first to speak. “What do you think, Simon?” he asked. “From whom do the kings of the earth collect duty and taxes—from their own children or from others?” “From others,” Peter answered. “Then the children are exempt,” Jesus said to him. “But so that we may not cause offense, go to the lake and throw out your line. Take the first fish you catch; open its mouth and you will find a four-drachma coin. Take it and give it to them for my tax and yours.”
When we make the choice to love others unconditionally and decide not to take offense at the actions and attitudes of others, our need for love, affirmation, acceptance and approval will be satisfied in Christ alone. Proverbs 19:11 says that it is to our glory to overlook an offense. Proverbs 17:9 tells us that whoever fosters love covers offenses. Lord, help us to get a handle on our selfish need to be right, be first, and be embraced by others to so that we can seek you wholeheartedly and love you completely.
I Peter 4:7-11 (NIV)
The end of all things is near. Therefore be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray. Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.
Friends, it is time to suck it up buttercup as the saying goes and bury the hatchets. Not in each other, but throwing them far from us as far as the east is from the west. Bitterness is sin. It takes the place of faith because it is a seed of doubt that we accept when Jesus is not enough to complete our life. To be offended demonstrates a need for more love and acceptance than we have found at the Cross. Ephesians 4:31 encourages us to get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, brawling, slander and every other kind of malice. It does on to encourage God’s People to be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other just like Jesus forgave us. Nowhere does it say to stay mad and go our separate ways which means in doing so we are walking in disobedience. I don’t want to disobey the Lord but walk daily in His Ways. Hebrews 12:15 issues a staunch warning to the Body of Christ that we might do well to heed today. “See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.” We must each examine our own heart today and tear out those bitter roots before they overtake us. We must ask the Lord to forgive us for offending others and if possible ask their forgiveness, too. Humility is not easy or fashionable but rewarded by God every time. To yield our life completely to Christ means putting all of our expectation firmly by faith in Him. This leaves no room for offense only an open door for love!
Proverbs 10:9-12 (NIV)
Whoever walks in integrity walks securely, but whoever takes crooked paths will be found out. Whoever winks maliciously causes grief and a chattering fool comes to ruin. The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life, but the mouth of the wicked conceals violence. Hatred stirs up conflict, but love covers over all wrongs.