Sunday, December 19, 2010

~ Becoming Unoffendable ~

Becoming Unoffendable
by Francis Frangipane

"I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stonefrom your flesh and give you a heart of flesh" (Ezek. 36:26).

God has a new heart for us that cannot be offended, an "unoffendable" heart. Beloved, possessing an unoffendable heart is not an option or a luxury; it's not a little thing. Consider: Jesus warns that, as we near the end of the age, a majority of people will be offended to such a degree that they fall away from the faith. Listen carefully to His warning:Then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another?and because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold.

Matthew 24:10-12 KJV"Many" will be offended; the love of "many" will grow cold. My prayer is that we will hear His words with holy fear.

When we allow an offense to remain in our hearts, it causes serious spiritual consequences. In the above verse, Jesus named three dangerous results: betrayal, hatred, and cold love. When we are offended with someone, even someone we care for, we must go to them. Otherwise, we begin to betray that relationship, talking maliciously behind their back to others, exposing their weaknesses and sins. We may mask our betrayal by saying we are just looking for advice or counsel, but when we look back, we see we have spoken negatively to far too many people. Our real goal was not to get spiritual help for ourselves but to seek revenge toward the one who offended us. How is such an action not a manifestation of hatred? For an offended soul, cold love, betrayal and hatred go hand-in-hand.

People don't usually stumble over boulders; they stumble over stones, relatively small things. It may be that the personality of someone in authority bothers us and soon we are offended. Or, a friend or family member fails to meet our expectations, and we take an offense into our soul. Beloved, if we will "endure to the end," we will have to confront the things that bother us.

When Jesus warns that we need endurance, He is saying that it is easier to begin the race than finish it. Between now and the day you die, there will be major times of offense that you will need to overcome. You might be in such a time right now. Do not minimize the danger of harboring an offense.

No one plans on falling away; no one ever says, "Today, I think I'll try to develop a hardened, cold heart." Such things enter our souls through stealth and it is only naiveté that assumes it couldn't happen to us. I know many people who consistently become offended about one thing or another. Instead of dealing with the offenses, these people carry them until the weight disables their walk with God. You may be doing fine today, but I guarantee you, tomorrow something will happen that will inevitably disappoint or wound you; some injustice will strike you, demanding you retaliate in the flesh.

An offense can strike at our virtues or sins, our values or our pride. It can penetrate and wound any dimension of the soul, both good and evil. I once brought a series of messages about gossip. Most people saw their sin and repented, but a core group of gossips were greatly offended and ultimately left the church. When the Holy Spirit exposes sin in someone's soul, if we refuse the opportunity to repent, we often become offended at the person who brought the teaching. Instead of humbling our hearts, we are outraged at the pastor or teachers in the church. Truthfully, most of the time, I have no idea who specifically needs to hear what I'm teaching, but God knows.

Paul told Timothy to "reprove, rebuke, exhort" (see 2 Tim. 4:2). He didn't say, "exhort, exhort, exhort," but exhortation is what we receive in most churches. Certainly, we need to be encouraged, but there are also times, beloved, when we need to be reproved and rebuked. Today, there are preachers who are afraid to preach truth for fear people will react and leave the church. The end result is a church of easily offended people who cannot grow beyond their inability to accept correction.People don't change by exhortation alone. There are areas in all of us that need to be confronted and disciplined. The pastor who refuses to discipline and correct those in sin is in disobedience to God. He is unable to lead people into any truly transforming changes in their lives; they will not "endure to the end" if they cannot be corrected (see Matt. 24).

We need to become a people who say, "Lord, show me what needs to change in me." I'm talking about growing up. A wise man will receive a rebuke and he will prosper. But a fool rejects his father's discipline (see Prov. 15:5).

An offense can wound our pride when we are not recognized for our good works or ministry. This happened to my wife and I long ago while in California. We were young pastors at a conference when the main leader decided to personally greet each minister and wife. He greeted the couple on our right and then turned to his staff to ask a question. A moment later he returned, but passed us by and went to the couple on our left. Everyone around us saw we were bypassed. We were embarrassed and offended. But my wife wisely observed that we could allow this thing to hurt us or we could see it as an investment in sensitivity toward other people's feelings. The offense taught us how others feel when they are ignored. Do you see this? You must make that offense become an opportunity to become more Christ-like.

The occasions for taking offense are practically endless. Indeed, we are daily given the opportunity to either be offended by something or to possess an unoffendable heart. The Lord's promise is that He's given us a new heart: a soft, entreatable heart that can be filled with His Spirit and abound with His love.

Lord, forgive me for being so easily offended and for carrying offenses. Father, my heart is foolish and weak. Grant me the unoffendable heart of Jesus Christ. Amen.
Nothing Causes Them to Stumble"Then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another?and because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold" (Matt. 24:10-12 KJV).

In the last section we looked at the lethal effect an offended spirit has upon our lives. We discussed how the only way to not be permanently offended was to attain the unoffendable heart of Jesus Christ.

Attaining Christ's heart is not a minor issue. Remember, Jesus warned that, in the last days, "many" would be offended. There is a difference between being wounded and being offended. We will frequently be wounded by an insensitive remark or injustice that occurs. But a "wounded spirit" is not the same thing as an "offended spirit." An offended spirit occurs when we do not process our wounds in a Christlike manner. Indeed, an offended spirit, left unattended and brooding in our minds, will soon manifest as betrayal, hatred, and cold love. Jesus said offenses would be the ultimate cause that would lead many to fall from faith. Listen well: Jesus linked the real cause of apostasy not to wrong doctrines, but wrong reactions.

Aren't right doctrines important? Of course, but we can have right information and still have a wrong response. Doctrinal information can be upgraded and refined, but Proverbs warns that someone "offended is harder to be won than a strong city"; and "contentions" between people "are like the bars of a castle" (see Prov. 18:19).Yes, beware of false leaders, but more deceitful than false prophets or teachers are our own hearts when they are offended (see Jer. 17:9). Are you living with an offended heart? If so, you are gradually slipping away from true Christianity, which is known for its agape love.Thus, dealing with an offended heart is vital in maintaining ongoing spiritual maturity. For this reason, we need to look again at the things which offend us.

Sometimes offenses come because we expect people to fulfill our lives rather than God. Unrealistic or exaggerated expectations inevitably will cause others to fall short and offend us. Some desire their spouse or pastor or friends to meet their every need. God may, indeed, use people to help us. However, at the deepest level, our soul was created to find its security in God, not man. When the Almighty truly becomes our security, our peace flows from His love, wisdom, and unlimited capabilities, and we can live comfortably with imperfect people around us.

Still, the very power of our expectations can choke out the sweetness of a personal relationship. Suppose that, instead of burdening people with our expectations, we simply learned to appreciate them for themselves - no strings attached. The fact is, our loved ones are not under any obligation to fulfill our desires. If they do fulfill them, it is their free choice, not our demands, that makes for a loving relationship.

Part of our problem is the affluent world we live in. We are served by hundreds of nonhuman "slaves," remarkable mechanical devices created just to serve us. Our slaves do laundry, clean dishes, figure bookkeeping and entertain us. They carry us across town and country - and for all they do, we are offended if their service does not meet or exceed our expectations.

Yet, your spouse, friends, or pastor aren't your slaves. Our loved ones didn't come with money-back guarantees. We didn't buy them and we can't trade them for newer models. This may come as a shock, but we don't own our loved ones.

Some act as though they signed a contract with their spouse, such as they would with a carpenter or plumber - do such and such or you won't be paid. If you are an employer, a teacher, or one who trains and holds people accountable, certain expectations are reasonable, but personal relationships are different. What I'm saying is this: What if, instead of expecting my spouse to love and serve me, I put the demand upon myself to love and serve her, no strings attached?

You say, 'But we said vows together. I expect my spouse to fulfill what was promised.' What if she is fulfilling her vows to the best of her ability, but you can't even discern her efforts because you are looking for something else? I'm not saying there shouldn't be times when we openly and honestly talk about our relationships. Certainly, open communication would be helpful, but what if we put the weight of the burden to change upon ourselves instead of our spouse?
Jesus said the greatest among us would be servant of all. We, in our modern world, have things reversed - we are the ones who are supposed to be the slaves. It is only our pride that thinks otherwise.

Suppose that a husband, instead of expecting a full course dinner from his wife each night, learned to appreciate whatever she was able to offer him? Then, instead of his failed expectations becoming an offense, there would be a living, sincere appreciation for the food his wife prepared. I know we have arrangements by common consent, but in reality, a wife is under no obligation to cook special meals or do housekeeping. You did not marry her to be your housekeeper, but to become one with her.

Or imagine a husband who works at a long, tiring job. However, his wife expects that he will work another two hours at home or go shopping with her or listen attentively about her problems. What if, instead, she welcomed him at the door and sincerely thanked him for daily giving himself to support their family? What if she met him, not with demands, but with appreciation? Maybe she would even rub his shoulders when he came home and, because of love, prepare his favorite meal.You see, expectations can seem to be legitimate parts of a relationship, but they can also cause us to be offended and disappointed when people fall short. We should approach personal relationships with only one expectation: to serve - a demand we should put upon ourselves, not others. Let us expect of ourselves to always show love and thanksgiving for whatever we receive from our loved ones.

The psalmist wrote, "Those who love Thy law have great peace, and nothing causes them to stumble" (Psalm 119:165). There is a place in God where, as we mature, we can possess Christ's perfect response to all things. If we, as pastors and congregations, put away false, unrealistic expectations and focus on becoming Christ-like to one another, we will have great peace. Beloved, nothing will cause us to stumble.

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