OFFENSE

Fools have short fuses and explode all too quickly; the prudent quietly shrug off insults. … Overlook an offense and bond a friendship; fasten on to a slight and—good-bye, friend! … Smart people know how to hold their tongue; their grandeur is to forgive and forget. [Proverbs 12:16,17:9,19:11 (MSG)]

giant swallowtail butterflyOur sermon series was titled “Cage Fighting” but, rather than learning about fighting one another, we were learning about the ways Satan attacks and keeps us in his stronghold with things like shame, doubt, fear, and unforgiveness. While chatting with the pastor before church, I asked about the day’s topic. When he said offense, I immediately thought we’d learn how to take offensive action against the enemy.

Imagine my surprise when I looked at the program and read the above proverbs. What did they have to do with spiritual weaponry? I was annoyed that I’d been misled until I realized I’d misunderstood the pastor. While I was thinking about taking the offense and attacking, the pastor would be speaking about taking offense and feeling attacked! He’d be talking about the kind of offense that leaves us feeling outraged, insulted, or (in my case) annoyed. My error that morning illustrates why we’re easily offended; I had a preconceived idea, misunderstood what I heard, and didn’t ask for an explanation.

In this day of political correctness — when BC (before Christ) has become BCE (before the common era), Christmas trees are called holiday trees, no one is quite sure how to refer to a disability, and The Journal of Animal Ethics says calling pets “pets” is demeaning (they’re now “companion animals” to their “human carers”) — mistakes are bound to happen.

Everyone should be treated fairly and with dignity but never giving offense is nearly impossible. In reality, most people don’t mean to be racist, sexist, ageist, elitist, narrow-minded, impolite, or behind the times but sometimes they are. We can give offense inadvertently simply because words may have different connotations to different people, many words have changed their meaning over the years, or we don’t know the history of a symbol or phrase. For example, since my black postman wears a pith helmet, I didn’t know it was considered by some to be a symbol of white imperialism until Melania Trump was criticized for wearing one in Kenya.

Although wrong, rudeness and thoughtlessness are part and parcel of modern life. Today’s world offers an unlimited opportunity to both give and take offense and Satan loves it. To fight him, we must act and speak with love and do our best to never give offense, whether intentionally or unintentionally. Nevertheless, just as we must act and speak with love, we must listen and respond with love, as well. Knowing how easy it is to be offensive, we must work harder at not taking offense. Unfortunately, self-involved creatures that we are, we often choose to see bias, insult, or aggression even where none is meant. Taking offense just leads to anger, resentment, and retaliation (some of the enemy’s favorite weapons). Often translated as forbearance, patience is a fruit of the spirit and literally means “long temper.” Indeed, we should be slow to anger, give the benefit of doubt, not respond to provocation, turn the other cheek, love, and forgive.

I actually did learn how to fight the enemy that day, just not the way I thought. While some may say the best defense is a good offense, I learned that the best defense is not to take offense at all! As for me, I’m going to spend my time and energy being offended by the things that really matter: human trafficking, hunger, lack of safe drinking water for much of the world, poverty, homelessness, discrimination and injustice.

Whenever anyone has offended me, I try to raise my soul so high that the offense cannot reach it. [Rene Descartes]

We should be too big to take offense and too noble to give it. [Abraham Lincoln]

So, chosen by God for this new life of love, dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you: compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline. Be even-tempered, content with second place, quick to forgive an offense. Forgive as quickly and completely as the Master forgave you. And regardless of what else you put on, wear love. It’s your basic, all-purpose garment. Never be without it. [Colossians 3:12-14 (MSG)]

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UNANSWERED QUESTIONS

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. [Isaiah 55:8-9 (ESV)]

violetsIt was the first night of a new small group study and, as we gathered our books to leave, one woman said she’d have to read more about the author since he sounded like a Calvinist. Believing that everyone has the God-given ability to choose God’s grace, she didn’t want to participate in the class if the book’s author believed that, in the past, God chose some among mankind for His own and that that Christ died only for those elect.

There is much in church doctrine that is disputed between denominations and the differences are often subtle, complicated, and confusing. Regarding Calvinism, there is five-point Calvinism, Amyraldism which holds to only four of Calvin’s points, Arminianism (the rejection of predestination and an affirmation of free will), and a host of other isms in between. There are differing views of Communion, as well: transubstantiation, consubstantiation, sacramental union, receptionism, and memorialism. Does the bread actually transform into the actual flesh and blood of Christ, is it spiritually the flesh and blood of Jesus, the spiritual presence of Christ, or a remembrance of Christ’s suffering? What about baptism? Is it a requirement for salvation or merely symbolic of the salvation process? All of these questions (and many more) arise out of several hard to reconcile passages in the Bible. Unable to clearly define many of these issues, I know I will never fully understand them.

Some things in Christianity are essential and non-negotiable: the deity of Christ, His substitutionary sacrifice for our sins, the resurrection, salvation by grace though faith, the Holy Trinity, the authority of Scripture, and life everlasting. Agreement on many other issues, however, is not necessary and those issues will remain unresolved this side of heaven. In A Grief Observed, C.S. Lewis opined that many of our great theological and metaphysical questions are probably as nonsensical and unanswerable as asking how many hours are in a mile or whether the color yellow is square or round. He wrote that when he laid his unanswered questions at God’s door, he got no answer. Lewis added that the silence was not a locked door/no one’s home kind of silence but more like that of a compassionate God, shaking his head and thinking, “Peace, child; you don’t understand.”

When the woman from class said, “I can’t believe in a God who would sacrifice His son for only a select group rather than all of mankind,” I said she didn’t have to. She and I may be wrong in our beliefs, but our salvation doesn’t depend on our knowing the right answer. Actually, our salvation doesn’t depend on having the right answer to most of the doctrinal controversies and isms that separate Christ’s Church. More important than understanding various theological or doctrinal issues is having the mind of Christ. Sooner or later, all the rest will make perfect sense.

Heaven will solve our problems, but not, I think, by showing us subtle reconciliations between all our apparently contradictory notions. The notions will all be knocked from under our feet. We shall see that there never really was any problem. [C.S. Lewis, from “A Grief Observed”]

When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. [1 Corinthians 13:11-13 (ESV)]

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NO APPOINTMENT NECESSARY

sanderlingsFor I am the Lord, your healer. [Exodus 15:26b (RSV)]

In that hour he cured many of diseases and plagues and evil spirits, and on many that were blind he bestowed sight. And he answered them, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them. [Luke 7:21-22 (RSV)]

Here in southwest Florida it’s “season,” which means that flocks of snowbirds have arrived (and I don’t mean the kind with wings). While they boost the economy, locals groan at the busy traffic, the difficulty of getting into their favorite restaurants or hair salons, and the scarcity of parking places. One of the biggest problems is seeing a doctor! If we can find a doctor (or dentist) who is taking new patients (a challenge in itself) and takes our insurance, we’ll find a two month or longer wait before getting an appointment. Then, if we’re referred to a specialist, the whole routine begins again. As for urgent care clinics; unless the situation is life threatening, there is nothing urgent about the care one eventually receives. My best advice during season is not to get sick!

Our God truly is the Great Physician but, unlike the doctors in our town, He’ll take new patients. He won’t make us fill out detailed medical history forms; rather than past illnesses, He’s concerned about our wellness in the present and future. Insured or uninsured, Medicare or Medicaid, co-pay or no pay, it makes no difference; Jesus already paid our fee. God will never turn us away as incurable or hopeless because there are no lost causes in His office and He’ll never refer us to someone else because He specializes in whatever is ailing us. Best of all: no appointment is ever needed. God operates a walk-in clinic where the waiting room aways is empty and the doctor always is in!

At first, God being available 24/7 and taking His time during an appointment sounds like the concierge medicine that has become so popular in our area. God, however, doesn’t limit the number of patients in His practice nor does He require a hefty retainer fee before He gives you His number or listens to your complaint. God never takes a vacation and always has enough time and energy to deal with everyone who calls Him. Like a concierge physician, however, God is strong on preventative medicine: regular prayer, Bible study, Christian fellowship, and eating frequently at His table.

Of course, as with any physician, if we don’t recognize our sickness and the need for healing, we won’t call Him. We must have faith in our doctor’s wisdom and skill and follow his directions completely and we must do the same with our Great Physician. While He won’t be prescribing Lipitor, a flu shot, or more exercise, He’ll probably prescribe a healthy dose of repentance, forgiveness, love and prayer. Instead of giving us medical brochures about our condition, He’s already provided us with something better than the Merck Manual: Holy Scripture. As for any sort of long-term therapy—among other things, God is sure to recommend Christian community and service.

Our Great Physician hears our painful cries and heals our troubled souls. Thank you, God.

And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” [Mark 2:17 (RSV)]

As for me, I said, “O Lord, be gracious to me; heal me, for I have sinned against thee!” [Psalm 41:4 (RSV)]

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BE HOLY

Have the people of Israel build me a holy sanctuary so I can live among them. [Exodus 25:8 (NLT)]

And this is the basic law of the Temple: absolute holiness! The entire top of the mountain where the Temple is built is holy. Yes, this is the basic law of the Temple. [Ezekiel 43:12 (NLT)]

roadside chapelBefore the incarnation of Christ, God dwelt first in the tabernacle and then in the temple. The innermost room of the temple was called the “Most Holy Place” and it was in this inner room that God’s glory was said to dwell. This was where the Ark of the Covenant was kept and where the high priest came with a sacrifice to atone for his and the nation’s sins every year. With the incarnation of Jesus, God no longer dwelt in the temple but in the flesh of His son and, for a brief time, God actually walked among His people. Yet, when Jesus lived as a man, only a few people at a time could be in His presence. With His death, there is no yearly atonement ritual because Jesus atoned for our sins once and for all. Moreover, because of His resurrection, ascension, and the presence of the Holy Spirit, it is possible for countless people, everywhere, to be in His presence at the same time. Once we become believers, the Holy Spirit moves into our hearts and each one of us, as members of Christ’s church, become part of His body and the temple of God.

When Ezekiel spoke that the absolute rule of the temple was holiness, he was speaking of the temple building in Jerusalem, a place that had been defiled by idolatry and sin. While we no longer worship at a temple on a mount, the prophet’s words still hold true. The innermost room, the Most Holy Place, the dwelling of the Lord, still exists. That innermost room is now in our hearts and they must be kept holy. While we tend to think of holiness as moral purity, it is much more. It means to be dedicated or consecrated to God, to be set apart for Him, and not with just a small part of us. Holiness means that our entire being is His, our first love and loyalty are to Him, and that we are committed to God’s will and work.

In a sermon given in 1872, Victorian preacher Charles Spurgeon told of an unbeliever who ridiculed a Christian’s faith. The skeptic asked the believer whether his God was a great God or a little God. The devout man replied that his God was, “so great that the heaven of heavens cannot contain Him, and yet He condescends to be so little, that He dwells in broken and contrite hearts.” Indeed, our great God has chosen to dwell in our hearts. Although there was idolatry and sin in Jerusalem’s temple, let there be none in our hearts, the temple of the Lord.

For we are the temple of the living God. As God said: “I will live in them and walk among them. I will be their God, and they will be my people. Therefore, come out from among unbelievers, and separate yourselves from them, says the Lord. [2 Corinthians 6:16b-17 (NLT)]

But now you must be holy in everything you do, just as God who chose you is holy. For the Scriptures say, “You must be holy because I am holy.” [1 Peter 1:15-16 (NLT)]

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DON’T DO IT!

Again and again the Lord had sent his prophets and seers to warn both Israel and Judah: “Turn from all your evil ways. Obey my commands and decrees—the entire law that I commanded your ancestors to obey, and that I gave you through my servants the prophets.” But the Israelites would not listen. They were as stubborn as their ancestors who had refused to believe in the Lord their God. [2 Kings 17:13-14 (NLT)]

wrong wayWe were at the symphony watching Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho while the orchestra played Bernard Herrman’s chilling soundtrack. When Janet Leigh’s character, Marion Crane, stepped into the shower, a man in the audience yelled, ”Don’t do it!” Since most of us saw the movie decades ago, we didn’t want her to take that fatal shower either. In spite of the warning, however, she did. Since Marion was at the Bates Motel because she’d embezzled $40,000 from her boss, perhaps that man should have yelled, “Don’t do it!” much sooner.

That’s sort of what it was like when rereading the books of Kings and Chronicles recently. I knew they would end badly for both Israel and Judah but there was nothing I could do about it. I didn’t want to read their sad history again any more than I wanted to see Marion Crane die in the shower a second time. But, just as I made it through the gruesome movie murder, I made it through the disheartening saga of God’s chosen people.

No one warned Marion about Norman Bates but the people of Judah and Israel got plenty of warnings from God. The prophets Amos and Hosea told the northern kingdom they’d be taken captive by the Assyrians and both kingdoms were warned of their tragic ends by Micah. Joel and Isaiah warned Judah to turn from their idolatry and sins. Habakkuk warned them that the Babylonians would be used as an instrument of judgment and Zephaniah and Jeremiah predicted the destruction of Jerusalem. God’s chosen people couldn’t claim they weren’t warned. In fact, the warnings are found as far back as Deuteronomy when God made clear the cost of disobedience.

Scripture warns us to repent, resist the enemy, be morally alert and obedient, and not to be misled by false teachers. It warns of persecution and the dangers of lust, drifting away, prejudice, hypocrisy, and God’s impending judgment. Romans 6:23 puts it bluntly: “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.” Like the people of Israel and Judah, we can’t say we weren’t warned.

Be careful that you do not refuse to listen to the One who is speaking. For if the people of Israel did not escape when they refused to listen to Moses, the earthly messenger, we will certainly not escape if we reject the One who speaks to us from heaven! [Hebrews 12:25 (NLT)]

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AT HIS TABLE

“This cup is the new covenant between God and his people—an agreement confirmed with my blood. Do this in remembrance of me as often as you drink it.” … Anyone who eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord unworthily is guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. That is why you should examine yourself before eating the bread and drinking the cup. [1 Corinthians 11:25b, 27-28 (NLT)]

oregon grapeIn 2009, the United Methodist Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America became full Communion partners. This agreement, while showing respect for each other’s differences, created a relationship based on a common confession of faith and a mutual recognition of Baptism and the sharing of Holy Communion. That the partnership included a mutual recognition of ordained ministers of both denominations meant that a local Methodist church could hire a soon-to-be ordained Lutheran minister. Her ordination, done by the Lutheran bishop, was held in the Methodist church she would be serving. The only sticking point for the rite was the Lutheran Bishop’s insistence that actual wine be used for Communion. Methodists have a strong temperance tradition and this church uses only grape juice. The senior Methodist pastor managed to find an excellent compromise when he obtained a non-alcoholic wine that satisfied both Methodist and Lutheran sensibilities; the ordination went off without a hitch.

A week later, Lutheran and Methodist clergy from around the state attended an ecumenical service to celebrate their new partnership. After numerous speeches and prayers about Christian unity, the service culminated in Communion. There were, however, two cups of purple liquid on opposite sides of the sanctuary. The Methodists were instructed to go left to dip their wafers in grape juice while the Lutherans were directed to the right for the wine! Surely, with all of the great minds who’d put together the celebratory service of unanimity, a better solution (such as non-alcoholic wine) could have been found. Sadly, it wasn’t! The pastor who shared this story still shakes his head at the absurdity of it.

How silly are we? When we come to the Lord’s Table, we don’t come as individuals—as Bob, Mary, Marty, or Deb—nor do we come as Lutherans, Methodists, Episcopalians, or Baptists. We come as brothers and sisters—members of Jesus’s family—members of the body of Christ. Communion is a sign of Christian unity and, in the early church, it was part of a communal dinner—a 1st century version of a potluck supper.

Potlucks, shared meals, covered dish dinners—whatever your church calls them—they’re pretty much the same across the denominations: at least one macaroni casserole, something made with gelatin, deviled eggs, and more desserts than vegetables. Meeting as friends and putting aside our differences, the commonality at a potluck is our love of food! That same sort of unity should happen whenever we eat at the Lord’s Table where the commonality is our love of Jesus.

Transubstantiation, divine mystery, consubstantiation, receptionism, or memorialism; wine or juice; wafers, crackers, or Wonder Bread; intinction, common cup, individual cups, or sealed cups with juice and wafer; taken separately or together, in the pews or at the altar rail—the Bible is rather silent on the “correct” way to take Communion. There really are only two commands: do this in remembrance of Him and examine ourselves before we partake of His meal. He is the Bread of Life; let us always welcome others to His table and celebrate our unity in Christ.

They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity—all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. [Acts 2:46-47 (NLT)]

When we bless the cup at the Lord’s Table, aren’t we sharing in the blood of Christ? And when we break the bread, aren’t we sharing in the body of Christ? And though we are many, we all eat from one loaf of bread, showing that we are one body. [Corinthians 10:16-17 (NLT)]

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