Thursday, September 26, 2013

Overcoming Offense



I love this picture. Do you ever feel like that? Like...why did I have to go through all that just to stop being so stubborn and do the right thing? Been there, done that. But, we're not alone. God wants to teach us so that we remember the lesson, so he makes his lessons..um, memorable. Jonah had one of those 'memorable' teaching lessons, too. When God sent his prophet Jonah to a city ripe for judgment, Jonah had a hard time accepting his assignment. We've all heard the story of how he tried to avoid even getting to Nineveh. He ended up with a motivational lesson and several days to reconsider his assignment as God gave him an uncomfortable period of time in the belly of a fish. I think of how many people that are in that place right now, in a place of being quite stuck in their circumstances; yet they have set up camp in the belly of their 'fish' and try to make their trial comfortable rather than turn back to God. 

When God wants to get a person's attention, He removes their comforts. It didn't take long for Jonah to figure out that the way of release was through repentance. God in His mercy, gave Jonah a second chance to get it right. In Jonah 3:1, God gave him a reminder that in spite of his objections, the assignment had not changed. Have you ever noticed that arguing with God doesn't get you very far? The word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time. "Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and preach to it the message that I tell you." This time, Jonah was obedient and got great results. The people heard the message urging them to repent and turn back to God, and they responded in faith. They repented.

You'd think that Jonah would be thrilled that he had fulfilled the assignment of the Lord and gotten exactly the results God wanted, but no...Jonah was too busy entertaining offense. He sat himself under a little vine and pouted. He was offended at God's grace. In his estimation, the people did not deserve to be released from God's judgment. Jonah did not want them to get off easy. He wanted them punished. Jonah wanted to feel justified about his offense, and judgment was his way of feeling validated. He insisted they did not warrant God's grace. Perhaps Jonah felt as though their repentance did not satisfy his personal criteria, but he had set himself in the place of God over their lives. He had assumed a position that was not rightfully his. In doing so, Jonah was once again in rebellion. Listen to what Jonah said: "Ah, Lord, was not this what I said when I was still in my country? Therefore I fled previously to Tarshish; for I know that You are a great and merciful God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, One who relents in doing harm. Therefore now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live!" (Jon. 4:2,3). God responded by asking Jonah, "Is it right for you to be angry?" Jonah wanted to feel validated that his offense was justified, while God wanted to absolve the people from penalty of their sins. Their perspectives were worlds apart!

Friends, the world is full of people carrying offense. The sad thing is, the body of Christ is full of people carrying offense, too. They are people that have not stopped to consider what they have been forgiven. They have entered into that slippery slope of comparison between themselves and others, and forgotten that in God's eyes pride 'stinketh.' Their debt was cancelled, yet they continue to persecute others and insist that they pay the full penalty for their sins. This is not God's heart! Jesus did not come to condemn the world but to save people from their sins. (Read John 3:16,17). No matter what we may feel about someone else, do we really understand what we ask for, if we ask for people to receive judgment from God? We are asking for them to suffer, and that does not reflect God's heart. If we pray amiss, we can find ourselves forfeiting the blessings of God in our own life, simply because we are not willing to bless and forgive others. Certainly this is not what any of us want for ourselves. 

Let us not be like the servant that forgot how great a debt he had been forgiven and began to persecute someone else that offended him, (read Matthew 18:21-35). When we forget, we elevate offense and judgment over forgiveness. Mercy triumphs over judgment. When others receive a blessing or breakthrough, does it set off a twinge of bitterness in your own heart? Do you want others to succeed? How a person responds to situations like those noted above is their 'tell.' It's the little hidden nuances in body language, verbal clues or unconscious, habitual actions that disclose what a person really thinks. The secrets of hearts laid bare. 

This is the conflict between the real gospel of Jesus Christ and what our hearts truly believe. It's the difference between trusting God and trusting ourselves - the god of self. As a man thinketh, so is he. (Prov. 23:7). Our hearts are deceitfully wicked. Who can know it? I'll tell you. The Holy Spirit knows. He wants to help us dig out the falsehoods and the fears, the malice, envy and offense, the lies that serve our pride. The things we so carefully cover with deceit and pretend are not there. He wants to pull out the thorns in our flesh, but He waits for us to give Him permission. Yes, beloved. You must give God permission to pull out the thorns of your yesterdays! This is another sort of litmus test. I discussed that yesterday in the previous article. A litmus test, according to the online free dictionary, is "a crucial test using a single issue or factor as the basis for judgment." It's a critical indication that will prompt all your future decisions. It's the defining moment when you must confront what you're really made of and what you believe. What do you believe about God's nature, His character and His grace? Is His grace for everyone, or only those that do not set off emotional triggers in you? Litmus tests are often a wake up call to dig deep for further truth but we can only do so by looking in the mirror of God's word. The word reflects the state of our heart back to us. The Lord wants to give us an exchange. Truth for deception. Humility for pride. Mercy for judgment. Grace for offense. Wholeness for brokenness. Beauty for ashes. 

Friends, Jonah's confession is such a wonderful revelation of hope for all of us. Jonah was actually complaining about how good God was, how merciful, how generously He pardons our sin! Jonah was not stopping to consider that he had just been forgiven for his own disobedience. How quickly he forgot those days in the belly of the fish! We all face suffering in life, but let them not make us bitter. God is just; He is fair. He is longsuffering and kind, but He is still a God of justice. In our human condition, we often fail to realize just how much we have been forgiven, and our forgetting can turn us into complainers. Forgetting that we too are no more worthy of God's grace than the next person can turn us into people that reek of self righteousness and are akin to modern day Pharisees. I think we would all cringe if we understood that that is how others might see us, because no one wants to be seen in that light. SO! With that said, I hope that this article has done it's job and cautioned those reading it to simply not judge, and try hard to unload those offenses. The test for all that proclaim to follow God is to obey His commandments, love the Lord and love others. It's His love in us that yanks us back to reality and whispers to our spirit..."Don't carry that offense. It's unbecoming. If you love Me, please show love and mercy." 

Dear Heavenly Father,

I thank You for Your Holy Spirit that nudges me to do the right thing. I choose to yield to You. I surrender all offense and I resist the enemy's attempt to keep me meditating on the wrong things. I choose to meditate on Your goodness, and how much I have been forgiven. I choose to dwell upon good thoughts of how much You love me and are for me, so I forgive all offense and I bless those the enemy wants me to feel offended with. (Speak a sweet blessing over them now!). In Jesus name, Amen.

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