Happy are the Unoffendable

You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you.  Isaiah 26:3 

We are not strangers to being offended.  You go to a meeting with some new coworkers, looking forward to meeting them and working alongside them as partners, and then, wow!  They ask you to run errands during the meeting (coffee, copies, etc.).  You go to a client meeting with two of your employees, and, uh oh!  One of your own people cuts you off in the middle of your presentation and starts revising your proposal to the client.  It can happen at any time.  Every time a waiter, clerk, or cab driver treats you like you aren’t there, you get a new opportunity to be offended.

Let’s face it, being offended hurts.  These kinds of interactions make us feel unhappy, small, depressed, or even angry.  We react in all kinds of ways, everything from tears to lashing out in retribution.  But that was never Jesus’ way.

Was Jesus ever subjected to demeaning treatment?  Oh my goodness! 

Jesus was the perfect image of the all-holy, omniscient, omnipotent God.  And yet we have Biblical stories of Jesus being questioned, accused, threatened, betrayed, beaten, spat upon, and tortured to death.  No fear, Jesus was treated beneath His status at levels that we could only imagine.  And yet, for all that mistreatment, Jesus was never offended.

Jesus would have faced these insults with eternal peace, unthreatened and unaffected.  Why?  Why was Jesus able to be more mistreated than we will ever be and yet be so unaffected by it? 

Jesus drew His identity from the only true source, His heavenly Father.  His mind was fixed on God alone.  He embraced the humility offered to Him to live beneath His stature.  He didn’t see it as something to be defended.  He saw it as something to be poured out for the good of all humanity.  (See Philippians 2:5-11). 

Let’s make that our model.  Whatever we have, if anything, that might make us worthy of better treatment, let’s check that at the door.  Let’s fix our own minds of serving God and embrace the humility the world will inevitably drop on us.  It turns out, when you have poured out any sense of expectation, you won’t be offended.  You will be blessed. 

Changing the Unpleasant Truth

This week’s devotional is brought to us by my new brother, Jason Palmer, the Dean of Spiritual Life and Chaplain at UMHB.

My submarine was hovering just beneath the waves at periscope depth. More than a week had passed since we had last brought in air from the outside. When conditions were set, I raised the induction mast and ordered “Commence Ventilating.” As soon as the outside air began to enter the boat, sailors started complaining about the humid, fishy, dank smell. The odor was overwhelming. That’s when we remembered the putrid scent we could barely stand was fresh air.

Somehow, we’d become so used to life in a sealed cylinder full of our own stench that we’d normalized the abnormal. How does that even happen? How do well-intentioned, experienced practitioners become so desensitized to the malaise in their midst that they begin to accept it as normal?

Nehemiah found a similar situation when he arrived in Jerusalem. Chapter 2 reveals that Jewish priests, nobles, and officials were already present in Jerusalem when he arrived. But, the city’s spiritual and civic authorities had failed to prioritize the rebuilding of core infrastructure — God’s house and the city’s defenses.  They had grown to accept their disgraceful condition as normal.  After confirming the situation through personal reconnaissance, Nehemiah conducted a key leader engagement with the priests, nobles, and officials of Jerusalem.

So I said to them, “You see the trouble we are in. Jerusalem lies in ruins and its gates have been burned. Come, let’s rebuild Jerusalem’s wall, so that we will no longer be a disgrace.” Nehemiah 2:17

Nehemiah’s example suggests the value of just naming the problem everyone can see but have chosen to overlook.  When you look around your workplace, your home, or your community, what foul condition have you come to accept as normal? 

Of course, any critic can point out obvious failings.  Real change requires going beyond a general acknowledgement of trouble and identifying specific steps forward. If general concern was enough to effect change, you wouldn’t be staring at structural ruin and burnt gates.

The last step in effecting change requires committing the time and other resources to fix the problem. Rebuilding takes a hopeful vision, fortitude, and your life. If you see aspects of your current enterprises in disrepair, let Christ’s story of hope and redemption fuel a call in you and those around you to rebuild. Come, let’s rebuild.

Taking Your Entitlement Temperature

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.  2 Corinthians 1:3-4

The COVID-19 experience has forced change on all of us.  Even those whose jobs and health were spared had many of their life’s expectations disappointed.  Long awaited vacations were cancelled. College seniors who had been so looking forward to their graduation ceremonies saw them cancelled.  My daughter-in-law went to a wedding, years in the planning, that transformed into a backyard affair with immediate family only.

Like any adversity, COVID-19 has provided a revelation of how we would react if _______.  Its all very good to hypothesize about what the toothpaste looks like, but if you want to know you have to squeeze the tube.  As we have all been squeezed, COVID-19 has revealed the truth of who we are under adversity. 

What have you learned?  How did you score on spiritual maturity in the face of adversity?

  • If you experienced your losses as moments of sorrow, took some time to mourn the loss, turned it over to the Lord and thanked Him for the blessings you have – Good on you!  You’re in a good place.  Be sure to share the Spirit you have.
  • If your loss made you a little crazy, like you couldn’t let it go, and wound up having to be corrected by someone who loves you – you may have some growing to do.  Spend some time praying for others and the losses they have experienced.  The more we join the Lord in His work the easier it is to keep ourselves in a healthy perspective.
  • If your loss left you angry, inconsolable, and looking for someone to blame – you may be well into entitled territory.  Stop.  Back up.  Is the Lord’s sacrifice not enough for you?  Medicate your condition with regular doses of repentance. 

The goal for all of us is to be available to minister to others in their loss.  The losses we have experienced better prepares us to empathize with the pain of others.  The comfort we received from Christ is exactly what the sorrowing ones around you need.  But first, we have to experience it ourselves. 

Once we agree that the world does not owe us any of our expectations, we can open ourselves to the compassion of Christ.  His comfort is so much better than what our anger provides us.  Choose Him as the comfort for your losses and be prepared to grow in holiness and be better prepared to share all that you have received. 

A Different Kind of Dialogue

When true simplicity is gained,
To bow and to bend we shan’t be ashamed,
To turn, turn will be our delight,
Till by turning, turning we come ’round right.  Joseph Brackett, Simple Gifts.

If you haven’t noticed the discord happening in America recently, you haven’t been watching… anything.  Disagreements about racism, police, public health policy, and economic freedom have produced arguments, protests, and riots.  As competing sides of those issues engage in debate, the positions become increasingly polarized.  Listening and dialogue seem to have been replaced by demonstrations of power.  Progress seems to be available only if one side can dominate the other to the point of abandoning its interests. 

Whither Christians?  Can we bring any peace to a warring America? 

You may find yourself identifying with one side or another in these conversations.  I believe there are devout brothers and sisters with many different points of view.  But one thing we learned from our Master was how to engage with our neighbors, whether we consider them our family or our enemy.  We are called to love them.  It sounds foreign to the current tenor of the rhetoric.  It is not foreign to those who walk in Christ.

The 19th century Shaker hymn above captures the unique quality we can bring to the current conflicts.  We are simple folk, living out simple truth. As Christians, we have a gospel truth to proclaim, but our primary role is one of truth seeker, listener, and learner.  We are experienced at listening.  We are hesitant speakers.  We are prepared to be found wrong.  We delight in being corrected.  Our egos are not at stake in these issues because our identity is preserved in Christ. 

One of my daughters once said, “after you get the selfless love and humility thing down, people want to be with you.”  I think she is right.  Wherever you stand on the issues under discussion, I challenge you, Christian, to rise up in selfless love and humility.  Confess your ignorance and your lack of understanding.  Listen, learn, and delight in being instructed. 

Then watch to see how others seek to join you in that. 

Not Your Sabbath

Also I gave them my Sabbaths as a sign between us, so they would know that I the Lord made them holy.  Yet the people of Israel rebelled against me in the wilderness. They did not follow my decrees but rejected my laws—by which the person who obeys them will live—and they utterly desecrated my Sabbaths.  Ezekiel 20:12-13a.

I have a long personal history of being blessed by the Sabbath.  My wife introduced it into my life years ago in a way that I had never practiced it and it has become one of the great treasures of our family.  Sabbath gives mankind a necessary rhythm and balance.  It compels us to stop seeking our identity by doing (supposedly great) things and forces us to practice being for a short time.  It serves as a reminder of our place at God’s table, dependent on Him for all we are and have.

Perhaps because of all its benefits, it can be easy to adopt an instrumental approach to Sabbath.  After all, Jesus said it was made for us (Mark 2:27).  But while the benefits are real, allowing them to capture our focus hides some of the Sabbath’s most important elements. 

  • It is not optional.  Just because the Sabbath is beneficial does not mean we are free to observe it whether and however we choose.  Sabbath was not a suggestion; it was a command.  We were told explicitly that it was a day of rest and worship, as opposed to work. 
  • It is not ours.  The Lord was practicing Sabbath before we were (Genesis 2:2).  He then invited us to join Him in something He was already doing.  He did not just lay down the rules for Sabbath, He demonstrated them and made them a badge of honor for His people.

Imagine if you were invited to a regularly recurring party by a friend.  But rather than coming at the appointed time you decided to show up late, and sometimes didn’t come at all.  Imagine that when you arrived at the party, you brought some memos to write, or some letters you needed to sort through and commenced to work on them.  You ignored the invitation of the host to join Him (and the other guests) in the whole purpose of the party. 

If that was your party, at your house, how would you feel?  You might be pretty offended at your supposed guest.  Would you even invite them back?  What if the party was supposed to be extremely beneficial for all the guests?  What if that party was named in your honor and was a key means by which you identified who wanted to be your friend and who didn’t? 

I think you get it.  Sabbath was made for us.  But it wasn’t made by us and it doesn’t belong to us.  God did not give our Sabbath to us so much as He shared His Sabbath with us.  Our instrumental view of Sabbath can hide its relational centrality and importance.  If you have been treating God’s Sabbath like leftovers – something you used if you wanted and threw out if you didn’t – repent of that this week.  Let’s practice Sabbath as a means to honor the Lord and to thank Him for being invited to the party.