I'm preaching tonight. I'm going to write my sermon down here, partly to practice and cement it, partly to share it with a wider audience.
During the weekend, the Refuel youth/young adults conference, the pastor that was preaching Joel Scrivner talked a lot about being blameless. One of the sermons was about spiritual cleanliness- how things that happen to you apart from your own sin can make you unclean. Part of this is offense. He talked about issues he'd encountered that had made him unclean, and how he needed to forgive these offenses, repeatedly.
I want to really focus in on his offense message, and dive deeper into offense. When you take a look at the word "Offense" or "Offend" you'll find that it has over 40 synonyms. Forty different ways that we have, in the english language, ways of saying we are offended. The transverse is an antonym- an opposite. There are only two antonyms to offense. Another great way to look at it is, there are forty ways to say I am offended, but only one word for "Love" in the english language.
First, I'm going to talk about communication. Take a look at Matthew 17:27 and you'll see a portion of a story about Jesus performing another miracle, to pull money out of a fish's mouth. You'll see here that Jesus specifically went out of his way to avoid offending someone- he even had to get miraculous on a situation to avoid offending. This is the example we really need to follow. The order in which you put your words can have very, very different meanings than what you intend. For example, you can say, I like girls. This can be interpreted many, many different ways. I like girls, I like girls, or I like girls. See the difference there? A little tone here or body language there and your words change dramatically. One paints you as a pedophile, one is an emphatic (possibly lustful) statement, and another is just a weird thing to say. :) They all say the same thing though, right? We haveto be especially careful of this in our generation, because one of our trademarks- one of the things that defines our generation is our sarcasm. This adds a whole new layer of complexity to what you are saying and how it might be interpreted. Sarcasm is rife within our society and generation- When my wife was pregnant, I used to call her tubbs all the time. Now, she knew this was in jest and would laugh and enjoy having fun, and people love to always clown on eachother about old age whenever possible. We just need to be aware that sometimes what we say can have very, very different meanings.
On the other side of the coin, is when we listen. Take a look at Matthew 13:54-57 and you'll see when Jesus was preaching in his hometown. At first, everyone was amazed at what Jesus had said. His words were without fault. And as you continue reading this passage, we see an about-face, and the people start looking for offense. When the words were not offensive, they looked deeper- into Jesus' family, to find a reason to be offended at his words. People in our society are specifically looking to be offended. Searching your every word for offense. You can see here that being offended is a decision. They heard the word, sat back, and thought about it long enough to find an offense. When we listen to people, we need to think of them and their words in the best possible way. Assume the best about them, and what they are trying to say. We need to realize the *vast* majority of the time, people are not trying to offend you. Be slow to draw negative conclusions about whatever is being spoken. That person that is speaking is worthy of your grace, just as Jesus gives us grace. Do not dig into their words un-necessarily. We do this fairly frequently trying to find fault in their words, and it's unintentional. Stop yourself from doing that. Don't dwell on people's words negatively.
If after considering the best possible interpretation, you truly do find something worthy of taking issue with, you've got to do two things. First, pray. Wherever you are, whatever you are doing, you can pray. Take a few minutes to cool off if you need to. The second thing you need to do, is approach that person. Reciprocate. As pastor Clint and Amaryllis talked about in the communication break out, repeat back to that person what they said and ask if it is what they meant. If it is, tell them how it made you feel. The rest of this process is easy- if someone really sees that they offended you or said something offensive, people will work very very hard at making it up to you. People hate offending eachother un-intentionally.
Now, if you do this, and someone truly is trying to offend you, this is terribly easy to fix. The attack you see is the easiest to dodge. If someone is truly trying to offend you, you can easily brush it off as something that is untrue or mean spirited. Don't let it get to you. If someone is trying to offend you, pick better friends!
Let's talk about when and where we need to be diligent about this. First, I use these tactics a lot at work. Political hostilities can truly do damage to your career, or your pay. How many of you have had communications issues in e-mails? E-mails pose a special problem, because a very large portion of communication- nonverbal communication, get's left out. I tend to re-read my e-mails before I send them, acting like I recieved them, and see how it makes me feel. This is also a really good strategy for if you are trying to influence people positively- make them feel warm and accepted, acknowledged and appreciated. You've got the benefit of time, you can re-read that e-mail as many times as you want, where as it's harder to think about what you are saying during a conversation.
The next area you can use these tactics in is your marriage, or other close relationships. This is where it truly matters the most. Where there are hearts and souls at stake. What you say can truly injure someone for life. Remember what Jesus taught us, love one another as we love ourselves. This is critical in how we become Christ-like! Jesus constantly showed us how to be kind, patient, loving. How to be un offendable is an important piece of the puzzle to staying clean and being Christ-like.
Lastly, the church- this is the absolute easiest place for us to deal with offense. I can almost gaurantee you that people are trying to be uplifting and talk to you out of love. The entire reason we are at church is to learn about Christ and how to be more christ-like. When was the last time you saw someone intentionally trying to do harm to the body? Probably never. When people are communicating at church, you haveto think and understand that people are trying to build eachother up, have fun, and be friends. No one intentionally says something stupid or does something that hurts someone else here. Unfortunately, this is also where some of the most devastating, divisive offenses in human history have happened. Are we not all here for the same reason? Because God called us? This is also a reminder to us, that if and when you might disagree with someone, you don't haveto take offense. in fact, doesn't it seem silly to take offense at something just because someone believes differently? Especially over issues that have many opinions, as the church has found out painfully. Jesus specifically points out that to bicker over trivial theology is to really lose sight of the cross.
In closing- it's incredibly easy for us to take offense, as humans. Naturally we all think pretty highly of ourselves, and anything that might hint at the contrary can be painful. We are constantly searching words and messages and meanings to find anything that might be at odds with our idea of ourselves. Take some time ot think about some offenses you've experienced lately, and humble yourself. Decide not to be offended. We are here to serve eachother. Paul got it right, when he said love keeps no record of wrongs.