Last year my wife and I celebrated our 40th anniversary with a Mediterranean cruise that we had planned and saved for months in order to enjoy. When the day finally arrived, we preached our three Sunday services and then drove to O’Hare to begin this trip of a lifetime. We literally flew through the night without sleep, as we were both flying so high about this dream vacation.
After landing in Venice and claiming our luggage, we went to board the bus outside. As we approached it, I noticed a large gathering of people waiting to place their carry-on luggage in the storage compartment underneath the bus, but since we didn’t have any bags, I walked around them to board the bus. Or started to walk around, I should say, because about the time I passed one gentlemen, I heard aguttural snarl, “The back of the line is back there!”
I wasn’t sure he was talking to me, so I turned and said,“excuse me?” to which he again growled, “the back of the line is back there!” I meekly offered, “I don’t have any luggage to stow”, but he cut me off with another. “the back of the line is back there!” so I apologized and walked to the back of the line.
Soon the bus departed and drove us to the ship that would be our home for the next 12 days, and then we embarked on our planned excursion for a first-time look at romantic Venice, complete with gondola ride and everything. But some of the excitement was gone. Because for the first few hours, all I could think about was “Mr. New Jersey” (no offense; that’s just where he was from) and how he growled at me. My mind was racing with thoughts of “why did he yell at me? I didn’t do anything to deserve his anger. Who does he think he is, anyway?” etc, etc.
Get the picture: I’m on the trip of a lifetime with my bride of 40 years. We have no phone calls to return; no meetings to attend; really, no responsibilities whatsoever for the next couple of weeks, except to enjoy the sights of the Mediterranean, eat good food, and enjoy each other’s company. And we’re in the romance capital of the world, Venice! Yet my trip was almost ruined because I had become offended.
Fortunately for me, I quickly figured out what was happening – that the enemy was offering me what author John Bevere calls “The Bait of Satan”, and I had bitten. I was able to release my resentment, forgive the offender, and get into the moment of enjoying a wonderful time with my wife. In fact, it became a joke for us on the rest of the trip, because even though there were over 3,000 passengers on our ship, we saw Mr. New Jersey every single day, often several times a day!
Unfortunately, many of the people you and I pastor are not so blessed, as in my experience, it seems more believers struggle with offense than just about any other trick of the enemy, and as a result, they often leave ministries, walk away from their church, and generally miss out on God’s plan for their life, while dealing with the physical and emotional aftermath of bitterness, resentment, and unforgiveness. It’s a trap, just as the Greek word-picture‘skandalon’ would indicate, and sadly, many, many believers fall victim to it every day.
As John Bevere pointed out in his book, there are only two ways for us to be offended: (a) to be mistreated by someone; or (b) to think we’ve been mistreated. I’ve experienced both, as I’m sure you have. In fact, just a week or two before our anniversary cruise, I received a nice ‘thank you’ note from someone who had recently spoken at our church, and he included a copy the latest book by his pastor, who is one of my ministry ‘heroes’. And it was autographed, no less! I couldn’t wait to dive into it.
So early the next morning as I was about to go into our prayer room for my devotions, I remembered the book, and reached to retrieve it from my desk. No book. I looked behind me on my credenza. No book. I couldn’t believe it. Who would have the audacity to come into my office and take my book without permission? I soon decided it couldn’t have been our facilities crew, so my suspicion was that one of our pastors had helped himself to the book. I was already thinking of how I could get ‘revenge’ by calling them out at the next staff meeting. Finally, I decided to ‘let go’ of the missing book and get to the prayer room as planned. So I reached into my briefcase to get my Bible, and, to my surprise, there was the autographed book. Then I recalled that I had put it in my briefcase the night before, thinking I’d start reading it at home. But get this:my feelings of being ‘wronged’ were just as real as if someone had actually taken the book. Offense can occursimply because of our internal thoughts when we imagine we’ve been mistreated, because, as the saying goes,perception is reality.
The little book of Esther gives us a great case study of offense and how it works in our lives. It began in the first few verses of chapter 3, when Haman thought he had been wronged by Mordecai’s failure to bow in his presence. Soon, his offense had overridden everything else – and even though he had so many reasons to be happy, chapter 5 shows us he was so obsessed with the perceived slight from Mordecai that his wealth, his position, his wife and his children meant nothing by comparison. I’ve seen the same tragic mistake in the lives of people that I pastor, as one small offense distorts our thinking, causes us to lose our perspective and to miss out on the blessings and destiny God had planned for our lives.
Of course, as Haman’s story demonstrates, offense alwaysbackfires, because the walls we build to keep others from hurting us actually confine us inside our own prison of resentment and bitterness. In fact, unforgiveness is like us drinking poison and hoping our enemy dies.
There is only one solution for any offense, real or perceived. It’s simple, although that doesn’t mean it’s easy. The only solution is prescribed by Jesus in Matthew 18:21-35, namely, to choose to forgive my offender. In fact, Jesus said if I can’t let go of my offense by choosing to forgive, my heavenly Father would not forgive me until I pay for all my sin. That’s a cost none of us could ever afford. I pray instead that you and the people you lead will always chooseforgiveness when the inevitable offenses come.
By: Jerry McQuay