May 18-19, 2019
Pastor Joe Wittwer
Let it Go!
Introduction and offering:
ILL: Brant Hansen opens his book, Unoffendable, with a story about being at a business meeting and hearing a speaker say, “You can choose to be unoffendable.” He writes:
“I remember the guy saying it’s a choice we can make, to just choose not to be offended.
Sure… Just—you know—choose, as if it’s really just up to us.
I found this offensive.”
Being offended has become a national sport. We’re all so thin-skinned now. It doesn’t take much to offend us.
ILL: Pastor Ed Rowell tells this story:
During a recent baptism, I paraphrased a passage of Scripture to fit the situation: “If anyone is in Christ, he or she is a new creature in Christ.” (I was baptizing a young woman.)
The next morning, I was going through the cards we use for prayer requests. Suddenly one of them nailed me, by name, for “daring to change the infallible, inerrant, unchangeable Word of God. When the Bible says ‘he,’ it means ‘he’…to change it to fit your rampant feminist agenda is the worst kind of heresy.”
Most days I would have tossed it in the trash with the hope that he buy a better laxative. But that particular Monday, that note really scorched me. I wasted an hour writing a scathing reply, even though the note was unsigned. (Can anyone identify with this—wasting an hour writing a reply? Just so you know, we toss unsigned notes in the trash without reading them.)
At lunch I told a buddy about it, and he asked, “Why did that one make you so angry?”
“I don’t know. I’m so sick of stupid people and their stupid comments and their stupid inability to rejoice that someone made a public declaration of their faith. I’d like to show him a little heresy right across the jaw.”
“Got a little anger problem there, don’t you?” he asked.
“Of course not. It ticks me off that you’d even mention it.”
This spoke to me because I too am an equal opportunity offender. When you talk to thousands of people for a living, you can’t help but offend some. So I regularly get emails or letters from offended people, and for the longest time, I let it offend me. Like Ed, I would get angry and it would bother me, sometimes for days. I’m finally learning to just let it go. I’m so much happier!
So let’s talk about becoming unoffendable.
- Examples of being offended.
What do I mean by being offended? When you look up the word in a dictionary, you’ll see it means to be annoyed, hurt, insulted, resentful and angry. I thought a couple stories from the Bible might give us a clearer picture.
First, one from the Old Testament.
1 Samuel 25 (p. 251-2) tells the story of David living in the wilderness with his army, while trying to avoid the murderous King Saul. David’s men provided protection to a wealthy local rancher named Nabal, watching over his large flocks in the wilderness. In return, David asked Nabal to provide some food for a party, a festive meal for David and his men. Nabal responded by hurling insults at David’s messengers. David’s response was to tell his men (v. 13), “Each of you strap on your sword.” David was offended. He had been disrespected, and was determined to kill Nabal and all his men that day.
This is a major overreaction. “You won’t share; I’ll kill you and everyone around you.” Major overreaction. How many of you are over-reactors? Me too. Getting offended, getting angry will never make you smarter. Michael told us last weekend that when we’re angry, the cerebral cortex, the smart part of your brain, shuts down. David’s anger made him stupid—it made him murderous.
ILL: When my son Jeff was a teen, he often pushed my buttons, and I often over-reacted. Once, he went rock-climbing with some friends, and got halfway up a rock face and froze. He looked up at the group leader on top and said, “I can’t do it.” The leader said nothing—didn’t react—and a few moments later, Jeff scrambled up. I told that story to my friend, Rick, and he said, “You can learn a lesson from that: under-react.” That became my mantra with Jeff. Under-react. Become unoffendable. It changed our relationship. Write down the word: Under-react.
David gets offended and over-reacts. “Strap on your swords.”
But he didn’t end up killing everyone. Nabal’s wife, Abigail, intervenes. She heard what happened and loaded up some mules with the food David asked for, and personally gave him an apology. She skillfully talked David down. And David thanked her profusely for saving him—saving him from the guilt of spilling innocent blood.
Thank God for Abigail! Do you have someone who can talk you down? Someone who can listen when you get upset, let you blow off some steam, and then help you regain your right mind? My wife Laina, my father in law Noel, and my friend Rick have all talked me off the ledge, taken the sword from my hand when I wanted to do something stupid. Who is your Abigail?
David got offended by Nabal and over-reacted. Getting offended never makes you smarter.
In the New Testament: Mark 6:1-6 (p. 863) tells the story of Jesus returning to His hometown.
1 Jesus left there and went to his hometown, accompanied by his disciples. 2 When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed.
“Where did this man get these things?” they asked. “What’s this wisdom that has been given him? What are these remarkable miracles he is performing? 3 Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him.
4 Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.” 5 He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. 6 He was amazed at their lack of faith.
Look at the end of verse 3: “And they took offense at him.” The Greek word for offense is skandalizo. We get the word “scandalize” from it. They were scandalized by Jesus. “Who does He think He is? We know who He is—he grew up down the street. We know His whole family.” A small town boy becoming a big shot rabbi—it was scandalous.
They were offended because they thought they knew Him. They were wrong. They didn’t know what they didn’t know.
Often we get offended and in truth, we are ignorant. We make judgments about others when we really don’t know their hearts or their motives. And we’re wrong. Just plain wrong. Paul wrote to the Corinthian church who was making all kinds of judgments about him and others.
1 Corinthians 4:3–5 (p. 982)
3 I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. 4 My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me. 5 Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart. At that time each will receive their praise from God.
Paul says that he doesn’t judge because he doesn’t know. He doesn’t know others’ motives; he doesn’t even know his own motives. So leave judgment to God, who does know.
When I make judgments about others, I’m mostly flying blind. I don’t know their motives. I don’t know the back story. I don’t know all the facts. I don’t even know what I don’t know. So it is presumptive and stupid of me to make judgments like I do know. So suspend your judgment. Admit you don’t know. And instead of assuming the worst, make positive attributions. Assume the best.
The people of Nazareth thought they knew—they didn’t. They were wrong. And look what it cost them.
What did their offense cost them? Jesus. They missed out on Jesus. He left and as far as we know, Jesus never came back to Nazareth again. This was their moment—Jesus was in their town—and they missed it because they got offended.
It breaks my heart to see this happen over and over. People miss out on Jesus because of silly offenses.
- I know someone who will never set foot in Life Center because someone goes here who hurt his feelings. That offense may be keeping him from Jesus.
- I know people who left and won’t come back because something I said in a sermon offended them—they offense may be keeping them from Jesus.
- I know people who have gotten offended by a t-shirt our volunteers wore, or by the volume of the music, or by someone wearing a baseball cap during worship. No big deal, right? But these offenses keep people from Jesus.
When we get offended, we may miss out on Jesus.
So how can we become unoffendable?
- How to be unoffendable.
Here are two ideas:
- Love God and know who you are.
ILL: My pastor, Roy Hicks Jr. was about 5’8” and probably weighed a buck fifty soaking wet—not a big guy. But he was a big presence—he radiated authority and leadership.
I was new on staff and heard one of the other pastors call him “Junior” and was shocked. I waited for an offended reaction from Roy, but there was none—no reaction at all. I asked Larry, the other pastor, “How can you call him ‘Junior’? Won’t he be offended.” Larry laughed and said something I never forgot. “Roy knows who he is.”
Several years later, when I shared this story with Roy, he smiled and quoted this verse.
Psalm 119:165 (p. 531) Great peace have those who love your law, and nothing can make them stumble.
He quoted it from the King James which says, “and nothing shall offend them.” When you love God’s word, and by extension, love God, nothing will offend you. Why? Because you will know who the Lord is, and who you are. You will know the truth and the truth will set you free.
Here is the truth about me: I am God’s dearly loved child. I am deeply loved, fully forgiven, and completely accepted by my Father. What He says about me is more true than anything you can say about me. What He says to me is more important than anything you say to me.
“Great peace have those who love your word, and nothing shall offend them.” I encourage you to love God’s word. Soak it up. Learn it, live it, love it. The more you get God’s word inside you, the more you love it, the more you’ll know the truth, including the truth about who you are. Let God’s word shape your values, let it give you wisdom. And you’ll become unoffendable.
Proverbs 19:11 (p. 558) A person’s wisdom yields patience; it is to one’s glory to overlook an offense.
God’s word will make you wise, and that wisdom yields patience. You’ll become slow to anger. You’ll be able to overlook an offense. Roy could have taken offense to being called “Junior”—he could have taken it as a mocking reference to his small stature—but he overlooked it. He just let it slide, pass right on by. And that was “to his glory.” That made me respect him all the more. He wasn’t thin-skinned and touchy. He wasn’t easily offended. He loved God, he loved God’s word, and he knew who he was.
Want to be unoffendable? Want to be admired by others for your patience and willingness to overlook an offense? Love God and love God’s word. Soak it up and let it change you!
- Love people and cover every offense.
There is a story in Genesis 9 about Noah and his sons after the flood. Noah got drunk and lay naked in his tent. (In that culture, to be seen naked was a great shame.) Noah’s son Ham went in and saw him naked and went out and told his brothers. His brothers, on the other hand, put a blanket on their shoulders, backed in and covered their father, without ever looking at him. Ham dishonored his father by repeating the matter to his brothers; Shem and Japheth honored him by covering him up.
Proverbs 10:12 (p. 549) Hatred stirs up conflict, but love covers over all wrongs (offenses).
Repeating the story of someone’s sin or offense only stirs up conflict. Ham blabbed and stirred up trouble. But love covers all offenses. The Hebrew word means, to cover, to conceal, to forgive. The idea here is not a cover up—it’s not a sinister covering of evil. The idea is that love chooses to overlook an offense, to forgive it and put it out of sight, rather than repeating it to others and keeping it alive.
Proverbs 17:9 (p. 556) Whoever would foster love covers over an offense, but whoever repeats the matter separates close friends.
When someone offends you or hurts you, you have a choice. You can hang on to that offense and repeat it to others. If you do, you stir up conflict and separate friends. You pour gas on the fire. Or you can cover that offense—you can put it out of sight (yours and others), refuse to talk about it, and let it go. Again, it’s not a sinister cover up; it’s choosing to put it out of sight, not to focus on it. That’s what love does. Love does what is best for another no matter what it costs you. Love means that you absorb the offense and then cover it, put it aside, forgive it and let it go.
1 Peter 4:8 (p. 1049) Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.
Love each other deeply. And then Peter explains what that looks like: love covers over a multitude of sins. This is what we do for each other.
ILL: My wife married a sinner. But if you listen to her talk about me, you’d think she married Jesus! Is this some kind of sinister cover up? No. She loves me and she chooses to cover my offenses, to put them out of sight and out of mind, to focus on my good trait instead of all my negative ones. I have a multitude of sins—and her love covers them.
I like to remind young couples that marriage is putting two sinners under the same roof for a lifetime, and that’s a wicked soup! It takes lots of forgiveness to make marriage work, to make a friendship work, to make a church work. And that’s what love does. Love covers over a multitude of sins.
Love each other deeply. Instead of focusing on others’ offenses, we choose to love them by forgiving, covering and letting it go.
ILL: Early in the book, Unoffendable, Brant Hansen tells the story of his friend, Michael, who decided to open a downtown coffee shop in the midst of a very progressive neighborhood with a thriving arts scene. He planned to bring in Christian musicians and speakers. His plans were published in the local paper, and Brant said he could see the culture war coming!
It turned out that this venue had been the site of a very large art exhibition to benefit AIDS research. It featured some local art, and some of it was…well, offensive.
When Michael bumped into one of the event organizers on the street, he told Michael that they would be looking for a new site to host the event. Michael surprised him by saying that they didn’t need to do that; he would be honored to host it and that he would even pay for all the catering! The guy couldn’t believe it. What about the art that Michael would surely find offensive? Michael said they were welcome anyway.
Instead of being evicted by the Christians, the artists were welcomed. Michael and his wife met everyone at the door, offering them chocolate covered strawberries. Live music filled the room. It was the best exhibit the group had ever had.
Michael went around the room making friends, hugging everyone, and talking freely about Jesus. He talked about the goodness of God because he believes everyone is yearning for a God like that.
Some Christians in town wanted Michael to be offended, to draw another line in the sand. Get angry with those people. Instead Michael fed them strawberries and just loved them.
Love, as it turns out, covers a multitude of offenses.
“Ok,” you’re thinking, “fine. Love God, love people, and be unoffendable. But let’s get real. Sometimes you’re going to get offended. Then what?”
- What to do when you get offended.
It’s true. Sometimes you’ll get offended. You’ll get hurt, annoyed, frustrated, irritated, and angry. It happens. The real issue is what you do with that offense. Will you hang on to it? Nurse it? Repeat it? Post it? Tell your friends? Or will you cover it, forgive them and let it go? Here are two great responses when offended.
- Have a conversation.
There are so many conflicts that could be cleared up with an honest conversation. Not all of them—sometimes this doesn’t work and Jesus acknowledges that. But many of our conflicts with others could be resolved with an honest, face to face conversation. Jesus addresses this in Matthew 18 when he was talking about sin and forgiveness.
Matthew 18:15 (p. 844) If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over.
First, let’s acknowledge that Jesus is talking about sin, not just minor annoyances. When someone sins, that is, when they break God’s law, they do the wrong thing, then go have a conversation. That’s the context. However, I believe that we can safely apply this to things that might not be “sinful” but simply annoying or hurtful.
ILL: I was in a group of friends recently—a racially diverse group—and one of the white guys said that he was colorblind. I looked around at my friends of color and saw their expressions change. There was an awkward moment of silence, and I asked the guy, “How do you think that makes a person of color feel?” He gave me a surprised look. “Why don’t you ask them?” He did and a black man said, “It makes me feel that you don’t see me. If you don’t see my color, you don’t see me, because that’s an important part of who I am.” We had a great conversation about that.
Did the white man sin by saying he was colorblind? Not at all. Was it hurtful to some others in the room. Yes it was. So we had a conversation and resolved it.
By the way, what did he mean by saying he was colorblind? He was trying to say that he wasn’t prejudiced, that he didn’t judge people by skin color—and that’s good. But the way he said it unintentionally made others feel invisible and devalued. The conversation helped him see it differently and he gladly changed his language.
Have a conversation. Face to face. Don’t post it on Facebook. Please! There are so many offended people using social media to air their offenses. They are like Noah’s son, Ham running around yelling, “Dad’s naked in the tent!” Does it help? No! It only stirs up more conflict. Don’t Facebook it, tweet about it or Instagram it. Don’t even try to resolve it with the person via email or text. Get face to face so you can see each other, hear each other. And have an honest conversation. These conversations are not easy; they require lots of prayer, patience, humility and grace. Ask God to help you and listen to what He says. Then have a conversation.
Now, not every story turns out as well as the one I just told. Sometimes the conversation doesn’t resolve the problem, and as I said, Jesus acknowledges that possibility. In the following verses, he tells you what to do if the person won’t acknowledge their sin. I don’t think those verses apply to stories like the one I just told, to situations that are hurtful or annoying, but not necessarily sinful. So, what do you do if you have the conversation and nothing changes. What would we have done if my friend had stubbornly refused to change his language?
- Let it go.
You will get offended. It’s inevitable. Sometimes you won’t resolve the problem, and then you have another choice. Will I hang on to this and get angry or bitter? Or will I just let it go? And the best choice—always—is to let it go.
Colossians 3:13 (p. 1017) Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.
Do you have a grievance against someone? Have they offended you? Forgive them. Let it go. The New Living Translation renders this:
Colossians 3:13 (NLT) Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others.
Forgive anyone who offends you. Let it go. Don’t hang on to it. Don’t nurse it and keep it alive. Don’t feed it. Just let it go. “Goodbye. I’m not hanging on to you any more.” Hanging on to an offense is like drinking poison and hoping the other person dies. Let it go. For your sake, let it go.
ILL: I’m a golfer—not very good, but I try. I hit lots of bad shots—terrible shots—and I get frustrated. (Sometimes I say bad words. Pray for your pastor.) I read a book on golf that had some great advice. The author said that the only shot that matters is the next one. You can’t change the last shot or the one before it. Once you strike the ball, it’s over. It’s done. Being angry and frustrated won’t help you hit the next shot well—in fact, it may keep you from hitting the next shot well. And the next shot is the only one that matters. So forget about that last shot. I’m learning that when I hit a bad shot, I have to let it go.
Life is like golf. Other people will say or do things, and you will get offended, hurt, frustrated and angry. The real issue is what you do then. Hang on to it? Or let it go? What are you going to do?
Let it go.