Living a Lovingly Offensive Life

Part 3 and final post in the series on reflections from my time at The Gospel Coalition Indianapolis 2017. This post owes its creation to a panel discussion I attended between plenary teachings. The session was titled, “Ministry for a Short Season” and focused on college ministry. One of the panelists, Jon Nielson, when discussing the topic of how we challenge college students reflected, “Am I offending [others] with anything but the gospel itself?” And so began a series of thoughts circling about the topic of offense. Here’s the finished product.


Fists clenched. Muscles contracted, prepared to pounce. Rage ran rampant through my entire body as a fire consuming a dry forest. Senses heightened and focused on the enemy before me. Eyes narrowed as I looked him in the eyes and replied, “Charmander is the best Pokemon. Period.”

My friend had ignorantly remarked that he believed Pikachu was the best Pokemon around and my 8 year-old self was not amused. “How can he be so blind to the scientific fact of the superiority of Charmander?” I thought to myself in much more animalistic and simple terminology. I’m fairly certain “doo-doo head” was the phrase that repeated often in my head.

What my friend had done was offend me. He had taken something I value tremendously, the hierarchy of Pokemon, the pinnacle of which being the fire-lizard Charmander, and had lessened its value by replacing the top-dog with an electric rat.

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In my 8 year-old mind, there was no possible way that anyone could have a differing opinion than me, for my thoughts were based on (alternative) facts. I look back on that realizing that I was beginning to learn a valuable lesson in life,

People who pick Pikachu are not worth my time.

Sorry, that’s not actually what I learned. What I truly began to understand was that life will be full of things that offend me. What I value highly will not be as valuable to others. Consequently, I will also offend others because what they value greatly will not be as important to me.

Now, I want to be clear here. I’m not talking about being offended because someone else has a wrong different opinion than me about something as silly as favorite fictional childhood monster. To an 8 year-old that was serious because Pokemon was something I valued more than almost anything else.

However, as a 24 year-old adult, the things that I highly value have shifted to other things, things that, I believe, truly have weight and significance in this world. The dignity of all human beings, the importance of community, and deep, personal spirituality have replaced my high value of a childhood show.

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I realize how hypocritical a Christian talking about offending others sounds. Christians (especially in the U.S.) have a jaded past full of a wide spectrum of offenses. The Church has supported open mistreatment of many people groups including those outside of heterosexual, binary “norms” and ethnic minorities. These travesties are serious offenses and stark blemishes on the Church.

I myself recognize a quickness to offend and be unduly offended myself (8 year-old Tyler is alive and kicking 16 years later). I value too highly my own tastes and preferences. I want others to see me as awesome as I see myself.

Along with this, I don’t care about others as well as I expect them to care for me. I am so slow to develop any interest in anyone or anything outside of myself and my values. I’ve found this a reality even with the friends who have known (tolerated) me for years!

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My guess is that I’m not alone in this struggle. I would bet that many besides myself struggle with caring for much outside of themselves. We have such a tendency to put ourselves and what we value first and everyone else as an afterthought.

This becomes more and more apparent to me when I compare my life with Jesus.

Jesus lived in perpetual care for others. His life and ministry was spent healing, teaching, loving, and communing with others. It’s obvious by his actions that Jesus loved to a degree that was unprecedented up to that point.

I live in stark contrast to this life of love.

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I notice something else when I look at the life of Jesus: he really made people mad. His words often sent others into a fury or into scheming ways to get rid of the man.

Jesus was the most loving person around in his day and yet his message often left people fuming.

Why?

The answer to this question lies in the heart of his message, commonly known as the gospel.

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Jesus’ message can be summed up like this: humans are selfish and choose to ignore God and his values, yet God loves individuals so much that he would make a way to reverse this through the cost of his own life.

The essence of the message is that men and women are selfish, evil, and rebellious (a difficult pill to swallow) and yet are loved, cherish, and sacrificed for by God.

The gospel is tremendously offensive because it says you and I are evil and unable to connect and be made right with God outside of his intervening work through Jesus dying for our sin (selfishness) on the cross. The fact that we have to even be made right with God in the first place is such an offense in and of itself. It challenges the fundamental principle you and I hold most tightly, our pride.

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For those who hold this message to be true, life should look radically different. If the gospel is true, the lack of value we have for others and their interests should diminish, for each individual is as highly valued by God as we are. Along with this, the person who holds the gospel in high esteem will also gently challenge others with the very message, and, by extension, offend.

If Jesus lived a loving and offensive life, his message will follow suit. The greatest gift of all, forgiveness and relationship with God, comes after the greatest offense of all, the proclamation of our total depravity.

We must be willing to offend in order to get to the great gift. We must be willing to wound, in order to heal. And we must do so in a way that demonstrates with our lives the love of the gospel that enables others to listen further than the first part of the message.

If the world sees the great love within the gospel message lived out through us, it might just be willing to keep listening through the offensive (yet infinitely necessary!) part we proclaim.


Check out part 1 and part 2

Here’s the panel discussion this post was conceived (gross) from!

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