Houston, We Have a Problem – But It’s Not What You Think

The powers that be in Houston are using the law to bully pastors into silence.

On one level, the issue is homosexuality. On another, the issue is freedom of religion and speech. Still, there’s a deeper issue here and it has nothing to do with the mayor who isn’t the devil, she’s just a woman trying to figure out her life and using her influence to work for what she thinks is good.

The driver behind this is the true enemy of the church who knows how easily we are cowed into compromise and into hushing each other at any concern that we’re causing offense. You know, that for every pastor who defies the subpoenas, there are dozens more across the U.S. quietly second-guessing their sermon texts and editing themselves in an effort to do the impossible task of removing the offense from the cross of Jesus Christ.

Have you noticed? It’s something many of us attempt. We keep trying to remove, to mask, and to camouflage the offense of the gospel. But today I have some questions.

What happens if, even with our sensitivity workshops, cultural research, training in millennial communication, hip hair, blue jeans, sick graphics, and elimination of every trace of Christian-ese, people still find it offensive to hear they’re sinners?

What if the subpoenas continue to be served even when we’ve practiced active listening, softened our language, wrapped the gospel in low lights, befriended atheists, couched our admonitions with relatable anecdotes, practiced transparency, exposed our own sin, and walked a mile in our brother’s shoes? What if they’re not satisfied simply putting silencers on our preachers and writers? What if they won’t stop until they take every thought captive that doesn’t please the crowd?

Have you noticed that the mob in Israel, who famously never heard Jesus expound on the topic of homosexuality, still cried out for His death?

Jesus, the One who preached to turn the other cheek, to love thy neighbor as thyself, and to deny ones’ self, the existence of this Jesus offended not only the religious rulers but also everyone else from the reigning powers to the common person quick to choose a hefty stone. They cried out for crucifixion with one voice, choosing to show mercy to a notorious criminal over the storyteller from Nazareth.

Clearly, they feared His parables more than they feared Barabbas’s sword.

Is it possible that the heart of that saving grace we claim as our Noah’s ark into glory is going to offend no matter how much aw-shucks flannel we use to muffle its beat? No matter how slick our presentation? No matter how we attempt to slip the offensive parts in unnoticed between amazing guitar riffs and digitally enhanced cardboard testimonies?

And if this is true, why do we keep trying to reinvent our image to align with what the crowds demand rather than with the One who died offending the crowd?

I worry that the wrong people are going to agree with this post. I’m not interested in throwing out effective outreach based on culturally-informed, sacrificial, listen-first, love-laden truth-telling that relies more on actions than sermons. I am interested in conserving energy for that task by abandoning the apologetic gymnastics involved in trying to become what it is impossible to become if we are ultimately becoming like Jesus.

To become like Jesus is to become offensive. To live like Jesus is to live offending others who are not. To speak like Jesus is to speak words that offend. An offense that extends from the powers on high to the religious posers to the neighbor just out trying to buy a loaf of bread.

To live like Jesus is to know that at any moment, the crowd could decide that you are more worthy of death than the most notorious prisoner. A move we cannot prevent with love or eloquence. To think we can is to believe there may have been some other day for Jesus than the cross.

Maybe it’s a time for straight talk.

Maybe it’s a time to forget about the production, strip off the caramel coating, and simply tell the Biblical truth (and for the most part, it’s clear and not in debate). No apologies. No song. No dance. No hopes that if we smile hard enough and speak with enough compassion, the hearers will ignore the fact that we’re saying they have sinned and cannot save themselves.

I was offended by the gospel and that offense was a gift that led me to Jesus.

Or haven’t you noticed that Jesus spends little time holding workshops on how to deliver the message (He IS the workshop). In scolding the Pharisees, He clearly teaches that our lives must line up with our message. Through His interactions with sinners, we see we are free to interact with the crowd without constantly mentioning what they’re doing wrong. But always, always, His stories and sermons deliver the offensive truth that we are not all right the way we are – none of us. We all need to seek the forgiveness of God, renounce our sin, and submit to Jesus Christ. That’s offensive no matter how you say it.

Repeatedly, however, Jesus does admonish the crowd to bring ears that can hear. The ears people bring to the message are as important as the style in which we deliver it.

Christians should do all we can to deliver God’s word honorably, faithfully, truthfully, artfully, and in love but at the end of the day, the hearer plays a part in this exchange and it isn’t to dictate our part.

Here’s my final question. Have you offended anyone lately? If the answer is no, ask yourself a question – what parts of the gospel are you holding back for fear of the crowd? And if perfect love casts out fear, why have you stopped loving the crowd enough to stop telling them the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth so help us, God?

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    The Conversation

  1. Rena says:

    Lori, this message is excellent as all your messages are….yes, I have offended people in the past and I will continue to do so…..and I pray that this will lead them to think and to turn from their wicked ways….

  2. Sharmel O'Neill says:

    Just recently I compromised in a situation in which I was taught and knew better. Thinking I was at a strong point in my walk with Christ, I found just how easy it can be to capitulate on a spiritual matter that I thought I was well grounded in. There wasn’t even any perceived persecution to blame it on, I just caved..no excuse.

    I have handed it over to my faithful and always forgiving Saviour, he knows full-well what a dunderhead I can be. But I am now praying continually for His strength as I am now so much more aware of how very weak I am.

    Included in my prayers are all of us who struggle daily, even when we think we are strong, as the Bible is clearly says that is when we are most vulnerable.

    Thank you Sister-in-Christ for your insight!

  3. Disturber is an excellent description of the role you’ve been given.
    Thank you for this eloquent disturbance. We all need it.
    May God continue to equip and empower you for His purposes. Amen

  4. Jan says:

    A great reminder that even if we present the gospel in the least offensive way we know how, people are still going to be offended by being told they are sinners in need of a savior. No matter how we sheath it in love and kindness, they will still try to silence those who cause them to question their own lifestyle and decisions by presenting the truth of the Word of God. Keep speaking the Word anyway. Speak it in love, but never allow your voice to be silenced. Their salvation depends on it. Sharing the gospel is the truest form of love we can show to a lost world.

  5. Debra says:

    I feel certain that I offended a student of mine on Monday afternoon when she stood on her PC soapbox and started acting like a speech Nazi in response to another student. After awhile the conversation evolved into a political debate, and although I try to avoid these with opponents, I couldn’t be silent.

    And that’s exactly what the speech police want from us who hold a biblical worldview: silence. In my estimation, we can narrow it down to two worldviews: a biblical one, or a politically correct one. The latter is bent on silencing the former, while the former is being bullied more and more by the day when they stand for what they believe.

  6. Megan Vance says:

    Excellent points, Lori. It is only going to get harder in the last days, just Whose side will we choose to be on? If we don’t stand for something we’ll fall for anything, as someone famous (?) once said.
    Thank you.

  7. Tammy Smith says:

    A most excellent post! I was so encouraged and reminded of some things I’ve been enduring lately.Jesus said,”and you will be hated because of My name.”[Luke 21:17].This IS the litmus test,whether we are of God,or not.John Piper said,”Being scorned by culture may be a sign of Christlikeness.” These are the last days,I believe,and this IS the ultimate test[Luke 21:7-19].We must keep our eyes on the Prize[our blessed Redeemer Jesus]!!

  8. Carla says:

    You are right, absolutely, Lori. What has happened because we have watered down Truth to where it’s own Father doesn’t even recognize it? We look at the results of sin and call it out, when we NEED to address the root problem–we ARE lost! I woke up last night singing this song: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ipwEtvWL_3c (Jesus, Friend of Sinners by Casting Crowns, I hope this URL takes you there). We witness, we pray, we suffer persecution because of LOVE, not because certain behavior doesn’t line up with our doctrine, and if we are speaking out of any reason other than TOTAL love and compassion, WE are in error, more than the person we are trying to save. Truth and Mercy were the key elements of Jesus’ walk here on Earth. When the woman caught in adultery huddled waiting for the first stone to hit her, she was pleasantly surprised when instead, Jesus took her by the hand and said to her ‘Go, and sin no more’. He DIDN’T even HAVE to give her an hour lecture on WHAT she wasn’t to do anymore, she KNEW already. Yes, we are to give Truth in words, but sometimes we over-word and under-love. Put all those elements together, and we will be unstoppable.

    God bless, Lori, I am truly thankful I stumbled across your blog.

  9. Bruce Cunningham says:

    Right On!!!
    No matter what we do, if it pleases God, it will still be offensive to the people that serve the God of this world. Satan is real, just as God’s word declares. He is the one behind the hate against Christianity. It’s not our lack of kindness or tact.
    It is when we wax bold, as Jesus and the apostles often did, that we are glorifying God the most. We don’t just have a message, we have THE MESSAGE.
    Thanks for your fellowship Lori!