MIDLAND, Texas (BP)–As a pastor and as someone in ministry to churches and people across the country, I have seen a growing trend over the last several years.
It seems that we, as the church and as individual Christians, spend a lot of time pulling back the outward expression of our faith for fear of offending people. Churches sometimes water down theology and their message to make sure no one leaves offended. People ignore the destructive, sinful behavior of their friends to make sure their friends are not offended. People seek community that is intentionally non-confrontational so that they will not personally be offended.
In the last weeks, it seems like I have been inundated with issues that almost seem to be begging for confrontation, but ones in which no one wants to take that step. It has made me think about my own faith. Do I believe the Word of God? If I do believe it, why am I so afraid to share it with people I say I love? If I really love people, shouldn’t I risk their offense if it means saving their lives?
The reality is that the Gospel of Christ, and the truth of the Word, is by its nature offensive. It is described as a sword, and it divides, and it exposes, and it digs to deep, hidden places. It also leads us to God, to truth, to healing, to fulfillment and to freedom.
As I have thought about this, I have been reminded of a time in my life when I was deeply offended by my friends and family. I had left my wife to pursue a life built around and defined by my feelings of same-sex attraction. I had expected my friends and family to accept what I was doing, support what I was doing, and not question what I was doing. I was offended by much of Christianity, and for a season I walked away from people who loved me, and I walked away from the church.
But today, 13 years later, I would like to say a hearty “THANK YOU” to my wife, and my parents and family, and my friends who cared enough about me to offend me. I get a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach when I consider the ramifications in my life, had the people in my world bought into the lie that to love me was to affirm me in my sin. When I left my wife, she boldly told me that she knew God could work in me and in our marriage and that she would not pursue divorce. She protected her interests but always professed her love for me and her desire to work through this together.
My parents (and other family members) told me that what I was doing was wrong. They bought books and other materials and tried to get me to talk to a counselor. They also called frequently to check on me, sent me money when I needed it, came to see me on my birthday, and flew me home for holidays. My friends drove hours to talk to me about what I was doing, and told me what they believed. They flew from other towns to take me to dinner and tried to convince me to get help and to turn from the life I was living. They also sent me cards and letters full of love and affirmation of our friendship.
And each of them offended me. Each of them made me angry. I viewed them as bigoted, unenlightened, ignorant, prejudiced and hateful. If they truly loved me, I told them, they would accept me and affirm me in the lifestyle I was living. I ignored their calls and I viewed them with skepticism. I did my best to sever my relationships with those who were offending me. But they would not let me go. They did not coddle me, but they refused to give up on me.
I eventually took a book from my dad. I did not want the book — I viewed it as more of his “right-wing Christian propaganda” — but I took it just to shut him up. I was ready to draw a line in the sand and cut all ties with my wife, my family and my friends. But God was ready to pierce my heart. The book that my dad gave me did not condemn me, but instead showed me more than the sentimental, saccharine love of Jesus that my new theology had sold me. It showed me the powerful love of the risen Savior, and I was compelled back to Him by that love. The offending parties in my life were waiting, as loving and gracious as they had ever been, not holding my sin against me, but standing there, ready to walk with me in the journey ahead of me.
Today my marriage is restored and has grown beyond my imagination. I have three beautiful children and am living out the call on my life to vocational ministry. Healing has happened in my family relationships, and I am closer to that cadre of friends than ever before. As I listen to people worry about offending people, and as I watch people change their whole belief systems to make other people feel more comfortable, and as I see people enabling destructive behavior just to avoid conflict, I wonder where I would be today had Stephanie simply pursued divorce like I wanted her to do. I wonder where I would be if my parents and friends had supported me and encouraged me to divorce Stephanie and had rallied around me in my newfound identity. I wonder where I would be if my pastors and spiritual shepherds had encouraged me to accept the very thing I needed to lay before the cross of Christ. I shudder at the thought. I know it must have killed them to think of losing me, but they loved me enough to take that risk.
Thank you, dear friends, for your offense to me. At the time, the truth you shared was the aroma of death to me (2 Corinthians 2:15) but today it is the sweet fragrance of life.
Mike Goeke is an associate pastor of at Stonegate Fellowship Church in Midland, Texas. He leads Cross Power Ministries, a ministry of Stonegate that ministers to people struggling with unwanted same-sex attraction. Learn more at http://www.stonegatefellowship.com/www2011/cpm.html. He can be reached at [email protected].