Let’s start with a fence. What is a fence? It’s a structure that surrounds the perimeter of an area. Whether it be around a home, a dog kennel, a business, a pool, an area of danger, or an area to be preserved. A fence can do one of two things: keep someone or something out, or keep someone or something in. Or maybe it’s really a combination of both.
Now, let’s look at another kind of fence…offense.
For the past two weeks, the sermons have been centered around “offense”, being offended or being the offender. Unfortunately, this is subject matter that I have had personal experience with and can say first hand how detrimental it can be to a persons relationship- not only with people, but with God. You see, one weekend I came home from college and went to church. Not just any church – this was the church I grew up in. This was the church I called home. The friends and families I grew up surrounded by were there; it was special to me. That particular weekend, I was met at the door of the Sunday School class by a woman. I had no idea who she was and she didn’t know me from Eve. She asked that I sign a petition before I went into class that morning. I can honestly tell you that I have no idea what the petition was for…and though it was likely not a condition to enter the classroom, I took it that way. I remember thinking “Who are you …in my church…to tell me…what to do?!” I was furious. I was offended. Therefore, aside from holidays, I didn’t go back. I had already started a slow fade- but this was the kick in the pants that got me all the way out the door.
This was two years into what would be about 18 years of wandering. I had already started building the fence…but this offense was the final section of fence between me and God. Yet, the particular offense had nothing do to with God. So there I was-offended at my church and out on my own. Satan is slick like that.
Last week, the pastor gave the congregation homework. We were asked to make a list of anyone who offended us in any way- and what they did to offend us. After that was accomplished, we were to pray over each and give each to God. Just let them go. I thought I had already covered this ground a few years ago, and really didn’t think I needed to do this assignment. When I recommitted my life to Christ, I had to wade through the muck and let a lot of stuff go. As a matter of fact, one of the verses that I held dear during that time was Ephesians 4:31-32.
31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
As the pastor was reading through Matthew 18, I could see the parallel to my testimony and situations that had come to pass in my life. I was the sheep that left the flock (v 12-14) that He came looking for…and He rejoiced when I came home. Then, not even three months later, I would have to turn around and offer the same kind of forgiveness God extended to me…to someone else. (v 21-35) Yes, it was hard. But, it was a lesson in forgiveness that I needed in order to fully comprehend true forgiveness and mercy– and fully appreciate both as a gift to be thankfully given as well as received. Also, in Matthew 18:13-19, there are guidelines on how to handle a matter when a brother or sister offends you. After you follow those steps, if forgiveness and reconciliation are not achieved, verse 17 says to “treat him as if you would a pagan or tax collector.” Lets remember something…that doesn’t mean to shun them; but rather to love your neighbor as yourself. Do not be offended or carry around a grudge. Harboring ill feelings and offense- puts up a fence between you and God.
Then, Sunday night I opened Facebook (which is a perpetual offender) and saw a post that immediately ruffled my feathers. It was a picture and comment regarding a group of people who had hurt me deeply. After years of letting their sharp jabs and misdeeds just “roll off”…a final blow was delivered and I immediately put up fences around myself to keep them out. But, being offended and hanging on to that hurt has me on the other side of that fence, surrounded- locked in. It’s that verse in Proverbs that keeps speaking to me over and over again…
Fear of man will prove to be a snare; but whoever trusts in the Lord is kept safe.
I didn’t trust the Lord to deal with this situation or these people. I handled it myself…one fence post at a time. It’s a TALL fence too! I think I even put barbed wire at the top of that one. God made it clear to me that all of my fences of offense were not down. Far from it.
Anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgement…Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.
Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; do not fret when men succeed in their wicked ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes. Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret- it leads only to evil. For evil men will be cut off, but those who hope in the Lord will inherit the land.
This is a big fence to tear down, it’s pretty solid. But, nothing is too big for my God. I just have to surrender my feelings, my hurt, the grudge(s) that I am harboring, the anger and feelings of betrayal. It all has to go. I have changed. I am a new creature. And, while I don’t think it’s appropriate to build a bridge to reconcile in this situation, I truly need to let it go.
I have an offense….and I need to de-fence.