Pursuing Peace

8 04 2014

Tuesday Re-mix:

Turn from evil and do good;
    seek peace and pursue it.  Psalm 34:14

If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.  Romans 12:18

dove

I am still thinking here about the very difficult debates raging through the church today over the same-sex issues and what scripture says (or what it does not say) about the issue. It occurs to me that seeking peace with each other around this issue has less to do with WHAT we have to say and much more to do with our HEARTS as we engage each other in this conversation.

Peace can be a tricky thing.  As high a value as scripture makes it, as many times as we are instructed to pursue it among God’s people, the way toward peace and the way toward conflict often move in the same direction.  That makes it tricky.

Peace, you see, is NOT necessarily just the absence of conflict.  As long as people are involved, there will be conflict…there will be disagreement…and there will be hurt feelings.  In the midst of those things, peace does NOT require moving away from each other.  Rather, peace requires moving toward each other.  It requires having difficult conversations…even painful conversations.  Avoiding those conversations may bring a temporary peace, at least it may feel more peaceful for a short season, but the long term result is just the opposite of peace…it is chaos and frustration and complication.

So, the first point here is that “pursuing peace” often requires moving toward the conflict rather than away from it…moving toward the difficult conversation rather than waiting in the wings and allowing the pain to fester over time.  The problem, then, is how to tell the difference between “pursuing peace” and fueling a fight.  Both are moving toward the conflict, both involve a confrontation.  How do we distinguish between them?  How do I make sure I am on the right track and not a harmful track?  That brings us to our second point.

It is a question of the heart.  The Arbinger Institute, in The Anatomy of Peace: Resolving the Heart of Conflict describes the distinction between a “heart at peace” and a “heart at war”.  The former is relating to the other person as a human being with needs and with fears and with pains.  The latter has “otherized” the other person and treats them as an object rather than a human being…an object to be pushed away, to be disregarded, even hated.

Jesus describes the distinction in terms of our ability to see clearly.  He says,

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”  Matt. 7:3-5

Seeing clearly, as it turns out, is the difference between a heart at peace and a heart at war.  Having that difficult conversation with the person who has hurt you requires that you have prayerfully sought the Lord’s perspective on that person, so that you can see him/her as God sees him/her…you can see him/her as a child of God, with fears and insecurities and needs.  Your desire is not to push him/her away, as some undesirable object; rather, it is to pull them forward with you toward peace.  It is to pursue peace together.

If you are thinking, “Well, that seems awfully difficult,” then congratulations…now you are seeing the truth.  Genuine Christian community, our life together as the body of Christ, was never intended to be easy.  It was intended to be peaceful.

© Blake Coffee
Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way and do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction. For web posting, a link to this document on this website is preferred. Any exceptions to the above must be approved by Blake Coffee.  Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: © Blake Coffee. Website: churchwhisperer.com




The Heart of Your Conflict

21 01 2014

Tuesday Re-mix:

“What comes out of a person is what defiles them.For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and defile a person.” Mark 7:20-23

If you’re a peacemaker, you need to have read The Anatomy of Peace, a publication of the Arbinger Institute. My first time through it,  I also happened to be working through the gospel of Mark in my church’s regular Bible study. As so often happens, both lessons converged for me.

By far the most difficult task before me in any mediation of any conflict (church or otherwise) is getting a conflicted party to quit pointing to all the flaws in the other party and to look inward, at his/her own heart and how he/she has contributed to the conflict. So difficult is it, in fact, that when it does happen it almost always represents an important “a-ha” moment in the peace process.

I think that, for people who value the Holy Scripture, it has the power to bring about that kind of reflection. Words like Jesus’ in Mark 7 can cause us to reflect a little deeper than just our surface “position” on a given issue, and rather consider our “heart” and how we have chosen to express that position. The writers of The Anatomy of Peace refer to it as our “way of being” or as a “heart at war” as opposed to a “heart at peace”.

I see it in every conflict. It is not so much a party’s position or stance on an issue which causes conflict to escalate. Our position is external to us. What escalates the conflict (what “defiles” us) is our heart…our “otherization” or even demonization of the opposing parties. When we speak to or of the other parties as something other than human…when we categorize them as a nameless, faceless, impersonal collective…when our expressions ignore the humanity of the other party…THAT is what escalates the conflict, making it nearly impossible to discuss solutions which may actually honor the Lord.

It seems pretty clear to me that, among believers, NO SOLUTION will honor the Lord if it comes from a heart at war with other believers. Again, it is not the position in and of itself which is the problem. Indeed, the position is itself just a thing. It has no good nor evil value in and of itself. Rather, it is the heart beneath the position which determines its value in the eyes of God.

I am going to remember this lesson, mostly for my own life. I am going to learn the process of examining my heart (rather than just rehearsing my position). I am going to be wary of my own propensity toward a heart at war…my own tendency to have an attitude which escalates the very conflict I am cursing. I am going to rely more and more on Christ’s Spirit within me to dictate my heart’s response. It may change my external position…it may not. But I have no doubt it will change the life of the conflict.

What about you and your conflict? Are you interested in calming the waters and actually discerning God’s path? You have that choice. It comes from within you…the heart of your conflict.

© Blake Coffee
Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way and do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction. For web posting, a link to this document on this website is preferred. Any exceptions to the above must be approved by Blake Coffee.  Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: © Blake Coffee. Website: churchwhisperer.com




A Timely Haunting

5 11 2013

Tuesday Re-mix:

Some of them, however, men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus. The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord.  Acts 11:20-21

In his book, Deep and Wide, Andy Stanley asks a question that has been haunting me for some time now: Who is church for?  Sounds simple enough, doesn’t it?  Seems like we should be able to answer it without even flinching.  But it is killing me…haunting me.

It is killing me because I know the right answer: church is for the lost and broken world around us…it is God’s one and only plan for reaching, saving and healing that world.  Church, when all the programs and budgets and theological debates are done, is for that world.  That is painful for me to admit because, once I admit that, I know it means I must then look at everything I love and want and do in the church and ask myself whether it fits that purpose…whether it is designed to reach that world.  I think you know where that inquiry will lead.

But that question is killing me at an even deeper level yet.  It is causing me to examine my own heart and ask some troubling questions about my heart’s inclinations and leanings, especially where that lost and broken world is concerned.  With the Lord’s leadership, I have crafted an entire ministry around loving, encouraging and healing the church.  It is my passion.  So, it is easy for me to want church to be for church people…because they are my audience, my market, the purpose for my ministry.  I love pastors.  I love church leaders.  I love church people…and there is a huge part of me which wants church to be for them.

So, when I read Dr. Luke’s account of the early church and its struggles to answer this same haunting question, “Who is church for?”, I am looking for answers for myself.  I am looking for how they got over some of these same biases and prejudices that I feel in my own heart.  I am looking for their way forward through that challenge, and I am hoping it will somehow show me the way forward as well.  After all, THEY were much more prejudiced than I…they had some very real racial issues at play, some very real doctrinal issues at play…I don’t have any issues nearly that severe…do I?

Imagine my disappointment, then, when I read that Peter simply stood up and told them the story of what he had seen and heard at Cornelius’ house, how he had seen the activity of the Holy Spirit in their lives, and how it all seemed to him to line up nicely with what God had been saying to him through his prayer life…and they listened and then said [paraphrasing], “Oh.  O.K., then.  We get it.  We’re good with that.”

What was their magical, mystical, secret and amazing way through the challenge?  They prayerfully listened to pastor Peter’s testimony, and they agreed and they moved forward.  Period.  That was all it took for them.  Aaaauuuggghhhhh!!!!!

I’m depressed.  And haunted.  You?

© Blake Coffee
Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way and do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction. For web posting, a link to this document on this website is preferred. Any exceptions to the above must be approved by Blake Coffee.  Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: © Blake Coffee. Website: churchwhisperer.com




A Spirituality of Fundraising

3 09 2013

Tuesday Re-mix -

Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life. 1 Timothy 6:17-19

This year has been a huge transitional year for our ministry, Christian Unity Ministries. We will always remember 2013 as the year we transitioned from a small, church consultation ministry operated by Blake and a few of his friends in their spare time to a full-fledged, global non-profit organization with a paid staff and active arms operating in churches and denominational entities all over the world. Last year’s budget: approximately $75,000. The 2013 budget: approximately $350,000. That, my friends, is a God-sized transition!

One of the most painful transitions, it seems, is the one going on in me…the transition toward becoming the visionary leader this new organization now requires. And, just to get very specific here for purposes of this post, I am thinking primarily about the transition into becoming a leader in matters of money and fundraising. Anyone who knows me very well at all, knows that I have simply never been very passionate about fundraising. I have long recognized the eternal truth that the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. And so, it has always been easier for me to just avoid talking (or thinking) about money rather than having to delve into any theology concerning it.

But scripture really does not permit that, does it? A truly Biblical worldview really will not coexist with a fear of this conversation…in fact, a truly Godly perspective demands that we (as Christ followers) have a well-developed theology concerning money and wealth. So it is with fear and trepidation that I read Paul’s admonishment to me and to you and to young pastor Timothy and to every other leader of Christ-followers about our role in teaching and mentoring others: Command them …to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.

My friend, Barry Nelson, is Director of Development at Canadian Southern Baptist Seminary & College. Early last year, he gave me a copy of Revolution in Generosity, a compilation of profound writings from Christian leaders on the spirituality of fundraising (find that resource here or Google it…I believe it is crucial reference material for every leader of every Christian organization). That work’s project leader and editor, Wesley K. Willmer, makes this point this way:

If we view giving as an instrument of transformation, we will support our givers through a consistent program of prayer and personal interaction, accepting the fact that it is the Holy Spirit, not our personality, that influences how they give. The change will take time, both for those asking for and those giving funds. But as we embrace the transformational model, the focus shifts from the gift and getting money to seeing God’s power work in individual lives. Revolution in Generosity, p. 40.

And so, the transformation in me (and in my leadership) takes root in the deepest passion of my spiritual life: my desire to see lives being changed. When my heart says to God, “I don’t want to raise funds…to talk about money…” God’s voice says back to me, “Then you don’t want to be about real life change…about real discipleship.”  So, I am not raising funds…I’m raising Christ-followers.  I can get comfortable with that!

© Blake Coffee
Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way and do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction. For web posting, a link to this document on this website is preferred. Any exceptions to the above must be approved by Blake Coffee.  Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: © Blake Coffee. Website: churchwhisperer.com




From Whom All Healing Comes

14 02 2013

Then Judas Iscariot, one of the Twelve, went to the chief priests to betray Jesus to them. They were delighted to hear this and promised to give him money. So he watched for an opportunity to hand him over.  Mark 14:43-46

trusting_vFINALloRES

My ministry brings me into contact with a good number of people who have felt wounded by the church.  God seems to have given me the awesome assignment of being an encourager and exhorter to those people.  I co-authored a book with Debbie Taylor Williams aimed specifically at the pain of these same dear friends: “Trusting God’s People…Again”.  It is on my mind this week, because I will be speaking from it the next two Sunday evenings at my church.

Being hurt by the church is by no means a unique experience.  The statistics of those who feel injured by the church are pretty overwhelming!  But the pain itself, the feelings of betrayal by God’s own people…those feelings are definitely unique to these circumstances.  Being hurt by the church is just not comparable to any other pain…not really.  It is a deep and lasting pain of being wounded by the very place which should be the safest place in the world for us.  The healing process, therefore, is likewise pretty profound.

The good news is this: the One administering the healing from this pain knows all about it from personal experience.  That makes a big difference!  Here is the way I describe it in the book:

THE NATURE OF PAIN / THE PROCESS OF HEALING

Like physical pain, emotional or spiritual pain can be incapacitating.  When your leg is broken, no matter how much you want to walk on it, no matter how important walking might be to you, you simply cannot do it.  A healing process must take place first.  Similarly, emotional or spiritual pain can make it impossible to function properly without some healing process taking place first.  No matter how much we want to move on, no matter how much we want to trust again, the pain simply doesn’t permit it.

So, where does the healing come from?  It comes from where all other healing comes: God’s Word.  Exodus 34:6-7 says, “The Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering and abounding in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin.”  The same Christ who raised the dead and who made the blind to see administers emotional and spiritual healing as well; this same Christ knows all too well the pain of being hurt by the church.  You see, it was the church who betrayed Him and had Him flogged and crucified.  It was many of his closest friends and family who ran and hid, denying they even knew Him.  He knows your pain, and He has the healing balm for it.

That is why the journey on which we are about to embark is necessarily a journey through God’s Word.  On this journey, you will examine real characters and true stories from the Bible, allowing God to speak healing into your life through them.  Through God’s Word, Christ will take your hand and together you will walk the path of healing.

Would you pray with me about these next two Sunday nights?  Would you pray to the very Savior who knows all too well what it feels like to be betrayed by one’s closest friends?  Would you ask Him to breathe healing into those who hear this message and who truly want to be healed?

This ministry is such an awesome privilege!

© Blake Coffee
Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way and do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction. For web posting, a link to this document on this website is preferred. Any exceptions to the above must be approved by Blake Coffee.  Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: © Blake Coffee. Website: churchwhisperer.com




Bonhoeffer on the Benefits of Confession to One Another

22 03 2011

Tuesday Re-mix -

As Christians, we have been given only one mechanism to deal with sin in our lives: confession.  There simply is no other means of prevailing over sin.  Confession is our only hope.

Much of what I understand scripture to teach us about confession comes from my old friend, Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  So today I will not bore you with my words; rather, I will challenge you with his.  Take a minute to let his words (from Life Together) about confession of our sins to one another settle in your heart.  Here was a man who understood some things about the transforming power of community.

Breaking Through to Community

In confession the break-through to community takes place.  Sin demands to have a man by himself.  It withdraws him from the community.  The more isolated a person is, the more destructive will be the power of sin over him, and the more deeply he becomes in it, the more disastrous is his isolation.  Sin wants to remain unknown.  It shuns the light.  In the darkness of the unexpressed it poisons the whole being of a person.  This can happen even in the midst of a pious community…

The expressed, acknowledged sin has lost all its power…It can no longer tear the fellowship asunder.  Now the fellowship bears the sin of the brother.  He is no longer alone with his evil for he has cast off his sin in confession and handed it over to God…Now he stands in the fellowship of sinners who live by the grace of God in the cross of Jesus Christ.

Breaking Through to the Cross

In confession occurs the break-through to the cross…Confession in the presence of a brother is the profoundest kind of humiliation.  It hurts, it cuts a man down, it is a dreadful blow to pride.  To stand there before a brother as a sinner is an ignominy that is almost unbearable.  In the confession of concrete sins the old man dies a painful, shameful death before the eyes of a brother.  Because this humiliation is so hard we continually scheme to evade confessing to a brother.  Our eyes are so blinded that they no longer see the promise and the glory in such abasement.

The Cross of Jesus Christ destroys all pride.  We cannot find the Cross of Jesus if we shrink from goingto the place where it is to be found, namely, the public death of the sinner.  And we refuse to bear the Cross when we are ashamed to take upon ourselves the shameful death of the sinner in confession.  In confession we break through to the true fellowship of the Cross of Jesus Christ, in confession we affirm and accept our Cross.

Breaking Through to Certainty

In confession a man breaks through to certainty.  Why is it that it is often easier for us to confess our sins to God than to a brother? God is holy and sinless, He is a just judge of evil and the enemy of all disobedience.  But a brother is sinful as we are.  He knows from his own experience the dark night of secret sin.  Why should we not find it easier to go to a brother than to the holy God?  …We must ask ourselves whether we have not often been deceiving ourselves with our confession to God, whether we have not rather been confessing our sins to ourselves and also granting ourselves absolution.

Who can give us the certainty that, in the confession and forgiveness of our sins, we are not dealing with ourselves, but with the living God?  God gives us this certainty through our brother.  Our brother breaks the circle of self-deception.  A man who confesses his sin in the presence of a brother knows that he is no longer alone with himself; he experiences the presence of God in the reality of the other person.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

© Blake Coffee
Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way and do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction. For web posting, a link to this document on this website is preferred. Any exceptions to the above must be approved by Blake Coffee.  Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: © Blake Coffee. Website: churchwhisperer.com




From South Africa with Love – Week 3

30 09 2010

I am currently in South Africa with a team of trainer/facilitators from my ministry. For the names of the team members and our respective schedules, click here.  Please pray for us!

For my Thursday posts during this time away, I am featuring thoughts and writings from one of my favorite South African pastors/writers, Andrew Murray, who pastored churches in South Africa from 1850 – 1917.  Two of his works which I have loved are Abide in Christ and With Christ in the School of Prayer.

That Your Joy May Be Full

“I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” John 15:11

“Abiding fully in Christ is a life of exquisite and overflowing happiness.  As Christ gets more complete possession of the soul, it enters into the joy of its Lord.  His own joy, the joy of Heaven, becomes its own, and that in full measure, as an ever-abiding portion.  Just as joy on earth is everywhere connected with the vine and its fruit, so joy is an essential characteristic of the life of the believer who fully abides in Christ, the heavenly Vine.”  A. Murray, Abide in Christ

It is striking, really, in almost every place I have been in the world, how different God’s people look from everyone else.  No matter where I go, South Africa, Ukraine, Romania, or right here at home, there are smiles on the faces of God’s people.  But wander outside the walls of the church onto the streets, and that is just not true.  Because the world is a dark place and this life has a way of stealing our joy.  But God’s Spirit is the great replenisher, and the more I abide in Him, the greater my joy.

Since I have known him, my pastor has always said that he always wants to pastor a church where there is laughter in the hallways.  I agree!  Because laughter is at least one indicator of joy.  But the joy from the Lord is so much deeper than circumstantial happiness.  For the person abiding in Christ, even in the midst of mourning there can be joy.  Even in pain there can still be joy.  It is indescribable and unfathomable.  But it is there in every believer who abides in Christ.

Thank you, Andrew!

© Blake Coffee

Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way and do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction. For web posting, a link to this document on this website is preferred. Any exceptions to the above must be approved by Blake Coffee.

Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: © Blake Coffee. Website: churchwhisperer.com








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