Investing in a Sure Thing

17 04 2014

For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land. Jeremiah 32:15

“I’m not religious…but I’m spiritual.” It is the mantra of an entire young adult generation who has left the church. They would say they have not given up on God, but they have had quite enough of God’s people. To them, the church is seen as a failing institution, no longer worthy of our investment. There’s a story about that in the Bible.

Jeremiah’s cousin, Hanamel, was either such an amazing salesman he could have sold snow cones to Eskimoes, or he was literally filled with the Spirit of God so as to make his sales offer to Jeremiah miraculously irresistible. At a time when Jerusalem was about to finally fall to a Chaldean occupation and life as Israel knew it was about to end, Hanamel says to Jeremiah, “Hey, you wanna buy my field?” If it were not God’s doing, it would have been a laughable moment. Jeremiah made the investment.

old churchWhy in the world would anyone want to invest in Jerusalem at that point? It was ending…going down the toilet. Generations of wrong decisions had finally caught up to it and it was literally crumbling from the inside out. It had ample reason and opportunity to change in order to better fit God’s design, but it would not. The consequences of all those wrong choices were here…it was over. There was, quite literally, nothing left in which to invest.

In all these ways, it sounds remarkably like the church, doesn’t it? At least the church as it is perceived by an awful lot of people. They think of it as an irrelevant, rickety, out of date, embarrassingly stuffy institution whose time has come and gone. Invest in that? I don’t think so. The idea is almost laughable.

But Jeremiah has an important word about that investment, a bit of a game-changer. You see, Jeremiah would say this is not an investment in Jerusalem at all…and ours is not an investment in God’s people either. In both cases, it is an investment in God Himself. It is an investment in the very same God who, time and time again throughout His story, says He is going to do something and then does it. His Word is truth because His Word makes things happen. He literally spoke this world into existence. So, when God says He is going to do something, you can take that Word to the bank. In short, it’s as sure and as safe as an investment gets.

And here are some things God’s Word says about His church:

“I will build my church and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it.” Matt. 16:18

“Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” Matthew 18:19-20

So, if you are wondering about investing in the church, the news is good. You don’t have to be comfortable investing in people…you need only decide whether or not you believe God’s Word. Wanna know what I think? Write the check.

© 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




Get Outside Your World

27 01 2014

Monday Morning Quarterback - Encouraging God’s people to be responsible, encouraging and uplifting in their use of social media.

baby and worldOne common problem with conflicted congregations (a dynamic I can almost always count on being present) is what I call the “shrinking universe” phenomenon.  It is a simple concept, really.  When the only people we choose to listen to are the ones we agree with and who already think like we do, our “reality” becomes smaller and smaller and becomes more and more biased.  If I stand squarely on one side of a conflict and I surround myself with others on that same side, and we continue to have our little “pep rallies” where we spout off the same version of the “facts” over and over again, that version eventually becomes the only version I can accept.  My universe has shrunken down to accommodate my bias.

Social media not only has its own version of this phenomena, it is philosophically (and brilliantly) designed to further it.  You have already experienced this if you are a Facebook user.  Using some of the most sophisticated analytical tools the marketing world has ever known, Facebook has become remarkably intuitive, reading all your preferences (from the pages you like to the friends you message…from the type of computer you use to the cookies you may permit it to see in your cache…from your demographic info to your career info).  Facebook is constantly analyzing all of that information about you and then it is deciding for you which friends’ posts to show you and which friends’ posts to hide from your newsfeed.  So, if you have “liked” Fox news and you tend to message your conservative friends mostly and your posts are full of links to conservative blogs, etc., guess what posts Facebook is going to show you? Guess what ads show up on your feed?  Your “universe” has just shrunken down more and more to meet your bias.

And it’s not just Facebook which does this.  Pretty much every social media vehicle has similar bents built in to it.  Ever wonder how LinkedIn knows who you should know?  If you think about it, this is actually one of the things we love about social media.  It has made it easier than ever before to find other people interested in the same things you are interested in.  It is by design.  In one sense, it creates community.  But in another sense altogether, it only deepens the trenches already dug between factions in our community…because all of us have shrunk our universe down to meet our biases.

But it is not just social media which does this.  Search engines do it too.  Google and Bing and whatever other search engine you prefer are all reading you just like your social media site is reading you.  When you type in a search request, your search engine is accumulating all the possible answers and is then sorting it and giving you FIRST the answers it has determined you are looking for.  If you and I each key the identical search query into Google, we will get very different results…because Google reads us as very different people, deserving of very different answers.  It may ultimately be the same answers, but they are in an entirely different order for each of us.  So, even the instruments we are counting on for the truth are giving us bias according to what they think we want, i.e., a version of the truth which fits our demographics.  Sounds a lot like our current news syndicates, right?

So, how can we, as Christ followers, prove ourselves to be the kind of “listeners” and compassionate conversationalists and lovers of ALL people which Jesus was?  How do we accomplish that when our online world is filtering out so much of what we really should be listening to and understanding?  We have to be intentional about getting outside our world.  We must open our hearts and open our minds to genuinely seek out opposing viewpoints in order to truly understand not just the contentions, but the interests and the human beings behind those contentions.  We must get outside our shrinking universe and walk among those with other perspectives.  We must begin seeing the world through others’ eyes and feeling the world through others’ experiences.

You have to admit…it’s what Jesus did.

© 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




What Amazes God

14 01 2014

Tuesday Re-mix:

Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.” He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. He was amazed at their lack of faith.  Mark 6:4-6

amazementI’m amazed at the notion that Jesus was amazed…about anything, really.  If he were just “fully man” and nothing more, then it wouldn’t be quite so amazing…but that he was also fully God makes me wonder about what, exactly, could so captivate him, so catch him off guard, as to “amaze” him.  So here it is: “He was amazed at their lack of faith.”

As it turns out, amazing God isn’t necessarily a good thing.

Jesus goes back to his hometown, to the people who changed his diapers and whose kids played with him on the playground and who saw him working long hours in his dad’s carpenter shop…with hopes they might be willing to see his growth, his ministry, and his power and authority over everything in this world.  He had an expectation that his hometown would not be so constrained by their preconceived notions of him, that they would have room in their hearts for a hometown boy who turns out to be the savior of the world.  As those hopes were dashed and his disappointment set in, he was amazed that their hearts could be so closed to the possibilities.

I like studying the gospels and paying particular attention to various people’s responses to Jesus.  In each case, we ask ourselves, “Do I ever respond that way?”  “Could that ever be me?”  In this case, I suppose it is true that this could be any of us.  God could well be amazed by any of us for our lack of faith…for our not seeing him.  Here’s why…

First, isn’t it a part of the human condition to “categorize” people…to “label” them so as to keep some order to our world.  There is comfort in that.  He is a good boy.  She is a troublemaker.  They are lunatics.  She is an eccentric.  He is gay.  That group is dangerous. This group is honest.  As long as we can categorize everyone in a nice, neat identity, our world has order…we can understand it…maybe even control it.  And when someone tries to break the mold we’ve cast for them, our world becomes less controllable.  It is why high school reunions are so awkward.  It is why family holidays or weddings or funerals are so awkward.  We have long-standing patterns of behavior and roles to play and we just do not want to see those roles change.  For this reason, all of us are guilty of “categorizing” a fellow Christian in a way which causes us to miss seeing Jesus IN that person.

Second, we have all missed seeing Jesus on occasions because we did not know what we were looking for.  Jesus’ hometown Jewish friends were not looking for a messiah who grew up with them and who worked as a carpenter.  They were waiting for a military leader, a social activist, a charismatic rebel who would end all their social woes.  Jesus was none of those things.  Likewise, our own notions of how and when and through whom God should present himself surely cause us to miss him at times.  We may be listening for him through the sermon (maybe), but how closely are we watching for him at the bus stop or the gas station?  We may watch closely for him in the wise old statesman, but do we miss him in the child selling lemonade on the street corner?

Third, and this is the really bothersome one, we have all missed encounters with Jesus because none of us, NONE of us, know him as well as we should.  At the end of his ministry, the apostle Paul would say, “I want to know Christ…”.  The same is true for each of us.  We strive to know him more and more, which means we all have some growing to do and none of us yet knows him fully.  We miss recognizing him in others because we have not yet “learned” that part of him.  This is bothersome because it requires us to have an open mind and an open heart and a willingness to meet him in unexpected ways and through unexpected people.  It requires us to be willing to hear him through people with whom we disagree strongly, or who worship differently than we do (or who do not worship at all), or who live very differently than we do.  And where we are not so willing, where our faith is too small, we amaze God.

I do not know what your mental picture is of God being amazed at your lack of faith…it’s probably not even healthy to form such a mental picture of God.  But still, it is something we want to avoid, right?  None of us want to even imagine God being amazed by our lack of faith.  All of us want to do better than that.  So won’t you join me in this simple prayer…

Grow our faith, Lord.  Whatever it takes.  Grow our faith.

© 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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