Confession and Your Leadership

3 06 2014

Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
    and sinners will return to you…
For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it;
    you will not be pleased with a burnt offering.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
    a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. Psalm 51:13, 16-17

confession

I have often said I could not fully invest in a pastor who has never suffered deep loss. “Grieving with those who grieve” is a critical part of the pastoral responsibility, and how can a church leader who has never grieved before possibly know how to start doing so now, over somebody else’s pain?

Similarly, I think I would have a difficult time listening to a pastor or teacher or spiritual leader call me to repentance and to confession unless I first know that he/she knows the humiliation of being laid bare before God in a moment of confession. That, it seems to me, is what gives a leader the credibility to “teach transgressors [God's] ways” and to cause us sinners to return to God.

David expresses this brokenness so very well in Psalm 51, after his sin with Bathsheba. In this Psalm, he shared with all of God’s people his heart broken before the Lord. “Against you and you only have I sinned…” “For I know my transgressions and my sin is ever before me.” It is a confession filled with remorse and humiliation. And it calls us to have that same contrite heart before God.

Moreover, Psalm 51 cries out to God for the very type of forgiveness which would later become the earmark of Christ’s church and of Christ-followers around the world. As a leader of other Christians, we must therefore have experienced this very intimate level of confession before we can call others to it. Indeed, it becomes awfully challenging for us to express forgiveness to others if we have not truly experienced and embraced the mercy, grace, and forgiveness we have from God. I have met church leaders (even pastors) who struggled with forgiving others, and it always makes me wonder whether their own confession before the Lord is all it should be. Maybe you know a church leader like that.

David was not like that. David was a strong (even bloody) leader, but David also had a deep understanding of what it means to experience God’s mercy and forgiveness. His credibility as a “man after God’s own heart” was very much tied to his failure and to his confession.

They say confession is good for the soul…even critical. But I say it is good for your leadership as well. Even critical.

© 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




Surviving a Lion Attack

7 11 2013

Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.  1 Peter 5:8

Want a chuckle for today?  Check out this Wiki article on 7 steps to survive a lion attack.  Yeh, I’m not altogether certain about those seven steps.  I have a question or two about them.  For starters, do I try to recall these steps before I wet my pants or after?

I love that Peter uses this illustration to make his point about our enemy.  It is perfect for so many reasons.

Consider, for example, how a lioness hunts.  She is capable of following a herd of animals for days, even weeks, stalking and studying.  She watches to learn which of the members are the weakest and the most likely to fall behind the rest of the herd.  You see, when it comes to lion attacks, there is protection in the herd.  The lioness watches for lame or young or otherwise “slower” members of the herd who are more likely to make decisions that tend to “distance” them from the herd…decisions that might make the protection of the herd more and more tenuous.

The same is true of our enemy.  He watches the church (the “herd”)…stalking and learning.  He watches for those members most likely to distance themselves from the church…most likely to forsake the spiritual protection of God’s people.  You see, being created for community means we actually need each other’s diligent protection against the schemes of our enemy.  We really must let friends get close enough to us to protect us.  We  must make arrangements with brothers and sisters who will love us enough to ask us some hard questions about our choices.  That, my friend, is what “accountability” means.

My friend, Frank Pretorius (in Cape Town, South Africa) sent me this video.  Granted, it is a leopard and not a lion.  But otherwise, it is the perfect picture of what spiritual accountability looks like…

Is that awesome or what?  As an illustration, it begs some important questions about the spiritual accountability in your own life.  When it comes to lion attacks, who’s got your back?  With whom have you already made arrangements for accountability?  Whom have you granted permission to ask you hard questions about your choices?  You see, when you experience your next lion attack, you can either trust Wiki or you can trust your friends.  And I don’t have a single video of Wiki saving someone’s life.

© 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




Loving Against the Grain

15 10 2013

Tuesday Re-mix -

You stiff-necked people! Your hearts and ears are still uncircumcised. You are just like your ancestors: You always resist the Holy Spirit! Was there ever a prophet your ancestors did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One. And now you have betrayed and murdered him— you who have received the law that was given through angels but have not obeyed it.”…While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep.  Acts 7:51-53, 59-60

Learning to show love to a lost and broken world is hard enough for us as individuals…that challenge is magnified a hundred fold for the church corporately.  We, the church, must live in the tension between standing for holiness (separateness, not giving in to the ways of the world) and loving the broken people around us, who are still well-entrenched in the ways of the world.  It is tricky, isn’t it?

When I read Stephen’s amazing sermon in Acts 7, and I see him brilliantly making the case for the pattern of rebellion throughout the history of the Jewish people (it is very much like an intervention…laying out all the evidence in a rational and indisputable way) and then leveling his charge against the church leaders of his time by associating them with that same pattern…I think to myself, “Now THAT is definitely going against the grain and calling out an entire culture!”  I have seen churches who have no problem with walking against the grain…railing against our culture, screaming at all the sinners in the world and telling them they’re going to burn in hell, even telling them that God doesn’t love them.  I have also seen churches who, though they do not say it out loud, their actions convey this same message.  It is an attitude which holds truth with a reasonably high regard, but not so much love.

When I read Stephen’s dying words, imploring God not to hold this sin against these people who killed him and loving these very people up to his last breath…I think to myself, “Now THAT is love…wishing the best for people even as they kill you!”  I have seen churches who have no problem wishing the best for everyone…not wanting to offend anyone they take tolerance to a whole new level, crafting their every experience, their every message, even the gospel itself in such as fashion so as to leave everyone right where they are, undisturbed by any truth which may make them at all uncomfortable.  It is an attitude which holds “love” (or something that looks a little like “love”) with high regard, but not so much truth.

But what I so appreciate about Stephen in Acts 7 is that he strikes a balance between the two extremes.  In fact, he would actually redefine what real love looks like.  In his case, truly loving his brothers meant saying some very hard things to them, even though it would eventually draw such anger from them, they would kill him.  That, it seems to me, is what we must do as the church.  We must learn the very difficult position of loving broken people where they are and just as they are, but too much to leave them broken. We must learn to lean against the cultural norms which, if not checked, will destroy us.  The church must speak the truth, both to the world around us and to each other…in love.  In short, the church must learn to “love against the grain”.  That is really the job, isn’t it?

But before I can insist that the church figure this out, I must learn what it looks like for me to love against the grain as an individual.  In the political debate raging in the office, what does love look like?  At the abortion clinic, what does love look like?  In the same-sex marriage issues and the gay/lesbian discrimination issues, what does love look like? In the church business meeting when that mean, hateful person begins to spit venom again, what does love look like?  I’ve got to figure that out for me before I can be an influence in the church.  That must be my prayer…Lord, let it begin with me.

© 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




We Christians and Our Starbucks

23 04 2013

Tuesday Re-mix -

 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.  And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.  Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.  Ephesians 4:29-32

Last year, companies in the Northwest U.S. came out in favor of a same-sex marriage law in Washington state, citing business reasons such as keeping quality employees (who would presumably feel compelled to leave the state, and the company, in order to live somewhere where they could enjoy their same-sex marriage).  Those announcements would not ordinarily have made national news, except for the names of some of those companies: Microsoft, Nike, and (alas) Starbucks.  Actually, not even Microsoft’s or Nike’s announcements got all that much attention, despite their HUGE place in the homes of Christians all over the world.  But Starbucks…well, then the Christian world was in an uproar, to say the least.  People were calling for a boycott.  Messing with our computers and our $200 tennis shoes was one thing, but then they were messing with our coffee!

And so, the fight within the Christian world was once again fanned into flames with a renewed energy.

IN THIS CORNER: “How can you say you believe the Bible and then support gay marriage by purchasing Starbucks coffee?!”  And IN THIS CORNER: “How can you say you follow Christ and then refuse to associate (like He did) with those with whom you disagree?!”  And with those positions, both sides dangerously agree on one contention: “If you disagree with me on this, you must not really be Christian.”

Nice.

I am a peacemaker.  This sort of conflict is what I live for!  So I boldly waded out into this one with some words of counsel to my Christian friends who simply could not resist this fight.  “If you and your Christian friend are really going to debate this issue,” I said, “because she is boycotting Starbucks and you don’t want to…or because you are boycotting Starbucks and she doesn’t want to, you need to follow some rules.”  Of course, my friends already knew these rules, because they come from the same Bible we each used to support our argument.  Permit me a few paraphrases of those “rules of engagement”:

1. Do not overestimate or overstate what is at risk.  Neither your salvation nor your friend’s are at stake here.  I’ve searched and searched the scripture on this…there is nothing in there about boycotting the secular world’s businesses in order to be saved…nor, for that matter, even as evidence of our salvation.  Moreover, your Christian friendship is likewise not at risk here, nor your worship relationship, nor your ability to love each other, minister together, or discuss scripture together.  Keep a “ceiling” on the discussion and do not let it escalate beyond its reasonable borders.  The Christ in you and the Christ in your friend are still the same…and still very much alive!

2.  You are on the same team.  The friend with whom you are arguing is not your enemy.  We in the church do have an enemy, and he loves it when we break unity, especially over stuff like this.  Figure out whose strategy you are going to play into here…and be careful.

3. Keep your words edifying.  Quit taking the other side’s position and then carrying it out to some ridiculous “logical conclusion” just to try to make them look foolish.  That doesn’t build them up.  Understand their position, yes, but don’t misinterpret it.  Quit trying to change their minds about their own position.  Just explain why you have made the decision you have made without tearing them down for their decision.  Ask yourself what is to be gained by using words of contempt and shaming them into agreeing with you…you may have won the debate, but at what cost?

4. Keep bitterness and anger out of this discussion.  That is sometimes easier said than done.  But all of us as Christ followers need an anger gauge that sounds an alarm when we feel it rising up in us.  And then we need to find some quick, honest, relatively painless way out of this discussion until we can re-enter it with coolness and love and gentleness.  How embarrassing will it be for you to stand before the Lord one day and have to admit that you destroyed a Christian friendship which HE ORDAINED FOR YOU over a disagreement about where you buy your coffee.  Ouch!

5.  Don’t use your life experiences to interpret scripture.  Rather, use scripture to interpret your life experiences.  Be honest.  If you have an idea in mind of what you want scripture to say before you even open it, then your “research” is already tainted.

I hope these reminders help.  They always help me.  Consider yourself adequately warned now.  So, go ahead…strap on the gloves and slug it out.  And may the best Christian win.  :)

© 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




Discipline for the Disciplinarians

16 04 2013

Tuesday Re-mix -

“Woe to the Assyrian, the rod of my anger,
in whose hand is the club of my wrath!”  
Isaiah 10:5

I know I have joked (kind of) in previous posts about how theology watchdogs in the blogosphere (and in the church) are annoying in the same way as that teacher in high school who constantly corrected your grammar while you were trying to talk.  But I also do recognize that God has given us brothers and sisters whose giftedness and very calling is to help us keep our doctrine pure…they are the doctrine disciplinarians, if you will.  You know the ones I mean.  They blog about your favorite pastor, who made a horrendous, unbelievable, heretical, probably-not-saved-if-you-say-this theological error in his sermon last week.  They call him out by name, and the venom with which they attack him is, well, pretty ungodly.  Or they review the most recent book by one of your favorite authors and basically question his very humanity, not to mention his spirituality, because of the position he seems to have taken on this theological issue or on that social issue…again, with uncommon rancor.

[And, as an aside, you know what is one of my pet peeves?  That blogger almost never makes any attempt at all to actually contact that pastor/teacher/author in order to practice this "discipline" or "accountability" Biblically, which pretty quickly gets me wondering whether they are really loving this brother or rather are just a little envious of his acclaim.  But I digress.]

I know that God disciplines us.  And I know that he often uses others to do it.  I am really OK with that.  In fact, it seems like a good plan to me.  I think scripture gives us plenty of examples of God using people to discipline his children.  Sometimes, he even used a pagan, non-believing people (like the Assyrians) to do it.

But scripture seems equally clear to me that to be used by God in this fashion comes with a heavy responsibility.  God’s discipline is to be carried out God’s way and with God’s honor and God’s love in our hearts and our minds.  When God’s “tool of discipline” forgets this or forsakes it, the consequences are dire.  When God punishes the punisher, it is ugly and horrifying, filled with His wrath.  Again, Isaiah 10 and the Assyrians come to mind.

So, fellow bloggers and church leaders…before your fingers hit the keyboard to release your discipline on that weak-minded pastor or that hopelessly lost author or that wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing so deserving of your harsh rebuke, will you make sure your knees hit the ground and your heart turns toward God?  We need your passion.  God’s kingdom needs your giftedness.  The church needs your laser focus on helping us keep our doctrine straight.  And we love you too much to allow you to throw it all away because of a wrong attitude or a bad motive.  Fulfill your calling…by checking your heart!

And stop correcting my grammar.  Seriously.

© 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




Forgiveness in Our DNA

2 04 2013

Tuesday Re-mix -

Then God ordered me, “Start all over: Love your wife again, your wife who’s in bed with her latest boyfriend, your cheating wife.
Love her the way I, God, love the Israelite people,
even as they flirt and party with every god that takes their fancy.”  
Hosea 3:1 (The Message)

                                                                                  

Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”

“No one, sir,” she said.

“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”  John 8:10-11

forgiveness2Hosea had a prostitute for a wife.  I cannot even begin to relate to Hosea’s pain.  I read Hosea and really do have to stretch my imagination to try to feel the pain, and even then, I am sure I cannot even get close.  It is, I think, the severest form of unfaithfulness.  That is probably why God chose it to illustrate His displeasure with His people.  Hosea’s illustration represents among the deepest of betrayals and pain we can know, and the reconciliation to which it points likewise represents the most significant we can begin to embrace.

Just as God’s wrath is just one shade of His deep, deep love for His people, His forgiveness is likewise one shade of that same love.  They are two sides of the same coin.  They are both His very nature.  But though He did not call His people to try to emulate His wrath, He absolutely does call us to forgive as He forgives.  In fact, He created an entire movement (one we call “the church”) designed specifically to reflect that remarkable forgiveness.  It is His very nature, and it is therefore in the very core purpose of His church.

And still, we, His church, read and grasp with great astonishment the story of Hosea and Gomer and the forgiving heart of a husband toward an unrepentant prostitute wife.  It shocks us.  It surprises us.  Its very idea eludes us, at least in any practical way.  Jesus demonstrated it as well, forgiving the adulteress woman in John 8.  Throughout all of scripture, we get story after story of God’s forgiving nature.  Even when He brings His wrath, it is for the purpose of reconciling His people back to Him.  It is Who He is.

This reminder encourages me greatly.  If it is the very nature of God to forgive, and it is the very nature of Jesus to demonstrate that same forgiveness, then that means that, somewhere in our DNA…in the deepest recesses of the church and its memory banks, there is forgiveness.  We can muster it.  We can reflect it.  We can demonstrate it in the same shocking fashion as Hosea, because it is in our blood.  Does that encourage 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




The Sins of Community

19 03 2013

Tuesday Re-mix -

“Go to Bethel and sin;
go to Gilgal and sin yet more.
Bring your sacrifices every morning,
your tithes every three years.
Burn leavened bread as a thank offering
and brag about your freewill offerings—
boast about them, you Israelites,
for this is what you love to do,”
declares the Sovereign LORD.  
Amos 4:4-5

In the category of “there’s nothing new under the sun”, many of the problems we see today in the church have been with God’s people a long, long time.  Near the top of that list of problems is that people with hardened hearts which are cold toward God are still showing up at all the traditional times and in all the conventional ways for “church”.  It has been this way for a long, long time…God’s people are often pretty different on the inside than they are on the outside.  We are capable of going through the motions of spiritual things even while our hearts are not turned toward God.  Furthermore, even knowing this about ourselves, we continue to foster a form of “church” which quite intentionally avoids any system or structure that might actually fix this problem. Sadly, we do not really want the kind of genuine community to which scripture calls us, because that would mean accountability and intimacy and giving over some level of control in our lives to the community at large…or, worse, to God.

What I am saying is this: if hypocrisy and lack of integrity are our problems, then genuine Spirit-filled Christian community is the solution.  But it is a solution we are not altogether sure we want…and we have structured most of our gathered church experiences so as to downplay the importance of that very type of community.

Don’t we tend to wrap our “church” experience all up in the hour or so of gathered worship each week?  Oh, we may hit a committee meeting or two, or even a Sunday School class or choir rehearsal, but that hour or so of gathered worship is the centerpiece of our “church” time.  You know why that is?  Because we can come for “worship” and listen and sing and be faceless and anonymous, with no accountability and no intimacy at all.  Maybe I connect with God.  Maybe I do not.  Nobody knows but me.  It is what “church” is dangerously close to becoming for our culture.  And even though we know we should have intimate relationships with genuine accountability, we often choose not to do so.  And even though we choose not to do so, most of our church structures allow us to continue to “move up” into leadership as long as we show up and look right.

It is what church has become to so many of God’s people because it is what we want church to be.  We–all of us–have fostered this form of church by our preferences.  This is not just about the sins of a few bad people.  This is about the church we have all chosen.  The comfortable church.  The one that makes us feel good about ourselves without ever having to become transparent and without ever having to change anything about ourselves.  This is the church we have all made.  This is not about individual sin; rather, this is about the collective sin of us all as a community.

Amos’ words were not aimed at a handful of individuals in Israel.  They were aimed at a nation.  And they are aimed at us all, as the community of God’s people.

But there is good news.

We can still repair this damage.

We can still turn this ship around.  We can still insist on genuine community.  We can still decide that, without one another’s help, we will never become the people God has called us to be.  We can do the hard things associated with transparency and accountability and intimacy.

We just have to decide what we want “church” to be.

© 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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