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 They think of it as an irrelevant, rickety, out of date, embarrassingly stuffy institution whose time has come and gone.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




How Many Breaths Have You Taken So Far Today?

20 08 2013

Tuesday Re-mix -

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Colossians 3:12-14

Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”  Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.  Matthew 18:21-22

hot-air-balloonThe average person breathes about 28,800 times a day.  Did you know that?  That’s a whole lot of hot air.  I wonder if that’s enough to fill a hot air balloon?  If the average adult breath is about 1 liter of air, and if the average hot air balloon is about 77,000 cubic meters of air…how many of us would it take breathing all day long to fill a hot air balloon? Somebody do the math on that and give us the answer in the comments!

For the Christ-follower, forgiving is a lot like breathing.  I think when Jesus corrected Peter in Matthew 18, saying we are to forgive seventy times seven, what He meant is that we’re not even keeping score like that.  We don’t count at all, because we will be doing it way too much to keep track!  For us, it is like breathing.  We breathe in and we breathe out…we forgive.  We breathe in and we breathe out…we forgive again.  That is the way it is supposed to be in the church.

Forgiveness may be the most misunderstood concept in Christendom.  That’s ironic, because forgiveness, it seems, is supposed to be the hallmark of the gospel and one of the identifiers which separates Christ-followers from the rest of the world.  Supposed to be.

We should be the world’s preeminent experts on forgiveness.  We should be the standard bearers.  The world should be looking to us to see and to better understand what forgiveness looks like in every circumstance.  We are God’s chosen illustrators of forgiveness…He has left us here in this world in order to demonstrate it.  Are you convicted yet?

Forgiving “seventy times seven”…forgiving “as the Lord forgave you”…is a tall order!  It means spending an awful lot of our time in forgiveness mode.  It means we probably should be spending more time forgiving than just about anything else.  If I am reading scripture correctly, it is a big deal.

So how about it?  How many breaths have you taken so far today?

© 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




When the Painful Part is Only the Beginning

27 11 2012

Tuesday Re-mix -

Now, regarding the one who started all this—the person in question who caused all this pain—I want you to know that I am not the one injured in this as much as, with a few exceptions, all of you. So I don’t want to come down too hard. What the majority of you agreed to as punishment is punishment enough. Now is the time to forgive this man and help him back on his feet. If all you do is pour on the guilt, you could very well drown him in it. My counsel now is to pour on the love.  The focus of my letter wasn’t on punishing the offender but on getting you to take responsibility for the health of the church.  2 Corinthians 2:5-9 (The Message)

Years ago, I was in a race with several hundred other people.  It started on a beach in Corpus Christi, Texas.  After a half-mile swim in a very choppy ocean, we all ran to a transition area where we quickly put on cycling shoes and rode off on a 25-mile bike ride, about half of which was directly into a stiff and steady 20-mph headwind.  I considered myself a reasonably strong cyclist, so I was surprised that so many racers passed me on that windy ride.  By the time I got off the bike, my legs were jelly and my body was exhausted.  I sat down in the transition area, thinking about the 10K run still ahead of me.  I was genuinely torn about what I would do…I could quit now and just lie back and relax (that’s exactly what a large part of me was wanting) or I could strap my running shoes on and stand up and “will” my legs to work again.  What I did next would reveal my real intentions…my heart.

Matters of Christian accountability, especially those related to church discipline, are never as simple as finding fault and imposing consequences.  Those painful parts are only the beginning of discipline…they are just stages in a much longer process, one designed to ultimately turn the heart of one of God’s children.  Think about when you disciplined your own children.  It never ended with just a punishment.  There was always the continuing conversation to make sure the reason for the consequences was clear and that a lesson was learned.  There was always the hug and the “we still love you” message.  There is always a transition from the painful part to the loving part…a critical continuation of the process.

That was Paul’s point to the church in Corinth when, in 2 Corinthians 2, he encouraged them to continue working with the man they had disciplined, even after the “punishment” had taken place.  The whole point of church discipline is to “win the brother back”, so the process never ends with just removing fellowship from him.  Like my triathlon, there is still more race to run and there is a necessary transition into that next phase.  I have walked prayerfully through this discipline process with a few churches.  I always caution them along the way to check their hearts and to make sure their motives are right.  Are they doing this out of love and concern for this brother, or are they just trying to get rid of him so they no longer have to deal with him?  The easiest and clearest evidence of their real motive comes after the discipline is imposed…what they do next will reveal their true intentions.

Churches who “discipline” a member and have little or no follow-up contact with him are not really practicing discipline at all.  Churches who are truly heartbroken over the whole process and who have the “sinner’s” interests at heart will certainly stay in contact with him and work to turn him around.  The race is not yet over.  In fact, it is just beginning.  Now it is time to transition to the next stage…now it is time to forgive and to love and to reconcile.

Oh, back to my race… I did finish my triathlon.  I did not set any records.  But I finished, because it was what I had set my heart on doing from the beginning.  I finished what I started.  That time, anyway.  :)

© 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




God’s Rule of Persistence

23 10 2012

Tuesday Re-mix -

 Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up.  He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought.  And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’   “For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think,  yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!’”  Luke 18:1-5

 But the people refused to listen to Samuel. “No!” they said. “We want a king over us. Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles.”   When Samuel heard all that the people said, he repeated it before the LORD.  The LORD answered, “Listen to them and give them a king.”  1 Samuel 8:19-22

 So when you are assembled and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present,  hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord. 1 Corinthians 5:4-5

Persistence, it seems, is a big deal to God.  We see it throughout the Bible, over and over again…so much so, in fact, that you could call it a rule: the Rule of Persistence.  Simply put, the spiritual rule of persistence is: God’s nature is to reward persistence.  Mind you, that does not mean persistence always gets us what we want…it just means, if scripture paints an accurate picture of God, then He is a God who is inclined to reward persistence.

Jesus’ parable of the persistent widow (Luke 18) is a positive example of it.  Jesus concludes that parable with these words: “And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off?  I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly.”  The Rule works in our favor in many circumstances.  The people of Israel crying out for a king in 1 Samuel 8 is another, slightly less positive example of the rule of persistence.  As they persisted in their desire for a king, even in the face of Samuel’s counsel against it, God finally said, “Fine.  Have it your way.”  You see, it is God’s nature to reward persistence, and it does not always work in our favor.

By far the most horrifying application of the Rule of Persistence is how it applies to the sin in our lives.  Read Matthew 18 (and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector) or 1 Corinthians 5 (hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh) or Titus 3 (warn a divisive person once, and then warn them a second time…after that, have nothing to do with them).  The common truth underlying all of those passages is this: when by our actions we PERSIST in refusing to be held accountable, PERSIST in refusing to live in obedience to God, and PERSIST in fighting against the ways and means of God’s law, God is inclined to oblige us and to give us what we are PERSISTENTLY asking for.  Like the father to the prodigal son, He gives us what we want and sends us on our way…alone and without the spiritual protection of God’s people.

C.S. Lewis said it this way: There are two kinds of people: those who say to God, “Thy will be done”, and those to whom God says, “All right then, have it your way.”  It is God’s wrath at its most painful point, when, in response to our persistence, He says to us, “have it your way.”

So as we persist in the messages we send to God, we must be careful…because God’s nature is to reward persistence.

What about the Rule of Persistence?  How will it operate in your life today?  How will it operate in the life of your church today?

© 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




Spiritual Triage and Why We Don’t Get It

16 10 2012

Tuesday Re-mix -

It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that even pagans do not tolerate: A man is sleeping with his father’s wife… So when you are assembled and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present,  hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord.  1 Corinthians 5:1, 4-5

Triage:  the sorting of and allocation of treatment to patients and especially battle and disaster victims according to a system of priorities designed to maximize the number of survivors  merriam-webster

“Triage” is the term for having to make quick, hard decisions (usually medical) about which wound or patient to treat first in order to do the most good.  In the spiritual warfare we call “church”, there are casualties…and none more so than when blatant and public immorality are at issue.  That is what Paul confronted in the Corinthian church, and his counsel is both passionate and harsh.  It is about spiritual triage.

If you are being honest, you will admit that you do not like this instruction from Paul one bit.  Furthermore, if you are like me, you have twisted and contorted and struggled to find some way of interpreting and teaching this passage that somehow takes the “harsh dogma” out of it and makes it more understandable…more palatable to the mainstream Christian…more “in line” with our notions of grace and mercy.  We do this in light of Jesus’ treatment of church discipline in Matthew 18 (“treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector”…remember how Jesus treated the tax collectors?) and in light of Jesus’ treatment of the adulterous woman (“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared… “Go now and leave your life of sin…”  John 8:11).  We want to reconcile the mercy and grace of Christ with the harshness and dogma of Paul, and we struggle…to say the least.

But the reason we struggle so much is that we use our own church culture as the backdrop for our interpretation.  We do this even though, in most of our cases, our own church culture knows very little of the kind of intimacy and interdependence of Christian brothers and sisters in the New Testament church.  We do not live in such loving community with one another that immorality on one part has immediate spiritual ramifications throughout.  In the church today, we usually are much more a social club than a family.  In that context, trying to understand matters of church discipline is a bit like your elementary school student trying to understand falling in love…there simply is very little cultural experience through which to relate.  In our relatively disconnected, privacy-oriented church culture, the spiritual cancer caused by blatant immorality does not spread nearly as quickly and efficiently…so the spiritual damage to the body does not become our primary concern.  Because in our culture, frankly, we just do not care all that much for one another.  Rather, we tend to focus first and foremost on the physical consequences of the immoral act, or perhaps on the emotional damage.  The spiritual ramifications (for both the sinner and the larger body of believers) are a more distant concern for us.

But that is not God’s perspective.  Scripture makes it clear that, in God’s eyes, the spiritual ramifications are the first and foremost concern.  The physical consequences, and even the emotional consequences,  play a backseat to the spiritual concerns.  In God’s “triage”, the spiritual brokenness is a much higher priority than any other brokenness at issue.  Therefore, the spiritual protection of both the church and the sinner are the highest priorities.  Once we accept that, it is not difficult to reconcile Jesus’ counsel with Paul’s counsel at all…in fact, they are both addressing the exact same priority: the spiritual well-being of all the players involved.

In our “social club” culture for church, it will always be difficult for us to understand God’s spiritual triage.  After all, our highest values usually have more to do with the preservation of the institution (our club) than with the well-being of a spiritual family.  So, until we start getting Christian community right, we will just have to trust God’s Word to help us with these decisions…even when it makes no sense to us.  We will just have to trust Him when He says to make the spiritual brokenness the priority.  And by the way, when can we start getting Christian community right?  Another post…another day…

© 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




Restoring Our Fallen Brethren

31 07 2012

Tuesday Re-mix -

The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”  Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”  Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.  John 21:17

I know that John 21 includes more story than just Peter’s, but I believe the entire chapter is all about Peter.  I believe the miraculous catch in the first half of that chapter is still about Peter.  I believe it is an account of the very moment when he finally got to be reconciled to Christ after his dismal denial a week earlier.  In what surely must have been a state of depression, he had to sit idly by and watch each of the other disciples be utterly transformed before him by the various resurrection experiences.  Each time, he probably muttered to himself, “well isn’t that just great for John…or Thomas…or Mary…but when do I get my opportunity to make it right with Jesus?”

The miraculous catch in John 21 was that opportunity.  Peter leaped from the boat and ran/swam to Jesus as fast as he could!  Jesus was waiting for him.  Then, the very customized process for Peter’s restoration could not have been more perfectly conceived by Jesus.  Breakfast on the beach together…eye-to-eye conversation for the first time since that ugly night outside the high priest’s courtyard…three affirmations and exhortations from Jesus…one for each of Peter’s denials.  No doubt, the Peter we see in Acts 4 would NOT have appeared but for this critical restoration in John 21.

As I reflect on Peter’s restoration and marvel at the power we see in the “fully restored” Peter in Acts, I cannot help but wonder how many such opportunities the church has missed since then…opportunities to restore a fallen leader and to see him/her transformed into someone miraculously influential in the kingdom of God.  How many times have we missed an opportunity to make breakfast for a fallen brother and to restore him gently but surely so that he becomes more spiritually powerful than we ever even imagined!

When Jesus invited Peter to sit down and join him for breakfast, He did so knowing full well how far Peter had fallen and how possible it was that he would fall again.  He did it knowing of Peter’s “checkered” past (arrogance, ignorance, physical assault and cowardice) as well as his future mistakes (racism and prejudice).  He did it knowing that some of Peter’s own close friends would not have restored him had they known the full extent of his denial.  He did it knowing that Peter fell despite crystal clear warnings from Jesus ahead of time.

When Jesus began cooking that fish over an open fire in order to create the perfect environment for Peter’s restoration, He had only one clear vision in His mind about Peter…the vision of Peter standing before Roman and Jewish leadership and preaching boldly and powerfully in Jesus’ name.  Jesus knew what Peter was capable of.

My prayer for the church is that we would look and see what our own dear fallen brethren are capable of, that we would see the spirit of Christ in them and realize that is enough…that we would look beyond their mistakes to a spirit so powerful and so transforming that even the worst among us can be used to further the kingdom of God once we are fully restored.

How many “Peters” have we thrown away rather than restoring?  We can do this better, can’t we?

© 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




Childlike Connectedness

22 11 2011

Tuesday Re-mix -

At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” He called a little child and had him stand among them. And he said: “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 18:1-3

Have you ever noticed that, when it comes to choosing playmates, children don’t seem to be bothered by any of the same concerns which we hold? When we find out that our child has taken more than a passing interest in another child, we have a thousand questions about that child…and we are frustrated when our child doesn’t know the answers to ANY of them. Where does she go to church? What does he believe? Who are his parents? What does her daddy do for a living? Where does he live? WHAT IS HIS/HER LAST NAME? And when we ask, we get nothing from our own child about any of these concerns. Because children just don’t care about these things when choosing a playmate.

Of course, the longer they live in the world, the more and more the world teaches them about what “really matters” when it comes to judging people. Unless they are intentional about staying childlike, they begin to lose this ability to connect with anyone and everyone irrespective of outward appearance or social status or even belief systems. This makes me sad. And I believe it makes Jesus sad too.

This post comes on the heels of last week’s post about generational differences in the church today, specifically, how Gen X’ers and Millennials tend to BELONG first, and BELIEVE second and what that teaches us about how we connect with people in the church. Today, I am pinning that concept to a teaching from Jesus, because I firmly believe that the generational changes washing across the church’s landscape today DID NOT catch Jesus by surprise.

Jesus insisted that having a certain “childlikeness” is more than just helpful to a Christian…it is critical. And the more I meditate on His words in Matthew 18:2-3, the bigger and broader that concept becomes to me. I have long understood “childlikeness” to include childlike faith and childlike love and childlike vulnerability (see this post for that lesson). Now I am also understanding that the childlikeness to which we are called is also about how we connect to each other, i.e., how “community” happens among us.

I have become certain that being the New Testament church requires that we learn to connect with people without regard to all of the exterior characteristics the world teaches us to consider. Moreover, I believe there is even some level of connection which we must learn without regard to what a person believes. In short, I believe that part of the childlikeness to which we are called is a childlike willingness to play alongside others who look different, who think differently, and who believe things very different from what we believe. I believe Jesus was signaling this with His words in Matthew 18.

There are two adult generations today who are already shaped by a desire for this kind of connection. It just so happens that my own children are a part of those generations. They taught me when they were children, and they are teaching me as adults as well…about what childlikeness means.

© 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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