The Spiritual Gift of Voting “No”

3 07 2014

Thursday Re-mix:

Then Caleb silenced the people before Moses and said, “We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it.” But the men who had gone up with him said, “We can’t attack those people; they are stronger than we are.” And they spread among the Israelites a bad report about the land they had explored. They said, “The land we explored devours those living in it. All the people we saw there are of great size.  Numbers 14:30-32

voting noOnce it becomes clear that God is calling your church to join Him in a particular adventure, it is always troubling when those few naysayers vote “no”.  The struggle is only compounded by the realization that this is the very same group of people who voted “no” on the last big initiative as well…and the one before that, and the one before that.  You know the ones I mean.  They are the pot-stirrers in your church who have the spiritual gift of voting “no”.

They may be a minority, even a tiny minority in terms of numbers, but they can be vocal.  They can also be influential.  Like the 10 naysaying spies, these individuals can spread their negativity like a wildfire through the congregation.  And before you know it, your people’s fears can seem insurmountable, faith is out the window, and a vision is well on the way to dying a slow and painful death.

You know how Caleb’s story ended.  In what may be one of the greatest “I told you so” moments in all of God’s story, Caleb ends up receiving God’s reward because he was courageous enough to speak the truth and because he stayed with all those people who voted against him for another 40 long years.  We don’t know much about Caleb during those 40 years.  Perhaps he and Joshua had a weekly support group meeting with each other, helping them survive the pain of living with the consequences of other people’s lack of faith.  Perhaps Caleb carried around some bitterness all those years.  We just do not know.

But Caleb was faithful to God, faithful to the vision, and even faithful to the very people who had conspired against him.  He found a way to stay faithful and loving, even in his pain.  And in the end, his reward was waiting for him!

So how about it?  Who do you need to love well today, even though they tried to squelch your dream?  Who is deserving of your forgiveness and your continued love and support, even though they have opposed you and your vision?

© 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




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




Why We Reconcile with Each Other

20 05 2014

As the glory of the Lord entered the temple by the gate facing east, the Spirit lifted me up and brought me into the inner court; and behold, the glory of the Lord filled the temple.  Ezekiel 43:4-5

No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us. 1 John 4:12

broken heart reborn

Do you know what it feels like to temporarily lose access to God? Are you familiar with the loss of not being able to find God today in the exact same place you found Him yesterday? Then you know something of the pain of the exiles to whom Ezekiel spoke.

I cannot even imagine a world where “the glory of the Lord” is geographical, i.e., in a particular place, such that it leaves that place and then returns to that place. To those of us living in the age of the church, that concept is rather foreign, because, for us, the Spirit of God quite literally resides in every believer. But we trust God’s Word to nonetheless have a word for us through this very vivid imagery of Ezekiel’s prophecy. What, then, is our contemporary take-away from Ezekiel’s visions about being “in” and “out” of the presence of the Lord? Surely, these visions speak about truths on multiple levels…one for the exiles in Babylon, one for us today, and yet another for those in the end times (to name a few).

For us today, if it is true that the Spirit of God resides in every believer (Col. 1:27; John 15:5; 1 John 4:12), then the easiest way to be “cut off” from God is to be “cut off” from the brother in whom He resides. Broken relationships, you see, are a contemporary version of living outside the presence of God. For us, then, experiencing the “return” of the presence of God is a simple function of reconciliation with our brother and living (again) in community with God’s people, even with all their flaws.

Ezekiel prophesied about a reconciliation between God and His people through the rebuilding of Jerusalem just some 50-odd years later. And he also spoke of an ultimate reconciliation between God and humanity in the end times. But, most importantly for us, Ezekiel’s prophecy here spoke of the pouring out of God’s Spirit on His people during our era, the age of the church.  It speaks of the “glory of the Lord” being made manifest through every believer and through every reconciliation among believers.

Do you want to experience the “return” of the Spirit of God in your life? Reconcile with your brother…and rest in the Spirit of peace.

© 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




Devastation, Destruction and the Love of God

15 05 2014

Thursday Re-mix:

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
his love endures forever. 
Psalm 118:1

We are approaching the one-year anniversary of one of the most destructive weather weeks in our country’s history.  One year ago, tornadoes ripped through the heartland of America and one particularly devastating one gutted the town of Moore, Oklahoma, leaving us with a great deal more questions than answers about God and His ways.  After that kind of occurrence, nothing seems safe…our cities, our homes, our children.  Devastating.

tornado damageIt was against that backdrop that I found myself meditating on my church’s Re:Verse passage from that week: Psalm 118.  “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.”  Awfully hard to embrace in that context, right?

When I work with congregations in the midst of conflict, there is this same difficulty…finding God and trusting His promises in the midst of devastation.  Hopeless does not really begin to describe the feeling.  Trusting God when the path is smooth is one thing, but believing He is who He says He is and that He will do what He says He will do when our world has crumbled around us…well, that’s a different thing, isn’t it?

When your entire neighborhood is literally ripped from its foundation, leaving little evidence of ever having been there, it is hard to hear about God’s love.  When lifelong friendships are torn apart as a result of a church conflict, we struggle with notions of God’s promises to those who love Him, who are called according to His purposes.  When our children are sent safely off to school and then are horribly and suddenly taken from us, the love of God can feel like a completely foreign concept.

I think it is important to note that God’s Word does not promise to keep us from these things.  Rather, God promises to be WITH US in the midst of them.  In all of these instances, what happens next is the fulfillment of that promise.  The people of Moore, Oklahoma felt the love of God through disaster relief workers and churches and emergency personnel and people who cared for them.  In the days following their tragedy, they came face to face with God’s love which endures forever.  Similarly, in the aftermath of every church conflict, there is the birth of a new day in the life of the church…a day when God manifests Himself in fresh new ways.  Neither tornadoes nor church conflict catch God by surprise.  He sees them coming, knows the outcomes of them, and makes His presence felt in the healing and rehabilitation which follows.

It is that healing and rehabilitation for which we give thanks.  It is through the outpouring of relief efforts and through the reconciliation of friendships where we experience the love of God which endures forever.  The devastation is still there, our lives will never be the same.  The church is split, and it will never be the same.  But God is nonetheless good and is faithful to be there with us, just as He promised.

In all things and in all seasons, give thanks to the Lord, for He is good…and His love endures forever.

© 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




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




It’s a Relationship, Yes…but Different

1 04 2014

Tuesday Re-mix:

When I kept silent,
    my bones wasted away
    through my groaning all day long.
For day and night
    your hand was heavy on me;
my strength was sapped
    as in the heat of summer.

Then I acknowledged my sin to you
    and did not cover up my iniquity.
I said, “I will confess
    my transgressions to the Lord.”
And you forgave
    the guilt of my sin.

 Psalm 32:3-5

Theology is difficult for me. Understanding God is difficult for me as well. I do so much better with stories and metaphors to try to get my mind wrapped around Biblical truth.  Maybe you’re that way too…in fact, maybe we are all that way.  Maybe that is why God gave us His Word in the form of Jesus and in the stories of the Bible rather than in formulas and spreadsheets.  Surely that is why Jesus used stories, similes, and metaphors so much in his own communication.

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The metaphor most of us use to describe our Spiritual pilgrimage, our faith walk, is relationship.  We talk about our relationship with Christ, or with God.  We use little sayings like, “It’s a relationship, not a religion.”  We use that term (that metaphor, if you will), because it best captures what it means to follow Christ.  It is NOT a metaphor Jesus used for ancient times, because it would not have had meaning then.  It is NOT a vocabulary we find anywhere in God’s Word.  But, like the term “mission”, it still has profound meaning to our culture today, and it is a useful way of describing our part in this amazing revolution that is Christianity.

The call to follow Christ is a call to relationship. Yes.  So, why doesn’t that answer all our questions?  Why does that metaphor fall short for us?  Specifically, what does it NOT teach us about grace and forgiveness?  Because, even though it is indeed a relationship…it is different from any other relationship we have ever known or ever will know.

David wisely points out in Psalm 32 that, just like in any other relationship, the only way forward in our faith journey is through open, honest communication.  Every relationship depends on honesty.  We understand that.  The metaphor works well in that respect.  Honesty with God, what I like to call “eye contact” with God about sin in our lives, is a critical first step toward spiritual growth and transformation.  The relationship is simple in that regard…honesty means growth, and secrecy means no growth.  There is not a healthy relationship in your life which operates any differently than that.

But here is where the metaphor leaves us short in fully embracing God’s grace.  There is no other relationship in your life experiences, nor even in your dreams, which comes with a completely limitless supply of forgiveness and grace.  None, but this one.  When scripture says God “…is faithful and just to forgive”…when Jeremiah says God will “…remember your sins no more…” and when David says “…you forgave the guilt of my sin…”, we have a picture of a relationship which is unlike any relationship we can ever experience otherwise.  It does not compute.  It does not make sense.  It does not match up with any of our life experience.  It is as impossible for us to grasp as infinity itself.

And THAT, I believe, is why we often have trouble confessing and being open and honest with God.  It is why we hide.  It is why Adam and Eve hid.  It is why David hid.  We just have a hard time believing any relationship can be utterly bottomless in terms of grace and mercy and forgiveness.  Oh, how we want the love relationship!  We genuinely desire it!  But we don’t completely trust it…not completely.  Because, as relationships go, it is different from anything else we have ever known.

Unfortunately, all our human examples fail us on this point.  Our metaphors for God fail us as well.  When all the words are done and all the illustrations have fallen short, we are then left with a rather large gap to fill in order to truly believe in and embrace God’s forgiveness.  We are left with…[gulp!]…a step of faith.  Faith that God is who he says he is and that he will do what his word says he will do.

I’m OK with that.  How about you?  Do you have the faith to be open and honest with God about that sin in your life?  It is the only way forward.

© 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 Should Have Credentials to Talk About Love

31 03 2014

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

One of the negative impacts of social media on our society is that anyone who knows how to communicate well is automatically accepted as an expert, or at least as someone to be followed and quoted.  In truth, maybe all they really need is an opinion that happens to fit well with other people’s in order to get followed. There are no credentials necessary. There is no life experience necessary. Credibility is “earned” merely by being a particularly gifted or innovative communicator. That notion is both refreshing and scary at the same time. And nowhere is it becoming more of a nuisance than in the church.

love credentialsLast week’s Christian social media posts were filled with comments about World Vision’s President, Richard Stearns’ comment to Christianity Today that his organization would now be willing to hire legally married gay couples to work there, and then the organization’s subsequent quick reversal of that decision.  As you might imagine, Facebook posts and blog posts (and Christ-followers’ comments on both) lit up the internet.  No surprise…it was just the next in what has become a long series of school-yard brawls around LGBT issues within the church. They always draw a crowd. And, of course, the damage to the church is immeasurable. You can hear the chorus of those outside the church: “And THAT is why I will never go to church again.” 

Terrific.

There are a lot of reasons why Christ-followers are going to be on opposite sides of the LGBT issues for some time to come…too many reasons to get into here.  Maybe we will explore all those reasons in other posts.  In the meantime, it is this Christian mediator’s professional opinion that agreement on all the issues is not going to happen within the church in my lifetime, and perhaps not in my children’s lifetime either.  There are just too many forces both within the church and especially from outside the church to allow for agreement.  Political and social agendas have hijacked these issues, making genuine agreement impossible.

The question, then, which we must answer (and quickly) is how we can live together within the church while disagreeing so strongly on these issues.  How do we even converse? How do we minister side by side? How do we worship together? How do we learn at least some modicum of mutual respect for each other’s positions in order to be able to co-exist?  Maybe in the final analysis, all of these questions can be summed up in one poignant question which begs our full focus and attention: In our conversations around these issues, what does love look like?

We know that is the right question. I know that we know it, because we all keep assuring each other that we are speaking the truth in love.  We all talk about how much we love the people on the other side of these issues from us, though we strongly disagree with them.  But based on so many of the comments I saw last week from folks whom I know to be Christ-followers, I’m just not convinced that all of us are the “lovers” we profess to be.  If love has something to do with meeting the physical, emotional and spiritual needs of our brother, I am just not convinced that we are all truly spending much time really loving those on the other side of these issues from us.

And so it is from this place of frustration and fear for the church’s testimony that I propose a simple fix: the church needs “love credentials”.  These are not credentials you can get from a seminary or from a Bible college…all the studying and reading in the world will not earn these credentials.  And they are not credentials even a local church can offer…sad but true.  The credentials I propose are only available and can only be earned from one source: people on the other side of the argument from me.  I propose that, before I publish a comment or a tweet or a blog post talking about how much I really do love “those people” even though I disagree strongly with them, I should be able to point to two or three or four of them who will attest to that fact…just a handful of people on the other side of the argument who will all testify that, yes, I really have loved them well.  These credentials are earned by sitting face to face with people whom I love on the other side of these issues and actually listening to them and understanding their concerns, their feelings…because that’s what love looks like.

That will be my credentials test from now on. Have we had this conversation face to face with people on the other side of these issues who will vouch for our “love” for them? I am just not going to waste any more of my time reading posts from people on either side of this issue for whom I cannot find those credentials. But much more importantly, I won’t be posting my own positions or opinions on these issues either, until I have first had the conversation with friends whom I know disagree with me and have assured myself they will vouch for me.  It seems to me I have some credentials to earn.

How about you? Ready to earn yours? BEFORE you publish that post?

© 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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