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




Apples of Gold

30 01 2014

And Jesus said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.” Luke 20:8

He said to them,“Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”  Luke 20:25

apples of goldLuke 20 brings us two encounters between Jesus and his culture which centered around his authority.  By this time, of course (late in Jesus’ ministry on earth), the tension was mounting and the danger building…not unlike some of the “culture wars” in which the church finds itself today.  There are plenty of opportunities for us to speak into those divisions.  Of course we want to speak truth.  But we can speak truth with hearts at war or we can speak truth with hearts set on healing.

Our words can be “fitly spoken, like apples of gold…” or they can “curse people who are made in the likeness of God.”  The choice is ours.  And the model is Jesus.

In the first passage (Luke 20:1-8), the chief priests, scribes and elders questioned Jesus about the authority with which he was acting.  They were baiting him into what they presumed would be blasphemy, but Jesus would not bite.  He would not lower himself to engage in a war of words.  Oh, he could have…He knew the truth.  He could have justified hammering them with that truth.  He could have convinced himself that he was not afraid of the gospel and that it was time to take a stand for truth.  He could have used pretty much any of the excuses we use today to blast our culture with “the truth”.  But he sidestepped the entire engagement. He modeled restraint and held his tongue, even on a hot topic such as his spiritual authority in this world.  Sometimes, we are much better off in today’s culture showing some restraint and biting our tongues as well.

In the second passage (Luke 20:19-26), the chief priests and scribes got more creative, sending spies to do their dirty work.  These spies asked seemingly innocent questions fed to them by the scribes and designed to trip Jesus up…in this instance, questions about his views on politics (governmental authority and taxes).  Again, he sidestepped the argument with a simple truism: if it belongs to Caesar, then give it to him…if it belongs to God, then give to him.  No opinions here about whether it actually does belong to Caesar…no public statements about what a buffoon Caesar really is…no facebook posts ridiculing Caesar and the entire Roman occupation as a violation of human rights…none of that at all.  Again, he modeled restraint.  And so should we, as the church.

Jesus had all the authority of Heaven with him, and nobody has ever (or will ever) have more truth on his side than Jesus did.  And he showed unbelievable discernment on the issue of when to speak and when to stay quiet.  As the body of Christ, shouldn’t we do the same?  In representing the authority of Christ on earth, shouldn’t God’s people be just as discerning in how we use our words?

Apples of gold, my friends…apples of gold.

© 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




Log Removal Plans

29 01 2013

Tuesday Re-mix -

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.  Matthew 7:4-5

How are you at removing splinters from children’s fingers?  Yeh, me neither.  It is quite an ordeal, even under the best of circumstances.  It takes a steady hand, a soothing voice, and really good eyes.  As I write this, I am just now realizing how cool it is that so many of us did not need reading glasses until after our kids were old enough to get their own splinters out.  Isn’t God smart?  I can still remember feeling all medically superior one day when one of my girls came to me with a splinter in her finger.  I brought her into the bathroom (where the light was the brightest), got some tweezers, picked up her hand and examined the finger closely.  “Wow, this must be a tiny one” I told her, “I can’t even see it!  Where is it?”  And she answered, “It’s right here”, as she held up her free hand!

Being able to clearly see the splinter, it seems, is pretty critical to the entire process of removing it.  And so it is with helping a brother with the “Speck” in his eye.  Notice: Jesus’ aim in this lesson is for us to “see clearly”…that is the goal, so that we can help our brother.  When you cannot see clearly, you simply are not capable of being any help.

It appears to me that commentators are all over the board regarding what, exactly, the “log in your eye” symbolizes in Jesus’ metaphor.  It could be similar sin in your own life.  It could be a judgmental attitude.  It could even be a past unresolved pain that somehow prevents you from “seeing clearly” where this brother is concerned.  I am not sure it matters to me which of these things it is…the bottom line is, if it is preventing me from seeing my brother clearly, i.e., from seeing my brother the same way God sees my brother, then I must get about removing it!  After all, seeing my brother the way God sees my brother is the only way I can be of any assistance to him.

So how do we remove it?

I suppose that depends on what it is, right?  If it is sin, we remove it through confession and repentance.  If it is a judgmental attitude, we pray for God to replace that attitude with one which honors Him.  If it is unresolved pain, we must express that pain in a right direction…to God first, and then perhaps to the person who caused the pain.  But do you see the common ingredient to each of these “removal plans”?  It is prayer.  After all, how else do we gain God’s perspective on anything but through prayer.

In the end, I am so glad Jesus did not leave his counsel at, 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?”  He goes further.  He insists that removing the log from our eye is a priority.  It should be done now.

Tall order?  Yep.  For me too.  Gotta go.  Got some logs to deal with!

© 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




Help for the Hypocrites

18 12 2012

Tuesday Re-mix -

All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation:  that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.  2 Corinthians 5:18-19

People who do not want anything to do with the church often accuse it of being “full of hypocrites”.  I have a theory about why they say that…

…because we, the church, are in fact full of hypocrites.  We are bad about that.

I am certain you can fill in some of your own favorite examples of this.  Paul’s remarks to the Corinthian church above point out one of my favorite examples.

Paul reminds us in the church that we have been given BOTH the message of reconciliation AND the ministry of reconciliation.  They go hand-in-hand.  The message is shallow and powerless without the ministry.  The message (i.e., that God loves you and forgives you) requires the ministry (i.e., that we love and forgive each other as well) in order to have any power, any credibility at all.  Otherwise, it is just…hypocritical.

It makes complete sense if you think about it.  It requires us to practice what we preach.  Those of us in the Christian church have preached the message well for a long, long time.  “No matter where you have come from, no matter what you have done, God loves you and forgives you.”  But if we are not, at the same time, willing to act out the ministry of reconciliation, i.e., “…and I love you and forgive you as well…” then the message rings shallow no matter how eloquently we speak it.  All the cool videos and all the polished Power Point presentations, all the great books and all the amazing sermons, all the wonderfully conceived lessons and all the powerful tracts…none of these masterful presentations of the message mean anything at all…they are all just the height of hypocrisy without on-going living and demonstrating of heart-felt forgiveness.

I have said it here before, but it bears repeating: for the Christ-follower, forgiveness is like breathing.  It is something we do all day, every day, as often as we have opportunity to do it.  It is our ministry.

The good news is this: there are Christians and groups of Christians all over the world who understand this and who really have been good stewards of both the message of reconciliation and the ministry of reconciliation.  There are probably even groups of them near you.  Maybe you are one of them.  Maybe you will rub off on the rest of us as you continue breathing out forgiveness day in and day out.  In the end, after all, none us of really wants to remain a hypocrite.  We want to get this right.  And with a little help, maybe we will.

© 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 Routine Maintenance of Every Relationship

18 09 2012

Tuesday Re-mix -

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds,  not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another…  Hebrews 10:24-25

As a teenager starting to drive, I spent one Saturday afternoon learning from Dad how to change the oil in my car.  It was actually pretty interesting to me.  I was fascinated with the whole process.  Dad was very careful to show me how to change the oil filter without damaging it, how to drain the oil and properly dispose of it, how to tighten the drain plug again without stripping it, and how to put the new oil into the engine.  It was a whole process.  I learned it all.

Then, by the time I was 40 years old, I had paid to replace two different automobile engines as a result of NOT changing the fluids regularly enough.  It seems that, while I did learn HOW to change the oil…I had not learned THAT I must change the oil regularly!  I am a slow learner.  :)  The truth is, I have had a hard time learning about routine maintenance in lots of respects…appliances (both major and minor), household, landscaping, automobiles, computers…you name it, if I have owned it, I have struggled with routine maintenance for it.

Relationships have routine maintenance requirements as well.  All relationships do…even Christian relationships.  Relationships between really good people still need maintenance.  Relationships among experts on relationships still need maintenance.  Without that maintenance, even the strongest of relationships will tend toward breakdown.

I am always amazed in my counseling endeavors when I find two otherwise intelligent, personable, Christian leaders who spend little time actually nurturing their friendship with one another and who then seem befuddled by the brokenness in their relationship.  Relationships need regular doses of two elements: quality time and honest communication.  Without those, a relationship dies.  Relationships among church staff leaders need those two elements.  Marriages need those two elements.  Every friendship needs those two elements.  That is the routine maintenance for relationships.

I suppose it comes with the territory of my ministry that I must bear witness to so very many broken relationships among otherwise Godly people.  In almost every case, the brokenness is due to neglect.  Oh, there may have been an issue, even a terribly divisive one.  But it was the subsequent neglect of the relationship which did the damage, not the initial injury.  Relationships, you see, are amazingly resilient.  They can spring back to life out of even the most broken of situations.  But there is one thing a relationship cannot survive: utter neglect.  It requires regular routine maintenance.  Without that, the brokenness turns into deeper and deeper damage.  It is very much like your automobile in that regard.

It is simple, really.  It is not rocket science.  Relationships are just like everything else worth salvaging.  Forsake the maintenance, and pay the price.

© 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 All Else Fails, Read the Instructions

17 01 2012

Tuesday Re-mix – 

Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. James 1:23-24

When installing an appliance or putting together a piece of furniture, it seems to me there are levels of understanding. The lowest level is when you know you don’t know anything at all, so you sit down with the instructions first, before you do anything.  The next level is when you think you know something about it, so you start without the instructions and soon find that your are in fact an idiot and then sit down with the instructions. The third level of understanding is when you know enough about the task to know that each case is a little different, so you start by sitting down with the instructions.

If there are higher levels of understanding than this, I admit to being totally out of touch with them.  I myself typically float back and forth between the first two levels. When my wife sees me walking through the house carrying a tool, she immediately drops what she’s doing and follows me as she grabs the phone and calls for help. I have learned (mostly the hard way) how helpful it is to read and follow the instructions from the beginning.  In my case, it doesn’t guarantee success, but it at least prevents me from screwing my table top into the floor, or other such embarrassing results.

When asked how I can mediate congregational conflict in such a wide variety of denominations and churches, how it is possible to effectively navigate church conflict even with little understanding of the culture, the answer seems obvious to me: I just stay focused on the instructions, i.e., scripture.  I learned early in this ministry that there is no amount of worldly wisdom or experience which can guarantee a peaceful, successful mediation in a congregational dispute.  Emotions are high, the pain runs deep, and volatile relationships are unpredictable at best.  There simply is no putting things back together without starting with the instructions: the Word of God.

Interestingly, once you start there, the cultural differences suddenly do not matter much.  Scripture has this remarkable ability to cut through culture and the things of this world.  I certainly cannot always explain why it works…I just know that it does.  That, of course, is what child-like faith looks like.  Finding our way through broken relationships requires a child-like faith in the Word of God and what it tells us about relationships.  As my Dad always says: when all else fails, try reading the instructions.

Of course, I have from time to time encountered a group for whom the Bible is not the final word…a group who questions its authority.  I am always quick to clarify for them that I really have nothing to offer them.  I wouldn’t even know where to start.  If as a “church” they don’t recognize God’s Word as their supreme authority, then for me it is like trying to put something together with no instructions at all.  If the instructions which come with my new appliance are nothing more to me than guidelines, i.e., loose fences to lean against, then chances are pretty good that my new appliance will never work the way it was intended to work.  For a Christian, “The Word” should be at the very center of life.  For a church, it should be the very foundation upon which all things are built.

When it comes to mediating congregational conflict and all its inherent complexities, I am just not smart enough to come up with my own “wisdom” about how it should go.  I am at the lowest level of understanding.  So, I start with the instructions.  I let scripture order my steps and inform my process.  I allow God’s Word to set the agenda.  Then, just maybe, there is at least a chance for success at the end of the 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







Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 3,823 other followers