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







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