Terrorists, Christians and the Walls that Divide Us

15 04 2014

Tuesday Re-mix:

Do not withhold your mercy from me, Lord;
    may your love and faithfulness always protect me.
For troubles without number surround me;
    my sins have overtaken me, and I cannot see.
They are more than the hairs of my head,
    and my heart fails within me.
Be pleased to save me, Lord;
    come quickly, Lord, to help me.  Psalm 40:11-13

It was one year ago today that the Boston Marathon reached a horrifying and premature conclusion. When the bombs went off, I was right there with you in my response: “Who would do such a thing?”  “How could anyone just kill and maim innocent people like that?”  With those questions and so many others like them, we begin trying to re-order our world by categorizing the good people and the bad people.  It brings us some comfort.  It is how we deal with otherwise “inexplicable evil”.  We find some solace in drawing those distinctions and in placing ourselves on one side and “those kinds of people” on the other side.  Honestly, it helps us sleep at night, doesn’t it?  We feel better about ourselves and about our world when we can identify evil, point it out as clearly “other” than us, and come to terms with the comforting reality that we are, in fact, better than those kinds of people.

brick wallBut scripture does not help us with that worldview.

Scripture does not paint a picture of a world divided.  If we go to our Bibles and read the stories of our heroes and heroines and hope to be able to place David and Joseph and Moses and Peter and Paul and you and me all on the side of “good”, and then place the murderers and adulterers and rapists and terrorists all on the side of “evil”, we are hugely and humbly disappointed.  Scripture does not divide the world between the good people and the bad people.  It divides the universe between the holy and everything else…and this world ALL falls into the “everything else” category.  You and I are part of that.

I heard an interview with Rudy Giuliani just after the bombing.  The interviewer asked him, “Is this just the world we live in now?”  His response was that this is the world we live in ever since September 11.  But that’s not really accurate, is it?  Scripture says otherwise.  It says this is the world we live in ever since the fall of man.  And, by the way, you and I don’t just live in this world, as if we are innocent bystanders…we are participants in it.  We have contributed to the brokenness.

This is why one of our heroes of God’s story, David (the “man after God’s own heart”) could say, “May all who want to take my life be put to shame and confusion” and also, in the very same psalm, “my sins have overtaken me, and I cannot see..They are more than the hairs of my head, and my heart fails within me.”  Scripture does not teach us this tendency to “otherize” people, even bombers and terrorists.  Scripture does not comfort us with categories and levels of unholiness, so that we can distance ourselves from those who seem “more evil” than us and thereby find rest.  Rather, God’s Word throws us all into the same unholy, murky mire together, and then says to us all, “you need a savior”.

That is the truth, is it not?  We may engage in the hair-splitting of comparing our own sins with the sins of “those evil people” and tell ourselves that we come out on top.  But do we?  When we are compared to the holiness to which we are called, do we come out anywhere near the top?

As I reflected on the horror of last year’s bombing in Boston and its devastation in the hearts and minds of so many fellow humans, and as I then looked to scripture for some perspective on it all, I was left with two realities: (1) this world is horribly broken and in need of a savior, and (2) so am I.

Come quickly, Lord.

© 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 Future of the Church…It’s Complicated

3 04 2014

“For thus says the Lord: When seventy years are completed for Babylon,I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” Jeremiah 29:10-11

Then the Lord said, “I have pardoned, according to your word. But truly, as I live, and as all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the Lord, none of the men who have seen my glory and my signs that I did in Egypt and in the wilderness, and yet have put me to the test these ten times and have not obeyed my voice, shall see the land that I swore to give to their fathers. And none of those who despised me shall see it.When it comes to understanding the God of the Bible, context is everything…and perspective counts for something as well.  Numbers 14:20-23

My brothers and sisters who preach a prosperity gospel (i.e., that God intends for you to have material wealth and to have it right now) claim Jeremiah 29:11 separate and apart from Jeremiah 29:10. complicated journeyIn other words, they catch the good news of the promise of hope and a future but they gloss over the bad news that it would come only after a  lifetime of exile and hardship (and for many who would die in exile, it would not come in this life at all).

By the same token, my brothers and sisters who favor a dark, judgmental, angry gospel point to Numbers 14 and God’s judgment on the people of Israel who rebelled against Him, but they tend to miss the unbelievable mercy He showed in allowing them all to continue living in the first place (thanks to Moses’ pleading).  Consequences? Yes, but with a heavy dose of mercy mixed in.

Context matters. And so does perspective.

The “hope” and “good news” Jeremiah preaches in Jeremiah 29 includes a timeline of hardship almost twice as long as the 40 years of exile in the wilderness for the Hebrew people in Numbers. Hope and welfare? Absolutely. But with a heavy dose (70 years) of consequences mixed in.

So what do we take away from these realities in scripture? For me, it is that God is…complicated.

And so are our lives and the life of the church corporately.

We should probably stop measuring God’s “favor” on us or on His church by whether or not we made budget this year or by our percentage of growth in numbers attending worship.  Rather, we should stay focused simply on whether we are being obedient to the things we know God has required us to do and say, and leave the results up to Him. We should probably stop stressing over the fact that there is disagreement within the church. Rather, we should stay focused on how we love each other even in light of that disagreement.  We should probably quit agonizing over why God would permit all the pain raining down on us and on our church today and start remembering that, as Christ followers, the world WILL hate us and life will be difficult, even unbearable at times, and that our treasure is in Heaven…along with our real home.

We have all peeked ahead and have seen the ultimate outcome…good news, God wins in the end! We’re on the winning team!  Bad news: we still have to fight the fight and play the game, and there will be set backs and injuries along the way. Embrace it. And rejoice!

© 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.

????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????

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







Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 3,689 other followers