Our Foolish Fragile Fences

18 09 2014

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility. Ephesians 2:13-14

dividing fence

We all build fences. It is an essential part of the human condition. We categorize and re-categorize ourselves and others over and over again in order to protect our fragile egos and in order to minimize any complex thinking required to really see others. We are quick to identify differences which separate us and we “otherize” anyone we do not agree with or do not fully understand. We build fences. And we do this within the church.

Apparently, the single most effective tool for breaking down fences between people or groups of people is to identify a bigger, more important dividing line. Having found that more significant division, most of the smaller ones suddenly seem less important and may dissolve altogether. You have experienced this.

Take, for example, the deep, deep political divide the United States was experiencing after the 2000 Presidential election…the race between Al Gore and George W. Bush. Does the term “hanging chad” ring a bell? Remember how very deeply this country was split right down the middle? We had almost a full year of political fights over those election results. But then, on September 11 of the following year, the greatest catastrophe this country has ever known was inflicted upon us. Suddenly, those deep, deep dividing lines seemed unimportant, because now there was a much bigger, more important dividing line…one that ran between this country and its terrorist foes. This country has never been more “unified” than in the days and weeks immediately following that event. Democrats and Republicans became bedfellows, united for a cause.

You see, there are certain “perspective builders” and “game changers” that make us forget about fences that previously seemed important to us. You will notice that all the demographic differences between patients in a chemotherapy ward dissolve very quickly in light of the “perspective building” fight they are all fighting. You will notice that all the political differences between members of an addiction support group represent insignificant divisions in light of the one huge dividing line separating all of them from sobriety and recovery. In short, all those fences we create are subject to being moved or being dissolved altogether under the right circumstances.

As it turns out, the gospel is the right circumstance…it is the quintessential ultimate dividing line which causes all others to dissolve in its shadow. Whatever fences we may have erected in order to differentiate ourselves from others (“those people” who voted differently from me in the last election, “they” who live a different lifestyle from me, “them” who rebuke my faith, etc.), those fences all go away at the foot of the cross. As it turns out, there is only one dividing line that matters…only one that is eternal…it is the line that divides a holy, sovereign God from all the rest of us. ALL the rest of us. You and I and everyone else in this world all find ourselves on the same side of the only fence which matters. We were all dead in our trespasses. None of us…NONE OF US…are in any way entitled to a place on the other side of that fence.

And that is the miracle of the church. None of our fences matter, all of them are foolish and fragile and meaningless in the light of the gospel. Jews and Gentiles…Republicans and Democrats…prostitutes and debutantes…slaves and kings…we all need a savior. Desperately. That is the undeniable unity of the gospel.

So, I find myself wondering what fences I have erected that need to come down today, in light of the gospel I say I believe?

© 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




Seeing Jesus in the Church

23 01 2014

He entered Jericho and was passing through. And behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus. He was a chief tax collector and was rich. And he was seeking to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was small in stature. So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him, for he was about to pass that way.  Luke 19:1-4

stained glass JesusMake no mistake. God was at work in the heart of Zacchaeus, drawing him toward Him.  God placed a yearning in his heart that would make this wealthy businessman climb a tree like a child in order to get a glimpse of Jesus as he passed by.  God still does that.  He is still in the business of drawing people to Himself.  And whether or not all the marketing surveys show it, He is still drawing those people to the body of Christ…His church.

The question is, are we doing our part to make sure an unbelieving world can actually see Jesus in us when they look?  When God stirs their hearts to go to some lengths to “climb trees” in order to get a glimpse of Jesus in us, are we conducting ourselves in a way that helps?

When a watching world looks at our social media posts, do they see Jesus?

When the gay waiter serves our table, will he see Jesus?

When our  banker sees how we handle our finances, does she see Jesus?

When those people who voted for the other party in the last election show up at our church, do they see Jesus?

When that  telemarketer calls our house, will he hear Jesus in us?

When that staff member gossips about us, will he look and see Jesus in us?

When that embittered, divisive congregant blows up yet another church business meeting, will she see Jesus in you?

God is still doing His part.  He is still drawing people to the church.  The question is, how are we doing with our part?

© 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




Theology as God

3 04 2012

Tuesday Re-mix -

“Theology is the science of religion, an intellectual attempt to systematize the consciousness of God. If we take the doctrine of the Trinity (which is a noble attempt of the mind of man to put into a theological formula the Godhead as revealed in the Bible) and say – ‘That is God,’ every other attempt as a statement of the Godhead is met by a sledgehammer blow of finality. My theology has taken the place of God and I have to say, ‘That is blasphemy.’ Theology is second, not first; in its place it is a handmaid of religion, but it becomes a tyrant if put in first place.  The great doctrines of predestination and election are secondary matters; they are attempts at definition, but if we take sides with the theological method we will damn those who differ from us without a minute’s hesitation.  Is there any form of belief which has taken the place of God with me?” Oswald Chambers

My sister married a Lutheran.  Of course, by the time of the wedding, Chad (my brother-in-law) had pretty much convinced most of us that he was OK and that he was not a pagan or anything.  But still, my sister was getting married in a Lutheran church.  It was not a huge thing, but for my very Baptist family, it was also not a completely small thing.  I think it mattered a little to some in the family.

That was a long time ago, but even by then I was already being shaped into a peacemaker…and this peacemaker was a little worried about how my very Baptist and sometimes loud and argumentative family might behave in that Lutheran church.  Oh, I’m not saying I stayed up at night worrying about it.  I’m just saying…I wondered.

So it was no huge surprise when, within the first 15 minutes of the rehearsal, one of my family members sitting out in the pews leaned over to another one and said (pretty loudly), “Hey look!  They’ve still got Jesus up on the cross in this church!”  I tried to become completely invisible…don’t know whether it worked or not…the invisibility thing, I mean.  But, in the end, I did get an awesome brother-in-law out of the whole ordeal.

The point of this story is that I believe our intellectual constructs of God (i.e., our “theology”) actually sometimes get in the way of our Spiritual growth, and certainly get in the way of Christian unity. We tend to cling to the metaphors about God with which we are familiar, the illustrations and the symbols and the sound bites with which we’ve grown up as a Christian.  So, when confronted by another Christian with something a little different than our own construct, it immediately creates enmity between us and that other Christian.  When your metaphors are not the same as my metaphors, we have a problem, and we must be careful how we measure that problem.

I think the real danger here is that our beliefs about God sometimes become more important to us than God Himself.  Call it the “deification of theology” if you want.  I choose to call it idolatry…the replacing of God with some intellectual model with which we are more comfortable…or which we can better comprehend.

Really, I cannot say it nearly as well as Oswald Chambers said it above.  So, I will stop trying.  But I love his question: “Is there any form of belief which has taken the place of God with me?”  Ouch.

© 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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