“Look How They Love Each Other!”

1 07 2014

And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother. 1 John 4:21

And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. Colossians 3:15

sibling hugThis Summer, my younger daughter is living with my older daughter (and her husband and their dog) while she does an internship for her major. This last weekend, I had the privilege of visiting them for the first time since that arrangement started. So far, nobody has killed anyone. I am happy about that.

The truth is, my girls get along really well with each other. They give each other a hard time, but they are also clearly best friends. And when they fight, they fight fair. That’s important. That brings an amazing amount of peace to a parent. I am pretty sure I would never have understood that peace until I became a parent.

There is an aspect of God’s perspective on our love for each other that is “parental” in nature.  Paul references it in Colossians 3 when he admonishes that church to “let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts”.  I do not read Aramaic, nor Greek. But I am told that Paul actually wrote peace of Christ in Latin (Pax Christi), so as to make it a play on words for that culture. You see, the nickname for the Roman occupation under which those churches operated was the Pax Romana (“Peace of Rome”). It referred to a kind of imposed peace which Rome enforced in all of its territories. It was an understood connotation of Pax Romana: you and your neighbor are both now  part of the Roman Empire…if you have a problem with your neighbor, you have a problem with Rome. Paul says we should let the Pax Christi rule in our hearts. It was a strikingly “parental” notion of making sure the “children” loved each other well. Of course, those of us who don’t speak Greek or Latin miss this play on words of Paul’s.

John used a similar notion in his writings, but much more directly. No fancy metaphors for John. Just a simple, direct warning which cuts right to the chase: whoever loves God must also love his brother. Same concept…”you are now a part of God’s kingdom…if you have a problem with a brother, you have a problem with God.” Loving each other is not a suggestion. It is a requirement. It is not something we do as we feel some warm, fuzzy spirit move us…it is a discipline which we practice as a matter of routine, one at which we get better and better over time. And we do it by faith, which pleases our Heavenly Father.

That discipline of loving each other is also what Jesus said would set us apart from the rest of the world. We would in fact be known by that extraordinary discipline of loving each other. The world will look at us and marvel, and some will even call us ridiculous and unreasonable because of how we love. They will call us naive and childish (and much, much worse). All because of how we love each other. All because our Father in Heaven insists that his children love each other well.

So, what about it? What does the world say when they point to you and your relationships with your Christian brothers and sisters?

© 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




Confessions of a Teacher’s Pet

10 12 2013

Tuesday Re-mix:

Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. “Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask.”  “What do you want me to do for you?” he asked.  They replied, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.”  Mark 10:35-37

teacher's pet

I admit that, sometimes during my childhood, under some circumstances which might come about upon occasion, I was, at times, capable of being…the teacher’s pet.  I do NOT admit to being crass about it, nor even intentionally manipulative about it.  And I certainly never perfected the art in nearly the way(s) my younger daughter seems to have done so (sorry, Reno…cat’s out of the bag now I guess).  But I will confess that, when one of my teachers may have favored me a little one way or another, I liked it…and may have even used it to my advantage at times.  Whew!  So glad to get that off my chest!

So, when I read about James and John and their not-so-secret desire for favored treatment with Jesus, I admit that I actually understand where they were coming from.  Don’t act like you don’t get it.  I know you do.

The truth about all of us is that we enjoy being favored.  We relish special treatment.  When the flight attendant comes to your seat in coach and informs you that you have been selected to enjoy a free upgrade into first class for this flight, you have no problem gathering your belongings and bouncing up to the comfy seats as if you deserve it.  When the police officer pulls me over and has me on his radar doing 65 in a 55, and then tells me he is just going to give me a warning instead of an actual ticket, I do not argue with him.  When we get our free “fast pass” to the most popular ride at Disneyworld and get to go to the front of the line ahead of all those poor, tired parents who have been standing in line for an hour, we say “Thank you very much” and smile all the way to the front.

We enjoy special treatment at restaurants and movie theaters and parking lots and at the office.  We enjoy it because, deep inside most of us, there is a prideful little boy or little girl who thinks he/she deserves it.  I LIKED being the teacher’s pet, because I liked what it said to everyone else about me.  It said, “Blake’s a winner…he’s a little bit better than the rest of you.”  It felt great to me, and to James and to John.  That’s all they wanted…just a little favor, even if it meant placing them above everyone else.  Isn’t there a little bit of James and John in all of us?

I am grateful for a teacher (and a Savior) who is patient enough with that part of us to simply say, “Blake, you don’t really know what you are asking, and there are plenty of times coming when what you are asking is the last thing you will want, so why don’t you just come with me and trust me with the blessings.”  I am grateful for a God who mercifully does NOT give us what we ask for sometimes.  And I am grateful for a Savior who stays close by and walks with us through the painful times, when we regretfully get exactly what we asked for.

© 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 Long Journey Preparing for Jesus

3 12 2013

Tuesday Re-mix:

The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, as it is written in Isaiah the prophet:

“I will send my messenger ahead of you,
    who will prepare your way”—
“a voice of one calling in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
    make straight paths for him.’” Mark 1:1-3

Christmas JourneyWelcome to the Advent Season, everyone!  I am certain this season is as special at your church as it is at mine.  Now begins the challenge of leading our people’s hearts to turn toward Christ as opposed to getting so entangled with the secular culture of Christmas that they lose sight of Jesus.  I know you are thinking about that.  You are considering how you can best lead so as to help your people “prepare the way for the Lord”.  In that regard, you, my church leader friend, are John the Baptizer.  Your calling this season is to help your people prepare for Jesus.

So, as you strategize about this Advent Season in your own church, and how you will help your people prepare for Jesus, will you just consider the following:

  • How will you help the single mom who is holding down three jobs and just trying to survive from one day to the next prepare her heart for Jesus?
  • What is your strategy to help the child whose parent is deployed or in prison or just disappeared to prepare his/her heart for Jesus this season?
  • What can you do this week to help that nursing home resident who gave your church so many good years of ministry to prepare for Jesus this season?
  • What is your plan to pour into your second tier of church leaders over the next couple of weeks, so that they and their families are prepared for Jesus?
  • How will your church minister to those who have lost loved ones in the past year and who now face their first Christmas season without them?
  • What about the missionary family who unexpectedly found themselves back here for the Christmas season instead of out on the field with the people they have grown to love?  How will you help them prepare their hearts for Jesus?
  • And lastly, while you are busy trying to be all things to all people in your congregation, what exactly are you planning for your own family this season, so that they will have hearts turned toward Jesus instead of resenting your ministry pulling you away from them?

John the Baptizer, it seems, was just a little bit crazy…a little bit different from normal folks.  And now we know why.  Helping make the way straight for Jesus in the hearts of one’s people is, well, a lot of hard work!  Shoulder to the wheel, my church leader friend…shoulder to the wheel!

© 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




“Look at us!”

24 09 2013

Tuesday Re-mix -

Peter looked straight at him, as did John. Then Peter said, “Look at us!”  So the man gave them his attention, expecting to get something from them.  Acts 3:4-5

The short, two-block walk in downtown San Antonio from my parking garage to my office usually crosses paths with at least a dozen or so people who are either homeless or at least very “down on their luck”.  There was a time a few years ago when God brought me under conviction for my then-habit of crossing the street before I had to face them and their requests for money.  I am pleased to say I do not do that anymore.  I actually know several of the regulars by name now: Sal, Jorge, little Joseph, Becky, and one who just calls himself “Soldier”.  While I am pleased to know these few names, God is not finished with me yet.  The next lesson is about the eye contact…or lack thereof.  I know God is leaning on me to be a better friend to these often-troubled souls, and in order to do that, I really am going to have to be better about making eye contact with them!

That is the real issue, isn’t it?  We don’t want to see them, and we don’t want them to see us.  And it is not just the homeless…it is anyone whose needs just seem overwhelming to us.  We do not want them to see us as a possible source of help, because we do not believe we really have something that will help them.  If you walked into a hospital ward full of sick people and you were carrying the one vaccine which you knew would cure them, you would look them all right in the eyes and tell them to line up and get ready to be healed!  But when the needs seem to us to be more than we are capable of meeting, our eyes immediately turn away and we walk on, hoping they will not look at us.  We don our imaginary cloak of invisibility and pretend not to notice them.

You know what that means, don’t you?  It means our faith is small…too small!  It means we do not believe the God we serve is big enough to be of any value to them.  Moreover, even if I do have a strong faith in God, I would much rather just introduce them to God, leave them with Him and walk away, so I do not have to actually be a friend…that, after all, would be asking too much.

When I read Acts 3:1-10, I am struck by Peter’s boldly dispelling this notion of invisibility.  He not only makes himself visible, he refuses to be ignored!  “Look at us!” he says.  See us, and we will see you.  That, it seems to me, is the first act of love toward a person in pain…really seeing them and letting them really see you.

In terms of becoming a missional church, maybe that is a starting point for a lot of us.  Maybe when we each start making this decision in our own lives (to really see the hurting people around us and invite them to see us), the church at large will follow suit.  Then, we will do a better job of saying to the hurting people in our community, “look at us…and we will see you too.”  Maybe that is what love looks like.

I have so much to learn!

© 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




He Is Risen!

8 04 2012

1 Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. 2 So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”


3 So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. 4 Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, 7 as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen. 8 Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed.  
John 20:1-8

Have a glorious Resurrection Day, everyone!





Sometimes the Only Thing Missing in Ministry is Jesus

21 06 2011

Tuesday Re-mix -

When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.” Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.” Luke 5:4-5

O.K., I know virtually nothing about the commercial fishing industry. I’ve never even seen an episode of The Deadliest Catch. And I certainly have very little knowledge of what that industry looked like 2000 years ago. I suspect that Peter and the guys had been through a very long, very hard night of tossing their tangled nets out and dragging them back in empty…I suspect that they were as skilled as anyone at this particular trade but that their very best and most strenuous efforts had been completely fruitless on this particular night…and I suspect they were exhausted and disappointed and frustrated. But that is all speculation on my part, because I don’t really know much about fishing. Nevertheless, I have a theory about what was going on in Peter’s mind when Jesus, the carpenter/teacher/NON-fisherman, wryly suggested that they pick up their nets and head out and try again one more time. I contend that what Peter was thinking in his head at that moment would NOT have made for good scripture.

Very much like Peter and James and John, we have developed some real expertise when it comes to “doing church”. Given hundreds of years to develop our systems and our understandings of scripture, we have a strong sense of what works and what does not work. We study our culture and think we’re pretty knowledgeable about the best ways to teach and to minister and to reach people. And when we set out to implement a ministry and it comes back fruitless, we have all kinds of experts and assessment tools to tell us why it didn’t work and how we need to change it to make it work better. And when we make those changes and it still doesn’t work, after we have exhausted all our expertise and most of our energy and resources, it is easy to conclude that this particular ministry project just isn’t going to work in this situation…not now, not under these circumstances.

But in reality, there was only one thing missing from Peter’s fishing endeavors on that lonely, fishless night: Jesus. Add Jesus to the mix and suddenly everything worked.

So, as you sit on the edge of your bed tonight lamenting the fact that your ministry endeavor simply is not working…not now, not under these circumstances…that all of your expertise just does not seem to be paying off…that there is obviously something wrong with the “fish” in your community and that they simply are not biting tonight…

…consider the possibility that the problem is neither you nor the fish, that the problem is neither theological, economic, demographic nor geographical, that the issue is not methodology nor sociology nor anything at all of a human source…consider the possibility that your effort is simply lacking Jesus.

Look around and see where the Spirit of Christ is at work…and take your ministry there. Try one more time. Put out into the deep water and let your nets down for a catch. Because this time, you’ve got Jesus. And that makes all the difference.

© 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, the Brood of Vipers

31 05 2011

Tuesday Re-mix -

“What should we do then?” the crowd asked.  John answered, “The man with two tunics should share with him who has none, and the one who has food should do the same.”  Tax collectors also came to be baptized. “Teacher,” they asked, “what should we do?”  “Don’t collect any more than you are required to,” he told them. Then some soldiers asked him, “And what should we do?”   He replied, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely—be content with your pay.” Luke 3:8-14 [selections]

John the Baptist was given the assignment of preparing a people to receive a savior.  God would use John to help the people see that, beyond a political hero, what they needed most was a spiritual savior.  So, in fulfillment of this calling, what do you suppose are the first words out of his mouth in issuance of this “wake-up call”?

“You brood of vipers!”

That’s just mean.  Right?  Those words are just harsh.  But they seem to have gotten the people’s attention.  It wasn’t long before they were asking John, “What do we need to do?”  He then started rattling off impossibly inflexible rules for them…bad conduct that was the most deeply ingrained in their culture, things it would have been extremely difficult to change.  It would have required a huge shift in how they thought about other people.  It would have caused them to think, “Wow, that’s nearly impossible!”  And that, of course, is exactly the right response.  John would have said, “And THAT is why you need a savior!”

So, it got me thinking.  If John were to come to the church today in order to get us ready for Jesus to return, what would he say to us?  Assuming we too are a “brood of vipers” and in desperate need of a savior and assuming we need an entirely different way of thinking about some things we are doing (or failing to do), what might he say to us?  Let’s write an addendum to this story.  The next line reads:

Then some 21st century churches asked him, “What about us?  What must we do?”  John replied…

What?  How would he reply?  I have some possible responses.

1.  Stop making outsiders feel like they have to clean up their acts before they come to your church. We’re all pretty good at befriending people after they have become Christ-followers (pretty good, but not great).  Why is it so difficult for the church to befriend people before they actually believe?

2.  Stop using your faith to gain political power. The Christian faith was not born out of political strength and has always grown strongest under political oppression.  Why, then, do we spend so much time trying to gain the political upper hand?

3.  Start praying together as if you really do believe it will work. We say we want prayer in schools.  We say we want prayer at football games.  But our churches’ scheduled prayer meetings have tumbleweeds blowing through them.  We say we believe in the power of prayer, but our actions and our lifestyles say otherwise.

4.  Start looking for and finding Christ in one another. The way we treat each other in the church is sometimes just embarrassing, and it is offensive to the Spirit of God Who indwells every believer.

5.  Stop using your resources to build kingdoms unto yourselves. Across the street from your big, new beautiful worship center, there are people starving and homeless.  What are we thinking?

From my perspective, these are some possible ways for our friend John to respond.  But I’ll bet you have some ideas too.  I’d love to hear them…

© 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 3,845 other followers