The Spiritual Gift of Voting “No”

3 07 2014

Thursday Re-mix:

Then Caleb silenced the people before Moses and said, “We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it.” But the men who had gone up with him said, “We can’t attack those people; they are stronger than we are.” And they spread among the Israelites a bad report about the land they had explored. They said, “The land we explored devours those living in it. All the people we saw there are of great size.  Numbers 14:30-32

voting noOnce it becomes clear that God is calling your church to join Him in a particular adventure, it is always troubling when those few naysayers vote “no”.  The struggle is only compounded by the realization that this is the very same group of people who voted “no” on the last big initiative as well…and the one before that, and the one before that.  You know the ones I mean.  They are the pot-stirrers in your church who have the spiritual gift of voting “no”.

They may be a minority, even a tiny minority in terms of numbers, but they can be vocal.  They can also be influential.  Like the 10 naysaying spies, these individuals can spread their negativity like a wildfire through the congregation.  And before you know it, your people’s fears can seem insurmountable, faith is out the window, and a vision is well on the way to dying a slow and painful death.

You know how Caleb’s story ended.  In what may be one of the greatest “I told you so” moments in all of God’s story, Caleb ends up receiving God’s reward because he was courageous enough to speak the truth and because he stayed with all those people who voted against him for another 40 long years.  We don’t know much about Caleb during those 40 years.  Perhaps he and Joshua had a weekly support group meeting with each other, helping them survive the pain of living with the consequences of other people’s lack of faith.  Perhaps Caleb carried around some bitterness all those years.  We just do not know.

But Caleb was faithful to God, faithful to the vision, and even faithful to the very people who had conspired against him.  He found a way to stay faithful and loving, even in his pain.  And in the end, his reward was waiting for him!

So how about it?  Who do you need to love well today, even though they tried to squelch your dream?  Who is deserving of your forgiveness and your continued love and support, even though they have opposed you and your vision?

© 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




Confession and Your Leadership

3 06 2014

Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
    and sinners will return to you…
For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it;
    you will not be pleased with a burnt offering.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
    a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. Psalm 51:13, 16-17

confession

I have often said I could not fully invest in a pastor who has never suffered deep loss. “Grieving with those who grieve” is a critical part of the pastoral responsibility, and how can a church leader who has never grieved before possibly know how to start doing so now, over somebody else’s pain?

Similarly, I think I would have a difficult time listening to a pastor or teacher or spiritual leader call me to repentance and to confession unless I first know that he/she knows the humiliation of being laid bare before God in a moment of confession. That, it seems to me, is what gives a leader the credibility to “teach transgressors [God’s] ways” and to cause us sinners to return to God.

David expresses this brokenness so very well in Psalm 51, after his sin with Bathsheba. In this Psalm, he shared with all of God’s people his heart broken before the Lord. “Against you and you only have I sinned…” “For I know my transgressions and my sin is ever before me.” It is a confession filled with remorse and humiliation. And it calls us to have that same contrite heart before God.

Moreover, Psalm 51 cries out to God for the very type of forgiveness which would later become the earmark of Christ’s church and of Christ-followers around the world. As a leader of other Christians, we must therefore have experienced this very intimate level of confession before we can call others to it. Indeed, it becomes awfully challenging for us to express forgiveness to others if we have not truly experienced and embraced the mercy, grace, and forgiveness we have from God. I have met church leaders (even pastors) who struggled with forgiving others, and it always makes me wonder whether their own confession before the Lord is all it should be. Maybe you know a church leader like that.

David was not like that. David was a strong (even bloody) leader, but David also had a deep understanding of what it means to experience God’s mercy and forgiveness. His credibility as a “man after God’s own heart” was very much tied to his failure and to his confession.

They say confession is good for the soul…even critical. But I say it is good for your leadership as well. Even critical.

© 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.

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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




How Many Breaths Have You Taken So Far Today?

20 08 2013

Tuesday Re-mix –

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Colossians 3:12-14

Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”  Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.  Matthew 18:21-22

hot-air-balloonThe average person breathes about 28,800 times a day.  Did you know that?  That’s a whole lot of hot air.  I wonder if that’s enough to fill a hot air balloon?  If the average adult breath is about 1 liter of air, and if the average hot air balloon is about 77,000 cubic meters of air…how many of us would it take breathing all day long to fill a hot air balloon? Somebody do the math on that and give us the answer in the comments!

For the Christ-follower, forgiving is a lot like breathing.  I think when Jesus corrected Peter in Matthew 18, saying we are to forgive seventy times seven, what He meant is that we’re not even keeping score like that.  We don’t count at all, because we will be doing it way too much to keep track!  For us, it is like breathing.  We breathe in and we breathe out…we forgive.  We breathe in and we breathe out…we forgive again.  That is the way it is supposed to be in the church.

Forgiveness may be the most misunderstood concept in Christendom.  That’s ironic, because forgiveness, it seems, is supposed to be the hallmark of the gospel and one of the identifiers which separates Christ-followers from the rest of the world.  Supposed to be.

We should be the world’s preeminent experts on forgiveness.  We should be the standard bearers.  The world should be looking to us to see and to better understand what forgiveness looks like in every circumstance.  We are God’s chosen illustrators of forgiveness…He has left us here in this world in order to demonstrate it.  Are you convicted yet?

Forgiving “seventy times seven”…forgiving “as the Lord forgave you”…is a tall order!  It means spending an awful lot of our time in forgiveness mode.  It means we probably should be spending more time forgiving than just about anything else.  If I am reading scripture correctly, it is a big deal.

So how about it?  How many breaths have you taken so far today?

© 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




Forgiveness in Our DNA

2 04 2013

Tuesday Re-mix –

Then God ordered me, “Start all over: Love your wife again, your wife who’s in bed with her latest boyfriend, your cheating wife.
Love her the way I, God, love the Israelite people,
even as they flirt and party with every god that takes their fancy.”  
Hosea 3:1 (The Message)

                                                                                  

Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”

“No one, sir,” she said.

“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”  John 8:10-11

forgiveness2Hosea had a prostitute for a wife.  I cannot even begin to relate to Hosea’s pain.  I read Hosea and really do have to stretch my imagination to try to feel the pain, and even then, I am sure I cannot even get close.  It is, I think, the severest form of unfaithfulness.  That is probably why God chose it to illustrate His displeasure with His people.  Hosea’s illustration represents among the deepest of betrayals and pain we can know, and the reconciliation to which it points likewise represents the most significant we can begin to embrace.

Just as God’s wrath is just one shade of His deep, deep love for His people, His forgiveness is likewise one shade of that same love.  They are two sides of the same coin.  They are both His very nature.  But though He did not call His people to try to emulate His wrath, He absolutely does call us to forgive as He forgives.  In fact, He created an entire movement (one we call “the church”) designed specifically to reflect that remarkable forgiveness.  It is His very nature, and it is therefore in the very core purpose of His church.

And still, we, His church, read and grasp with great astonishment the story of Hosea and Gomer and the forgiving heart of a husband toward an unrepentant prostitute wife.  It shocks us.  It surprises us.  Its very idea eludes us, at least in any practical way.  Jesus demonstrated it as well, forgiving the adulteress woman in John 8.  Throughout all of scripture, we get story after story of God’s forgiving nature.  Even when He brings His wrath, it is for the purpose of reconciling His people back to Him.  It is Who He is.

This reminder encourages me greatly.  If it is the very nature of God to forgive, and it is the very nature of Jesus to demonstrate that same forgiveness, then that means that, somewhere in our DNA…in the deepest recesses of the church and its memory banks, there is forgiveness.  We can muster it.  We can reflect it.  We can demonstrate it in the same shocking fashion as Hosea, because it is in our blood.  Does that encourage you?

© 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