The Lion, the Sheep and the Bathrobe

18 11 2014

Tuesday Re-mix:

I have a sort of recurring day dream about my first appearance before God at Judgment time. It’s probably horrible theology on a number of levels, but I just can’t seem to shake the picture, and it is all because of a cool little comment Jesus makes in John 17:12… While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name you gave me. None has been lost except the one doomed to destruction so that Scripture would be fulfilled.

I am haunted by those words, “…none has been lost”. I have this embarrassing picture in mind of my standing in my bath robe in front of God and Him asking me about all the people He placed under my influence in the church and who left the church at one time or another and I never heard from them again. I’m talking about members of Sunday School classes, choir members, committee members, etc. for whom I had some leadership responsibility (or at least a friendship) and who have disappeared from the church’s radar screen. Oh, how I wish I could look up and say (with Jesus) “None has been lost.” But I cannot. Can you?

It is what Jesus was referring to in Matthew 18 in his parable of the lost sheep. The context in which Matthew recalls that parable is a very different context from how Luke uses it. Maybe Jesus told the parable more than once. In Matthew, Jesus is clearly talking about the church and “sheep” who wander off. Jesus poses this question: what kind of shepherd would not leave the entire flock in order to go after the one lamb who wanders away? Of course, it makes perfect sense in that scenario that any of us would do that. So, why don’t we do likewise in the church? When one of our flock begins to make decisions that pull him/her away from the Lord and away from God’s people, leaving him/her vulnerable to the attacks of the enemy, why don’t we drop everything to go after that wandering sheep?

A herd animal’s vulnerability when it gets away from the herd is a scary thing. It is an image Peter has in mind in I Peter 5:8 when he refers to our enemy as “…a roaring lion looking for someone to devour”. Did you know that a lioness will follow a herd for weeks watching and waiting, studying the herd and looking for the weakest members? She patiently waits for that moment when one of the weak members pulls away from the herd and becomes vulnerable. Similarly, our enemy watches and waits, like a lion on the prowl.

One of our jobs as leaders in the church is to go after those sheep who have wandered away, and to find whatever creative means necessary to turn them back toward the flock. I know that is a tall order. I know it raises lots of questions about exactly what that confrontation looks like and how it works (that, of course, is for future posts). But surely it is our responsibility, if we take Jesus’ words in Matthew 18 seriously. Welcome to the Body of Christ!

So, if you look as silly in your bath robe as I do in mine, you better get to work, because there is an embarrassing accounting waiting for us. There are wandering sheep to be found…

© 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




Surviving a Lion Attack

7 10 2014

Tuesday Re-mix:

Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.  1 Peter 5:8

Want a chuckle for today?  Check out this Wiki article on 7 steps to survive a lion attack.  Yeh, I’m not altogether certain about those seven steps.  I have a question or two about them.  For starters, do I try to recall these steps before I wet my pants or after?

I love that Peter uses this illustration to make his point about our enemy.  It is perfect for so many reasons.

Consider, for example, how a lioness hunts.  She is capable of following a herd of animals for days, even weeks, stalking and studying.  She watches to learn which of the members are the weakest and the most likely to fall behind the rest of the herd.  You see, when it comes to lion attacks, there is protection in the herd.  The lioness watches for lame or young or otherwise “slower” members of the herd who are more likely to make decisions that tend to “distance” them from the herd…decisions that might make the protection of the herd more and more tenuous.

The same is true of our enemy.  He watches the church (the “herd”)…stalking and learning.  He watches for those members most likely to distance themselves from the church…most likely to forsake the spiritual protection of God’s people.  You see, being created for community means we actually need each other’s diligent protection against the schemes of our enemy.  We really must let friends get close enough to us to protect us.  We  must make arrangements with brothers and sisters who will love us enough to ask us some hard questions about our choices.  That, my friend, is what “accountability” means.

My friend, Frank Pretorius (in Cape Town, South Africa) sent me this video.  Granted, it is a leopard and not a lion.  But otherwise, it is the perfect picture of what spiritual accountability looks like…

Is that awesome or what?  As an illustration, it begs some important questions about the spiritual accountability in your own life.  When it comes to lion attacks, who’s got your back?  With whom have you already made arrangements for accountability?  Whom have you granted permission to ask you hard questions about your choices?  You see, when you experience your next lion attack, you can either trust Wiki or you can trust your friends.  And I don’t have a single video of Wiki saving someone’s life.

© 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




Discipline for the Disciplinarians

16 04 2013

Tuesday Re-mix –

“Woe to the Assyrian, the rod of my anger,
in whose hand is the club of my wrath!”  
Isaiah 10:5

I know I have joked (kind of) in previous posts about how theology watchdogs in the blogosphere (and in the church) are annoying in the same way as that teacher in high school who constantly corrected your grammar while you were trying to talk.  But I also do recognize that God has given us brothers and sisters whose giftedness and very calling is to help us keep our doctrine pure…they are the doctrine disciplinarians, if you will.  You know the ones I mean.  They blog about your favorite pastor, who made a horrendous, unbelievable, heretical, probably-not-saved-if-you-say-this theological error in his sermon last week.  They call him out by name, and the venom with which they attack him is, well, pretty ungodly.  Or they review the most recent book by one of your favorite authors and basically question his very humanity, not to mention his spirituality, because of the position he seems to have taken on this theological issue or on that social issue…again, with uncommon rancor.

[And, as an aside, you know what is one of my pet peeves?  That blogger almost never makes any attempt at all to actually contact that pastor/teacher/author in order to practice this “discipline” or “accountability” Biblically, which pretty quickly gets me wondering whether they are really loving this brother or rather are just a little envious of his acclaim.  But I digress.]

I know that God disciplines us.  And I know that he often uses others to do it.  I am really OK with that.  In fact, it seems like a good plan to me.  I think scripture gives us plenty of examples of God using people to discipline his children.  Sometimes, he even used a pagan, non-believing people (like the Assyrians) to do it.

But scripture seems equally clear to me that to be used by God in this fashion comes with a heavy responsibility.  God’s discipline is to be carried out God’s way and with God’s honor and God’s love in our hearts and our minds.  When God’s “tool of discipline” forgets this or forsakes it, the consequences are dire.  When God punishes the punisher, it is ugly and horrifying, filled with His wrath.  Again, Isaiah 10 and the Assyrians come to mind.

So, fellow bloggers and church leaders…before your fingers hit the keyboard to release your discipline on that weak-minded pastor or that hopelessly lost author or that wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing so deserving of your harsh rebuke, will you make sure your knees hit the ground and your heart turns toward God?  We need your passion.  God’s kingdom needs your giftedness.  The church needs your laser focus on helping us keep our doctrine straight.  And we love you too much to allow you to throw it all away because of a wrong attitude or a bad motive.  Fulfill your calling…by checking your heart!

And stop correcting my grammar.  Seriously.

© 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 Sins of Community

19 03 2013

Tuesday Re-mix –

“Go to Bethel and sin;
go to Gilgal and sin yet more.
Bring your sacrifices every morning,
your tithes every three years.
Burn leavened bread as a thank offering
and brag about your freewill offerings—
boast about them, you Israelites,
for this is what you love to do,”
declares the Sovereign LORD.  
Amos 4:4-5

In the category of “there’s nothing new under the sun”, many of the problems we see today in the church have been with God’s people a long, long time.  Near the top of that list of problems is that people with hardened hearts which are cold toward God are still showing up at all the traditional times and in all the conventional ways for “church”.  It has been this way for a long, long time…God’s people are often pretty different on the inside than they are on the outside.  We are capable of going through the motions of spiritual things even while our hearts are not turned toward God.  Furthermore, even knowing this about ourselves, we continue to foster a form of “church” which quite intentionally avoids any system or structure that might actually fix this problem. Sadly, we do not really want the kind of genuine community to which scripture calls us, because that would mean accountability and intimacy and giving over some level of control in our lives to the community at large…or, worse, to God.

What I am saying is this: if hypocrisy and lack of integrity are our problems, then genuine Spirit-filled Christian community is the solution.  But it is a solution we are not altogether sure we want…and we have structured most of our gathered church experiences so as to downplay the importance of that very type of community.

Don’t we tend to wrap our “church” experience all up in the hour or so of gathered worship each week?  Oh, we may hit a committee meeting or two, or even a Sunday School class or choir rehearsal, but that hour or so of gathered worship is the centerpiece of our “church” time.  You know why that is?  Because we can come for “worship” and listen and sing and be faceless and anonymous, with no accountability and no intimacy at all.  Maybe I connect with God.  Maybe I do not.  Nobody knows but me.  It is what “church” is dangerously close to becoming for our culture.  And even though we know we should have intimate relationships with genuine accountability, we often choose not to do so.  And even though we choose not to do so, most of our church structures allow us to continue to “move up” into leadership as long as we show up and look right.

It is what church has become to so many of God’s people because it is what we want church to be.  We–all of us–have fostered this form of church by our preferences.  This is not just about the sins of a few bad people.  This is about the church we have all chosen.  The comfortable church.  The one that makes us feel good about ourselves without ever having to become transparent and without ever having to change anything about ourselves.  This is the church we have all made.  This is not about individual sin; rather, this is about the collective sin of us all as a community.

Amos’ words were not aimed at a handful of individuals in Israel.  They were aimed at a nation.  And they are aimed at us all, as the community of God’s people.

But there is good news.

We can still repair this damage.

We can still turn this ship around.  We can still insist on genuine community.  We can still decide that, without one another’s help, we will never become the people God has called us to be.  We can do the hard things associated with transparency and accountability and intimacy.

We just have to decide what we want “church” to be.

© 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




When the Painful Part is Only the Beginning

27 11 2012

Tuesday Re-mix –

Now, regarding the one who started all this—the person in question who caused all this pain—I want you to know that I am not the one injured in this as much as, with a few exceptions, all of you. So I don’t want to come down too hard. What the majority of you agreed to as punishment is punishment enough. Now is the time to forgive this man and help him back on his feet. If all you do is pour on the guilt, you could very well drown him in it. My counsel now is to pour on the love.  The focus of my letter wasn’t on punishing the offender but on getting you to take responsibility for the health of the church.  2 Corinthians 2:5-9 (The Message)

Years ago, I was in a race with several hundred other people.  It started on a beach in Corpus Christi, Texas.  After a half-mile swim in a very choppy ocean, we all ran to a transition area where we quickly put on cycling shoes and rode off on a 25-mile bike ride, about half of which was directly into a stiff and steady 20-mph headwind.  I considered myself a reasonably strong cyclist, so I was surprised that so many racers passed me on that windy ride.  By the time I got off the bike, my legs were jelly and my body was exhausted.  I sat down in the transition area, thinking about the 10K run still ahead of me.  I was genuinely torn about what I would do…I could quit now and just lie back and relax (that’s exactly what a large part of me was wanting) or I could strap my running shoes on and stand up and “will” my legs to work again.  What I did next would reveal my real intentions…my heart.

Matters of Christian accountability, especially those related to church discipline, are never as simple as finding fault and imposing consequences.  Those painful parts are only the beginning of discipline…they are just stages in a much longer process, one designed to ultimately turn the heart of one of God’s children.  Think about when you disciplined your own children.  It never ended with just a punishment.  There was always the continuing conversation to make sure the reason for the consequences was clear and that a lesson was learned.  There was always the hug and the “we still love you” message.  There is always a transition from the painful part to the loving part…a critical continuation of the process.

That was Paul’s point to the church in Corinth when, in 2 Corinthians 2, he encouraged them to continue working with the man they had disciplined, even after the “punishment” had taken place.  The whole point of church discipline is to “win the brother back”, so the process never ends with just removing fellowship from him.  Like my triathlon, there is still more race to run and there is a necessary transition into that next phase.  I have walked prayerfully through this discipline process with a few churches.  I always caution them along the way to check their hearts and to make sure their motives are right.  Are they doing this out of love and concern for this brother, or are they just trying to get rid of him so they no longer have to deal with him?  The easiest and clearest evidence of their real motive comes after the discipline is imposed…what they do next will reveal their true intentions.

Churches who “discipline” a member and have little or no follow-up contact with him are not really practicing discipline at all.  Churches who are truly heartbroken over the whole process and who have the “sinner’s” interests at heart will certainly stay in contact with him and work to turn him around.  The race is not yet over.  In fact, it is just beginning.  Now it is time to transition to the next stage…now it is time to forgive and to love and to reconcile.

Oh, back to my race… I did finish my triathlon.  I did not set any records.  But I finished, because it was what I had set my heart on doing from the beginning.  I finished what I started.  That time, anyway.  🙂

© 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




I Have a Dream…

19 06 2012

Tuesday Re-mix –

…until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.  Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. Ephesians 4:13-15

Step 7: We humbly ask God to remove our shortcomings.

[I am using these Tuesday Re-mixes for a few weeks to think (again) about addiction to self-reliance and how that addiction is one of the biggest challenges to genuine community which we face in the American church culture.]

I have a dream…

…of breaking free from the shackles of self-reliance and resting instead in the sure hands of Christ and His Holy Spirit, looking to Him alone for my daily bread and for my affirmation and for my validation as a man and a father and a husband and a teacher and a vessel of His Spirit.

I have a dream…

…of escaping from the complexities I have created in order to preserve the lie that I have my life under control and that I am the perfect manager of my soul, a lie I have convinced myself to maintain in order to enjoy the approval of men, a lie I have obliged myself to tell in order to prevent anyone around me from having to deal with my true ugliness.

I have a dream…

…of tearing down the walls which divide my work life from my church life and my family life from my ministry life and my “Christian” friends from my “non-Christian” friends, all in order to change how I am from one life to the other without anyone seeing the hypocrisy of it all…walls which I thought would simplify my life but which have only complicated it beyond my control.

I have a dream…

…of letting go of the pretense and being truly known by a few close friends in my life, I mean TRULY KNOWN–all the secret sin and all the warts and ugly spots and Spiritual brokenness–and, being truly known, being nonetheless truly and unconditionally loved by those same friends.

I have a dream…

…of reaching beyond myself and truly knowing and truly loving those same few friends and nurturing them and praying for them and pressing them to become greater than they ever knew they could become and knowing that they are doing the same thing for me and that none of us…NONE OF US…is capable of doing this on our own.

I have a dream…

…of all of us in this virtual Tuesday support group actual recovering from our addiction to independence and self-reliance and learning to rest in Him and to lean into Christian community with God’s people…until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ…THE WHOLE MEASURE OF THE FULLNESS OF CHRIST. Can you imagine it?  Can you dream it with me?  If you can dream it, you can pray it.  And if you can pray it with just the faith the size of a mustard seed…

Are you with me?

© 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




When Confession to God is Not Enough

5 06 2012

Tuesday Re-mix –

Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. James 5:16

Step 5: We admit to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.

[I am using these Tuesday Re-mixes for a few weeks to think (again) about addiction to self-reliance and how that addiction is one of the biggest challenges to genuine community which we face in the American church culture.]

I grew up feeling sorry for my Catholic friends because they had to confess their sins to a priest.  It seemed to me that such a thing would be the most awful experience in the world.  My particular faith community taught me that, when it came to confession, I did not need an intermediary…I could confess my sins straight to God.  To be honest, I liked that a lot more, because it was easier to fool myself into believing I had actually confessed to God than it would ever have been to fool a priest.  I could go and spend a few moments thinking about my various wrong-doings and thinking about God, and maybe even whisper a few words to God about it all, and then leave feeling like I had done the whole confession thing.  Problem solved.  Easy to fool myself!

But it’s not that easy when there is a human being on the other end of the confession who can ask you questions for clarification and can make you say the actual words…out loud…describing what you did and who can tell you when they think you’re not “owning” your fault.  That, to me, is a less flexible and less manipulatable process.  It is very much like the difference between adjusting your hair or your tie without a mirror versus actually looking at yourself in a mirror.  Suddenly, it feels much more real.

That’s why scripture calls the New Testament church to confession BOTH to God and to one another…and that’s why recovery from addiction requires step 5: admitting to God and to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.  For those of us addicted to self-reliance, this whole notion cuts deep into our illness, forcing us to face perhaps our greatest fear…the loss of dignity.  After all, dignity is entirely dependent upon our perception of others’ perception of us, i.e., it is about how we believe others see us.  Confession, then, means letting go of all control of how others see us.  It is scary.

But do you see that, without this step, there really is no genuine healing and recovery from this particular addiction?  We can be alone in our prayer closet with God all day and night, and we can come out filled with conviction and determination to make things right, but until we learn to also find God in our brother, and allow our brother to see the truth about us and to influence us and to push us to be even better…until we learn to live in intimate community with God’s people, we have not really gotten any better.  And we certainly have not recovered from our addiction to self-reliance.

So, for this recovering self-reliance addict, I finally do arrive at the same place as my Catholic friends on this issue, though perhaps for different theological reasons.  I finally do conclude that confession to another human being, one I can trust to hold a confidence and to love me in spite of my biggest flaws, is a necessary thing for my recovery and for my Spiritual growth.  I wish it were not so, because it is so very hard to do.  But it is so.  I’m coming to grips with that.  How about you?  Have you experienced the power in confession to another human being?

© 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