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




Pursuing Peace

8 04 2014

Tuesday Re-mix:

Turn from evil and do good;
    seek peace and pursue it.  Psalm 34:14

If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.  Romans 12:18

dove

I am still thinking here about the very difficult debates raging through the church today over the same-sex issues and what scripture says (or what it does not say) about the issue. It occurs to me that seeking peace with each other around this issue has less to do with WHAT we have to say and much more to do with our HEARTS as we engage each other in this conversation.

Peace can be a tricky thing.  As high a value as scripture makes it, as many times as we are instructed to pursue it among God’s people, the way toward peace and the way toward conflict often move in the same direction.  That makes it tricky.

Peace, you see, is NOT necessarily just the absence of conflict.  As long as people are involved, there will be conflict…there will be disagreement…and there will be hurt feelings.  In the midst of those things, peace does NOT require moving away from each other.  Rather, peace requires moving toward each other.  It requires having difficult conversations…even painful conversations.  Avoiding those conversations may bring a temporary peace, at least it may feel more peaceful for a short season, but the long term result is just the opposite of peace…it is chaos and frustration and complication.

So, the first point here is that “pursuing peace” often requires moving toward the conflict rather than away from it…moving toward the difficult conversation rather than waiting in the wings and allowing the pain to fester over time.  The problem, then, is how to tell the difference between “pursuing peace” and fueling a fight.  Both are moving toward the conflict, both involve a confrontation.  How do we distinguish between them?  How do I make sure I am on the right track and not a harmful track?  That brings us to our second point.

It is a question of the heart.  The Arbinger Institute, in The Anatomy of Peace: Resolving the Heart of Conflict describes the distinction between a “heart at peace” and a “heart at war”.  The former is relating to the other person as a human being with needs and with fears and with pains.  The latter has “otherized” the other person and treats them as an object rather than a human being…an object to be pushed away, to be disregarded, even hated.

Jesus describes the distinction in terms of our ability to see clearly.  He says,

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 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.”  Matt. 7:3-5

Seeing clearly, as it turns out, is the difference between a heart at peace and a heart at war.  Having that difficult conversation with the person who has hurt you requires that you have prayerfully sought the Lord’s perspective on that person, so that you can see him/her as God sees him/her…you can see him/her as a child of God, with fears and insecurities and needs.  Your desire is not to push him/her away, as some undesirable object; rather, it is to pull them forward with you toward peace.  It is to pursue peace together.

If you are thinking, “Well, that seems awfully difficult,” then congratulations…now you are seeing the truth.  Genuine Christian community, our life together as the body of Christ, was never intended to be easy.  It was intended to be peaceful.

© 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




Spiritual Triage and Why We Don’t Get It

16 10 2012

Tuesday Re-mix –

It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that even pagans do not tolerate: A man is sleeping with his father’s wife… So when you are assembled and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present,  hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord.  1 Corinthians 5:1, 4-5

Triage:  the sorting of and allocation of treatment to patients and especially battle and disaster victims according to a system of priorities designed to maximize the number of survivors  merriam-webster

“Triage” is the term for having to make quick, hard decisions (usually medical) about which wound or patient to treat first in order to do the most good.  In the spiritual warfare we call “church”, there are casualties…and none more so than when blatant and public immorality are at issue.  That is what Paul confronted in the Corinthian church, and his counsel is both passionate and harsh.  It is about spiritual triage.

If you are being honest, you will admit that you do not like this instruction from Paul one bit.  Furthermore, if you are like me, you have twisted and contorted and struggled to find some way of interpreting and teaching this passage that somehow takes the “harsh dogma” out of it and makes it more understandable…more palatable to the mainstream Christian…more “in line” with our notions of grace and mercy.  We do this in light of Jesus’ treatment of church discipline in Matthew 18 (“treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector”…remember how Jesus treated the tax collectors?) and in light of Jesus’ treatment of the adulterous woman (“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared… “Go now and leave your life of sin…”  John 8:11).  We want to reconcile the mercy and grace of Christ with the harshness and dogma of Paul, and we struggle…to say the least.

But the reason we struggle so much is that we use our own church culture as the backdrop for our interpretation.  We do this even though, in most of our cases, our own church culture knows very little of the kind of intimacy and interdependence of Christian brothers and sisters in the New Testament church.  We do not live in such loving community with one another that immorality on one part has immediate spiritual ramifications throughout.  In the church today, we usually are much more a social club than a family.  In that context, trying to understand matters of church discipline is a bit like your elementary school student trying to understand falling in love…there simply is very little cultural experience through which to relate.  In our relatively disconnected, privacy-oriented church culture, the spiritual cancer caused by blatant immorality does not spread nearly as quickly and efficiently…so the spiritual damage to the body does not become our primary concern.  Because in our culture, frankly, we just do not care all that much for one another.  Rather, we tend to focus first and foremost on the physical consequences of the immoral act, or perhaps on the emotional damage.  The spiritual ramifications (for both the sinner and the larger body of believers) are a more distant concern for us.

But that is not God’s perspective.  Scripture makes it clear that, in God’s eyes, the spiritual ramifications are the first and foremost concern.  The physical consequences, and even the emotional consequences,  play a backseat to the spiritual concerns.  In God’s “triage”, the spiritual brokenness is a much higher priority than any other brokenness at issue.  Therefore, the spiritual protection of both the church and the sinner are the highest priorities.  Once we accept that, it is not difficult to reconcile Jesus’ counsel with Paul’s counsel at all…in fact, they are both addressing the exact same priority: the spiritual well-being of all the players involved.

In our “social club” culture for church, it will always be difficult for us to understand God’s spiritual triage.  After all, our highest values usually have more to do with the preservation of the institution (our club) than with the well-being of a spiritual family.  So, until we start getting Christian community right, we will just have to trust God’s Word to help us with these decisions…even when it makes no sense to us.  We will just have to trust Him when He says to make the spiritual brokenness the priority.  And by the way, when can we start getting Christian community right?  Another post…another day…

© 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




Peacemakers as “Communication Artists”

31 08 2010

Tuesday Re-mix –

This is the next in a series of posts originally titled “Habits of Peacemakers”.

I think my favorite peacemaker in the Bible was Abigail (I Samuel 25).  She saw a disastrous conflict coming (thanks to her absolute jerk of a husband) and she got involved.  She “handled” communication in such a way as to avert a very painful scenario for her family and probably for others as well.

That is a habit of peacemakers.  They see danger coming where there has been a breakdown in communication and they involve themselves in the communication efforts.  They become “interpreters”, helping each party hear the real concern on the other party’s part.  They become “press secretaries”, helping each party learn a better, more productive way to say what they are feeling.  They become “scribes”, making sure that only the right words get etched in stone for posterity’s sake.  And in some cases, they become “advocates”, giving voice to a party who’s voice is otherwise not going to be heard.

Peacemakers understand one thing about relationships: they rise and fall based completely upon perceptions.  Your response to me (i.e., your half of our relationship) will necessarily be based on your perception of me or of something I have said or done.  Knowing this, peacemakers help control that perception by controlling the communication.  They get involved in that process in order to ensure that genuine communication is really happening (as opposed to speculation or wrong conclusions).

Peacemakers insist that there be communication when there otherwise would not be.  They stop the gossiper and insist that he/she talk directly TO the person rather than ABOUT the person.  They push me to talk to you about my feelings when I might rather stew and steam a while longer.  They let you know that I am stewing and implore you to come to me and listen.

Peacemakers intercede between you and me in order to help me understand your pain and to help you understand my pain.  They have an ability to take my deepest concern and express it to you in words you will understand, and vice versa.  They step between us, just temporarily, in order to get us past this communications glitch.

A peacemaker sees someone trying desperately to communicate something important to another person who clearly is not understanding, and the peacemaker is compelled to step in and help the communication happen.  It is how they are wired.  They cannot help it.

Peacemakers have, over time, naturally developed a knack for delivering difficult messages, hard or painful truths…so much so, that their friends and family often ask -them to handle difficult communications for them.  This particular skill, perhaps as much as any other, sometimes pushes them into leadership positions.  Because saying the hard things is something leaders do.  For genuine peacemakers, “speaking the truth in love” is more than just an admonishment, it has become an art form.  And they are artists.

So, who do you know like this?  Who are the peacemakers in your 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





There’s a Difference Between Childlikeness and Childishness

21 04 2009

Tuesday Re-mix – This is a popular post from last year, updated and resubmitted for your consideration and comments.

In the entire Bible, there is no chapter or passage which comes up more often in the midst of church fights than Matthew 18, particularly the passage in v. 15 and following which talks about how to confront a brother. Unfortunately, people abuse it more than they use it, and that is because they don’t really understand it. They don’t understand it because they read it out of context. But in context, read together as one huge lesson (the way Jesus taught it), it makes perfect sense. In fact, it shows Jesus’ utterly amazing insight into the church and how it would function over the centuries to follow.

angry-childIn my work with conflicted congregations, I lost count a long time ago of the number of times people did really hateful, humiliating things to each other all in the name of “confronting a brother” pursuant to Matthew 18:15-17. The truth is, people often (usually?) decide first what they want and then use scripture to help them get it. If you think about it, it is a pretty childish way to go about doing church. Then again, childish behavior in the church doesn’t surprise most church leaders any longer. It disappoints, yes, but it doesn’t surprise. Even Jesus’ own brother, James, wrote about it in his letter to the church:

“What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight.” James 4:1-2.

It is a vivid picture of childish behavior, as true today as it was in Pastor James’ church 2000 years ago. People decide what they want, then start confronting each other in order to get it, and it all happens in the name of “scriptural authority”.

People want everyone in the church to think like they think. People want there to be no behavior in the church which would embarrass us. People in leadership and with a great deal invested in the current system want to be comfortable, without anything changing around them. People want to get their way in their “country club” because they give a lot of money to it. All of these (and many other) “wants” become the real motives behind many (most?) of the Matthew 18 confrontations.  But none of these are right motives.

Jesus’ discussion of Christian relationships in Matthew 18 takes up the entire chapter, not just three verses out of it. The disciples’ own childish behavior (i.e., arguing about who would be greatest in the kingdom of Heaven) presented a perfect “teachable moment” for Jesus. He took this opportunity to teach about the revolution, i.e., the movement He was about to begin which would change the world. The disciples had questions about this new “church” He talked about (by the way, the word he used, “eklesia”, had little if any religious connotations; rather, it had to do more with “community” gatherings). And so, He brought them all together to talk about it. All of the discussion we find in Matthew 18 is that single lesson which ensued.

Jesus begins the lesson by clarifying how people would gain entry into this new movement: “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” And so, long before we ever get to the lesson about confronting a brother, Jesus lays this groundwork: changing and becoming childlike is the first critical prerequisite to even being a part of the church. Having a childlike love (unconditional), a childlike faith (like Peter showed in Matthew 16) and childlike vulnerability to one another would all be foundational to this movement, this revolution. Without that childlikeness, we don’t even get to talk about any of the other issues in Matthew 18.

There is a difference, you see, between that kind of childlikeness and just plain childishness. Let’s learn that lesson first and foremost. Maybe it will then shed some light on the other lessons in Matthew 18 which would follow (and which will follow here in future posts).

© 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