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




The Shrewd Servant Church

5 08 2014

But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. Matthew 25:26-27

Honestly, I have always felt a little sorry for the poor servant who did not invest his master’s money wisely. It seems to me there is at least a little wisdom in putting the money away and making sure it doesn’t get lost or otherwise wasted away. I can still remember the first time I ever studied this parable (I was a teenager) and being shocked at the harshness of this master. “Wicked” and “slothful” just seemed a little over the top to me, especially for a servant who kept all of his master’s money intact and did not lose any of it.

human resourcesBut, alas, the economy of God’s kingdom does not favor the radical fiscal conservatives like me. In God’s eyes, simply hiding the resources under my mattress and saving them for a rainy day is just poor stewardship. I should rather be investing those resources and growing them. I should be risking them a little (every investment is a risk) and putting them to work.

The same is true for the church. And not just with finances or material resources, but maybe even more importantly, with the human resources God has given us in our congregants…the spiritual gifts, talents, abilities, learned skills, work backgrounds, and emotional strengths in the people God has brought us. Our master has placed all those resources into our hands as the church and, shrewd stewards that we are, we are to put them to work…risk them…use them to produce kingdom growth.  What we are NOT to do is sit on them or ignore them or stick them under a mattress…that would be wicked and slothful on our part. Moreover, part of shepherding these very people is helping them identify those gifts and learn for themselves how they can be invested in kingdom growth. In the church, you see, every member is a minister; everyone has an assignment. We need systems in place designed to figure out what those assignments are.

As Andy Stanley is prone to pointing out: the system you have in place right now for this purpose is perfectly designed to bring about the results you are getting. So, if you don’t like the results you are getting, it is your system (your approach to the problem) which needs tweaking. There are a multitude of vehicles out there today to assist. Rick Warren’s S.H.A.P.E. profile is one. The Enneagram Institute is another. Group Publishing continues to publish outstanding resources for mobilizing ministry volunteers. There is a host of personality inventories and spiritual gift inventories out there for use. There are nominating committee systems and even “drafts” for ministry leaders. I have seen and heard about some pretty creative approaches to mobilizing laity for ministry. Use any of them. Use all of them. Make up your own. The point is, be a shrewd steward of all that God has brought your church. Have a system in place for learning about all your people have to offer and have a system in place for then mobilizing them into ministry assignments.

Has your church figured it out? Do you have a system that is working well for you, making your church a shrewd servant? I would love to hear about it in the comments!

© 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 Heart of Your Conflict

21 01 2014

Tuesday Re-mix:

“What comes out of a person is what defiles them.For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and defile a person.” Mark 7:20-23

If you’re a peacemaker, you need to have read The Anatomy of Peace, a publication of the Arbinger Institute. My first time through it,  I also happened to be working through the gospel of Mark in my church’s regular Bible study. As so often happens, both lessons converged for me.

By far the most difficult task before me in any mediation of any conflict (church or otherwise) is getting a conflicted party to quit pointing to all the flaws in the other party and to look inward, at his/her own heart and how he/she has contributed to the conflict. So difficult is it, in fact, that when it does happen it almost always represents an important “a-ha” moment in the peace process.

I think that, for people who value the Holy Scripture, it has the power to bring about that kind of reflection. Words like Jesus’ in Mark 7 can cause us to reflect a little deeper than just our surface “position” on a given issue, and rather consider our “heart” and how we have chosen to express that position. The writers of The Anatomy of Peace refer to it as our “way of being” or as a “heart at war” as opposed to a “heart at peace”.

I see it in every conflict. It is not so much a party’s position or stance on an issue which causes conflict to escalate. Our position is external to us. What escalates the conflict (what “defiles” us) is our heart…our “otherization” or even demonization of the opposing parties. When we speak to or of the other parties as something other than human…when we categorize them as a nameless, faceless, impersonal collective…when our expressions ignore the humanity of the other party…THAT is what escalates the conflict, making it nearly impossible to discuss solutions which may actually honor the Lord.

It seems pretty clear to me that, among believers, NO SOLUTION will honor the Lord if it comes from a heart at war with other believers. Again, it is not the position in and of itself which is the problem. Indeed, the position is itself just a thing. It has no good nor evil value in and of itself. Rather, it is the heart beneath the position which determines its value in the eyes of God.

I am going to remember this lesson, mostly for my own life. I am going to learn the process of examining my heart (rather than just rehearsing my position). I am going to be wary of my own propensity toward a heart at war…my own tendency to have an attitude which escalates the very conflict I am cursing. I am going to rely more and more on Christ’s Spirit within me to dictate my heart’s response. It may change my external position…it may not. But I have no doubt it will change the life of the conflict.

What about you and your conflict? Are you interested in calming the waters and actually discerning God’s path? You have that choice. It comes from within you…the heart of your conflict.

© 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




“Mine, Mine, Mine, Mine, Mine…”

30 07 2013

Tuesday Re-mix –

And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’ Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain.  And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’  “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’  “This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.”  Luke 12:16-21 (emphasis added)

I honestly do not remember why or when I went to the trouble of circling all the personal pronouns in this passage in my Bible.  I suspect it was a sermon somewhere sometime.  But the circles are all still there, and it really does paint a clear picture.  The “rich fool” in this parable was totally self-absorbed and focused first and foremost on his own comfort level.  This point seems to be central to Jesus’ parable…and to God’s perspective on giving.

I cannot think about the concept of “mine, mine, mine, mine, mine, etc.” without thinking about the seagulls in Disney-Pixar’s Finding Nemo.  Remember these guys?

I suppose there are a lot of ways to measure how much you or I “give” to something.  For example, maybe you have a boss who expects you to give “one hundred, ten percent” and measures you that way.  Or maybe you had a coach in school who wanted you to “leave it all on the field” and measured your play that way.  Maybe you have had fundraising campaigns in your church which talked about “not equal gifts, but equal sacrifice” and measured the effectiveness of your giving that way.  Maybe you had a teacher or professor who gave you a grade for “class participation” and measured your contribution to class discussion in that manner.  Those are all meaningful ways to measure what we bring to the table in various settings.

I have heard of very wealthy people who give hundreds of thousands, even millions of dollars away every year.  Is that the best measure of their heart?  Would that be the best measure of my own heart…how much I give away?  Possibly.

But, reading this parable from Jesus, here is what scares me…

What if God’s way of measuring my heart is by measuring how much I keep for myself?  How would you measure up then?

Yep.  Me too.

© 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




God’s Rule of Persistence

23 10 2012

Tuesday Re-mix –

 Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up.  He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought.  And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’   “For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think,  yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!’”  Luke 18:1-5

 But the people refused to listen to Samuel. “No!” they said. “We want a king over us. Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles.”   When Samuel heard all that the people said, he repeated it before the LORD.  The LORD answered, “Listen to them and give them a king.”  1 Samuel 8:19-22

 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 5:4-5

Persistence, it seems, is a big deal to God.  We see it throughout the Bible, over and over again…so much so, in fact, that you could call it a rule: the Rule of Persistence.  Simply put, the spiritual rule of persistence is: God’s nature is to reward persistence.  Mind you, that does not mean persistence always gets us what we want…it just means, if scripture paints an accurate picture of God, then He is a God who is inclined to reward persistence.

Jesus’ parable of the persistent widow (Luke 18) is a positive example of it.  Jesus concludes that parable with these words: “And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off?  I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly.”  The Rule works in our favor in many circumstances.  The people of Israel crying out for a king in 1 Samuel 8 is another, slightly less positive example of the rule of persistence.  As they persisted in their desire for a king, even in the face of Samuel’s counsel against it, God finally said, “Fine.  Have it your way.”  You see, it is God’s nature to reward persistence, and it does not always work in our favor.

By far the most horrifying application of the Rule of Persistence is how it applies to the sin in our lives.  Read Matthew 18 (and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector) or 1 Corinthians 5 (hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh) or Titus 3 (warn a divisive person once, and then warn them a second time…after that, have nothing to do with them).  The common truth underlying all of those passages is this: when by our actions we PERSIST in refusing to be held accountable, PERSIST in refusing to live in obedience to God, and PERSIST in fighting against the ways and means of God’s law, God is inclined to oblige us and to give us what we are PERSISTENTLY asking for.  Like the father to the prodigal son, He gives us what we want and sends us on our way…alone and without the spiritual protection of God’s people.

C.S. Lewis said it this way: There are two kinds of people: those who say to God, “Thy will be done”, and those to whom God says, “All right then, have it your way.”  It is God’s wrath at its most painful point, when, in response to our persistence, He says to us, “have it your way.”

So as we persist in the messages we send to God, we must be careful…because God’s nature is to reward persistence.

What about the Rule of Persistence?  How will it operate in your life today?  How will it operate in the life of your church 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




The Parable of the Bricks

8 12 2009

 

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

By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should be careful how he builds. I Corinthians 3:10

But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. I Corinthians 12:18

Building a body of believers is like the man who set out to build a house. He had seen some beautiful houses made of brick, and determined that his house would also be made of bricks. He began searching for the strongest and most beautiful bricks, because he wanted his house to be both strong and beautiful. He took great care in his search for bricks. He read books on how to find lots and lots of great bricks. He spent long hours perfecting his strategic plan for collecting more and more bricks. He became an expert at finding and collecting bricks. He wrote books and taught seminars on the subject. His brick collection was one of the largest the world had ever seen—piles and piles of bricks covering acres and acres of land. Nobody knew more than he knew about how to collect bricks. The entire world recognized him as a wildly successful expert when it came to finding and collecting bricks.

He never built the house.

Another man set out to build a house. He too would build with bricks. When he had found his first two bricks, he began to examine them closely to determine how they might fit together. They were not particularly beautiful bricks nor were they all that strong, but he knew he could use them.  When he had determined how they would best fit together, he used mortar to join them together. In this bond, the two bricks supported one another and made each other stronger. Then the man found a third brick and, again, took great care to figure out how it would best fit with the first two. And then there was another and another. Some were strong, some were beautiful, and some were neither strong nor beautiful.  But with each new brick, great care was taken to examine it and place it just perfectly along with the others, and then bond them together. With the mortar, the bricks supported each other and made each other stronger. Before long, the man had a house. It was much smaller than the pile of bricks the first man had collected. And it didn’t necessarily grab the attention of the world with its size or beauty. But it was a good house, useful to the man for many purposes.

And he was a good builder.

How about the church you are building?  How is it coming along?

© 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