Tag Archives: Bible

A Peacemaker’s Advent: the Shepherds

When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child,  and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.  Luke 2:17-18

The Shepherds had a pretty simple, but critical role in the Christmas story, right?  Go and observe, and then tell the truth about what you heard and observed.  They did not elaborate…they did not speculate about anyone’s intentions or possible motives…they did not add their own opinions into the mix.  They heard from the angels, observed the baby Jesus, and then they simply reported what they had heard and observed.  They did their job well…God took care of the rest.

As a peacemaker, I could learn a thing or two from the shepherds in the Christmas story.  I could learn to remind myself that my role in the peacemaking process is not complicated.  More times than not, I am merely speaking the truth in love.  The role is actually simple enough unless I find myself beginning to interject my own opinions and speculation about motives and behaviors.  That is when I get myself into trouble.

A peacemaker must speak the truth about what he has heard from God’s Word.  For this reason, faith-based peacemaking is different from the secular concepts of genuine mediation.  It is slightly less conciliatory and slightly more directive, at least in the sense of being grounded in the Word of God as the source of all truth and of all solutions.  Among Christ-followers, there is almost always a spiritual element to conflict.  Spiritual problems demand spiritual solutions…and spiritual solutions come from God’s Word.  For me to be an effective peacemaker in the church, I must be listening to the Word of God and I must be representing it accurately…just like the Shepherds  …

The God App

Then the Lord said to Abram, “Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years. But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions. Genesis 15:13-15

And Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Take this child away and nurse him for me, and I will give you your wages.” So the woman took the child and nursed him. When the child grew older, she brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter, and he became her son. She named him Moses, “Because,” she said, “I drew him out of the water.” Exodus 2:9-10

God appI can only imagine the despair and hopelessness that would set in after 400 years of affliction, and generation after generation born into slavery. Even with amazing stories of God’s work among and through their forefathers, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph, the Hebrew slaves in Egypt had to have lost their hope in the God of their fathers. After some 400 years of virtual silence, there had to have been a strong feeling of God turning his back on them, or even abandoning them altogether. And the tiny miracle of Moses’ life being spared and being raised in Pharaoh’s palace would likely have been completely missed or overlooked by the vast majority of those slaves. It would be 80 more years of slave labor before that tiny little miracle would even begin to bear fruit. Good news: God has a plan and in another 80 years or so, He will launch it!

When we (either individually or even as a church) find ourselves in such a hard season of slavery or hard work or otherwise feeling that God is …

Creating a Culture of Bible Study

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.  2 Timothy 3:16-17

Bible StudyAfter some 40 years of studying the Bible and some 25 (or so) years of teaching it, I can safely say I am more thirsty for it today than ever before. My prayer is that God will keep me ever more thirsty for it my whole life. So far, so good.

Today’s post begins a Summer Tuesday series on Spiritual disciplines which church leaders should be practicing and fostering. These are valuable habits in making and growing disciples…routines about which the church should be intentional. You should be teaching these disciplines and, in some cases, you should have a system in place for insuring their practice in the lives of your congregants. The first of these disciplines is Bible Study.

At my church, we call it our Re:Verse system. We all study the same passage all week long, meditating on it each morning, reading our pastors’ daily devotional thoughts on it. We study it again in our Sunday morning Bible Study groups, and we hear a sermon on the same passage in any of our Sunday morning worship services. Lastly, in the following week, we look back at the passage in our small accountability groups, gently pressing the truths from that passage into one another. Of course, the details of the system are not the point. Having the system in the first place is the point. It is important that a church’s structure and programming and culture all hold Bible study as a high value. Few spiritual disciplines will have a bigger impact on our people.

But getting our people to study the Bible …

Defiling the Church

Thursday Re-mix:

But Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine…In every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king questioned them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters in his whole kingdom. Daniel 1:8, 20

Daniel was not a dietician.  He was no more prepared to offer a scientific explanation for his food choices than he was prepared to explain the theory of relativity.  All he knew was God’s Word and he was “resolved not to defile himself”, i.e., he was determined not to dirty his hands with the ways of the world.  He knew God’s law.  He trusted it.  And that was enough for him.

dirty handsIn my ministry of consulting with conflicted congregations, I have reached a conclusion about the church: it can be complicated.  This is true because people are complicated and because relationships are messy and the church, after all, is comprised fully of people and relationships.  It is not always easy to find our way forward through those complications.  It may be doctrinal issues or personality issues or governance issues or moral issues.  It may be generational issues or worship style issues or social issues.  Whatever the issues, the way forward can seem almost impossible to find, even for the most brilliant strategist.  I am reminded of that difficulty time and time again.

When we find ourselves in new, unchartered territory (like Daniel), it is always tempting to fall back on conventional wisdom of the world in which we live and work.   We want answers, and sometimes scripture does not offer us quite the full explanation we are hoping for, so we “defile ourselves” (and God’s church) by relying on strategies and processes from the world.

For example, we rely upon Robert’s Rules of Order …

Investing in a Sure Thing

For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land. Jeremiah 32:15

“I’m not religious…but I’m spiritual.” It is the mantra of an entire young adult generation who has left the church. They would say they have not given up on God, but they have had quite enough of God’s people. To them, the church is seen as a failing institution, no longer worthy of our investment. There’s a story about that in the Bible.

Jeremiah’s cousin, Hanamel, was either such an amazing salesman he could have sold snow cones to Eskimoes, or he was literally filled with the Spirit of God so as to make his sales offer to Jeremiah miraculously irresistible. At a time when Jerusalem was about to finally fall to a Chaldean occupation and life as Israel knew it was about to end, Hanamel says to Jeremiah, “Hey, you wanna buy my field?” If it were not God’s doing, it would have been a laughable moment. Jeremiah made the investment.

old churchWhy in the world would anyone want to invest in Jerusalem at that point? It was ending…going down the toilet. Generations of wrong decisions had finally caught up to it and it was literally crumbling from the inside out. It had ample reason and opportunity to change in order to better fit God’s design, but it would not. The consequences of all those wrong choices were here…it was over. There was, quite literally, nothing left in which to invest.

In all these ways, it sounds remarkably like the church, doesn’t it? At least the church as it is perceived by an awful lot of people. They think of it as an irrelevant, rickety, out of date, embarrassingly stuffy institution whose time has come …

We Should Have Credentials to Talk About Love

Monday Morning Quarterback – Encouraging God’s people to be responsible, encouraging and uplifting in their use of social media.

One of the negative impacts of social media on our society is that anyone who knows how to communicate well is automatically accepted as an expert, or at least as someone to be followed and quoted.  In truth, maybe all they really need is an opinion that happens to fit well with other people’s in order to get followed. There are no credentials necessary. There is no life experience necessary. Credibility is “earned” merely by being a particularly gifted or innovative communicator. That notion is both refreshing and scary at the same time. And nowhere is it becoming more of a nuisance than in the church.

love credentialsLast week’s Christian social media posts were filled with comments about World Vision’s President, Richard Stearns’ comment to Christianity Today that his organization would now be willing to hire legally married gay couples to work there, and then the organization’s subsequent quick reversal of that decision.  As you might imagine, Facebook posts and blog posts (and Christ-followers’ comments on both) lit up the internet.  No surprise…it was just the next in what has become a long series of school-yard brawls around LGBT issues within the church. They always draw a crowd. And, of course, the damage to the church is immeasurable. You can hear the chorus of those outside the church: “And THAT is why I will never go to church again.” 

Terrific.

There are a lot of reasons why Christ-followers are going to be on opposite sides of the LGBT issues for some time to come…too many reasons to get into here.  Maybe we will explore all those reasons in other posts.  In the meantime, it is this Christian mediator’s professional opinion that agreement …

Due Respect for the Word of God

Now after the king had burned the scroll with the words that Baruch wrote at Jeremiah’s dictation, the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah: “Take another scroll and write on it all the former words that were in the first scroll, which Jehoiakim the king of Judah has burned. And concerning Jehoiakim king of Judah you shall say… I will bring upon them and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem and upon the people of Judah all the disaster that I have pronounced against them, but they would not hear.’”  Jeremiah 36:27-28, 31

praying hands and BibleIn these recent days of Christians arguing over same-sex issues, we see a lot of lip service given to how much we love and honor God’s Word and how much we love each other (the sinner), while hating the sin. I am taking an opportunity today and next Monday (in my Monday Morning Quarterback post) to ask some hard questions about our sincerity on both counts.  Today’s question: do we really respect the Word of God?

Young King Josiah, when he first heard the words of the long lost Book of the Law, tore his clothes in grief over the message (2 Kings 22:11). Years later, his son (King Jehoiakim) heard the Word of the Lord and responded very differently…he burned it.  They both heard God’s Word and it was not what either of them wanted to hear. But their responses were very different. One showed immense respect for it. The other, utter disdain and disrespect.

A proper respect for God’s Word means we do not bring any of our own bias or phobias or agenda to it when we seek its truth. We do not start with what we want and then go looking for an interpretation that fits that agenda. We do not google the …

5 Reasons to Consider a Unified Bible Study Curriculum

And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself… They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” Luke 24:27, 32

I am struck by the change that took place in Cleopas as a result of Jesus’ teaching of scripture.  It was not just Jesus conveying information about God’s Word. It was a life-changing encounter with the Word become flesh.  It gives us all cause to re-examine how that process of teaching scripture  happens in our own churches.

scriptureAt my home church, we call it Re:Verse.  It is not just a method of studying scripture…for many of us, it is a lifestyle.  The pattern is simple: we all read through the same passage all week long, meditating on it daily. Our Sunday morning Bible Study groups all teach it and discuss it. Our sermons in all our Sunday morning worship services are from that passage as well.  Our small groups (we call them “Circles of 6”) meet during the following week and discuss the same passage even further, pressing practical applications into one another.  In the end, there is not just an understanding of what the passage says, there is actual, measurable change in our lives.

So, as a believer in this system, I offer you these reasons why you might want to consider some similar type of approach in your own church:

1. Gathered worship is much more “gathered” when every participant has spent the week studying the same passage.  There is just a common frame of reference, which makes the worship all the more special.

2. The scripture becomes central to my day…it becomes the lens through which

Pride and Prejudice

Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. Luke 18:10-11

peacockThere is perhaps no smaller thinking in the church than when we start comparing our church to other churches.

  • God, I thank you that our church isn’t like those churches who are so traditional and so irrelevant.
  • God, I thank you that our church isn’t like those churches who are so “culturally relevant” they have lost the real gospel.
  • God, I thank you that our church isn’t like those churches who use all the wrong versions of the Bible.
  • God, I thank you that our church isn’t like those churches who are a mile wide and an inch deep.
  • God, I thank you that our church isn’t like those churches who are uptight and stuffy.
  • God, I thank you that our church isn’t like those churches whose worship is wild and disorderly and worldly.
  • God, I thank you that our church isn’t like those churches who welcome homosexuals.
  • God, I thank you that our church isn’t like those churches who refuse to welcome homosexuals.
  • God, I thank you that our church isn’t like those churches…

No matter where you find yourself in any of these prayers…

It’s ugly.  In the kingdom of God, pride always is.

© Blake Coffee
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Matthew 23 Does Not, Of Course, Apply to Me

Tuesday Re-mix –

“Everything they do is done for people to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long…”  Matthew 23:5

bibleWhen I was in High School, my Dad gave me a Ryrie Study Bible.  I wore it out.  I was proud of that Bible.  It wasn’t just the huge size of it (it was a larger Bible than the hard-back “Living Bible” so many of my friends carried)…it was all the commentary in it that made me proud.  It was a little unusual for my circle of High School friends, so it drew some attention.  And when friends opened it up to look at it, it just screamed “THE OWNER OF THIS BIBLE IS A BIBLE SCHOLAR AND A TRULY SPIRITUAL PERSON!”  Seriously.  You could hear it. The advantage, of course, of having that Bible was that I didn’t have to tell anyone anything about me in order to manage their perception of me.  They need only have seen my Bible.  I liked that.

In 1984, on my 24th birthday, my Dad gave me a “preaching bible”.  It was black, with a very thin profile.  By then, I had grown mature enough in my Christian walk to be a little embarrassed by my huge Study Bible(s).  (I actually had several of them by then.)  This “Thin Line” Bible was understated.  When friends saw it, it said (in a very low key, nonchalant voice), “the owner of this Bible has so much scripture crammed into his brain, he doesn’t really need a big study Bible.”  My attitude toward Study Bibles had changed.  Actually, I think I heard a Christian comedian make a joke about huge Study Bibles and how pretentious they were and it changed how I saw them.  I certainly did not want to …