Tag Archives: discernment

[GULP!] …I Might Have Been a Legalist

The apostles and elders met to consider this question. After much discussion, Peter got up and addressed them: “Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe. God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us…The whole assembly became silent as they listened to Barnabas and Paul telling about the signs and wonders God had done among the Gentiles through them. When they finished, James spoke up. “Brothers,” he said, “listen to me. Simon has described to us how God first intervened to choose a people for his name from the Gentiles. The words of the prophets are in agreement with this, as it is written… Acts 15:6-8, 12-15

Have you ever noticed that the process of spiritual discernment is often much more complicated than merely examining the evidence logically?  The more background I read about the Jerusalem Council and its crucial considerations in Acts 15, the more I worry I might have voted the wrong way, if I had been among them. As it turns out, being a legalist is a lot easier than we would like to think.

Circumcision, to the very first Hebrew Christians in Jerusalem, was a big deal…every bit as big a deal as baptism is to the Christian church today.  It was clearly not an act “stumbled upon” through some twist of tradition and men’s preferences…it was an act given to them by God Himself.  There was a plethora of Holy Scripture which required it [insert your favorite among a half dozen or so Old Testament stories showing God’s clear directives about circumcision here].  It was a non-negotiable to them, because …

Corporate Prayer as a Means of Focus

So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise. John 5:19

And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed. Mark 1:35

camera lensIf your church is anything at all like mine, there is a pretty limitless supply of human needs and desperation within a 5 mile radius of it in any direction. There are single moms struggling to make ends meet, there is poverty and homelessness, there are drug addicts and prostitutes, there are sick people and broken people…lots of reminders all around us that we live in a broken world. I wonder if all that brokenness causes you to lose sleep at night, trying to discern what needs are your church’s to meet and what ones are not?

You cannot meet them all. And even if you could, it is probably not God’s assignment for your church to meet them all. He is funny that way. Like a tornado which touches down on one house and leaves the one next to it standing, God’s assignments for us often have us meeting needs in one person (or one family or one group), without meeting the needs of scores of others all around them.

That was the disciples’ experience with Jesus in John, chapter 5 at the pool at Bethesda. A pool surrounded by a “multitude” of crippled and lame people. The disciples followed Jesus to the pool, watched him heal one man, and then watched him leave all the others behind. I don’t know about you, but that would have troubled me a great deal! …

Making Your Church’s Path Straight

In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.  Proverbs 3:6

My GPS and I have a tense relationship. I often don’t understand her directions. I can be traveling 70 mph down the highway, and she will tell me “in a quarter mile, stay straight on.” What does that even mean? And why does she say “In 200 feet, bear left…” when what she means is that I should take the turnaround under the next intersection and head back the opposite direction? Sometimes, I just would rather have my old, folded map! I just want to get to my destination with as few mistakes as possible!

So, God has my full attention when he makes promises in scripture about “making my path straight”. With promises like that, who needs maps or GPS? The promise in Proverbs 3:5-6 is not only true for the individual but for the church as well. It actually resolves quite a few problems for the local body of believers. Not all problems. But quite a few.

straight pathHere are some thoughts about what the promise of “straight paths” means for us as church leaders as we lead our churches forward:

Be willing to go beyond what you can understand. If you think trusting in the Lord and NOT on our own understanding is scary as an individual, you just try it as a church! With all the added pressures of “worldly wisdom” and fear-based group think, finding our way forward as a church body can be daunting. Learning as a church body to trust in the Lord’s direction, even when we cannot see all the dots connect ahead of time requires a huge cultural shift for most churches.

Acknowledge him in all your ways. Part of “doing church together” is the learned corporate …

Careful with Open Doors and Straight Paths

Tuesday Re-mix:

Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose.  Acts 16:26

I’m intrigued by this story in Acts 16, not only because Paul and Silas did not leave through the open door of their jail cell, but also because they were apparently able to convince all of the other prisoners to stay as well.  Just a few chapters earlier, Peter left jail under similar circumstances (I know, I know, he had an angel directing him to leave and that is definitely a distinguishing feature!), and I cannot help but wonder if I might not have interpreted an earthquake and chains miraculously falling off me as a sign from God that I should leave!

I think there is a lesson here for the church.  Discerning God’s direction for a church is never quite as simple as walking through every door that seems to miraculously open…never merely a matter of seeing God in isolated circumstances.  That is true because, as it turns out, there is usually more than one possible interpretation of circumstances!  The danger in discerning God’s will in that case is that we all tend to see what we want to see.

What about the scenario where a wealthy church member walks in and agrees to write a check to cover some dream the pastor has always had?  Is that necessarily God speaking?  What if your church has prayed and asked God to pave the way for a relocation and someone leaves the church a large tract of land in their estate?  Is that God saying “move”?  If the pastor has always dreamed of starting a half-way house ministry in the house the church owns, and the city planning …

God’s Annoying, Relentless Pursuit

Tuesday Re-mix –

So people will be brought low 
   and everyone humbled, 
   the eyes of the arrogant humbled. 
But the LORD Almighty will be exalted by his justice, 
   and the holy God will be proved holy by his righteous acts.  Isaiah 5:15-16

Have you ever taught through the book of Isaiah?  It is the same lesson, week after week.  The people’s “religion” is meaningless, our hearts are not turned toward God, we show no compassion for our brethren in poverty, God is severely displeased and judgment is coming.  Seriously, how many different ways can you teach this lesson and keep it fresh?  After a while, it begins to sound like so much “white noise”, difficult to hear with any discernment.

So, that frustration makes me wonder what the people of Judah thought after about 40 years or so of hearing from Isaiah!  Forty years!  Can you imagine?

Maybe you can.  Maybe there is a voice (or two or three) in your own church whom you have grown weary of hearing and have just tuned out.  It is negative, and persistent, and harsh, and annoying, and you have (over time) just grown tired of it. So you have tuned it out.  Surely, you have tuned it out because you have determined that it is not God speaking (or, at least that it has not been thus far).  I suppose my first challenge to you is, are you sure?  Because “negative”, “persistent”, “harsh” and “annoying” are all characteristics of possible words from the Lord, at least according to how I read my Bible.  I suspect that Isaiah fit all of those.  I strongly suspect he became just a bunch of “white noise” to the people of Judah after a few years of this message.

But God persisted.  Isaiah persisted.  Like the parent …

God’s Will: Keeping the “What” and the “When” Together

Tuesday Re-mix –

Last Summer (2011) will go down forever in the scrapbook of the Coffee household.  It was crazy!  Between May 10 and May 28 (just 18 days), my older daughter graduated from ACU, my younger daughter graduated from MacArthur High School, and my older daughter got married!  That whole month is just a hazy flash in my memory.  But it was not over.  To top all of that off, my younger daughter was driving with a friend through our neighborhood in the middle of a weekday morning and got hit by a drunk driver.  Timing is everything.

The car accident happened at an intersection. My daughter was actually the second car to go through the intersection. The drunk driver blew through a red light and totalled my daughter’s car. My daughter and her friend were (thankfully) spared any serious injury. If the drunk driver had come a second or two sooner, she would have missed us altogether. If she had come a second later, she would have done serious (maybe fatal) damage to my daughter. We have all thanked God for his perfect timing. Timing is everything.

Sometimes it takes circumstances like this to help us appreciate just how important God’s timing is. That is particularly true in the church.

I have lost count of how many conflicted congregations with whom I have worked who struggled in one way or another with God’s timing. Here are some examples:

Moving forward on a narrow majority “vote”…

Paralyzed by caution and missing an important ministry opportunity…

Forging ahead with huge changes without building the necessary consensus…

Making the right decision in committee but fumbling the communication out to the rest of the church…

The pastor weighing in too soon on a controversial issue…

The pastor weighing in too late on …

Hearing God Speak Through the Noise of My Brother

Tuesday Re-mix –

Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came.  So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”  But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”… Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”  John 20:24-25, 29

The ears and the mind are necessarily connected.  That is because hearing requires much more than just ears.  When we were children, we could hear the wind blowing through a sea shell but we thought we were “hearing the ocean”.  We could hear just fine, but we could not discern very well.  Now, as I get older (alas), I am finding that my ears don’t always hear very well.  I can be sitting with you in a crowded restaurant, trying to hear what you are saying and my “discernment” has to kick in so that I can make up for what my ears cannot hear.  I suppose that balance shifts more and more with time.

Interestingly, our Spiritual hearing works in a similar way.  When we are young (spiritually), we don’t discern all that well.  We may hear God’s voice, but we hear it along with all the noise and may not have the spiritual maturity to discern that which is God and that which is other.  I believe we develop that discernment over time, with the help of the Spirit.  I also believe this spiritual skill is critical to our life together in the church.  Wasn’t that the point of Jesus’ lesson to Thomas in John 20?

Thomas’ …

The “Star-crossed Lovers” Pastor Search Process

Tuesday Re-mix –

One of the early parenting skills I learned was how to appreciate the works of art my girls brought me.  There were plenty of times I looked at their drawings with no clue at all what they were supposed to portray.  I learned to say things like, “Wow, that is beautiful!  Tell me about it, please!”  That way, I could find out what it was supposed to be before I got myself in trouble.  But no matter what, there would never be a time or circumstance where I would ever communicate to them, “I just don’t care.”  That, for me, would be the exact opposite of love.  Of course I cared!  Any loving father would.

I believe this about God as well.  I believe that, in every difficult decision we make, in every season of searching for answers, God cares enough to guide us and direct us to specific outcomes.  I just cannot get my heart wrapped around a god who says, “I just don’t care…decide for yourself…it doesn’t matter to me.”

One of the privileges God has given our ministry is training Pastor Search teams.  Training those teams to use a prayerful process for searching for a shepherd for their congregation is one of my favorite ways to help churches.  It gives me an opportunity to draw from and reflect on my own experience serving on the pastor search committee of my home church…easily one of the spiritual highlights of my life.  For me it was 18 months of weekly praying and meeting together with eight of the most spiritually mature Christians I have ever known.  It was at times emotionally grueling and at times spiritually invigorating.  It was an intensive season of discerning the hand of God as a group.  In short, it was amazing.…

Solving the Puzzle of God’s Will for Your Church (Introduction)

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

“There are two kinds of people in the world: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, ‘Fine, have it your way.'” C.S. Lewis

I have often compared the process of finding consensus in a congregation to that of piecing together a jigsaw puzzle.  If every believer truly does have the Spirit of God living in him/her, then he/she has access to at least a part of what God is doing in that church.  I am one who believes that, in His time and in His ways, God desires to make known to His church what He is about.  In other words, I believe God wants us as a church to understand His assignment for us, and I believe He gives us that understanding through much more than just the pastor or elders or deacons…He reveals His will for our church through the entire church.

puzzleIn that sense, then, discerning our next step as a church is less about taking a vote (voting on God’s will is a little like voting on what time it is) and more about learning to hear God speak through everyone.  It is very much as if each of us has been given a piece to a large puzzle and we see the picture of that puzzle only as we each bring our one piece to the table and see how it fits with everyone else’s.  It is not so much a single event as it is a process.  Building consensus in the church is as simple…and as difficult…as learning to hear God speak through every Spirit-filled person among us, and then seeing the collective picture which begins to …