What Does Your Church Need God For?

16 12 2014

Tuesday Re-mix:

Sell your possessions, and give to the needy… For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.  Luke 12:33-34

wealthy churchThe parable of the rich fool is, I think, a difficult lesson for the American church…a bit like teaching personal hygiene to a rodent…where do you even begin?  Let’s be honest here, the American church has taken material wealth to levels never even dreamed by the founders of the New Testament church.  “Give us this day our daily bread” was a genuine, heart-felt prayer reflective of a deep-seated daily need by the early church.  My church, on the other hand, raised $1.5 Million last year for a new air conditioner in our Sanctuary.  I’m not saying God wasn’t in that…I absolutely believe it will bring honor to Him…I’m just saying there is a bit of a cultural divide between the American church today and the early church in matters of material wealth.

There are a lot of benefits which come with that wealth.  Churches all over the world pray every day for some of that kind of wealth.  It has its perks.  But there are some pretty clear downsides as well.  And, at one level or another, the biggest downside is its impact on our faith in God.  The sad truth is, we just do not need God to meet daily needs when we have material wealth.  And when people outside the church look in at us and at our huge buildings and large staffs and extravagant Christmas pageants and decorations, one inescapable question arises:

What, exactly, does our church need God for?

If your church’s answer to that question is not plain…if it is somehow hidden or illusive…then you are not yet finished with your church’s communications strategy.  I certainly believe this is true on the individual level as well, but it is especially true about the church corporately during the Christmas season, when so many eyes are turned toward the church as a matter of course.

What does your church need God for?

Would your answer to that question be apparent to me if I visited your church this Christmas season?  I wonder if “where your treasure is” tells the story you want your church to tell?  I wonder whether your church’s current “brand” clearly illustrates your total and deep-seated dependence on the Lord?  I wonder if your church’s Christmas image says, “Come Lord Jesus!”, or whether it says, “We’ve got this, Lord…check back with us later.”

Maybe another way to think about this question is this: What kind of Christ-followers are we trying to grow?  Are we trying to raise up an army of disciples who rely on the Lord for every victory, or are we rather teaching our people that the keys to success are strategic planning and wealth management?

These are some hard questions, right?  Jesus was like that.

© Blake Coffee
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Normalizing Jesus

9 12 2014

Tuesday Re-mix:

“But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion.  He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him.  And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’  Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?”  He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”  Luke 10:33-37

Christmas churchIn the Coffee household, we have been on our usual Christmas steady fare of Christmas movies.  Christmas, it seems, is such an enormous cultural event, Hollywood just cannot make enough “Christmas miracle” movies.  It’s a standard template: there is a hero (or a heroine) who is flawed and relatable in some fashion and who does not believe in the magic of Christmas.  Enter conflict (or an antagonist or dire circumstances or a hilarious parade of unforeseeable events) and there is an ensuing struggle.  Finally, there is a Christmas miracle and our hero is saved and now believes in the magic of Christmas.

This year, my attention has been grabbed by how the church is portrayed in these Hollywood versions of Christmas (if it is portrayed at all).  It seems to me that, more often than not, the church is portrayed as a bit silly and irrelevant and disconnected from anything, well… normal.  I don’t know, but I strongly suspect these portrayals betray the writers’ own stories about their church experiences growing up.  I watch these almost farcical portrayals of church and find myself asking, “Is that really what you think of church?”

I know you know this feeling.  Being made fun of and ostracized as “weird” or “abnormal” is painful.  Wouldn’t Christianity be much easier if everyone in our country, our state, our community a Christian?  If only Christianity were the norm…if a Christ-centered Christmas were the norm…then we would be so much happier.

There is one very large problem with that attitude.  Jesus, the founder of this revolution we call Christianity, was not normal.

It was Jesus who taught us to love our enemies.  It was Jesus who hung out with sinners and tax collectors and referred to the esteemed religious leaders of the time as a “den of vipers” and “children of the devil”.  And it was Jesus who told ground-breaking stories like the parable of the good Samaritan.  There is nothing normal about making a much-despised Samaritan the hero of your story and making a priest and a Levite the goats of the story, and then getting a Pharisee to admit to those very things.  And it was this same Jesus who said on numerous occasions that we who follow him would be hated by this world, just as he was hated.

Jesus, it seems, wanted to be seen as abnormal. He thrived on being strange and culturally odd.  Maybe we need to adjust our perspective on it as well.  Jesus, I suspect, would note Hollywood’s portrayal of the church and of Christmas today and say, “Yep. That’s about what we expected.”

There was nothing normal about Jesus.  There is nothing normal about his followers.  And there is nothing normal about Christmas.  It is all freakishly abnormal.  And I’m OK with that.

© 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




Truth, Bias, and the American Way

21 10 2014

Tuesday Re-mix:

Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things. For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.  2 Peter 1:20-21

oathAs a trial attorney, I suppose I have said it to at least a hundred or so jury panels during the voir dire examination of them, when the parties are trying to decide whom to strike from the jury panel.  That’s the way our system works.  The parties each get to strike a certain small number of prospective jurors, and the first 12 left comprise the jury.  It is an examination for one purpose…to determine any relevant bias which may make a juror the wrong juror for a particular case.  So, I have said this to all of them: “We all have biases.  They don’t make us a bad person.  They don’t make us liars.  They don’t make us deceptive.  In our area of bias, they just make us an unreliable finder of truth in that area.”

Those words rang so very true, I think, as little as 50 years ago in our culture.  Truth cannot be found in bias.  But, in more recent years, I fear that our bias-rich American culture is making it more and more difficult for us to explore truth without bias.  I have stopped watching national news, pretty much completely.  Why?  Because every single national news syndicate in our country is hopelessly biased, whether by choice or by accident.  I’m certain it does not matter which.  What bothers me most about that sad fact is that real journalism was our last secular hope for knowing truth.  Then again, maybe that was false hope from the very beginning.  Maybe there is no real hope for truth in a secular world.  Maybe the human condition forbids it.

So, if the secular world holds no hope for discovering truth, what about the spiritual world?  What about spiritual discernment of scriptural truths?  It seems that the church has had its share of struggles there as well.  We are an intelligent and creative people.  We are apparently capable of making scripture say almost anything we want it to say.  And that is a problem.

And so, Peter’s words above shed some light on an awful lot of the debates raging in the church today over interpretations of scripture.  Truth, as it turns out, is not born in the hearts of men…it is not a matter of our will.  We cannot begin any genuine search for truth with a clear bias for what we want it to be.  That, it seems, is one obstacle that makes any genuine search for truth, well, not so genuine.  When an honest read of my heart has me starting my search for truth with what I want it to be, my search is flawed from the beginning…and my results will be flawed as well.

So, may I just suggest this tip in your ongoing search for spiritual truth?  Stop and make an honest assessment of that search, and of your own heart and desires.  On any given question about scriptural truth, ask yourself this: “What do I WANT the truth to be?”  And if you have a truthful answer to that question, then factor that bias in to your process.  Cop to it from the outset.  If you miss that adjustment, you will miss the truth, and your time of searching (and the time and efforts of those searching with you) will have been wasted.

The term “voir dire” is actually a French term.  Roughly translated, it means “to speak the truth”.  Speaking the truth, in our culture, means owning our bias and making the necessary adjustments.  Otherwise, we just become another talking head in a world full of op-ed talking heads.  And there is no life-changing testimony in that.

© 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




Entitlement and the Church

30 09 2014

Tuesday Re-mix:

Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble.  Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.  1 Peter 3:8-9

entitlementPeter offers these words as a brief summary of his “submit to the authorities in your life” lesson he gave to the persecuted Jews who comprised his audience.  Being submissive to the authorities in our lives is no small challenge for most of us.  The essence, I believe, of his counsel is that we must work hard to preserve our testimony with all the various authorities in our lives so that they may see God’s glory in us and be changed by it.

The question is, what does this mean for the church?  What does the local body of believers take from this counsel?

Maybe it is because of two centuries of the “separation of church and state” in America (the interplay between two critical religious freedom clauses in our First Amendment)…or maybe it is because the American culture has become much more concerned about our “rights” than about our “responsibilities”…or maybe it is because the American church has deluded itself into believing that, somehow, we are a part of the “persecuted church” because our culture doesn’t seem to like us much…or maybe it is because we just don’t really trust God to preserve his church, that maybe He needs us to save the church by political power instead…or maybe it is because we tend to forget how much damage the accumulation of political power has done historically to the church…

Whatever the cause(s), the American church seems to me to have developed a sense of “entitlement” much more than a sense of “submission” such as Peter advocates in his letter.  We are “outraged” by a Court ruling which takes away our right to pray over the intercom at a football game, while our own scheduled prayer meetings in our own facilities have tumbleweeds blowing through them.  We are ready to take up arms to defend our “right” to receive tax exemptions on people’s large financial gifts to us while our brothers and sisters in China are not even permitted to legally assemble in the first place.  We will mobilize an army of voters to preserve the sanctity of marriage against gay rights advocates, but sit back quietly while 50% of the marriages within the church fall to divorce.

Doesn’t it seem to you that the church has developed a bit of an entitlement issue…just a little?

We can do better than this.  We can heed Peter’s counsel and we can begin to take responsibility for our testimony before a watching world.  We can put on humility and sympathy and compassion and unconditional love…for everyone.  We can further this revolution we call Christianity, not by creating voting blocks and political action committees, but by loving people and each other when it makes no sense whatsoever to do so.  That attitude, after all, is what has most effectively spread the gospel around the world thus far…it has changed lives, and it will change the world. Trust that.

© 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




Foreigners in Our Own Country

23 09 2014

Tuesday Re-mix:

…live out your time as foreigners here in reverent fear.  1 Peter 1:17

Every year my ministry takes a team to South Africa. It is always a Spirit-filled time with old friends and new friends alike.

SA FlagOver my years of making this trip, I have come to know some things about that country…things about it’s people, it’s society, and its politics.  I’m still learning the right questions to ask and the ones not to ask…when to ask them and when not to ask them.  In so many ways, it is not unlike here in the U.S.  Like here, there is within the church a degree of discontent with the moral and political directions that country seems to be headed.

When our team finds ourselves in those conversations, there is always some “freedom” in being able to say, “We’re not from here.”  We can still have an opinion, even a Biblical perspective on the issue, but we are not in any position to impose those opinions on a country where we are only visitors.  We have now grasped what it feels like to be “ambassadors for Christ” in a foreign land.  We have the freedom (and the responsibility) to speak the truth, but no freedom (nor responsibility) to try to force it or to impose it on anyone.  That is not our business.

In the end, the distinction between those two postures can be a thin line. Somehow, being foreigners in that land, it is an easier distinction to grasp.  Speak the truth, in love, but do not seek political power to impose that truth on a country where we are mere visitors.

US FlagAs I meditate on Peter’s words above…live out your time as foreigners here in reverent fearI feel just a little more clarity about that same question here at home.  How should we as Christ-followers exercise our influence in our own culture? More specifically, what exactly is the role of the church in the political divide and the “culture wars” swirling around us?  For the church, what does “speaking the truth in love” look like?

First of all, I cannot help but think that just embracing the metaphor and bearing it in mind will help to some degree.  As a recognized leader in the church, or as a pastor or minister, it would behoove me to stop and check my focus on God’s kingdom–my true “home”–before posting that Facebook rant on the total depravity of my local or national government.  Just the gentle reminder to myself that I am a foreigner here might save both me and my church some embarrassment.

Second, I can get a grip on the fact that, while this country does indeed grant our church the “right” to free exercise of our religion, we have a much higher purpose than to merely exercise our rights.  First and foremost, we have a mission and a testimony before a watching community. This revolution we call Christianity has never been spread by claiming our “rights” or by political power.  To the contrary, that kind of thinking has always killed the most effective expressions of Christianity.  I might consider that on Sunday before I spit venom from the pulpit toward the “sinners” around me and their various agendas to bring down Christ’s church.

Further, “this is not our home” reminds us of our protection.  As a U.S. citizen in South Africa, I may well feel embarrassed occasionally at the state of our (U.S.) government, even ashamed from time to time, but I never feel threatened.  I never feel as though I need to protect the U.S. from South African forces (frankly, I would sooner feel just the opposite).  I am merely visiting.  I am an ambassador there.  I feel that same way as a Christian in our country.  I feel no responsibility to “protect” the kingdom of God from evil forces around us.  I am certain God does not need that from me.  He just requires that I love and love well.  That, I believe, is the fuel of His kingdom…a heart at peace, not a heart at war.

Finally, living my life as a “foreigner” here grants me the privilege of being able to speak into an issue, even a moral issue, without invoking fear of any political agenda at all.  We are living in a culture of agendas.  Everyone wears colors from their “tribe” and takes up the accompanying party line.  Those tribes and colors have made it nearly impossible for truth to be communicated.  It may be spoken, but it will not be heard in that culture.  Or, more likely, it will not be spoken at all, because the tribes and colors make it so difficult to discern in the first place.  Donald Miller recently said, “In today’s culture, truth-tellers don’t have a tribe”.  That, it seems to me, is the point of remembering we are foreigners here.  We may have a tribe, but it is not one of this world.  Remembering that, the church may just have a chance to actually speak truth into the world in which it lives.

© 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 is Not Fair

11 09 2014

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus… Ephesians 2:4-6

gavelGod is not dead. It’s a message that is kind of going around recently. It’s a terrific message, too…one the world needs to hear…one the church needs to send. For a lost and broken world, for a world in need of a savior, it is very, very good news…UNLESS, he is also fair. You see, if God is very much alive and is also very much about fairness, then you and I (and everyone else) are very much doomed.

When scripture says, “…even when we were dead in our trespasses…” that is what it means: doomed. It means that you and I (and everyone else) have made choice after choice after choice to please ourselves with little or no regard to God. It means we have opted for short-term prizes with enormous long-term (eternal) consequences. It means we have chosen to live without God and that is exactly what we deserve…an eternity without God. “Fairness”, then, would only mean one thing: getting what we deserve. It would mean our utter and complete destruction. That would be “fair”. That’s what we each have earned, according to our creator’s standards.

We don’t like to think of ourselves that way, of course. We look at our poor choices and bad behavior and then we immediately look for justification for it. We look to blame others for it. We look to compare ourselves to others and, finding someone who is “worse” than we are, we can take some solace in it and convince ourselves that maybe we aren’t deserving of quite as much certain destruction as “they” are. But we are fooling ourselves. At the end of the day, fair is fair. And we deserve only death. That, my friends, is what it means to be “dead in our trespasses”.

So, the next critical message for the church (after “God is not dead”) is that God is not fair. God loves us and is willing to bring us back to life after being “dead in our trespasses”. God loves us and chooses to NOT give us what we deserve. We have not earned this favorable treatment. But he gives it to us anyway, as a free gift. There is nothing fair about it. Nothing at all. In fact, it is totally and outrageously unfair. We are dead, and God throws fairness to the wind and brings us back to life in Christ. We are saved through grace. That, it seems to me, is the rest of the message His church must be sending. God is not dead, and God is not fair.

So, the next time you catch yourself complaining about your circumstances and feeling like you have somehow been cheated or otherwise dealt a bad hand, remind yourself of this: God is not fair…and aren’t we glad for that?

© 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




That the World Might See

4 09 2014

 I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe…” Ephesians 1:16-19

chessIn Kiev, Ukraine, I visited the gallery of Mykola Syadristy’s microminiature art. That gallery (see the website) is perhaps the most fascinating art gallery I have ever experienced. Have you ever seen an entire chessboard (with movable chess pieces) on the head of a pin? Or a rose vine sculpted inside a hollowed-out hair? This Ukrainian artist was truly a master at creating beautiful things which could not even be seen by the naked eye. The gallery itself is simply a collection of microscopes, each one set up to help you see a tiny piece of this otherwise unseen microscopic world.

I see church leaders playing a similar role for those whom they lead. I believe it is up to us as leaders to provide a lens through which people can gain a glimpse of the unseen spiritual world all around us. Paul sometimes refers (in some English translations) to this unseen world as the “heavenly realms”. Scripture is replete with references to this unseen world which is more infinite and eternal and profound than any parts of the more fleeting and temporary physical world in which we otherwise live. Paul prays that God would give the church His spirit of wisdom and of revelation and that the “eyes of our hearts” would be opened to see the magnificence of this unseen world.

Do you see, then, that it is our privilege to have access to this spiritual knowledge, to see what is otherwise unseen, and to provide glimpses of these realities to the world around us? Does it register with you that our Biblical worldview is the world’s only opportunity to see many of these spiritual truths which help explain what is going on in the more temporary physical world? The church, in this sense, becomes the lens through which the world can catch a glimpse of eternity. The world may not like the glimpse. They may even resent it. But it is the only glimpse they will get for now.

Maybe it is worth remembering that it is neither our privilege nor responsibility to make the world happy with this unseen world. Rather, ours is merely to bear witness to this very real, very old, very eternal unseen world, and to keep it at the center of our existence. The church, it seems, is very much a part of this eternal reality. It will be here long after this physical world is gone. Eugene Petersen, in The Message, interprets this truth out of Ephesians 1:20-23 this way: “The church, you see, is not peripheral to the world; the world is peripheral to the church.”

As you lead the church, then, I pray that God will grant you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation and that the eyes of your heart may be opened to see–and to help others to see–what is the immeasurable power of God at work all around us. Help them to see what is unseen. It is what we do.

© 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