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
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




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




Who’s Stealing Christmas from Whom?

17 12 2013

Tuesday Re-mix:

While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”  Mark 2:15-17

stealing christmasI guess I am not a big fan of the whole “stealing Christmas” notion.  You know, the news stories about how this city or that school has outlawed nativity scenes and has thus “stolen Christmas” from those of us who are religious and who want those things in the public square.  Or that neighbors or co-workers have a “Holiday Tree” instead of a Christmas tree, and thus have stolen Christmas from us.  Or that our secular society makes more noise about the commercial side of the season than about the spiritual side and, thus, has somehow stolen Christmas from those of us who are spiritual.  The whole idea of “stealing” is that someone to whom the thing did NOT belong removed it from someone to whom the thing DID belong.  But, to whom does Christmas belong?  If it is all about the coming Christ child, for whom did He come?

It is clear enough why Jesus came.  “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.”  This is clear not only because Jesus said this in such certain terms.  It is also clear by how he spent his time, and with whom he spent his time, and by how he taught, and by how he seemed to think.  Nobody would ever accuse Jesus of coming just for the religious people or of catering to them in any way at all.  Every hopeful message, every encouraging lesson, every positive action seemed to be obviously aimed at everyone BUT the religious people.  The only messages and actions he ever aimed at the religious people were harsh warnings and angry outbursts.  The signs were overwhelming…Jesus did not come for the people who were already successful at doing church.  He came for everyone else.  

As an aside, I wonder if the same can be said of Jesus’ church today?  When people look at the church, is it clear for whom it exists?  Does our behavior show unmistakably why we are here?  I am not asking here whether your church or mine has a catchy mission statement, nor whether our website is updated nor whether we have the right kind of music in our worship services.  I’m not asking here what Bible translation we use nor whether we are meeting our budget.  The question I am asking, the question I believe Jesus demands that we ask, is whether people on the outside of our churches can look at us and easily recognize that we and Jesus share a common objective, that we’re clearly on the same page.  I wonder if the people looking at your church and at my church can watch how we behave and can listen to the things we say and know clearly and exactly whom we are here for?  It was so very clear with Jesus.  Is it so very clear with the church?

So if the whole reason this long-awaited savior came is for the very broken people in this world, then isn’t it those same broken people to whom Christmas belongs?  Is Christmas really yours or mine?  Is it really even the church’s?  Or is Christmas rather representative of the only real hope the atheists and criminals and secularists and sinners of this world will ever have?  Christmas belongs to them!

Tell you what…next time someone “wins” and your city has to take down its nativity scene, just smile and say to yourself, “Well it’s about time they finally came and took what is theirs.”  And rejoice!  Christmas was yours to share all 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




The Long Journey Preparing for Jesus

3 12 2013

Tuesday Re-mix:

The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, as it is written in Isaiah the prophet:

“I will send my messenger ahead of you,
    who will prepare your way”—
“a voice of one calling in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
    make straight paths for him.’” Mark 1:1-3

Christmas JourneyWelcome to the Advent Season, everyone!  I am certain this season is as special at your church as it is at mine.  Now begins the challenge of leading our people’s hearts to turn toward Christ as opposed to getting so entangled with the secular culture of Christmas that they lose sight of Jesus.  I know you are thinking about that.  You are considering how you can best lead so as to help your people “prepare the way for the Lord”.  In that regard, you, my church leader friend, are John the Baptizer.  Your calling this season is to help your people prepare for Jesus.

So, as you strategize about this Advent Season in your own church, and how you will help your people prepare for Jesus, will you just consider the following:

  • How will you help the single mom who is holding down three jobs and just trying to survive from one day to the next prepare her heart for Jesus?
  • What is your strategy to help the child whose parent is deployed or in prison or just disappeared to prepare his/her heart for Jesus this season?
  • What can you do this week to help that nursing home resident who gave your church so many good years of ministry to prepare for Jesus this season?
  • What is your plan to pour into your second tier of church leaders over the next couple of weeks, so that they and their families are prepared for Jesus?
  • How will your church minister to those who have lost loved ones in the past year and who now face their first Christmas season without them?
  • What about the missionary family who unexpectedly found themselves back here for the Christmas season instead of out on the field with the people they have grown to love?  How will you help them prepare their hearts for Jesus?
  • And lastly, while you are busy trying to be all things to all people in your congregation, what exactly are you planning for your own family this season, so that they will have hearts turned toward Jesus instead of resenting your ministry pulling you away from them?

John the Baptizer, it seems, was just a little bit crazy…a little bit different from normal folks.  And now we know why.  Helping make the way straight for Jesus in the hearts of one’s people is, well, a lot of hard work!  Shoulder to the wheel, my church leader friend…shoulder to the wheel!

© 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




A Peacemaker’s Advent: the Magi

22 12 2011

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”  Matthew 2:1-2

At the risk of spoiling your nativity scenes, here are the facts about the magi (separated from the myths): (1) they probably were not kings, (2) we do not know how many there were, (3) they never saw Jesus as an infant, nor the manger, nor the shepherds, (4) we do not know their names nor their nationalities.  We actually know surprisingly little about them.  The sum total of what we do know, we learn from 12 small verses of scripture in Matthew’s gospel.  That is all.  But it is enough for us as peacemakers to continue to learn some important truths from the Christmas story.

These magi (however many there were), were apparently scholars and apparently familiar enough with Jewish prophecies to understand that the “king of the Jews” had been born.  They were also men of science, familiar enough with the night sky to recognize a star which did not belong there.  They were also shrewd seekers of Jesus, not thrown at all off track by Herod’s deception or malicious intentions.  These are all good qualities for peacemakers.

Peacemakers among God’s people are students of the Word.  I know I’ve already made this point in this series, but it bears repeating.  The truth of God’s Word is critical to peacemaking in His church.  Peacemakers therefore immerse themselves in the Word regularly…even in all the woes and warnings of Old Testament prophecies.

Peacemakers study the landscape of relationships and recognize things that do not seem to fit.  This is so much where the giftedness of peacemaking comes in.  We just have a gift for understanding what normal relationships look like, even with a “normal” amount of dysfunction and heartache…so when we see “abnormal”, it sticks out to us like a big red flag.  We see the expressions and hear the comments which simply do not add up.  We see the evidence that something is going on that is not as it should be…and we follow that evidence until we find the source.  The appearance of the star in the night sky mobilized the magi.  The appearance of broken relationships in the church mobilizes peacemakers.

Peacemakers look for Jesus, even in strange places.  It is not so much about asking “What would Jesus do?”  It is more about asking, “Where is Jesus now and what is He doing now?”  We learn to hear God speak through unusual places.  We learn to seek after the Spirit in every “player” involved and we learn to lean into people to find Him.  We learn that His still, small voice comes more often in the “babies” and the “children” among us than from the loudest speaking grown-ups.  And when we lose our way in the conflict, we patiently wait for the next night sky so that we can see a clear sign (again) from God.  He is, after all, faithful and true to point the way if we are watching and waiting.

This Advent season has been a special season for me.  I’ve never before seen all the lessons for peacemakers in this amazing story!  I am praying that your Christmas brings you peace and that God draws near to you in exciting new ways!

© 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




A Peacemaker’s Advent: Mary and Joseph

15 12 2011

Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.  But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”… When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife.  Matthew 1:19-21, 23

 The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. For no word from God will ever fail.”  “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.  Luke 1:35-38

The Christmas story is filled with contrasts between those who rearranged their very lives in order to make room for the birth of the Messiah and those who either opposed His birth or were completely indifferent to it.  Mary and Joseph had their lives changed forever.  Their obedience and their ability to embrace a seemingly impossible circumstance set them apart.  Even more, it was their willingness to set aside their own pretty good plans in order to be obedient to God which makes them perfect illustrations for our “Peacemaker’s Advent” series.

Upon learning of Mary’s pregnancy, Joseph had a plan.  he respected the law but also had great mercy on Mary.  He would just divorce her quietly.  No public spectacle.  Follow the law but do as little harm as possible to Mary.  He had it all worked out.  It was actually a good and honorable plan.  And then God gave him a different plan…one fraught with risk and probable public humiliation.  Through a series of dreams, God would show Joseph a better way.

I started my peacemaking ministry to churches as an arrogant young lawyer out to teach all the simple-minded laymen in the church a thing or two about conflict resolution.  Having spent hundreds of hours in mediations and other conflict resolution forums, I felt confident that I had a good and honorable plan for dealing with conflict among God’s people.  Just a few huge disappointments later, God had my attention.  We would not be doing peacemaking the world’s way…we would be doing it His way.

Oh how I would like to be able to report to you that, like Joseph and Mary, I immediately stepped in line and started to get it all right.  I did not.  Frankly, I still do not.  But I am learning more and more that peacemaking among God’s people is not a process that lends itself to nice, clean formulas and protocols…rather, it is a dance…with God…and I am not leading!

Mary and Joseph are wonderful illustrations for us.  They demonstrate what it looks like to let go of our own very good plans in order to pursue the clear will of God, even when that will doesn’t make a great deal of sense to us or to the people around us.  As peacemakers among God’s people, there is no more important skill for us to develop than letting go and letting God do what only He can do.    It is a trust thing.  Merry Christmas, fellow peacemakers.

© 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




A Peacemaker’s Advent: the Shepherds

8 12 2011

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.

Peacemakers must speak the truth about what we have 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  “spread the word concerning what had been told them…”.  This places a responsibility on us, as peacemakers, to be in the Word of God and to be listening carefully to it.

Do not misunderstand.  I am not claiming we must become theologians.  I certainly am not one.  I am certain I have no desire to be one.  In fact, I often feel like I am at an advantage because I am NOT one.  While I have enormous respect for theologians, and I can see clearly our need for them and the value they add to the kingdom, I do not believe God’s Word was written to communicate solely to theologians…I believe it was written to communicate to all of us, with the empowerment of the Holy Spirit.  As a peacemaker, I need not be an expert in the original Biblical languages, but I do need to be in God’s Word daily and I need ears to hear and understand.  God’s Word, after all, is our source of truth among Christians.  And truth often becomes a fairly central part of peacemaking.

Peacemakers must speak the truth about what we have observed in the relationships at hand.  The Shepherds were told by the angels what they would find, and then they went and found it to be exactly as they were told.  They were witnesses, simply telling what they had heard and observed.  They did not argue, they did not have to “sell it” or polish it or spin it, they simply told what they had heard and seen.  Hard to argue with that.

As peacemakers, we observe relationships, and then we report to the players what we observe.  We do not slant the report and we do not spin it.  We do not speculate about how or why and we neither opine about fault nor judge.  “This relationship is broken…you have said that this is what hurt you…I noticed you did this…I heard you say this…This is what scripture teaches about forgiveness…This is what scripture teaches about confession…etc.”  Observe and report.  Very much like the shepherds.

I suddenly have a whole new respect for those shepherds.  They understood their roles.  They performed them beautifully!

© 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