True Worshipers and their Scoffers

11 02 2014

Tuesday Re-mix:

Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, “Why this waste of perfume? It could have been sold for more than a year’s wages and the money given to the poor.” And they rebuked her harshly. “Leave her alone,” said Jesus. “Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me.  Mark 14:4-6

Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”  John 4:23-24

You and I can take solace in the fact that we would never do what “some of those present” did to poor Mary of Bethany in Mark 14.  You and I are way, way too spiritual to ever do such a thing!  Truly, all Mary was doing was loving Jesus with extravagance…pouring her very heart out with every ounce of perfume which left that container.  She was oblivious to the awkwardness or to the social or political “incorrectness” of her actions…her heart was 100% for Jesus in that moment.  That, my friends, was the very picture of “true worship”.

So, to scoff or to rebuke her for it…well, wow, that is just embarrassing.  I’m just glad you and I would never do that.

There are actually a few other places I can think of in the Bible where people scoffed at or made fun of someone’s worship of God.  None of those stories ended well for those scoffers.  It seems that  God really does frown on such scoffers.  Worship, after all, is not for their benefit at all; rather, it is aimed only at God.  What business is it of others to “judge” someone’s worship as being “unfit” or “undignified” or “uninspired”?  Only God can make that judgment…because only God can read a man’s heart.

Oh, sure I may snicker and snort a time or two at the lady up in the front of the worship service waving her hands in the air, or at the old guy standing in the back with his hands in his pockets and staring down at the floor.  I suppose I may make a little fun of the decision to sing the same chorus over and over and over and over  and over again, or I may chortle a bit at that last hymn we sang, which sounded like something out of a funeral…in the deep woods of Kentucky…in  1940.  Sure I have probably commented now and again on the disrespectful, sloppy attire of kids in worship these days, or of the HUGE waste of money on big, fancy buildings when we could be feeding hungry people with that money.  I am certain I have walked away from certain pastors’ sermons and from certain teachers’ lessons thinking to myself, “Wow, he/she is a really horrible communicator…God deserves better than that.”

I’m sure you and I have done all those things.

But that’s not the same as scoffing at someone’s worship.  Right?  I mean, that is different.  Right?

Right?

© Blake Coffee
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Restoring Our Fallen Brethren

31 07 2012

Tuesday Re-mix –

The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”  Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”  Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.  John 21:17

I know that John 21 includes more story than just Peter’s, but I believe the entire chapter is all about Peter.  I believe the miraculous catch in the first half of that chapter is still about Peter.  I believe it is an account of the very moment when he finally got to be reconciled to Christ after his dismal denial a week earlier.  In what surely must have been a state of depression, he had to sit idly by and watch each of the other disciples be utterly transformed before him by the various resurrection experiences.  Each time, he probably muttered to himself, “well isn’t that just great for John…or Thomas…or Mary…but when do I get my opportunity to make it right with Jesus?”

The miraculous catch in John 21 was that opportunity.  Peter leaped from the boat and ran/swam to Jesus as fast as he could!  Jesus was waiting for him.  Then, the very customized process for Peter’s restoration could not have been more perfectly conceived by Jesus.  Breakfast on the beach together…eye-to-eye conversation for the first time since that ugly night outside the high priest’s courtyard…three affirmations and exhortations from Jesus…one for each of Peter’s denials.  No doubt, the Peter we see in Acts 4 would NOT have appeared but for this critical restoration in John 21.

As I reflect on Peter’s restoration and marvel at the power we see in the “fully restored” Peter in Acts, I cannot help but wonder how many such opportunities the church has missed since then…opportunities to restore a fallen leader and to see him/her transformed into someone miraculously influential in the kingdom of God.  How many times have we missed an opportunity to make breakfast for a fallen brother and to restore him gently but surely so that he becomes more spiritually powerful than we ever even imagined!

When Jesus invited Peter to sit down and join him for breakfast, He did so knowing full well how far Peter had fallen and how possible it was that he would fall again.  He did it knowing of Peter’s “checkered” past (arrogance, ignorance, physical assault and cowardice) as well as his future mistakes (racism and prejudice).  He did it knowing that some of Peter’s own close friends would not have restored him had they known the full extent of his denial.  He did it knowing that Peter fell despite crystal clear warnings from Jesus ahead of time.

When Jesus began cooking that fish over an open fire in order to create the perfect environment for Peter’s restoration, He had only one clear vision in His mind about Peter…the vision of Peter standing before Roman and Jewish leadership and preaching boldly and powerfully in Jesus’ name.  Jesus knew what Peter was capable of.

My prayer for the church is that we would look and see what our own dear fallen brethren are capable of, that we would see the spirit of Christ in them and realize that is enough…that we would look beyond their mistakes to a spirit so powerful and so transforming that even the worst among us can be used to further the kingdom of God once we are fully restored.

How many “Peters” have we thrown away rather than restoring?  We can do this better, can’t we?

© 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




Knowing the Word Become Flesh

29 03 2012

My people are being destroyed because they don’t know me.  Hosea 4:6 (NLT)

 I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead.  Philippians 3:10a (NLT)

I have often said that the church today is getting itself into trouble when we are more concerned with knowing about Christ than with actually knowing Him.  I think I first came to that conclusion while studying Philippians and Paul’s comment quoted above (Philippians 3:10).  Apparently, this concern went back a ways before Paul.  Hosea warned the people about it as well.

When I was in High School (back in the days of old), I knew a set of twins.  Their names were Mike and Chris, and they went to a rival High School.  I only knew them because I had played against them in basketball.  They were as identical as any two twins I have ever seen.  It was uncanny…a little creepy even.  If you didn’t know them, it was impossible to tell them apart.  I knew people who knew them, and I would ask them how they tell them apart.  They would try to give me hints about their hair or their mouth or a certain behavior, but none of those hints really helped.  The truth was, those friends couldn’t really tell me how they tell them apart.  More times than not, when asked how, those friends would just say, “I don’t know…I just can, because I know them.”

That, it seems to me, is the difference between knowing God and knowing about God.  I have, upon occasion, listened to teachers teaching about God or Jesus or the Bible and heard lots of great information from them but could not help but ask myself whether they really know God.  There just was no familiarity in their teaching…no real authority.  And I also worry for the church today for that same reason.  I worry that there are an awful lot of us in the church who are all about learning more and more information about God but who are not having any genuine encounters with Him.  Frankly, when I read Hosea and many of the other prophets, it scares me to death.  I worry that I could be that person…that teacher of the Bible who spends more time studying about the Bible than being with the Word become flesh.

This is where the contemplatives among us have a slight edge over those of us who prefer an intellectually stimulating environment in worship.  It is the same edge that Mary had over her sister, Martha.  Knowing Christ (and knowing God) is so much more than just Bible study and sermons.  It is that regular crawling up into Jesus’ lap and just being with Him.  It is quality time spent making eye contact with Him.  It is following Him so closely, that people begin to see Him in you…not because of how much you know about Him, but because of how much you care the way He does.

My prayer today for your church has nothing to do with growth in numbers or making budgets or healthy small groups or community ministries.  As we approach the coming Resurrection Day, my prayer for your church is not about mission or about ministry at all.  This Easter, my prayer for myself and for God’s people around the world (and specifically for the local body of believers where you serve) is that we would know Christ, and the power of His resurrection.  To know Christ more today than I did yesterday…that it a worthy goal.

© 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 Angels

1 12 2011

I’ve never done an Advent Series before on this blog.  This will be fun!  Watch for “A Peacemaker’s Advent” right here every Thursday from now until Christmas.

But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard.  Luke 1:13a

But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. Luke 1:30

But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.  Luke 2:10

I have never seen an angel, but apparently, it is a frightening thing.  We know this because, every time an angel appears in the Christmas story, the first words it says are, “Do not be afraid…”.

Now, I am no angel.  But, as a peacemaker, I do know what it feels like for people to be frightened of me.  It is actually a fairly common response, especially in church conflicts.  When I am called in by a congregation or Christian organization to begin my work as a peacemaker, and I begin having my one-on-one meetings with the players, it is always interesting to me how frightened they seem to be to talk to me.  Maybe it is because they know I am a lawyer?  Or maybe it because they have misunderstood my role in the process?  Or maybe it is their fear of being held accountable?  I honestly do not know.

But I do know that, for peacemakers, it means we have one task that is first and foremost in every conflict…we must be a non-anxious presence.  We must develop an ability to disarm the players, reassure them that they are safe, and guarantee a process which they can trust.  We apparently share that task with the angels.  Everything about our demeanor and our words must send a clear message: “be not afraid”.

Being a non-anxious presence is our first prayer this Christmas season for ourselves and for the other peacemakers in our lives.  Being like the angels in that regard is a great Christmas lesson.  Merry Christmas, everyone!

© 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




Merry Christmas, Gabriel…Uh, Could I See Some ID?

10 12 2009

Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.” Luke 1:18a

“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?” Luke 1:34

Studying Luke 1 last week and this week. Last week was Zechariah. This week is Mary. But the one constant character in both lessons is Gabriel, the angel. The other element common to both stories is the reactions to Gabriel. Both Mary and Zechariah asked the same question: “But, how?” But Gabriel’s response to that reaction was very different in each story.

Let’s not play word games here, and let’s not split hairs over how their reactions are actually different. If you were writing the story yourself and wanted their reactions to read the same way, you couldn’t write it any differently than Luke did. Their reactions to Gabriel were remarkably similar. Both of them asked the same question, showing the same concern for whether Gabriel really had all his facts straight. We can engage in all kinds of speculation about their respective hearts (i.e., perhaps Mary’s question was truly one of wonder, while Zechariah’s was one of doubt, etc.), but that is just speculation on our part. We cannot judge a person’s heart. No, in order to explain Gabriel’s very different response to each of them and their respective questions, we need not engage in questions of the heart. We can find a much easier critical distinction between Zechariah and Mary: Zechariah was a priest.

Zechariah was a Spiritual leader among God’s people and was doing a Spiritual thing in the most Spiritual of all places when Gabriel appeared. What kind of sad commentary is it that, upon entering the place where God abides, doing a thing God had commanded him to do, Zechariah seemed genuinely shocked to meet a messenger from God? While Mary certainly had no reason to expect a visit from God under her circumstances, Zechariah had plenty of reason to expect it. But not only was he not expecting it, he did not even recognize it when he saw/heard it. For a teenage girl to ask some questions when a messenger from God comes to her in circumstances such as Mary’s is no big deal. But when a church leader has been praying and begging to hear from God and then encounters a messenger from God in church, it just seems like bad form for that leader to ask for some ID, wouldn’t you say?

So it has made me wonder…

How often am I shocked and surprised when God answers one of my prayers? Seriously, when I pray “fervently” in the morning for some thing, am I really expecting to hear from God in response? More importantly, do I attend gathered worship or prayer meetings truly expecting to find God there? Do I greet Christian brothers and sisters looking them in the eye with a genuine expectation of seeing Christ there? Do I attend gathered meetings listening for the voice of God in my other brothers and sisters in Christ? I believe this story raises some important questions about our expectations as leaders in the church.

These are convicting questions for me. If Gabriel walked into my church service this week with a message from God, I want to be the kind of leader who says to everyone, “Listen up! This is a word straight from the Lord.” I want to recognize it immediately as my Shepherd’s voice. To me, that is what is required of us as leaders.

Furthermore, is it any wonder that Gabriel, upon seeing Zechariah’s doubt, concluded that Zechariah is NOT the right leader to be a spokesperson for God in this instance. Striking him dumb is exactly what God would want. Why would God want a leader whose faith and expectations are so very small to be out there telling this important message?

Here is my prayer for this Christmas season and beyond: “God, build my faith and teach me your ways so that I will recognize them when I see them and will know your voice when I hear it. And if I do not, then strike me dumb so as to protect your glorious name and your redemptive message from my doubting tongue.”

Amen.

© 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





Languages of Worship (The Biblical Illustration)

24 11 2009

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

The LORD appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” So he built an altar there to the LORD, who had appeared to him. Genesis 12:7

David, wearing a linen ephod, danced before the LORD with all his might… II Samuel 6:14

Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. John 12:3

I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death… Philippians 3:10

My first post on this topic (and by this title) was  here.  Think of it as an introduction.

If you have ever had to plan a corporate or “gathered” worship experience for a diverse group of people, you know how challenging it can be.  This person prefers hymns, that person prefers choruses.  This person loves  Power Point, that person hates it, and so on and so forth.  And it is those differences in preferences which have contributed to what we call the “worship wars” troubling so many of our churches today.

I believe those differences can be sorted out into two categories.  Some of them have to do with cultural upbringing.  In that respect, the preferences are learned languages which we have developed over time.  I grew up singing hymns so I have developed a love for them, a preference.  Others did not grow up with them and find them to be difficult to understand.  They prefer a more “user friendly” chorus.  This category of preferences is very akin to the Mac versus PC issue in the computer world.

But there is a second category of preferences that go beyond just cultural or learned responses.  Going back to the computer metaphor, there are some worship preferences which have more to do with our circuit board than with whatever application we happen to be running at the time.  They are about temperament or personality.  They have to do with how God created us.  If the first category of issues is essentially a “software” issue, this second category is more of a “hardware” issue…all the culturalization in the world will not change it, because it has to do with how we were hardwired from birth.

In his book, Sacred Pathways, Gary Thomas challenges us to consider how very different many of the “worshipers” in the Bible were from one another.  For example, consider four of them: Abraham, David, Mary of Bethany, and Paul.  If you were called upon to plan a worship experience that would engage all four of these worshipers, what would it look like?  Abraham was a traditionalist, always looking back at what was and remembering.  He approached God best by building altars.  David, on the other hand, was passionate and exuberant in his worship.  He celebrated being in God’s presence with singing and dancing.  Mary’s (of Bethany) pathway to worship was just sitting in Jesus’ presence, gazing adoringly at him, contemplating His love.  Paul was an intellectual.  If you want to engage him in worship, you better have your Bible opened and be challenging him with thought-provoking truths.  Each of these dear friends loved the Lord and was loved by God.  Each of them were wired completely differently in terms of the environment in which they preferred to approach the Lord.

Can we in the church today learn to give each other the leeway to be wired differently from one another?  Can we learn to embrace those differences and use them to make our worship experiences even richer?  Can we as leaders in the church learn to exert our influence so as to promote tolerance in our people for a variety of forms of worship?  I say yes, yes and yes.  I have faith in the church.

By the way, for more on this concept, you should check out Gary Thomas’ website and particularly his book, Sacred Pathways. Intriguing stuff.

© 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