The Medium is the Message

19 08 2014

Tuesday Re-mix:

In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son… Hebrews 1:1-2

God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.  Hebrews 2:4

JesusMarshall McLuhan was the first to coin the phrase, “the medium is the message”.  In his instance, he was referring to the ushering in of the information age (specifically, television) back in 1964.  He noted that television (and other similar media) were more than just conduits of information, they were actually shaping and reshaping the message and were as much a part of the message as the message itself.  I suppose we could make the same observation today about social media.  Twitter and YouTube and SnapChat are literally reshaping how (and what) we communicate.  It just seems that, from time to time, a medium comes along that changes everything we thought we knew about messaging and communication.  When that happens, “the medium becomes the message.”

Never in the history of the world has this notion been truer than with Christianity.  In ancient days, God spoke His message through angels, He spoke His message through the prophets, He spoke His message through the law, and He spoke His message through miraculous signs and wonders.  But never was the message so clear and so divisive and so disturbing as when God spoke His message through  Jesus.  The very embodiment of God, representative of all His glory and power and authority, Jesus is “the Word become flesh.”  He is BOTH the medium AND the message.

For Christ-followers (for His church), we have a contemporary medium through the gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed among us.  For us, this is a visual representation of God at work among us.  But for the watching world, it is gibberish.  For that world, there simply is no clearer image of God than Jesus Christ.  His life is a canvass upon which God’s Word is painted vividly in living color.

There is a great deal of talk in the church today about messaging.  It is good talk.  Important talk.  Using all the media available to us to tell the Gospel story is, I believe, important.  But even as we discuss websites and Twitter and blogs and videos…even as we consider signage and platforms and lighting and projections…we must keep one medium ever before us: Jesus.  In the midst of all our new languages and vehicles, we must show the world Jesus.  Because, in the end, He is the medium which really matters.

Show them Jesus.  And let all the other messaging flow from 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




Pastor Sisyphus’ Bad Day

20 03 2014

“If you have raced with men on foot, and they have wearied you,
    how will you compete with horses?
And if in a safe land you are so trusting,
    what will you do in the thicket of the Jordan?  Jeremiah 12:5

sisyphus

Church leadership, especially the pastorate, can feel a little like the plight of Sisyphus…forever pushing that boulder up the hill with little or no results to show for it.  They won’t pray…they won’t listen…they won’t volunteer or help…they won’t commit.  But, oh, how they will complain! Sometimes you just feel like giving up.

I think every pastor who feels oppressed and burdened and stressed to the point of giving up should take a break and study Jeremiah’s ministry…really try to crawl around in Jeremiah’s skin. I promise, you will feel much better about your own circumstances!

Jeremiah spent 40 years obediently delivering a message nobody wanted to hear. Nobody. At all. He pushed and he pressed. He obediently spoke, again and again. He was ridiculed, beaten, imprisoned, and his own family scoffed at him. And through it all, to the very end, he was so very, very alone. And at the end of 40 years of these tireless efforts, he had not a single conversion to show for it. None. Jeremiah prayed and he begged God to change his assignment. He cried and he pled. He wished he had never even been born. And at one particularly low point of his depression, God’s response to him was something along the lines of “You think this is bad? The hard part hasn’t even started yet!”

But Jeremiah’s plight teaches us something important about how we measure our “success” in answering God’s call (and, just as importantly, how we should NOT measure our success). Maybe there will be amazing results to our ministry…and maybe there will not. Maybe my flock will be shaped and molded by my every word, and maybe they won’t hear a word I say. But Jeremiah’s story illustrates one inescapable truth: at the end of the day, the only real measure of my success is whether I have correctly understood God’s message, and whether I have obediently conveyed it.

That was Jeremiah’s success…his obedience. Without it, all the results are in vain. Think about it. If you do NOT correctly understand God’s will, and you are “successful” in getting the congregation to mobilize and follow your misguided misunderstanding, what have you gained? Or if you do understand what God has given you to say or to do, but you lack the courage to say it or do it, how can you ever celebrate that? No, Jeremiah’s story focuses like a laser on that one question of obedience. Have you correctly understood? Will you be obedient to that understanding? Answer those questions the right way, and leave the results up to the Lord. And rest well tonight. And get up tomorrow and do it all again.

© 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




Help for the Hypocrites

18 12 2012

Tuesday Re-mix –

All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation:  that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.  2 Corinthians 5:18-19

People who do not want anything to do with the church often accuse it of being “full of hypocrites”.  I have a theory about why they say that…

…because we, the church, are in fact full of hypocrites.  We are bad about that.

I am certain you can fill in some of your own favorite examples of this.  Paul’s remarks to the Corinthian church above point out one of my favorite examples.

Paul reminds us in the church that we have been given BOTH the message of reconciliation AND the ministry of reconciliation.  They go hand-in-hand.  The message is shallow and powerless without the ministry.  The message (i.e., that God loves you and forgives you) requires the ministry (i.e., that we love and forgive each other as well) in order to have any power, any credibility at all.  Otherwise, it is just…hypocritical.

It makes complete sense if you think about it.  It requires us to practice what we preach.  Those of us in the Christian church have preached the message well for a long, long time.  “No matter where you have come from, no matter what you have done, God loves you and forgives you.”  But if we are not, at the same time, willing to act out the ministry of reconciliation, i.e., “…and I love you and forgive you as well…” then the message rings shallow no matter how eloquently we speak it.  All the cool videos and all the polished Power Point presentations, all the great books and all the amazing sermons, all the wonderfully conceived lessons and all the powerful tracts…none of these masterful presentations of the message mean anything at all…they are all just the height of hypocrisy without on-going living and demonstrating of heart-felt forgiveness.

I have said it here before, but it bears repeating: for the Christ-follower, forgiveness is like breathing.  It is something we do all day, every day, as often as we have opportunity to do it.  It is our ministry.

The good news is this: there are Christians and groups of Christians all over the world who understand this and who really have been good stewards of both the message of reconciliation and the ministry of reconciliation.  There are probably even groups of them near you.  Maybe you are one of them.  Maybe you will rub off on the rest of us as you continue breathing out forgiveness day in and day out.  In the end, after all, none us of really wants to remain a hypocrite.  We want to get this right.  And with a little help, maybe we will.

© 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




Forgiveness is the Church’s “Purple Cow”

19 10 2010

Tuesday Re-mix –

“The world can do almost anything as well or better than the church…You need not be a Christian to build houses, feed the hungry, or heal the sick.  There is only one thing the world cannot do.  It cannot offer grace.” Philip Yancey (What’s So Amazing About Grace?) quoting Gordon MacDonald

In his book Purple Cow: Transform Your Business by Being RemarkableSeth Godin teaches that a business (and I would contend every organization, every group, every institution, every movement and every individual) must find a way to set itself apart in order to stand out in its industry, like a purple cow standing in a field of Holsteins.  I believe his metaphor introduces an eternal truth, one which it would behoove the church to understand and embrace.

Thinking about what the Christian church has to offer the world, what it’s “purple cow” must be, it really has to come down to one thing: forgiveness.  That is the “felt need” the church can address.  If the church is serious about making disciples, if it is serious about introducing a lost and broken world to the only Savior Who really can save, then the church must get very, very good at the whole concept of forgiveness.  Paul, talking to the church at Corinth, speaks of both the message of reconciliation (i.e., that God loves you and forgives you) and the ministry of reconciliation (i.e., that we do too).  I believe Paul would say that, if we are not demonstrating forgiveness in our relationships with each other (the ministry of reconciliation), then our message of the gospel is meaningless.

The irony in this is that, for the most part, the church proves itself week after week to be  surprisingly bad at forgiveness.  Our relationships often do not look any better than the relationships in the secular world.  Statistically speaking, the marriages in the church have not done any better than the marriages outside the church.  Employment relationships within the church are, in my experience as a church mediator, every bit as dysfunctional as employment relationships outside the church (in fact, many churches I know are taking virtually their entire employment policy right out of the secular handbook).  I could go on and on with other illustrations, but I think you get the point.

If the church is to have any influence at all, any “testimony” in the community we serve, we simply must become experts in the area of forgiveness.  We must teach it, in all its complexities and nuances.  We must demonstrate it in all our relationships both within the church and outside the church.  It really must become the earmark of our culture, sewn into our very fabric.  Our gatherings must reek of grace and forgiveness of one another.  Our neighbors and co-workers should look at us differently because of it.  It should be a characteristic of our lives which is completely unexplainable, unmistakable and undeniable.  What if that were true about us? What if, when your name came up in discussions at the office, the first character trait they described was “forgiveness”?  What would that mean?  What would that look like?

Here is some good news: as followers of Christ, this attitude of forgiveness is already in our DNA.  As we permit the Spirit to live through us more and more, forgiveness happens.  All we have to do is get out of the way.  Learning what forgiveness is and where it comes from and what it looks like wouldn’t hurt either.  After all, if it really is our “purple cow”, we’ve got to be the experts on it.  It’s what we do.  It’s who we are.  Right?

© 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





Ingredients for a Revolution

27 04 2010

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

Ever see Valkyrie ? It’s a pretty good telling of a true story about the last of some 15 assassination attempts on Adolph Hitler’s life by his own army. The story is a primer on all the planning, all the details, all the “infrastructure” necessary to pull off a revolution. As a student of human dynamics and systems, the movie had me fascinated and frustrated at the same time. You will have to see the movie for yourself to see why.

crossBut for an even better lesson about how to begin and maintain a revolution, check out Matthew 4:12-25. These few verses from near the beginning of Jesus’ ministry provide a beautiful summary of His complete ministry and serve as an excellent picture of just why Christianity is the greatest, the strongest, and the most sustained “revolution” the world has ever known. Moreover, remembering how Jesus began His ministry is a perfect way for every church to periodically review its own vision. It’s a bit of a checklist we can hold up against our ministry and ask, “How are we doing?” After all, the world is still very much in play and the revolution is still very much our game plan.

Jesus’ ministry had three critical aspects (three “strategic fronts”) which have made this revolution successful:

  1. A clear message – “Repent, for the kingdom of Heaven is near.” What could be clearer than that? “Repent”: turn around, make a change, do things differently in order to bring about a different result. Stop doing what you’ve been doing. Change your perspective, change how you see everything, change how you do everything. Why? Because God is so much closer than you think. There is a very real way to connect to Him and to let Him inform your day-to-day being. But you have to make some changes in how you see some things in order to make that connection. A clear message for all times. Every successful revolution has one. The clarity and simplicity of the gospel have made it unassailable for some 2,000 years now. And the church’s clarion proclamation of that message is a sustaining ingredient to this revolution.
  2. Development of followers – “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” I love that promise. It gives me hope. I don’t have to already be a great fisher of men, I just have to let Him make me a fisher of men. No promises about how fast I will make the transition (God knows I’ve been one of the slower students on this front)…just that He will change me over time; a promise that, eventually, He will mold my heart to be as broken over the lost as He is and He will equip me to be a fisher of those very men. Incidentally, of all the things He could have promised to make us, I might not have picked this one if I were in charge. I might have said, “Follow me and I will make you great leaders, or great teachers, or great [you fill in the blank]”. But He knew the right ingredients for a revolution, and He has been developing fishers of men from the very beginning until today… and the revolution has never been stronger than it is today.
  3. Changing lives for the better – Extraordinary physical, emotional and spiritual healing have always been at the forefront of His ministry and remain at the forefront of the church’s continuation of that ministry today. The world is a broken place. We are surrounded by pain and sorrow and dysfunction and incapacitation. Without something to offer in opposition to that pain, without a heart that breaks for hurting people, our mission fails. But He has that ingredient covered nicely, because the closer we draw to Him, the more we become a lover of people. His church really must be a lover of people. When it is not, it is not following Him at all. It is a hallmark of this revolution. It is how we are known.

So, how about the church where you serve? Does it have all the ingredients to be a player in this revolution? It’s not a question of whether or not the revolution will succeed; we have a benefit which the men and women of Valkyrie did not have…we know the outcome before we engage. No, the revolution will continue with your church or without it. The question is, is your church a player or not?

© 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