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




Careful with Open Doors and Straight Paths

26 11 2013

Tuesday Re-mix:

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

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

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

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

Here are some of the phrases we use in these situations…”God seems to be making the way straight for us”…or “God is opening a door”…or “Clearly God is doing this.”  We see the chains fall off and the prison door swing wide open, which is exactly what we have been longing for (even praying for), and we are tempted to jump up and run, celebrating and praising God the whole way!

Do you see the danger?  Circumstances are open to being interpreted in lots of different ways and we are all capable of seeing what we want to see.  The truth is, we can do the same thing with scripture, or with our prayers, or even with interpreting what the pastor just preached or a Godly mentor just said to us.  But we can have much more certainty about what God is doing and saying when all of these things line up and point the same direction.  The Jerusalem Council in Acts 15 illustrates that beautifully.  When circumstances, scripture, prayer and Godly counsel all point the same way, then we can feel much more confident that we have heard from God.

Otherwise, when all we seem to have is a wide open prison door…we should be very, very careful about what we think that means!

© 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




Counting Noses or Changing Lives?

7 08 2012

Tuesday Re-mix –

And he directed the people to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people.  They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over.  The number of those who ate was about five thousand men, besides women and children.  Matthew 14:19-21

Jesus did not take an institutional approach to ministry.  He did not survey the neighborhood to determine what the physical needs were then implement a task force to study those needs and to plan the infrastructure of an organization that might be able to meet those needs and then go looking for funding for that organization and then go looking for the right people to fill the various positions in that organization.  Jesus did not do strategic planning to set specific goals and objectives for his ministry over a one-year, five-year and ten-year plan.

However, I do think Jesus operated according to God-inspired vision.  In the case referenced in Matthew 14 above, I believe Jesus recognized the hunger of the crowd and immediately developed a God-sized vision of what could be…of what should be…and of what would be.  And I believe he had one goal in mind…changing lives.  I do not think that merely feeding the people was his goal.  I also do not believe he had any goals regarding the number of people he wished to reach with this miracle.  Rather, I believe he wanted to change their lives AND change the lives of the disciples who helped Him.  His “vision” for that ministry was far greater than just getting a little food into several thousand hungry stomachs.

So it makes me wonder about our ministries…whether our vision for them is truly God-sized or not.  It makes me wonder if “changed lives” is what we are aiming for  in whatever ministry endeavor we undertake.  It seems to me that, if lives are not being changed by how we as a church are spending our efforts and our resources, then we are not really being the church at all.  I believe this because, everywhere we see Jesus doing ministry in the New Testament, we see lives being changed.  That was always the case then and it seems to me it should always be the case now.

Please understand, I am all for church growth.  In fact, you could probably convince me that growth is a vital sign of health.  So I am not opposed to “numbers” at all.  I do not think a church can be truly healthy if it is not growing.  But I do think that a church or ministry can be growing in terms of number without being truly healthy.  If counting noses is our best measure of the effectiveness of our ministry, then we have completely missed the mark.

The persons to whom Jesus ministered had their lives changed by their encounter with Him.  Moreover, the disciples who participated in His ministry likewise had their lives changed not only by their own encounters with Jesus, but by participating in others’ encounter with Him as well.  Indeed, this particular miracle of feeding the 5,000 was so very life-changing for the disciples that it became one of the very few moments which are written about in all four of the gospels…and yet, there is not a single mention of how many of those 5,000 actually “joined” Jesus’ band of followers.  This ministry moment was not about adding numbers to Christ’s followers.  It was about changing lives.

The question, then, for me and for you…for my ministry and for your church…is this: irrespective of your numbers, are there lives being changed?  Is your life being changed?  Isn’t that the clearest evidence of an encounter with Him?

© 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




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