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




X-Men Origins: Joseph, the Dreamer

26 06 2014

Thursday Re-mix:

Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers, they hated him all the more.  Genesis 37:5

Then Joseph said to Pharaoh, “The dreams of Pharaoh are one and the same.God has revealed to Pharaoh what he is about to do.” Genesis 41:25

Super HeroI know there are some theological problems with comparing our Spiritual gifts to “super powers”…no doubt even more problems than I am aware of.  Still, it makes me happy to think of them that way. So indulge me, please, for just this one post, because I believe the story of Joseph and his particular spiritual gift reads like a classic Marvel Comics super hero tale.  He was like one of the X-Men with his super power of prophetic dreams and their interpretations.

Like most classic super heros, Joseph had a rough start with his gift.  He wasn’t very polished in how he used it.  It caused others to hate him and he just mishandled it more often than not.  His fumbling of it got him sold into slavery by his spiteful brothers.  Of course, years later, he would look back and see that was God’s plan all along.  But in the meantime, his gift would cause him much pain.

As he matured, he came to understand the power and began to use it to help others (every super hero faces a crossroads early on when he/she must decide whether to use his/her power for good or for evil).  As he made that choice more and more often, great and amazing things began to happen around him and he eventually rose to extraordinary power in Egypt, not to mention saving hundreds of thousands of lives in the midst of seven years of drought.

So here is the application (maybe you already got it)…

The purpose of spiritual giftedness is to benefit the community of believers (see Ephesians 4).  Joseph’s story is a beautiful illustration of what happens when we make the conscious decision to turn our giftedness outward and hone it for the purposes of helping others, rather than using it for our own glory or edification.  It is a difference of motive, of attitude, of the heart.  If your giftedness is mostly just drawing attention to you as opposed to pouring into others (and this is not always an easy heart-check for most of us), then you may be missing the point.

So, when you examine your heart on this issue, what do you find?  When you think about your giftedness, is it first and foremost to build yourself up? Or is it first and foremost for the benefit of others?  And maybe even more important…as a leader in the church, are you helping your people learn this lesson as well?

© 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




Beware of “Samson” Community Church

29 05 2014

Thursday Re-mix:

He awoke from his sleep and thought, “I’ll go out as before and shake myself free.” But he did not know that the Lord had left him. Judges 16:20

Pride goes before destruction,
    a haughty spirit before a fall.  Proverbs 16:18

It’s an awesome thing, being used by God to further His work in this world.  I am sure you would agree that the empowerment by God to accomplish things bigger and greater than anything we could do on our own is a true blessing.  That is true for individuals and it is true for churches as well.  The problem, of course, with being gifted and blessed is that it can start to go to our heads and we can lose site of any sense of humility.  We can grow so accustomed to the giftedness and blessing, we can forget where it comes from and whose bidding it is for.  That, it seems to me, was Samson’s problem.

Strong ArmBy pretty much anyone’s standards, Samson “had it going on”.  Having taken the Nazarite vows and having committed himself to God’s service, he was empowered with almost super-hero-like abilities.  He became a powerful leader among God’s people and actually served as one of Israel’s more famous leaders (one of the “judges”) for some twenty years.  What was his “super power”?  Uncommon strength.  That giftedness propelled him to great acclaim among the people.

But Samson had a lifelong struggle with self-control and instant gratification.  He had, it seems, a virtually unquenchable appetite for pleasing himself, even if it meant being disobedient to God or to his Nazarite vows.  He worshiped God.  He loved God.  He had great faith in God.  He was remembered by the writer of Hebrews as one of the heroes of the faith in God’s story (Hebrews 11).  But he was seriously flawed with regard to his self-absorbed attitude and notions of entitlement.  And there were consequences to that attitude…dire ones in the end.

With great giftedness and blessings come great responsibility and humility.  That was a reality which seems to have often escaped Samson.  I see it in particularly gifted churches as well.  When a church becomes the popular place to be and enjoys season after season of growth and esteem, and as it becomes more and more effective in its efforts to impact the world around it, its people (and dare I say its leadership) can get a little prideful or even haughty.  I’ve seen churches who were particularly blessed act a little bullet-proof.  I think we are all capable of treating our “successful” church as there to satisfy MY immediate needs and comfort as opposed to humbly thanking God for this season of blessing and turning it all outward to help others.

In short, Samson’s story paints an ugly picture of what arrogance and entitlement look like, even in one of the heroes of God’s story.  I wonder which of our churches today are painting similar pictures in God’s eyes?

© 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




Culture Wars: Defining the Win

25 02 2014

Tuesday Re-mix:

The Lord is at your right hand;
he will crush kings on the day of his wrath.
He will judge the nations, heaping up the dead
and crushing the rulers of the whole earth.  
Psalm 110:5-6

If you have been here at Church Whisperer very long at all, you already know I have some issues with what we call the “culture wars”.  Specifically, I get a little twisted out of shape sometimes about the church’s role in those culture wars.  Here is another angle on that issue. [RANT WARNING]

http://www.dreamstime.com/-image18479312I wonder if those of us who expend an extraordinary amount of time and energy and resources on “fighting the culture wars”, i.e., engaged in heated debate with those outside the church over moral issues and trying to legislate morality so that non-Christians everywhere will start acting more like Christians,…I wonder if we have defined in our own minds what, exactly, “winning” this war would look like?  What is the objective?

Is the objective to somehow force non-believers to act like believers, i.e., to conform to God’s standards of behavior irrespective of their beliefs about God?  Is that a “win”?  Or maybe the objective is just to have warned them in advance of their ultimate judgment, so that we have the satisfaction of being right, even when it means they suffer unspeakable judgment?

If it is the former, then I think you see the fallacy.  Having a bunch of people walking around ACTING like Christians (conforming to God’s standards of behavior) will probably make for a more peaceful world in the short term, but it would do nothing to spare non-believers from the eternal fate which awaits them.  If it is the latter, then we have a problem there as well.  When we bash people over the heads with the truth, purely for the sake of winning the fight and being proclaimed right, that is no win at all.  When, in our minds, the satisfaction of being right outweighs the horror of God’s judgment on this world, we have lost the most important part of what following Christ means.

When I read Psalm 110 and other scripture describing God’s judgment on a rebellious world, it is horrifying to me.  It breaks my heart.  When I think about friends (or even enemies, for that matter) who are rebellious toward God and who have little or no respect for His laws, it scares me to consider what awaits them ultimately.  And when I stop and ask myself, “what does love look like?” with regard to them…arguing and fighting and going to war and spewing venomous words at them do not even make my radar screen as possible tacks to take.  Going to war is not love, and there is no hint at all from Jesus or from any of his teachings that this revolution we call Christianity will be won by winning an argument or by the sway of political power or even by moral persuasion.

Rather, this is a revolution about love for people when it makes no sense to love…about showing grace when it makes no sense to show grace…and about forgiveness when it makes no sense to forgive.  As “the church”, we are to keep one eye on Psalm 110 and the judgment which awaits our world and we are to love our lost and broken fellow human beings far too much to be at war with them, and thereby pushing them deeper and deeper into their rebellious positions.

So, what about your participation in the culture wars?  Have you yet defined the win there?  Is there even a win possible? Or is it time to abandon that front and start fighting in the Christian revolution instead?

© 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




What’s Your Payoff for Leadership?

23 07 2013

Tuesday Re-mix –

I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me.  However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me —the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace…I have not coveted anyone’s silver or gold or clothing. You yourselves know that these hands of mine have supplied my own needs and the needs of my companions. In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’  Acts 20:23-24, 33-35

match-thermometerThere are surely thousands and thousands of possible reasons people choose to be a church leader.  Money is probably not one of them.  Oh, I know there are those few high profile ministers (particularly in evangelical circles) who have profited tremendously, but let’s be real, that is by far the exception, not the expectation.  Rather, there are other kinds of “payoffs” which I believe attract some people into leadership positions in ministry.  Some of us just like to be in charge.  We like the power which comes with being the leader.  We like to chart the course and then expect those who are following to, well, follow.  For others, it is just the attention alone which draws them in.  They are otherwise lonely people and the “payoff” for them is the “friends” who gather around them as leaders.  Still others choose leadership by default, because they just cannot handle following.  They ascribe to the philosophy: “He who refuses to lead is doomed to be led by someone lesser than himself.”

As I read Paul’s farewell comments to the Ephesian church elders (Acts 20), I am struck by the total lack of payoff for him.  I mean, there was no sense of entitlement on his part, no attitude of having earned anything at all by his leadership.  Paul’s model for leadership is really very simple…you give and you give and you give until you cannot give any more…and then you give some more.  In Paul’s mind, leadership is about using yourself up for the benefit of others.  It means burning the candle at both ends all day long and going to bed exhausted and then getting up and doing it all over again.  I cannot help but wonder if this is why young John Mark didn’t last long through their first missionary journey.  Leading with Paul was just exhausting!

Searching through his letters, there really is no evidence of any other “payoff” for him except for God’s pleasure.  There is nothing there to indicate some twisted emotional return for him.  Though his leadership was strong, even assertive, there is nothing in scripture to indicate any over-aggression or power plays on his part.  Paul seems to have been driven purely by a profound desire to know Christ better and to rely more and more on the Lord for direction and strength and vision and courage.  Paul never seems to have complained that he was not being paid enough or that he was not treated well enough.  He neither whined nor complained that people owed him more respect than he was getting.  He just gave of himself, day in and day out.  Paul was just the “Eveready Bunny” of leadership…he just kept giving and giving and giving.

I know a few pastors and church leaders like that.  I am grateful for their generous giving of themselves for the benefit of others.  I am happy to say that my pastor leads this way.  I love him for that.  Do you know any church leaders like that?  More importantly, do the people you lead know any church leaders 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




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




The Transforming Power of the Resurrection

28 04 2011

Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed.  John 20:8

And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”  John 20:22-23

Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”  John 20:28

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

My studies are in John’s gospel right now, and none of the gospels demonstrates the practical effects of the resurrection more beautifully than John’s.  He portrays so very well the fragile, confused disciples hiding in the upper room out of fear of the Jewish leaders…the very human Peter, cowardly denying Christ…mere shadows of the men who would eventually have the responsibility of continuing the revolution Christ began.  Take a moment and compare the Peter in John 19 with the Peter in Acts 4.  The transformation is God-sized.

That, it seems to me, is the power of the resurrection.  Without it, we still have atonement for sins, we still have Christ’s teachings and his ministry, and but for all of the unfulfilled prophecies we would have, we still have scripture.  But without the transforming power of the resurrection, we would not have a church today.  Without the evidence that Christ lives, even today, we would not have a testimony of a living Savior.  Without the resurrection, Peter, James and John most likely all return to their obscure lives as fishermen, all of them surely impacted but none of them truly transformed.

However, with the resurrection, these virtually unremarkable, uneducated disciples became the passionate, Spirit-filled leaders of the most powerful revolution the world has ever seen, and their impact continues to grow stronger every day, even 2,000 years later.  The metamorphosis we read about in them is astounding.

What is even more amazing is that the transforming power of the resurrection is still transforming people today.  It is transforming you and me.  In fact, for the people you know, the clearest evidence that Christ is alive and active in the world today is the transformation they see in YOUR LIFE.  Your story and my story and the stories of millions of Christ followers around the world today are the clearest evidence of the resurrection.

Paul said it this way in his letter to the Philippian church: “I want to know Christ–yes, to know the power of his resurrection…”  Phil. 3:10.

Today, as you walk through your day, will your life tell the story of that power?  Will your story be one of advancing this revolution?  Will your church’s story be part of it as well?

© 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