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




The Rich Young…Church

16 01 2014

A large, popular church asked Jesus, “As the head of the church, tell us what we must do to make sure our institution lasts forever?” Jesus said to them, “Why do you call me the head of your church? Isn’t that God’s place?  You know what you should be doing…teach your people to tithe, train up your leaders, have a good strategic plan, be culturally relevant.”  And the church said, “We have done all these things for years now.”  

When Jesus heard this, He said to them, “One thing you still lack. Sell your property and your buildings and everything in them and give all the money to the poor, and you will have treasures in Heaven. Then come and follow me.”  But when they heard these things, the big church became very sad, for they were extremely rich.  Jesus, seeing that they  had become sad, said, “How difficult it is for a big, wealthy institution to change its direction and follow me!  It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a big church to give up its comfort and really begin to pour into people who have little or nothing to give in return.”

Other churches who heard this said, “If that church can’t effectively minister to the poor, then what chance do we have?”  But Jesus said, “If preserving your institution is your highest value, then you will never really make a difference…but if following me is your highest value, you won’t believe what becomes possible!”

© 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




“I Don’t Need Any of this Stuff”

6 08 2013

Tuesday Re-mix –

Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”  At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.  Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!”  The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God!  It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, “Who then can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.”  Mark 10:21-27

The story of the rich young ruler always convicts me.  I suppose it should convict all of us in the American church, because we are so unbelievably wealthy, whether we know it or not.  We all take our turns as the rich young ruler from time to time.

So, as I read this message with new found conviction, and as I start the process of genuine transformation this time around, what happens next in my mind is almost comical.  It reminds me a little of this scene from the old Steve Martin movie, The Jerk:

That is exactly the conversation that goes through my head when I start “giving up” stuff for the Lord.  When I look around and see how FILTHY RICH I am (by the world’s standards) and start asking myself what I would be willing to give up in order to be a more effective servant of the Most High God, I can make a long list of “stuff” I know I do not need.  And somewhere around 20 or 30 items down that list…the exceptions begin.  “I don’t need any of this stuff…except my house…and a car…and these clothes…and my 401(k)…and medical insurance…and 1 credit card…and, and, and…”  It really does become comical, the way it plays out in my very wealthy American mind.

Do you see that, when we begin setting the terms of our followship of Christ, when we make certain exceptions and carve out certain “sacred cows” in our lives which we simply cannot give up, when we say things like, “God I will follow you ANYWHERE…except [insert your worst nightmare here]…”  then we become the rich young rulers…we become The Jerk.

The calling on Christ followers to live generously is without boundaries.  God pours into us abundantly and excessively.  Doesn’t that require a similar attitude from us?

So, today I am making a new list.  One without exceptions.  And I will do it all over again tomorrow.  And again the day after that.  Maybe not the next day, because it’s Friday, and I try to give myself a break every once in a while…but you get my drift.

© 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




“Mine, Mine, Mine, Mine, Mine…”

30 07 2013

Tuesday Re-mix –

And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’ Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain.  And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’  “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’  “This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.”  Luke 12:16-21 (emphasis added)

I honestly do not remember why or when I went to the trouble of circling all the personal pronouns in this passage in my Bible.  I suspect it was a sermon somewhere sometime.  But the circles are all still there, and it really does paint a clear picture.  The “rich fool” in this parable was totally self-absorbed and focused first and foremost on his own comfort level.  This point seems to be central to Jesus’ parable…and to God’s perspective on giving.

I cannot think about the concept of “mine, mine, mine, mine, mine, etc.” without thinking about the seagulls in Disney-Pixar’s Finding Nemo.  Remember these guys?

I suppose there are a lot of ways to measure how much you or I “give” to something.  For example, maybe you have a boss who expects you to give “one hundred, ten percent” and measures you that way.  Or maybe you had a coach in school who wanted you to “leave it all on the field” and measured your play that way.  Maybe you have had fundraising campaigns in your church which talked about “not equal gifts, but equal sacrifice” and measured the effectiveness of your giving that way.  Maybe you had a teacher or professor who gave you a grade for “class participation” and measured your contribution to class discussion in that manner.  Those are all meaningful ways to measure what we bring to the table in various settings.

I have heard of very wealthy people who give hundreds of thousands, even millions of dollars away every year.  Is that the best measure of their heart?  Would that be the best measure of my own heart…how much I give away?  Possibly.

But, reading this parable from Jesus, here is what scares me…

What if God’s way of measuring my heart is by measuring how much I keep for myself?  How would you measure up then?

Yep.  Me too.

© 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




When I Am the Rich Young Ruler

8 05 2012

Tuesday Re-mix –

Step 1: We admit we are powerless over our addiction and that our lives have become unmanageable.

When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”   When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was very wealthy. Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”  Luke 18:22-25

I am using these Tuesday Re-mixes for a few weeks to think (again) about addiction to self-reliance and how that addiction is one of the biggest challenges to genuine community which we face in the American church culture.

You want to know another reason why it is so difficult for me to admit that I am powerless over my addiction to self-reliance and that my life has become unmanageable because of it?  It is because I am an American Christian…in other words, I am the “rich young ruler” to whom Jesus says, “give it all up and just rely on me, then we can talk.”

We, the church in America, are SERIOUSLY wealthy, not only in material things but in human resources, giftedness, skills, abilities, ingenuity, innovation, strategic thinking, and in almost everything else one might imagine to be helpful in building any organization.  Moreover, we have virtually all the freedom in the world to build our churches and to thrive, free from government interference or persecution.  We have entire libraries full of books written by our pastors.  We can flip to any of hundreds of radio stations and hear our choice of preachers.  And I can spend a lifetime (and HAVE) studying the church and learning strategies for building it and measuring which of those strategies works best in which environments.  We are really good at doing church.  I am really good at doing church.  How easy it is to carry on as if I do not need any help at all when it comes to being a good churchman.

So it hits me like a splash of cold water for Jesus to say to me, “You’ve done pretty well Blake…now go and get rid of everything you think you know about church and about conflict and about peacemaking and about the Bible and about my people…give it all to me and just come and rely on me.”  It is what He demands of me.  It is not safe and it is not popular.  In fact, it is not even reasonable.  It is utterly and profoundly radical.  And it scares me.

It requires such a level of childlikeness and humility so as to make me entirely uncomfortable.  I would much rather just rely on the things I know.  After all, I know more than most about the church and the Bible and about God.  Isn’t that enough?  It is certainly safer…and more predictable.  Of course, I may be wrong from time to time, but I will take those odds most days rather than give up all control and rely completely on Him.  That is the truth.  It is especially true when I am operating in an area of strength for me.  But Jesus says, “Go and give up that strength…put it all in my hands…stop relying on yourself and your wealth of resources and just rest in me.”

*sigh*

That is really, really tough.  And it is so much more than just a one-time event.  It is a constant, moment-by-moment deal.  And I suspect that I fail more than I succeed at it, which is why I find myself here in our Thursday support group for people addicted to self-reliance.  I need help!  I truly am powerless to do this alone.

© 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