Surviving a Lion Attack

7 10 2014

Tuesday Re-mix:

Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.  1 Peter 5:8

Want a chuckle for today?  Check out this Wiki article on 7 steps to survive a lion attack.  Yeh, I’m not altogether certain about those seven steps.  I have a question or two about them.  For starters, do I try to recall these steps before I wet my pants or after?

I love that Peter uses this illustration to make his point about our enemy.  It is perfect for so many reasons.

Consider, for example, how a lioness hunts.  She is capable of following a herd of animals for days, even weeks, stalking and studying.  She watches to learn which of the members are the weakest and the most likely to fall behind the rest of the herd.  You see, when it comes to lion attacks, there is protection in the herd.  The lioness watches for lame or young or otherwise “slower” members of the herd who are more likely to make decisions that tend to “distance” them from the herd…decisions that might make the protection of the herd more and more tenuous.

The same is true of our enemy.  He watches the church (the “herd”)…stalking and learning.  He watches for those members most likely to distance themselves from the church…most likely to forsake the spiritual protection of God’s people.  You see, being created for community means we actually need each other’s diligent protection against the schemes of our enemy.  We really must let friends get close enough to us to protect us.  We  must make arrangements with brothers and sisters who will love us enough to ask us some hard questions about our choices.  That, my friend, is what “accountability” means.

My friend, Frank Pretorius (in Cape Town, South Africa) sent me this video.  Granted, it is a leopard and not a lion.  But otherwise, it is the perfect picture of what spiritual accountability looks like…

Is that awesome or what?  As an illustration, it begs some important questions about the spiritual accountability in your own life.  When it comes to lion attacks, who’s got your back?  With whom have you already made arrangements for accountability?  Whom have you granted permission to ask you hard questions about your choices?  You see, when you experience your next lion attack, you can either trust Wiki or you can trust your friends.  And I don’t have a single video of Wiki saving someone’s life.

© 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




Foreigners in Our Own Country

23 09 2014

Tuesday Re-mix:

…live out your time as foreigners here in reverent fear.  1 Peter 1:17

Every year my ministry takes a team to South Africa. It is always a Spirit-filled time with old friends and new friends alike.

SA FlagOver my years of making this trip, I have come to know some things about that country…things about it’s people, it’s society, and its politics.  I’m still learning the right questions to ask and the ones not to ask…when to ask them and when not to ask them.  In so many ways, it is not unlike here in the U.S.  Like here, there is within the church a degree of discontent with the moral and political directions that country seems to be headed.

When our team finds ourselves in those conversations, there is always some “freedom” in being able to say, “We’re not from here.”  We can still have an opinion, even a Biblical perspective on the issue, but we are not in any position to impose those opinions on a country where we are only visitors.  We have now grasped what it feels like to be “ambassadors for Christ” in a foreign land.  We have the freedom (and the responsibility) to speak the truth, but no freedom (nor responsibility) to try to force it or to impose it on anyone.  That is not our business.

In the end, the distinction between those two postures can be a thin line. Somehow, being foreigners in that land, it is an easier distinction to grasp.  Speak the truth, in love, but do not seek political power to impose that truth on a country where we are mere visitors.

US FlagAs I meditate on Peter’s words above…live out your time as foreigners here in reverent fearI feel just a little more clarity about that same question here at home.  How should we as Christ-followers exercise our influence in our own culture? More specifically, what exactly is the role of the church in the political divide and the “culture wars” swirling around us?  For the church, what does “speaking the truth in love” look like?

First of all, I cannot help but think that just embracing the metaphor and bearing it in mind will help to some degree.  As a recognized leader in the church, or as a pastor or minister, it would behoove me to stop and check my focus on God’s kingdom–my true “home”–before posting that Facebook rant on the total depravity of my local or national government.  Just the gentle reminder to myself that I am a foreigner here might save both me and my church some embarrassment.

Second, I can get a grip on the fact that, while this country does indeed grant our church the “right” to free exercise of our religion, we have a much higher purpose than to merely exercise our rights.  First and foremost, we have a mission and a testimony before a watching community. This revolution we call Christianity has never been spread by claiming our “rights” or by political power.  To the contrary, that kind of thinking has always killed the most effective expressions of Christianity.  I might consider that on Sunday before I spit venom from the pulpit toward the “sinners” around me and their various agendas to bring down Christ’s church.

Further, “this is not our home” reminds us of our protection.  As a U.S. citizen in South Africa, I may well feel embarrassed occasionally at the state of our (U.S.) government, even ashamed from time to time, but I never feel threatened.  I never feel as though I need to protect the U.S. from South African forces (frankly, I would sooner feel just the opposite).  I am merely visiting.  I am an ambassador there.  I feel that same way as a Christian in our country.  I feel no responsibility to “protect” the kingdom of God from evil forces around us.  I am certain God does not need that from me.  He just requires that I love and love well.  That, I believe, is the fuel of His kingdom…a heart at peace, not a heart at war.

Finally, living my life as a “foreigner” here grants me the privilege of being able to speak into an issue, even a moral issue, without invoking fear of any political agenda at all.  We are living in a culture of agendas.  Everyone wears colors from their “tribe” and takes up the accompanying party line.  Those tribes and colors have made it nearly impossible for truth to be communicated.  It may be spoken, but it will not be heard in that culture.  Or, more likely, it will not be spoken at all, because the tribes and colors make it so difficult to discern in the first place.  Donald Miller recently said, “In today’s culture, truth-tellers don’t have a tribe”.  That, it seems to me, is the point of remembering we are foreigners here.  We may have a tribe, but it is not one of this world.  Remembering that, the church may just have a chance to actually speak truth into the world in which it lives.

© 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 Truth About Andrew’s Birthday Gift

27 08 2013

Tuesday Re-mix –

Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.  1 Corinthians 12:7

Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. 1 Peter 4:10

I think the trick to understanding Spiritual Gifts is remembering their purpose…remembering for whose benefit they are intended.

Have you ever been so pleased with a gift you found for someone that you decided to get the same thing for yourself as well?  Should we feel guilty about that?  Do we have to tell the person that we did that, or can we just give them the gift and keep the rest of the story to ourselves?  Is that deceptive?  Does that break any gift-giving rules?  Can we please get a ruling on this?

One of my two team members (Andrew) on last year’s South Africa trip had a birthday while we were traveling.  I happened to be walking through the Waterfront at Cape Town a day or two before and saw the coolest little key chain.  It was African art, a symbol for unity (it shows two crossed crocodiles).  I thought it would be a perfect and simple little birthday gift for Andrew.  I bought it.  But I was so excited about it, I decided I wanted one for myself too!  And then I decided I wanted one for Kelley too, so that our whole Unity Ministries team could have this as a memory from this trip.  And, alas, Andrew’s birthday gift became a team gift for all of us!  I suppose the original purpose of the gift got a little blurred in the process…Very sorry, Andrew!

I think that can happen with Spiritual Gifts as well.  When the Spirit manifests Himself through you in a clear and powerful way, it draws attention…and often praise.  It makes you feel important.  Other Christians notice it and often say lots of very nice things about it and about you.  It feels like a very special gift…for you.  But it is not for you.  It is for everyone but you.  It is intended for the benefit of the church…the body of believers around you.  Specifically, according to Paul, it is intended “…to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”

You probably do not feel convicted about this, as I do…because you probably have never been tempted to receive and embrace the glory for your own spiritual gift.  🙂  But perhaps you have seen someone else do that.  Perhaps you have seen somebody who was particularly gifted in one way or another by the Spirit and he/she was pleased to accept all the praise and the glory for it.  Rather than being humbled by the fact that God would use such a broken vessel as him/her to accomplish His work, he/she wraps up in the glory of it all and demonstrates a sickening sense of entitlement to the praise of others.  It is ugly.  Do not be that person.

When the Spirit manifests Himself through you and causes all the believers around you to be lifted up toward God and toward each other in a grand and glorious fashion…when you (with all your flaws and faults) are used by God to grow others up into Christ…just stop and praise God along with everyone else, and remember His intended purpose for that gift.  It is not for you.  It is for them.

Oh, and I did keep my very cool “unity” key ring for myself…as a perfect reminder of this lesson.  🙂

© 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




Unity is Not for Wimps

28 12 2010

Tuesday Re-mix –

You may be aware that my ministry has an on-going relationship with churches in South Africa, where our teams go and teach unity principles.  Do you see the irony in that?  The irony is that anyone from the American church would be teaching South Africans about unity.  There are a great many things the American church has done well…but unity is not one of them.  In fact, our secular culture of democracy and Roberts Rules of Order, etc. have actually worked against us in that regard.  In matters of true Biblical unity, the church in America just does not demonstrate much understanding.  Now, if you want to talk about religious liberties and how the church and the government relate to each other in light of those liberties, we definitely have some answers.  Our 200 years of our cultural experiment in that area have put us way ahead of the rest of the world.  But in the area of unity, maybe not so much.

In a similar way, the South African culture has actually helped that church understand some things about unity.  A collection of many different tribes and people groups, South Africa literally had its unity hand forced by the breaking down of Apartheid and the building of a society in a post-Apartheid season.  It has been difficult and it has been painful.  I suspect most South Africans would say they still have a ways to go.  But they have been doing the hard work which unity in their country requires and they understand that it does not come cheaply.  Of all the lessons they have learned about unity, I am most impressed with that one. Unity does not come cheaply and it requires a great deal of hard work in order to preserve it. They get that.  I am not sure we do.

You see, if the concept of unity conjures up lots of warm fuzzy feelings for you, if it makes you think about being comfortable and being able to sit back in a big easy chair and just soak in all the love, then you don’t really understand unity.  It is about relationships and all the complexities that go along with them.  Like a marriage, it is not something that just happens naturally.  Preserving the unity of the Spirit takes work and lots of it.  It takes constant focus, genuine humility, confession of sin, and a willingness to place relationships ahead of many other right things.

My experience with the church in South Africa is that it is well aware of how much work is involved with unity and that it is willing to do that work.  I see it in the faces of the church leaders and in the faces of the congregations as well.  There is very much a “just tell us what to do and we will do it” attitude.  It is both refreshing and convicting.

It is refreshing because it is the picture of what the New Testament church is supposed to be: both hearers and doers of the word.  It is convicting because it reminds me that we in the American church, while being truly blessed as hearers of the Word, are a long, long way from establishing our reputations as real doers of the Word.  Because doing what the Word tells us to do about relationships with each other is a lot of work.  Unity, after all is said and done, is not for wimps.

© 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




Balancing Content with Discontent

26 01 2010

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

While traveling among the churches in South Africa, I would often sit in my room at night, journaling my experience and how God revealed Himself to me that day.  I’m not a very faithful “journaler” here at home, but I am consistent with it when I travel abroad.  It helps me report back to those who are praying at home.  But often I am not able to articulate what I’m seeing until I get home, as in this particular case.  It wasn’t until I was home, preparing a lesson from Philippians 3-4 that another observation about the South African church struck me.

perfect-balance

Paul lived his life in a constant tension between two attitudes which leaned against each other in perfect balance.  The first was his interminable desire to know Christ better.  He had a drive in him to always press forward, always looking for God and always wanting to draw closer to Christ.  His comment in Philippians 3:10 (“I want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection…”) bears witness to this attitude.  Near the very end of his life, the most important writer and church starter of the New Testament church still wanted more of Christ.  It is inspiring.

But leaning up against this constant discontent was the attitude he expresses just one chapter later in Philippians 4: “I have learned to be content in all circumstances…”  Paul was so focused on the eternal, that the temporal, physical circumstances of his life never bothered him much.  Because of this focus, Paul was able to walk in this perfect balance of contentment with the physical but constant discontent  and forward progress with his Spiritual placement with Christ.

A fantastic reminder on the pastor's side of one South African pulpit

And this is when yet another observation of the church in South Africa hit me.  The South African church (at least from my limited perspective of it) has many of the same trappings as the American church.  It has buildings and musical instruments (oh, the music!) and budgets and programs, all the same “stuff” we have.  But I noticed in the hearts of the pastors there (and in the hearts of their people) that there was not nearly so much energy and resources dedicated to making themselves comfortable…not like in the American church.  Temporal circumstances like physical comfort, precisely timed sermons, rigid orders of service, and personal convenience are all pretty clearly secondary to them.  But there was an insatiable desire to hear and understand God’s Word better and there was an expectation in the eyes of most believers when they gathered for worship…an expectation that they were about to meet Christ.  It was more than just refreshing.  It was addictive.  When I was worshiping with them, I honestly never wanted it to be over.

Oh how I long for revival to take place there (they are so very close) so that they can send missionaries here to help us understand this remarkable balance between content and discontent.

© 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





Ubuntu

5 01 2010

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

“Ubuntu is the essence of being a person.  It means that we are people through other people.  We cannot be fully human alone.  We are made for interdependence, we are made for family.  When you have ubuntu, you embrace others.  You are generous, compassionate...You are rich so that you can make up what is lacking for others.  You are powerful so that you can help the weak, just as a mother or father helps their children.  This is God’s dream.” Arch Bishop Desmond Tutu

It never fails.  I go on mission to a faraway place in order to teach, and I become the student.  My ministry is currently working in partnership with the Baptist Union of South Africa to do unity conferences and pastors’ conferences with churches there.  We have made several trips there already, with another one scheduled for this year.  I have treasured my time in South Africa and, oh, how I have learned from my brothers and sisters in Christ there!

South African symbol of peace and unity

South African symbol of peace and unity

How ironic that God would allow me to teach unity principles in a country so rich with words and symbols for unity.  The majestic white lion is one of those symbols.  And ubuntu is one of those words.

With its origins in the tribal mentality of the very diverse people of South Africa, ubuntu describes the clear sense of living in community with others.  It connotes an interdependence, so that when one member of the community suffers, everyone suffers.  It includes a strong sense of loyalty, such as to family.  It involves belonging to others, and others belonging to you.  It is a word which is so very descriptive of the Biblical concept of unity.

And so, as I found myself discussing unity with a group of pastors just a few miles from Nelson Mandella’s home estate, I was touched by their humility and I learned something about ubuntu. No matter how far apart we may live and no matter how diverse our cultures may be, as Christians, we have an unmistakable bond which breaks down barriers and which binds us together.

Ubuntu describes that connectivity among us.  It is a part of the ethos of the South African church, which I am pleased to report may well be on the verge of genuine revival.  Never before have we (in my ministry) seen churches so eager to learn and practice the Biblical principles of unity.

As I update this “Tuesday re-mix” post, I am planning my ministry Board meeting in two weeks, where I will brief my Board on the upcoming 2010 trip to South Africa in August.  I am looking forward to that trip with much anticipation.

I have found a new home away from home in South Africa, with new friends and “family” who love me and care for me as if I am one of their own.  I have learned first hand what ubuntu is all about, and I will never forget it.  I am blessed.

© 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