Relevance and Fruitfulness

14 10 2014

Tuesday Re-mix:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.  Galatians 5:22-23

For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.   2 Peter 1:5-8

spoiled bananasIt is an important question to ask ourselves as church leaders…is our church being effective?  I do not mean that in terms of numbers.  I think numbers of baptisms and numbers of people in worship and numbers of dollars in the budget are all important metrics for us…but nothing matters more than the question of whether lives are really being changed as a result of our efforts.  That, after all, is what we are supposed to be accomplishing as a church: changed lives.  And if we are NOT being effective, if we are rather unproductive and irrelevant, then what can be done about it?

As it turns out, for God’s people, making “relevance” all about music and worship styles and the latest trends in children’s ministry is a lot like making “quality” of a book all about its cover…it’s not that those things are not important, it is that they barely scratch the surface of quality, relevance and effectiveness.  That is probably why, when Holy Scripture addresses genuine effectiveness and productivity of our faith, it doesn’t talk much about forms of worship, musical styles, youth curriculums or cool murals on the walls of our preschool space.  Rather, scripture ties the effectiveness of the church to the growth and the bearing out (i.e., the preservation) of certain personal characteristics in God’s people.

It is an interesting study in their respective personalities, comparing how Paul and Peter each discuss this issue of “effectiveness” in ministry.  Paul chooses a metaphor about fruit.  He would say that true effectiveness in ministry is about the Spirit of God being set free to live through the lives of His people, producing qualities and characteristics in them which only He could produce.  That metaphor leans more toward getting self out of the way, and letting the Spirit work through you.  Paul, you see, was an intellectual, a thinker and a teacher of thinkers. “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind…” he would say to the Roman church.  For Paul, it all starts with how we think about things.  Peter, on the other hand, was all about action and doing.  Both, the Peter of the gospels (“ready, fire, aim”) and the powerfully transformed Peter of Acts, were about doing.  Peter would have said, “You claim to follow Christ? Show me.”  His instructions about how to stay relevant and effective in ministry were about our actions.  He would say, “ADD these things to your belief…be good, be kind, exercise self-control, persevere through difficulties and, above all, love each other well.”

Their respective counsel goes together like nuts and bolts.  Paul encourages us to allow the Spirit of God within us to incline our hearts as only He will.  Peter then encourages us to act on those spiritual inclinations.  For example, the Spirit produces “kindness” as a fruit in us…He inclines our heart toward helping that homeless person on the sidewalk outside the church.  But we must then act on that inclination if we are to be effective as a church.  It will never be enough to just feel the inclination, or to just see the world around us as God sees it.  We must actually do something about it.  If not, we become useless, ineffective, irrelevant and fruitless.  We must have fruit AND we must do something to preserve that fruit.

Yes, it is about personal characteristics (“fruit”) which only the Spirit can produce in us, and yes, it is about actually doing something with those inclinations (acting to preserve that fruit).  It is about both.

Seems to me this would be a good thing to be teaching our people.

© 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




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




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




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




Our Foolish Fragile Fences

18 09 2014

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility. Ephesians 2:13-14

dividing fence

We all build fences. It is an essential part of the human condition. We categorize and re-categorize ourselves and others over and over again in order to protect our fragile egos and in order to minimize any complex thinking required to really see others. We are quick to identify differences which separate us and we “otherize” anyone we do not agree with or do not fully understand. We build fences. And we do this within the church.

Apparently, the single most effective tool for breaking down fences between people or groups of people is to identify a bigger, more important dividing line. Having found that more significant division, most of the smaller ones suddenly seem less important and may dissolve altogether. You have experienced this.

Take, for example, the deep, deep political divide the United States was experiencing after the 2000 Presidential election…the race between Al Gore and George W. Bush. Does the term “hanging chad” ring a bell? Remember how very deeply this country was split right down the middle? We had almost a full year of political fights over those election results. But then, on September 11 of the following year, the greatest catastrophe this country has ever known was inflicted upon us. Suddenly, those deep, deep dividing lines seemed unimportant, because now there was a much bigger, more important dividing line…one that ran between this country and its terrorist foes. This country has never been more “unified” than in the days and weeks immediately following that event. Democrats and Republicans became bedfellows, united for a cause.

You see, there are certain “perspective builders” and “game changers” that make us forget about fences that previously seemed important to us. You will notice that all the demographic differences between patients in a chemotherapy ward dissolve very quickly in light of the “perspective building” fight they are all fighting. You will notice that all the political differences between members of an addiction support group represent insignificant divisions in light of the one huge dividing line separating all of them from sobriety and recovery. In short, all those fences we create are subject to being moved or being dissolved altogether under the right circumstances.

As it turns out, the gospel is the right circumstance…it is the quintessential ultimate dividing line which causes all others to dissolve in its shadow. Whatever fences we may have erected in order to differentiate ourselves from others (“those people” who voted differently from me in the last election, “they” who live a different lifestyle from me, “them” who rebuke my faith, etc.), those fences all go away at the foot of the cross. As it turns out, there is only one dividing line that matters…only one that is eternal…it is the line that divides a holy, sovereign God from all the rest of us. ALL the rest of us. You and I and everyone else in this world all find ourselves on the same side of the only fence which matters. We were all dead in our trespasses. None of us…NONE OF US…are in any way entitled to a place on the other side of that fence.

And that is the miracle of the church. None of our fences matter, all of them are foolish and fragile and meaningless in the light of the gospel. Jews and Gentiles…Republicans and Democrats…prostitutes and debutantes…slaves and kings…we all need a savior. Desperately. That is the undeniable unity of the gospel.

So, I find myself wondering what fences I have erected that need to come down today, in light of the gospel I say I believe?

© 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 Comfort of the Familar

16 09 2014

Tuesday Re-mix:

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.  Hebrews 10:24-25

dog in a kennelMy dog, Maile, sleeps in a kennel.  She actually prefers it.  I’ve had dogs my entire life, and she is the first one I’ve crate-trained.  I will admit I was skeptical at first.  It just looks so cruel!  How can anyone be happy, being in a cage?  But every night, when her eyes are heavy and it is time for bed, she voluntarily abandons the freedom of our bed and goes back to the limits and the restrictions of her tiny little bed in her little wire cage.  Do you know why? Because it is familiar to her…and, for dogs, there is great comfort in familiarity.

People are a bit like that too.  Church people are especially like that.  No matter how antiquated, no matter how ineffective, we all have a tendency to return to the familiar, to the “way it has always been”, because it is comfortable.

The writer of the letter to the Hebrews was fighting a battle which you as a present day church leader might recognize: the battle against the comfort of the familiar.  It was a daunting task, getting the Hebrew Christians to persevere in the face of the persecution they faced and to stick with the very different forms of worship from those  with which they had been reared.  Gathering together as a church body every week with no sacrifices, no holy places, no sacred implements, no fancy robes, and with “traditions” which were all of one generation in age…all of these new ways had to hold the commitment of a people who had otherwise been steeped in their former traditions for hundreds of years.  It is no surprise, then, when we discover there was a problem with Hebrew Christians  “falling away”…abandoning the new covenant for the old, ineffective one.

The call to follow Christ is a call forward.  It requires steady, constant, forward momentum in order to keep from falling.  It leaves no room for moving backwards and it leaves precious little room for standing still either.  Our role as leaders in the church is to be encouraging our brethren to keep moving forward and to persevere through difficult seasons.  Like the writer of Hebrews, we must find compelling truths to lovingly propel the church forward.  We must be ever reminding our friends of the failed systems they left behind, how far they have already come, and of the promises which lay ahead.  And this leadership task is always, always before us…because always, always against us is the comfort of the familiar.

Like dogs in our kennel, we do not want to lose the comfort of our familiar ways.  We are not interested in sacrificing in order to start new churches.  Please don’t ask us to try new forms of worship, nor press forward with new friendships.  We just want to stay here in the comfort of our tiny little cage.  It is familiar.

Isn’t it interesting that, after 2,000 years of doing church, we still fight this same battle?

But fight it we must.

© 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




God is Not Fair

11 09 2014

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus… Ephesians 2:4-6

gavelGod is not dead. It’s a message that is kind of going around recently. It’s a terrific message, too…one the world needs to hear…one the church needs to send. For a lost and broken world, for a world in need of a savior, it is very, very good news…UNLESS, he is also fair. You see, if God is very much alive and is also very much about fairness, then you and I (and everyone else) are very much doomed.

When scripture says, “…even when we were dead in our trespasses…” that is what it means: doomed. It means that you and I (and everyone else) have made choice after choice after choice to please ourselves with little or no regard to God. It means we have opted for short-term prizes with enormous long-term (eternal) consequences. It means we have chosen to live without God and that is exactly what we deserve…an eternity without God. “Fairness”, then, would only mean one thing: getting what we deserve. It would mean our utter and complete destruction. That would be “fair”. That’s what we each have earned, according to our creator’s standards.

We don’t like to think of ourselves that way, of course. We look at our poor choices and bad behavior and then we immediately look for justification for it. We look to blame others for it. We look to compare ourselves to others and, finding someone who is “worse” than we are, we can take some solace in it and convince ourselves that maybe we aren’t deserving of quite as much certain destruction as “they” are. But we are fooling ourselves. At the end of the day, fair is fair. And we deserve only death. That, my friends, is what it means to be “dead in our trespasses”.

So, the next critical message for the church (after “God is not dead”) is that God is not fair. God loves us and is willing to bring us back to life after being “dead in our trespasses”. God loves us and chooses to NOT give us what we deserve. We have not earned this favorable treatment. But he gives it to us anyway, as a free gift. There is nothing fair about it. Nothing at all. In fact, it is totally and outrageously unfair. We are dead, and God throws fairness to the wind and brings us back to life in Christ. We are saved through grace. That, it seems to me, is the rest of the message His church must be sending. God is not dead, and God is not fair.

So, the next time you catch yourself complaining about your circumstances and feeling like you have somehow been cheated or otherwise dealt a bad hand, remind yourself of this: God is not fair…and aren’t we glad for 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







Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 3,847 other followers