Loving Obedience is Caught, not Taught

8 07 2014

Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices
    as much as in obeying the Lord?
To obey is better than sacrifice,
    and to heed is better than the fat of rams. 1 Samuel 15:22

loving GodMy dear (now deceased) friend and Board member, Warren Clark, loved telling a story about teaching some of our materials on reconciliation in a church in Eastern Ukraine some years ago. He was in the middle of the teaching when people started getting up and leaving the church building. Not all at once…just a few here and then a few more there. During a break in the conference, he asked the pastor if he had done something wrong to offend them, since they were leaving. The pastor smiled at him and said, “No, brother, not at all! They are hearing a word from the Lord about reconciliation and they are going to reconcile with brothers and sisters. Isn’t that what you want?” Well, of course it is. We in the American church would just never have expected it.

Immediate and complete obedience is really the only obedience.  Anything less (delayed obedience, partial obedience, etc.) is just a form of disobedience. That was Saul’s lesson in 1 Samuel 15. And that will be the lesson ultimately for the American church, I fear. We talk a lot about God and Jesus and God’s Word and other such spiritual things…we can argue theology all day long, thanks to 200 years of freedom to study it…we can write books and blogs about building churches and vision and preaching and small groups and creative programming…but in the end, it is going to matter to God that his people followed some social or political or personal agenda first, and His agenda second. Any agenda, you see, which comes before God’s agenda is disobedience plain and simple. It was for Saul and it is likewise for us.

In the wake of a busy week of arguing about Hobby Lobby and Independence Day and the “correct” Christian view of those social and political issues, I wonder if God is feeling the love? I wonder if the church (and more specifically, those of us who have been called to lead the church) has truly loved God more than we have loved politics or social agendas or being on the “right” side of either one? You see, being truly faithful and truly obedient to God is a simple function of one thing: our love for God. That was Saul’s problem. He did not really love God. He acted as if he had a fear of the Lord, but ultimately, it was not God’s agenda driving him. It was some different agenda.

Our various agendas are, I believe, at the heart of all our rebellion and disobedience. We are very much like Saul. It is not a hatred of God. It is not even a dislike. It is simply that we do not love God enough to allow Him and Him alone to set our agendas. We would rather trust our own understanding (and the understanding of our news syndicate of choice), rather than demonstrating to our people a complete dependence on God and on an unbiased interpretation of His Word. That love for the Lord, after all, is the only right motive for obedience. You and I talk about loving God, we try to grow our people’s faith in God, and we devote hours of study to the teaching of His Word. And then we complain to God that our people are still living in disobedience to Him and wonder out loud why they do. You see, as it turns out, loving God is most often caught more than it is taught.

The American church today is not wanting for leaders. There are plenty of voices speaking loudly and clearly from leadership platforms in the church. But my fear is that we are wanting for leaders whose demonstrated love for the Lord and respect for His Word cause them to rise far above all political and social agendas…leaders whose love for the Lord is contagious, and who make us all want to love God with that same faithfulness and obedience. The church today doesn’t need leaders who will inspire us to be “right”…we need leaders whose faithfulness will inspire us to love God more and more.

© Blake Coffee
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Your Church’s Response to Same-Sex Marriage

10 04 2014

Then the officials said to the king, “Let this man be put to death, for he is weakening the hands of the soldiers who are left in this city, and the hands of all the people, by speaking such words to them. For this man is not seeking the welfare of this people, but their harm.” Jeremiah 38:4

 All Jeremiah was doing was speaking the truth about the inevitable. He wasn’t arguing, he wasn’t happy about that truth, and he certainly wasn’t causing that truth to be any worse. He was just recognizing the choices his nation had made and the inevitable, irreparable consequences that were now set in motion. He was saying, “this is happening and you cannot change it…you can either choose to die right here on this hill or you can embrace reality and choose to live.” Jeremiah suffered a harsh retaliation for daring to speak that truth…for daring to recognize the inevitable and for daring to suggest that we should embrace it and figure out how to live with it.

same-sex marriageDoes any of this story feel to you like the same-sex marriage issue the American church is now facing?

As of the publishing of this post, there are 17 states in the U.S. who recognize same-sex marriages. The other 33 states have bans (either Constitutional or legislative) to same-sex marriages, and all but 5 of those bans are currently under judicial scrutiny for being overturned. There is a rapidly growing pressure in all 33 of these states to at least create some kind of “civil union” whereby the state’s interest in “licensing” and the church’s interest in the sacrament of marriage can be separated…a compromise whereby the state and the church can each maintain the control they need. Every national opinion poll I have seen shows the majority of Americans now favoring same-sex unions, and that number seems to be growing daily. In short, the pendulum is swinging pretty certainly toward same-sex unions.

I am no Jeremiah. In some sense, I truly wish I were. But in a lot of ways, I am happy I am not. But I am going to suggest something here to the church in America and it is not going to like it. I suspect I will be accused of “weakening the army” and of “destroying the morale of God’s people”. Who knows? There may be a cistern waiting for me very soon. But I am just going to say it…

Same-sex marriage is here. It is the consequences of our own choices. It is happening. Our government is doing this, one way or another. You do not have to agree with it. You probably can argue eloquently about how wrong it is. As was true with Jeremiah, that argument seems to be less and less helpful as time goes on. Same-sex marriages are happening already, if not in your state, certainly in 17 other states (so far), and those couples are then moving back to your state.

The question is, will they be in church or not? Hopefully, they will be. Hopefully, within the next few years, same-sex couples will be sitting in our pews along with you and with me and with all the gossips and the liars and the gluttons and the adulterers, and we will all be worshiping and studying scripture together and praying together. As a church, then, we have an important decision to make about how we will relate to them. We should be thinking now about what love will look like in that case. We should be figuring out now how to minister with and to each other and, yes, how to have the conversation about all the implications of this relationship.

We should be asking what this will mean for the registrations at our next marriage retreat, or what this will mean for the family photos in the next church directory. We should be thinking about what love looks like when a same-sex couple walks into a couples Bible study or Sunday School class, and we should be having that conversation with all our leaders. We should be preparing our childcare workers for the child with two daddies or with two mommies and how that may affect our conversations.  Hopefully, we will figure all of this out a little more quickly than we figured out all these same issues with divorced people!

The scriptural debate will rage on. The discussions about God’s perspective on the issue will not end anytime soon. But, in the meantime, it has become an inevitability and we need to move toward figuring that out. I guess I just felt compelled to say that.

And now I will go and take my place in the cistern.

© 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




God Uses Our Silence

13 02 2014

When day came, the assembly of the elders of the people gathered together, both chief priests and scribes. And they led him away to their council, and they said, “If you are the Christ, tell us.” But he said to them, “If I tell you, you will not believe, and if I ask you, you will not answer. But from now on the Son of Man shall be seated at the right hand of the power of God.” So they all said, “Are you the Son of God, then?” And he said to them, “You say that I am.”  Luke 22:66-70

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. Romans 1:16

silenceWatching Jesus verbally spar with the teachers of the law all through the gospels just makes it harder for us to understand how he could be essentially silent during those last two days before Pilate and Herod and the chief priests.  There were so many things he could have said…so many ways he could have embarrassed them!

Doesn’t it seem to you that he had some moral and spiritual obligation to have said more to them?  Do you wonder whether any of his followers accused him of being ashamed of the gospel, because he wouldn’t speak up when he could have…when he should have?  I mean, he KNEW the truth! Is it ever wrong to just speak the truth?  Isn’t this the truth that sets men free?  These are the questions rattling around in my head as I read the accounts of Jesus in Court before his crucifixion.  And, of course, I ask them satirically, because these are all the same arguments I think we, the church, often make to support our “speaking” into issues today.

It occurs to me that a lot of horrible and embarrassing things have been done and said by the church over the centuries (and maybe especially in the last couple of decades) under the banner of “not being ashamed of the gospel”.  For Christ-followers, Romans 1:16 has become like the get-out-of-jail-free card in Monopoly, purportedly excusing anything and everything we want to say to the lost and broken world around us…when they start acting lost and broken.

I think Jesus demonstrates another strategy for us. I think he shows us that there are actually moments and circumstances when God can use our silence every bit as powerfully as He can use our voices.  Why didn’t Jesus speak? Maybe it was because he knew the hearts of the men questioning him and wasn’t going to waste the energy. Maybe it was because it was unnecessary, because everything was on track and moving exactly in the direction he knew God had ordained.  Maybe the truth really does set men free and being set free was not at all what he needed at the moment.

Jesus teaches us that there is a time to speak and there is a time to be silent.  We, the church, have got to exercise some discernment about which is which.  After all, God can use our silence!

© 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




Apples of Gold

30 01 2014

And Jesus said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.” Luke 20:8

He said to them,“Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”  Luke 20:25

apples of goldLuke 20 brings us two encounters between Jesus and his culture which centered around his authority.  By this time, of course (late in Jesus’ ministry on earth), the tension was mounting and the danger building…not unlike some of the “culture wars” in which the church finds itself today.  There are plenty of opportunities for us to speak into those divisions.  Of course we want to speak truth.  But we can speak truth with hearts at war or we can speak truth with hearts set on healing.

Our words can be “fitly spoken, like apples of gold…” or they can “curse people who are made in the likeness of God.”  The choice is ours.  And the model is Jesus.

In the first passage (Luke 20:1-8), the chief priests, scribes and elders questioned Jesus about the authority with which he was acting.  They were baiting him into what they presumed would be blasphemy, but Jesus would not bite.  He would not lower himself to engage in a war of words.  Oh, he could have…He knew the truth.  He could have justified hammering them with that truth.  He could have convinced himself that he was not afraid of the gospel and that it was time to take a stand for truth.  He could have used pretty much any of the excuses we use today to blast our culture with “the truth”.  But he sidestepped the entire engagement. He modeled restraint and held his tongue, even on a hot topic such as his spiritual authority in this world.  Sometimes, we are much better off in today’s culture showing some restraint and biting our tongues as well.

In the second passage (Luke 20:19-26), the chief priests and scribes got more creative, sending spies to do their dirty work.  These spies asked seemingly innocent questions fed to them by the scribes and designed to trip Jesus up…in this instance, questions about his views on politics (governmental authority and taxes).  Again, he sidestepped the argument with a simple truism: if it belongs to Caesar, then give it to him…if it belongs to God, then give to him.  No opinions here about whether it actually does belong to Caesar…no public statements about what a buffoon Caesar really is…no facebook posts ridiculing Caesar and the entire Roman occupation as a violation of human rights…none of that at all.  Again, he modeled restraint.  And so should we, as the church.

Jesus had all the authority of Heaven with him, and nobody has ever (or will ever) have more truth on his side than Jesus did.  And he showed unbelievable discernment on the issue of when to speak and when to stay quiet.  As the body of Christ, shouldn’t we do the same?  In representing the authority of Christ on earth, shouldn’t God’s people be just as discerning in how we use our words?

Apples of gold, my friends…apples of gold.

© 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

31 10 2013

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

24 10 2013

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

I just returned from South Africa.  What an amazing trip!  It was a Spirit-filled time with old friends and new friends alike.

SA FlagI have been making this trip each year for several years now.  I have come to know some things about that country…things about it’s people, it’s society, and its politics.  I’m 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 my team found ourselves in those conversations, there was some “freedom” in being able to say, “We’re not from here.”  We could still have an opinion, even a Biblical perspective on the issue, but we were not in any position to impose those opinions on a country where we were only visitors.  We pretty quickly grasped what it feels like to be “ambassadors for Christ” in a foreign land.  We had 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 was not our business.

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

US FlagNow that I am home, and meditating 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.  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 have felt embarrassed occasionally at the state of our government, even ashamed from time to time, but I never felt threatened.  I never felt as though I needed to protect the U.S. from South African forces (frankly, I would sooner feel just the opposite).  I was merely visiting.  I was 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







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