“Look How They Love Each Other!”

1 07 2014

And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother. 1 John 4:21

And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. Colossians 3:15

sibling hugThis Summer, my younger daughter is living with my older daughter (and her husband and their dog) while she does an internship for her major. This last weekend, I had the privilege of visiting them for the first time since that arrangement started. So far, nobody has killed anyone. I am happy about that.

The truth is, my girls get along really well with each other. They give each other a hard time, but they are also clearly best friends. And when they fight, they fight fair. That’s important. That brings an amazing amount of peace to a parent. I am pretty sure I would never have understood that peace until I became a parent.

There is an aspect of God’s perspective on our love for each other that is “parental” in nature.  Paul references it in Colossians 3 when he admonishes that church to “let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts”.  I do not read Aramaic, nor Greek. But I am told that Paul actually wrote peace of Christ in Latin (Pax Christi), so as to make it a play on words for that culture. You see, the nickname for the Roman occupation under which those churches operated was the Pax Romana (“Peace of Rome”). It referred to a kind of imposed peace which Rome enforced in all of its territories. It was an understood connotation of Pax Romana: you and your neighbor are both now  part of the Roman Empire…if you have a problem with your neighbor, you have a problem with Rome. Paul says we should let the Pax Christi rule in our hearts. It was a strikingly “parental” notion of making sure the “children” loved each other well. Of course, those of us who don’t speak Greek or Latin miss this play on words of Paul’s.

John used a similar notion in his writings, but much more directly. No fancy metaphors for John. Just a simple, direct warning which cuts right to the chase: whoever loves God must also love his brother. Same concept…”you are now a part of God’s kingdom…if you have a problem with a brother, you have a problem with God.” Loving each other is not a suggestion. It is a requirement. It is not something we do as we feel some warm, fuzzy spirit move us…it is a discipline which we practice as a matter of routine, one at which we get better and better over time. And we do it by faith, which pleases our Heavenly Father.

That discipline of loving each other is also what Jesus said would set us apart from the rest of the world. We would in fact be known by that extraordinary discipline of loving each other. The world will look at us and marvel, and some will even call us ridiculous and unreasonable because of how we love. They will call us naive and childish (and much, much worse). All because of how we love each other. All because our Father in Heaven insists that his children love each other well.

So, what about it? What does the world say when they point to you and your relationships with your Christian brothers and sisters?

© 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




Hope for the Barren Church

19 06 2014

Thursday Re-mix:

Because the Lord had closed Hannah’s womb, her rival kept provoking her in order to irritate her. This went on year after year. Whenever Hannah went up to the house of the Lord, her rival provoked her till she wept and would not eat. 1 Samuel 1:6-7

http://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-image-cracked-land-image22328576In ancient times, being barren was a major affliction.  I suppose it probably still is in many parts of the world.  But for Hannah (and for all the other women in the Bible whose stories begin with being barren), it meant no security at all for their future.  Once their husband was gone, with no children of their own and with no ability to own property or earn a living, they would be destitute.  Desperation, then, does not even come close to describing the state of being for them.

Churches often go through seasons of desperation as well.  Maybe you know well what I mean. After years of budget shortfalls and then an economic crisis, there is suddenly a severe conflict and families leaving the church, and then the sudden death of a key leader and then a moral failure on another’s part and so on and so forth…the desperation can all pile up pretty quickly.  Then there are the anguishing cries to the Lord, “How long will you allow this to continue?!”  Month after month of praying can turn into year after year.  The landscape of the church turns into a parched, dry, barren land. Heretofore strong, faithful members begin to question whether the Lord has simply lifted his hand from the church…His glory has departed…He has written “Ichabod” across the door.

In such “barren” circumstances, hope for the future is all but waned completely.  It becomes impossible to even imagine a future.  Only the most faithful few even remain.  It can feel awfully destitute…much like Hannah no doubt felt in 1 Samuel 1.

It bears remembering during such a season that the same God who answered Hannah’s desperate cries (as well as the desperate cries of the other barren women of the Bible) hears the cries on behalf of your church.  That same God whose timing for Hannah’s pregnancy was perfect also has the perfect timing for accomplishing His purposes through your church’s barren season.  Why did the Lord close Hannah’s womb? So that He would be glorified when Samuel was born.  Why has He permitted your church’s curent struggles? So that He will be glorified when the blessings come.

Keep the faith, my friend.  He has not forsaken His church.  Humbly cry out to Him, seek His face, and He will hear and will answer.  In His perfect time.

© 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




Defiling the Church

22 05 2014

Thursday Re-mix:

But Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine…In every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king questioned them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters in his whole kingdom. Daniel 1:8, 20

Daniel was not a dietician.  He was no more prepared to offer a scientific explanation for his food choices than he was prepared to explain the theory of relativity.  All he knew was God’s Word and he was “resolved not to defile himself”, i.e., he was determined not to dirty his hands with the ways of the world.  He knew God’s law.  He trusted it.  And that was enough for him.

dirty handsIn my ministry of consulting with conflicted congregations, I have reached a conclusion about the church: it can be complicated.  This is true because people are complicated and because relationships are messy and the church, after all, is comprised fully of people and relationships.  It is not always easy to find our way forward through those complications.  It may be doctrinal issues or personality issues or governance issues or moral issues.  It may be generational issues or worship style issues or social issues.  Whatever the issues, the way forward can seem almost impossible to find, even for the most brilliant strategist.  I am reminded of that difficulty time and time again.

When we find ourselves in new, unchartered territory (like Daniel), it is always tempting to fall back on conventional wisdom of the world in which we live and work.   We want answers, and sometimes scripture does not offer us quite the full explanation we are hoping for, so we “defile ourselves” (and God’s church) by relying on strategies and processes from the world.

For example, we rely upon Robert’s Rules of Order and procedural trickery when we should be calling our people to prayer and to oneness in Christ.  In other instances, we fall back on secular human resources processes of talking about a problem employee, when scriptural models tell us we should be talking to that employee.  Even in matters of theology, our tendency is to navigate through suspected false teaching by bringing in the resident “expert” and leaving him/her to sort it out, rather than trusting Paul’s counsel in Ephesians 4 that the best defense against false teaching is NOT our theological prowess, but our unity and our corporate spiritual maturity.

As with Daniel, there are times (more than we can imagine) in the church where we may not necessarily be able to explain why Biblical processes and God’s wisdom works.  There are times when the Bible flies in the face of conventional worldly wisdom.  Those are the times which truly test our resolve, our faith in God’s Word.  We can enter the difficult waters with clean hands or we can dirty our hands with the ways of the world.  The choice is always ours.

© 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




Devastation, Destruction and the Love of God

15 05 2014

Thursday Re-mix:

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
his love endures forever. 
Psalm 118:1

We are approaching the one-year anniversary of one of the most destructive weather weeks in our country’s history.  One year ago, tornadoes ripped through the heartland of America and one particularly devastating one gutted the town of Moore, Oklahoma, leaving us with a great deal more questions than answers about God and His ways.  After that kind of occurrence, nothing seems safe…our cities, our homes, our children.  Devastating.

tornado damageIt was against that backdrop that I found myself meditating on my church’s Re:Verse passage from that week: Psalm 118.  “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.”  Awfully hard to embrace in that context, right?

When I work with congregations in the midst of conflict, there is this same difficulty…finding God and trusting His promises in the midst of devastation.  Hopeless does not really begin to describe the feeling.  Trusting God when the path is smooth is one thing, but believing He is who He says He is and that He will do what He says He will do when our world has crumbled around us…well, that’s a different thing, isn’t it?

When your entire neighborhood is literally ripped from its foundation, leaving little evidence of ever having been there, it is hard to hear about God’s love.  When lifelong friendships are torn apart as a result of a church conflict, we struggle with notions of God’s promises to those who love Him, who are called according to His purposes.  When our children are sent safely off to school and then are horribly and suddenly taken from us, the love of God can feel like a completely foreign concept.

I think it is important to note that God’s Word does not promise to keep us from these things.  Rather, God promises to be WITH US in the midst of them.  In all of these instances, what happens next is the fulfillment of that promise.  The people of Moore, Oklahoma felt the love of God through disaster relief workers and churches and emergency personnel and people who cared for them.  In the days following their tragedy, they came face to face with God’s love which endures forever.  Similarly, in the aftermath of every church conflict, there is the birth of a new day in the life of the church…a day when God manifests Himself in fresh new ways.  Neither tornadoes nor church conflict catch God by surprise.  He sees them coming, knows the outcomes of them, and makes His presence felt in the healing and rehabilitation which follows.

It is that healing and rehabilitation for which we give thanks.  It is through the outpouring of relief efforts and through the reconciliation of friendships where we experience the love of God which endures forever.  The devastation is still there, our lives will never be the same.  The church is split, and it will never be the same.  But God is nonetheless good and is faithful to be there with us, just as He promised.

In all things and in all seasons, give thanks to the Lord, for He is good…and His love endures forever.

© 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




Being the Anti-Worshipper

8 05 2014

Thursday Re-mix:

Come, let us bow down in worship,
    let us kneel before the Lord our Maker;
for he is our God
    and we are the people of his pasture,
    the flock under his care.

Today, if only you would hear his voice,
“Do not harden your hearts as you did at Meribah,
    as you did that day at Massah in the wilderness,
where your ancestors tested me... Psalm 95:6-9

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Romans 12:1


??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????There are some of you reading this post who cannot believe there are still churches struggling with the “worship wars” of music and style and diverse forms of gathered worship.  You fought those battles years ago and have enjoyed a long time now of unity on that subject.  There are others of you who, frankly, cannot even imagine what it feels like to have that conflict in your rear-view mirror, because you are right in the middle of it now, with little hope for a friendly resolution.  Either way, whether those struggles are fresh for your church or long since forgotten, we all could use a gentle reminder about worship and what, exactly, are our objectives as we plan corporate worship.

The Psalmist from Psalm 95 does us a great favor, not only reminding us of the object of our worship, but also reminding us of what is NOT worship.  The references to “Meribah” and “Massah” in Psalm 95 relate to an ugly moment in Israel’s history documented in Exodus 17.  The people were complaining to Moses because they were uncomfortable…because they were not getting what they wanted.  There was a sense of entitlement in them…exactly the opposite from the contrite hearts which true worship demands.

True worship, you see, is about sacrifice.  This is true in the Old Testament and the New Testament alike.  Paul’s words to the Romans clarify this: offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.  Worship has always been about sacrificing what we want in order to acknowledge God.  The hearts of the Hebrew people at Meribah (i.e., the insistence that they get what they want) is, according to the Psalmist, exactly the opposite of worship…it is anti-worship.

Isn’t that the irony, then, of the worship wars?  At the very heart of that conflict is people clinging to what they want, to what they are comfortable with.  Just like at Meribah.  It is that very act of personal insistence about a style of worship which makes me an anti-worshipper.  When I hold fast to what I want in the music or the preaching or the other forms of worship, when I make worship all about my leanings and my preferences, I become the very antithesis of true worship.  It’s not about sacrifice at all.  It’s about me.

I’ve been speaking into this “worship wars” issue for some years now, but for some reason, I had missed this painful bit of irony.  Shame on me.  And shame on us.

© 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




Let’s DO Have Hard Conversations…but NOT On Line

5 05 2014

Monday Morning Quarterback – Encouraging God’s people to be responsible, encouraging and uplifting in their use of social media.

We have said here over and over again that “the church” really must be especially effective at communication. After all, “go ye therefore and make disciples” is pretty much ALL about effective communication. We should not be the ones learning communication from the world…we should be the ones blazing trails in effective communication.

One fundamental concept of effective communication is truly understanding the limits of any particular vehicle. Every form of communication has its limits. We do not use post-it notes to write a doctoral thesis. We do not use texting to break-up a relationship (please, agree with me on that one). We do not use video to make a grocery list. Every form of communication, every vehicle, has its ideal purpose and use as well as its limitations.

difficult conversationSocial media is no different. You want to capture a fun moment in a photograph or video and then share it with friends instantly? Social media is ideal. You want to make the world aware of your opinion, even wisdom, on a recent cultural or political event? Social media works great. You want to reach out to a demographic and get some quick feedback on a particular subject or do some quick and low-cost marketing analysis on a product or service? Social media can help there as well. Even spewing your own spin on controversial topics is easily and effectively accomplished through social media.

But what about difficult conversations? What about the kind of conversations every Christ follower is called to be a part of from time to time, where emotions are running high and where genuine understanding of the other side is running very low? What about conversations that have been “hi-jacked” by groups with political agendas and extremists, which make it virtually impossible to read any statement at all without looking behind it for the real agenda?  Unfortunately, social media has proven itself over and over again to be the WRONG place for those conversations. In fact, trying to have those conversations on social media, with all its public pressures and biases and easy “cut and paste” options has ended up doing a lot more damage to those conversations than good.

Abortion has become one of those issues. Same-sex marriage is another. You can probably name plenty of others. For these kinds of issues, if all you are interested in is spewing forth your own position without listening to any opposing position, then social media works just fine for that. But if you are genuinely wanting to have a conversation, or if you at least want to be perceived as being interested in a conversation, then social media as your communication vehicle has lots and lots of limitations. You get no vocal inflection (all caps and exclamation points and emoticons will only go so far), you get no facial expressions, you get no body language…and all of those comprise a massive percentage of the key information we are accustomed to taking in during a conversation.

If being misunderstood is a genuine concern of yours, then you have probably already experienced this frustration numerous times with social media.  The thing is, we do need to be having these hard conversations. If you’ve been reading my thoughts very long, you already know how strongly I believe that. Having hard conversations is something leaders do…much more so, church leaders! But we should be sitting down face to face and having those hard conversations. Yes, it is less convenient than just lighting up a Twitter feed, but it is critical in order to really listen to one another.

To quote “Dirty” Harry Callahan: “A man’s got to know his limitations.” Church leaders take heed…Dirty Harry was right. Know your limitations. Know when to hit “send” or “publish” or “post” and know when to pick up the phone and set up a meeting 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




Good News and Bad News for Your Church

1 05 2014

The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father, nor the father suffer for the iniquity of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself. Ezekiel 18:20

I have good news and bad news for your church and for mine. The good news: no matter how many wrong choices your church may have made in the past, God is still willing to work through you today, if you will humble yourselves and seek after Him. The bad news: you get little credit for the amazing things in your church’s past…it is your current testimony that matters. This generation of your church will stand alone in its effectiveness.

standing aloneEzekiel was dealing with the first group of Hebrews exiled to Babylon. They were the young, best and brightest of the Hebrew society. They were the intelligent, creative, young leaders. Before the exile, they had their whole productive lives in front of them. But now, it was all for naught. For all practical purposes, their productive lives were over. They would now spend the rest of those lives in exile. No surprise, then, they felt “robbed”…and they blamed their parents. They blamed the stiff-necked, rebellious nature of the generations before them for their current sad state.

The irony is that, for generations now, those very Hebrew people had been living off of the “favored” status of their own forefathers before the Lord. They had all the stories of a mighty God who had faught their forefather’s battles and who had miraculously saved them time and time again. They were living off the very spotty righteousness of their forefathers. “God promised our father, Abraham…we are his favored people.”

Do you see the pattern?

Ezekiel had a sobering word for them…and for us.

If you and your church are still living off the “glory days” of your past, if the last evidence of real Spiritual activity among you was an especially powerful Experiencing God weekend in 1996, if the prevailing wish of your people is to go BACK rather than venture forward, then Ezekiel has a harsh word for you. You cannot go with God and cling to the glory of the past. Those past victories will not carry you today. You stand today on your own feet, with your own choices, irrespective of those victories of yesterday.

By the same token, if your church has a horrible legacy of conflict and damaged relationships and a bad reputation in your community due to wrong choices in the past, be encouraged. Our God is a God of fresh starts. You can turn it all around today. The Lord has not forsaken you. Humble yourselves before the Lord and stand on your own before Him, unhindered by the poor choices of your church’s past. Start new. Today.

Maybe this word is good news for you. Or maybe it is bad news for you. Either way, one thing is certain…the responsibility is yours.

© 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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