Being the Orange

24 06 2014

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect… Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. Romans 12:2, 9-13

Apples and OrangePaul seems clear enough in his letters to the churches…the community of believers (Christ-followers) should look different from the other communities in our world. We should not conform to their ways. Rather, our community should stand out in several ways. The church should stand out in several ways. Here’s a partial list. See how we’re doing…

Our love should be genuine. I read that as real. Not fake. Not conditional in any respect. It is true agape. I do not love you because of what you do or don’t do…nor because of who you are or are not. My love for you does not depend in any way on you or on circumstances surrounding you. I love you for one very simple reason: because Christ lives in me. And as long as that is true, I will keep loving you. Period.

Abhor what is evil…cling to what is good. This is much more than just a moral compass. Morality, in fact, just scratches the surface of this calling. This is about recognizing the work and influence of our one and only spiritual enemy among us and standing against it. And it is about recognizing the work and influence of God’s Spirit among us and standing with it, no matter the cost. This requires a level of discernment, doesn’t it?

Love one another with brotherly affection. The thing about real brothers is that, no matter how annoying and irritating they might be, they’re still your brother. My South African friends would call this concept “ubuntu”…that deep most, fundamental, irreducible bond which cannot be broken. It is the bond which holds us together after all other bonds have broken. It is family. Maybe that metaphor works for you…maybe it doesn’t. Maybe your actual family is not nearly as unbroken as this implies, and the whole illustration falls a little short for you because of that. But you get the picture. Even if this calling is not what your actual family has, it is what you have always wished your actual family had. In that regard, it is a high standard.

Outdo one another in showing honor. Honoring others above myself, always. Jesus was a masterful example of this. Whether it was a Samaritan woman or a lame man…a high ranking city official or the lowest of street beggars…he always related to others as being more important than Himself. It is the “mind of Christ” of which Paul speaks in Philippians 2:5-8.

Be zealous and fervent in our service to the Lord. Zeal, I believe, is a character trait with which many of us struggle. After all, we do not want to be viewed as too radical, i.e., too “out there” in our faith…unless, of course, we want to actually become the person Christ calls us to become! This thing we call Christianity is a revolution, my friend. We are about changing the world. That is not something that can be done nonchalantly. We can be one of the cool kids, or we can be radical followers of Christ. But we cannot be both.

Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. In short, see the world through God’s eyes and respond accordingly. We can never, ever be without hope. Not in the church. We will always have trials and difficulties and we must show the world patience in the face of them. And we must be a people of prayer. Always.

Generous giving and hospitality. Giving in a way that makes no sense at all to the world. Giving beyond expectations. Giving unreasonably. Caring for each other’s needs without ever growing tired of doing it. This is a lifestyle which will totally separate us from the world, who gives strictly out of surplus, if it gives at all. Being outrageously generous is the calling. It makes us different.

I believe scripture is serious about the church looking different from the world’s communities in all of these respects (and more). The question is, how are we doing?

© 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




Flying by Instruments

12 06 2014

Thursday Re-mix:

…and I bowed down and worshiped the Lord. I praised the Lord, the God of my master Abraham, who had led me on the right road to get the granddaughter of my master’s brother for his son.  Genesis 24:48

Therefore, holy brothers and sisters, who share in the heavenly calling, fix your thoughts on Jesus, whom we acknowledge as our apostle and high priest. Hebrews 3:1

cockpit instrumentsFor pilots, learning to fly by instruments is an important skill.  It is what a pilot must do when all the other more conventional ways of “getting your bearings” fall by the wayside.  When darkness and weather and confusion and chaos make it difficult to figure out which way is up and which way is down, all a pilot has left is the cockpit instruments.

I was reminded of that when I found myself preparing a lesson from the story of Isaac and Rebekah.  It is a story chock full of ancient culture about betrothal and marriage and what seems to our modern world to be a horribly flawed and archaic and unromantic matrimonial system.  At first glance, it is not an easy task pulling relevant truths out of this story…truths which we can apply to our lives today.  It would be easy to read this unusual story about marriage and lose your bearings trying to find a lesson.

For example, Abraham sent his servant off to a faraway land to find a wife for his (Abraham’s) son.  O.K., not gonna learn from that…for so many reasons.  The servant chose a blood cousin of the groom to be the bride…this would become a pattern for this family.  Not gonna use that lesson either.  The bride’s family blessed her, saying, “May your offspring possess the cities of their enemies!”  Um…no.  Then there is the nose ring for the bride.  Not even gonna touch that one!

But what if the eternal truths from this story do not have anything at all to do with the culture or the traditions or anything the people in the story did or did not do?  What if the real lesson here has little to do with the people at all?  What if the lesson is all about what God did?

It occurs to me that, if we are looking for eternal truth in God’s story, we need to pay close attention to the things God does and says, and not nearly so much to the things men do or say.  This God, after all, is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow, from everlasting to everlasting.  He does not change.  The same God whose story is told in the Bible, who was at work in the ancient world, is at work in our lives today.  Isn’t that where the lesson is?

It is like that in the church as well.  When issues begin to cloud our perspective, when relationships get messy and complicated, it can be difficult (as leaders) to see our way forward.  That is a good time to remember this lesson.  That is the time to pay particular attention to what God is doing and saying and not get too distracted by what flawed church members (or leaders) are doing or saying.  For God’s people, the way forward is rarely as easy as just the cultural norms or traditions or trappings of this world.  Those things are relevant, to be sure.  But the way forward has much more to do with what God is doing and saying.

So, whether you find yourself digging for lessons in stories of ancient matrimony or perhaps staying up at night worrying about some more pressing chaos currently in your church, the most important questions are the same:  What do your instruments tell you?  What is God doing?  What is God saying?  Are there any questions more important than these?

© 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




Making Your Church’s Path Straight

10 06 2014

In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.  Proverbs 3:6

My GPS and I have a tense relationship. I often don’t understand her directions. I can be traveling 70 mph down the highway, and she will tell me “in a quarter mile, stay straight on.” What does that even mean? And why does she say “In 200 feet, bear left…” when what she means is that I should take the turnaround under the next intersection and head back the opposite direction? Sometimes, I just would rather have my old, folded map! I just want to get to my destination with as few mistakes as possible!

So, God has my full attention when he makes promises in scripture about “making my path straight”. With promises like that, who needs maps or GPS? The promise in Proverbs 3:5-6 is not only true for the individual but for the church as well. It actually resolves quite a few problems for the local body of believers. Not all problems. But quite a few.

straight pathHere are some thoughts about what the promise of “straight paths” means for us as church leaders as we lead our churches forward:

Be willing to go beyond what you can understand. If you think trusting in the Lord and NOT on our own understanding is scary as an individual, you just try it as a church! With all the added pressures of “worldly wisdom” and fear-based group think, finding our way forward as a church body can be daunting. Learning as a church body to trust in the Lord’s direction, even when we cannot see all the dots connect ahead of time requires a huge cultural shift for most churches.

Acknowledge him in all your ways. Part of “doing church together” is the learned corporate skill of discerning between that which is God and that which is flesh. Too often, I think, we celebrate human achievement by calling it an act of God…and on other occasions we take credit for something God actually did among us. Both set a dangerous precedent and make for a rough and winding path rather than a straight one.

The path may be straight, but it still requires a journey. It seems that, in this “instant gratification” culture, even the churches (who are supposed to be distributors of wisdom and perspective) grow impatient with the journey. We want it all and we want it now. Our preferred reading of Proverbs 3:6 is In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will transport you directly to your destination without any journey at all. In the body of Christ, it is really not about the destination at all…it is all about the journey. The real joy is in the journey.

Moreover, the journey will take effort on our part. It will be hard work. That effort, in fact, is part of what makes the journey so worthwhile. Having a “straight path” does not mean everything about is easy and is handed to us. Not by any means.

The way forward is clear enough. Isn’t that the point of “making the path straight”? It is removing the forks in the road along the way, and making it easy to see next steps. It is taking away the guesswork of turning right or turning left and helping us know–really know–the way forward. For the church who truly trusts the Lord even more than it trusts its own understanding, and works to rightly discern the work of the Spirit in its midst, and is willing to patiently stay on the journey God has for it, the way forward will be clear enough. Always.

You know what churches really need? A spiritual GPS! They need a voice that knows the way and will communicate spiritual wisdom and God’s perspective to them all along their journey, so that they really can learn to trust in the Lord and not on their own understanding. And all that wisdom should be written down, maybe into a book form…or maybe even an app on our smartphones. And it should be translated into every language and put into the hands of all our people and studied together! Oh, wait…

© 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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