X-Men Origins: Joseph, the Dreamer

26 06 2014

Thursday Re-mix:

Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers, they hated him all the more.  Genesis 37:5

Then Joseph said to Pharaoh, “The dreams of Pharaoh are one and the same.God has revealed to Pharaoh what he is about to do.” Genesis 41:25

Super HeroI know there are some theological problems with comparing our Spiritual gifts to “super powers”…no doubt even more problems than I am aware of.  Still, it makes me happy to think of them that way. So indulge me, please, for just this one post, because I believe the story of Joseph and his particular spiritual gift reads like a classic Marvel Comics super hero tale.  He was like one of the X-Men with his super power of prophetic dreams and their interpretations.

Like most classic super heros, Joseph had a rough start with his gift.  He wasn’t very polished in how he used it.  It caused others to hate him and he just mishandled it more often than not.  His fumbling of it got him sold into slavery by his spiteful brothers.  Of course, years later, he would look back and see that was God’s plan all along.  But in the meantime, his gift would cause him much pain.

As he matured, he came to understand the power and began to use it to help others (every super hero faces a crossroads early on when he/she must decide whether to use his/her power for good or for evil).  As he made that choice more and more often, great and amazing things began to happen around him and he eventually rose to extraordinary power in Egypt, not to mention saving hundreds of thousands of lives in the midst of seven years of drought.

So here is the application (maybe you already got it)…

The purpose of spiritual giftedness is to benefit the community of believers (see Ephesians 4).  Joseph’s story is a beautiful illustration of what happens when we make the conscious decision to turn our giftedness outward and hone it for the purposes of helping others, rather than using it for our own glory or edification.  It is a difference of motive, of attitude, of the heart.  If your giftedness is mostly just drawing attention to you as opposed to pouring into others (and this is not always an easy heart-check for most of us), then you may be missing the point.

So, when you examine your heart on this issue, what do you find?  When you think about your giftedness, is it first and foremost to build yourself up? Or is it first and foremost for the benefit of others?  And maybe even more important…as a leader in the church, are you helping your people learn this lesson as well?

© 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




The Truth About Andrew’s Birthday Gift

27 08 2013

Tuesday Re-mix -

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Blake Coffee
Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way and do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction. For web posting, a link to this document on this website is preferred. Any exceptions to the above must be approved by Blake Coffee.  Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: © Blake Coffee. Website: churchwhisperer.com




We Christians and Our Starbucks

23 04 2013

Tuesday Re-mix -

 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.  And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.  Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.  Ephesians 4:29-32

Last year, companies in the Northwest U.S. came out in favor of a same-sex marriage law in Washington state, citing business reasons such as keeping quality employees (who would presumably feel compelled to leave the state, and the company, in order to live somewhere where they could enjoy their same-sex marriage).  Those announcements would not ordinarily have made national news, except for the names of some of those companies: Microsoft, Nike, and (alas) Starbucks.  Actually, not even Microsoft’s or Nike’s announcements got all that much attention, despite their HUGE place in the homes of Christians all over the world.  But Starbucks…well, then the Christian world was in an uproar, to say the least.  People were calling for a boycott.  Messing with our computers and our $200 tennis shoes was one thing, but then they were messing with our coffee!

And so, the fight within the Christian world was once again fanned into flames with a renewed energy.

IN THIS CORNER: “How can you say you believe the Bible and then support gay marriage by purchasing Starbucks coffee?!”  And IN THIS CORNER: “How can you say you follow Christ and then refuse to associate (like He did) with those with whom you disagree?!”  And with those positions, both sides dangerously agree on one contention: “If you disagree with me on this, you must not really be Christian.”

Nice.

I am a peacemaker.  This sort of conflict is what I live for!  So I boldly waded out into this one with some words of counsel to my Christian friends who simply could not resist this fight.  “If you and your Christian friend are really going to debate this issue,” I said, “because she is boycotting Starbucks and you don’t want to…or because you are boycotting Starbucks and she doesn’t want to, you need to follow some rules.”  Of course, my friends already knew these rules, because they come from the same Bible we each used to support our argument.  Permit me a few paraphrases of those “rules of engagement”:

1. Do not overestimate or overstate what is at risk.  Neither your salvation nor your friend’s are at stake here.  I’ve searched and searched the scripture on this…there is nothing in there about boycotting the secular world’s businesses in order to be saved…nor, for that matter, even as evidence of our salvation.  Moreover, your Christian friendship is likewise not at risk here, nor your worship relationship, nor your ability to love each other, minister together, or discuss scripture together.  Keep a “ceiling” on the discussion and do not let it escalate beyond its reasonable borders.  The Christ in you and the Christ in your friend are still the same…and still very much alive!

2.  You are on the same team.  The friend with whom you are arguing is not your enemy.  We in the church do have an enemy, and he loves it when we break unity, especially over stuff like this.  Figure out whose strategy you are going to play into here…and be careful.

3. Keep your words edifying.  Quit taking the other side’s position and then carrying it out to some ridiculous “logical conclusion” just to try to make them look foolish.  That doesn’t build them up.  Understand their position, yes, but don’t misinterpret it.  Quit trying to change their minds about their own position.  Just explain why you have made the decision you have made without tearing them down for their decision.  Ask yourself what is to be gained by using words of contempt and shaming them into agreeing with you…you may have won the debate, but at what cost?

4. Keep bitterness and anger out of this discussion.  That is sometimes easier said than done.  But all of us as Christ followers need an anger gauge that sounds an alarm when we feel it rising up in us.  And then we need to find some quick, honest, relatively painless way out of this discussion until we can re-enter it with coolness and love and gentleness.  How embarrassing will it be for you to stand before the Lord one day and have to admit that you destroyed a Christian friendship which HE ORDAINED FOR YOU over a disagreement about where you buy your coffee.  Ouch!

5.  Don’t use your life experiences to interpret scripture.  Rather, use scripture to interpret your life experiences.  Be honest.  If you have an idea in mind of what you want scripture to say before you even open it, then your “research” is already tainted.

I hope these reminders help.  They always help me.  Consider yourself adequately warned now.  So, go ahead…strap on the gloves and slug it out.  And may the best Christian win.  :)

© 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




Discipline for the Disciplinarians

16 04 2013

Tuesday Re-mix -

“Woe to the Assyrian, the rod of my anger,
in whose hand is the club of my wrath!”  
Isaiah 10:5

I know I have joked (kind of) in previous posts about how theology watchdogs in the blogosphere (and in the church) are annoying in the same way as that teacher in high school who constantly corrected your grammar while you were trying to talk.  But I also do recognize that God has given us brothers and sisters whose giftedness and very calling is to help us keep our doctrine pure…they are the doctrine disciplinarians, if you will.  You know the ones I mean.  They blog about your favorite pastor, who made a horrendous, unbelievable, heretical, probably-not-saved-if-you-say-this theological error in his sermon last week.  They call him out by name, and the venom with which they attack him is, well, pretty ungodly.  Or they review the most recent book by one of your favorite authors and basically question his very humanity, not to mention his spirituality, because of the position he seems to have taken on this theological issue or on that social issue…again, with uncommon rancor.

[And, as an aside, you know what is one of my pet peeves?  That blogger almost never makes any attempt at all to actually contact that pastor/teacher/author in order to practice this "discipline" or "accountability" Biblically, which pretty quickly gets me wondering whether they are really loving this brother or rather are just a little envious of his acclaim.  But I digress.]

I know that God disciplines us.  And I know that he often uses others to do it.  I am really OK with that.  In fact, it seems like a good plan to me.  I think scripture gives us plenty of examples of God using people to discipline his children.  Sometimes, he even used a pagan, non-believing people (like the Assyrians) to do it.

But scripture seems equally clear to me that to be used by God in this fashion comes with a heavy responsibility.  God’s discipline is to be carried out God’s way and with God’s honor and God’s love in our hearts and our minds.  When God’s “tool of discipline” forgets this or forsakes it, the consequences are dire.  When God punishes the punisher, it is ugly and horrifying, filled with His wrath.  Again, Isaiah 10 and the Assyrians come to mind.

So, fellow bloggers and church leaders…before your fingers hit the keyboard to release your discipline on that weak-minded pastor or that hopelessly lost author or that wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing so deserving of your harsh rebuke, will you make sure your knees hit the ground and your heart turns toward God?  We need your passion.  God’s kingdom needs your giftedness.  The church needs your laser focus on helping us keep our doctrine straight.  And we love you too much to allow you to throw it all away because of a wrong attitude or a bad motive.  Fulfill your calling…by checking your heart!

And stop correcting my grammar.  Seriously.

© Blake Coffee
Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way and do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction. For web posting, a link to this document on this website is preferred. Any exceptions to the above must be approved by Blake Coffee.  Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: © Blake Coffee. Website: churchwhisperer.com




The Truth About Spiritual Gifts

6 11 2012

Tuesday Re-mix -

Now about the gifts of the Spirit, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed… to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.  1 Corinthians 12:1, 7

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.  If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.  If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.  1 Corinthians 13:1-3

I wish I could see exactly what the question was from the Corinthian church.  I mean, I wish I could know exactly how they reported their issue with spiritual gifts.  The mediator in me has watched Paul call out three of the four factions in that church in the first part of this letter (“I follow Paul”, “I follow Apollos”, and I follow Cephas”), and I wonder if the “I follow Jesus” faction was representative of the culprits here, because that is the way it comes across in so many of our church conflicts today where spiritual gifts are at issue.  Somebody is making a practice of doing something that is causing all kinds of havoc in the church, i.e., ripping the church apart, and their excuse is that “I am just exercising my spiritual gift…it is the Spirit of God Himself working through me…I am just following Jesus.”  I am troubled by that for several reasons, not the least of which is that spiritual gifts are ALL ABOUT UNITY and bringing the church together…not ripping it apart.

Despite Paul’s concern that we NOT be uninformed on this subject, I think we are.  Paul was kind of a “bullet point” communicator.  But he did not have the advantage of a word processor.  If he had, maybe he would have written his lesson on spiritual gifts more like this:

  • Spiritual gifts are not just abilities; they are the Spirit Himself.  The Spirit, you see, is the gift.  When the Spirit of God manifests Himself through a believer, i.e., “peeks out” at the rest of the church from inside a believer, we call that a “spiritual gift”.
  • Your spiritual gift is not for YOUR benefit at all…it is for the benefit of the church.  It is the Spirit of God working through you for the common good, “so that the body of Christ may be built up  until we all reach unity in the faith…”
  • Even though you should “desire” the greater gifts, you do not get to choose your gift…God does.  Wouldn’t it be nice if we could tell God how He should manifest Himself through us?  Then again, wouldn’t that be scary?!
  • You may well have an opinion about what your gift is, but since it is a gift to the church and not to you, you probably do not see it as clearly as the church does.  I am always a little skeptical when someone tells me what his/her own spiritual gift is…I always listen a lot more closely when he/she talks to me about someone else’s spiritual gift.
  • If your “spiritual gift” is damaging your church (i.e., Christ’s church) or is dividing God’s people rather than bringing them together in unity, do you really think that is the Spirit doing that?  It may well be some perversion of a spiritual gift, or not a spiritual gift at all, but it is not likely the Spirit.
  • That God would manifest Himself through you differently than how He manifests Himself through me is not a bad thing…it is a good thing.  God’s idea of unity comes via diversity.  Strange but true!
  • Your spiritual gift, no matter what it is, can only be received by the church through the lens of personal relationships.  In other words, you may be the most gifted communicator of God’s Word alive today, but if the 9 people sitting in your Sunday School class do not know that you love them, then you have nothing to offer them…you are just a bunch of noise.
  • There are not just 5 spiritual gifts, or 9 spiritual gifts, or 14 spiritual gifts.  Be careful about numbering or categorizing or otherwise limiting the various ways God may choose to manifest Himself through a believer.  The lists of gifts mentioned in scripture are more likely illustrative, not exhaustive.

I am with Paul on this…I do not want to be uninformed when it comes to spiritual gifts.  These are some things I have learned so far, with the rest of a lifetime yet to go!  How about you?  What precious nuggets of truth have you learned about Spiritual gifts that the church today needs to recognize?

© 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




I Have a Dream…

19 06 2012

Tuesday Re-mix -

…until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.  Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. Ephesians 4:13-15

Step 7: We humbly ask God to remove our shortcomings.

[I am using these Tuesday Re-mixes for a few weeks to think (again) about addiction to self-reliance and how that addiction is one of the biggest challenges to genuine community which we face in the American church culture.]

I have a dream…

…of breaking free from the shackles of self-reliance and resting instead in the sure hands of Christ and His Holy Spirit, looking to Him alone for my daily bread and for my affirmation and for my validation as a man and a father and a husband and a teacher and a vessel of His Spirit.

I have a dream…

…of escaping from the complexities I have created in order to preserve the lie that I have my life under control and that I am the perfect manager of my soul, a lie I have convinced myself to maintain in order to enjoy the approval of men, a lie I have obliged myself to tell in order to prevent anyone around me from having to deal with my true ugliness.

I have a dream…

…of tearing down the walls which divide my work life from my church life and my family life from my ministry life and my “Christian” friends from my “non-Christian” friends, all in order to change how I am from one life to the other without anyone seeing the hypocrisy of it all…walls which I thought would simplify my life but which have only complicated it beyond my control.

I have a dream…

…of letting go of the pretense and being truly known by a few close friends in my life, I mean TRULY KNOWN–all the secret sin and all the warts and ugly spots and Spiritual brokenness–and, being truly known, being nonetheless truly and unconditionally loved by those same friends.

I have a dream…

…of reaching beyond myself and truly knowing and truly loving those same few friends and nurturing them and praying for them and pressing them to become greater than they ever knew they could become and knowing that they are doing the same thing for me and that none of us…NONE OF US…is capable of doing this on our own.

I have a dream…

…of all of us in this virtual Tuesday support group actual recovering from our addiction to independence and self-reliance and learning to rest in Him and to lean into Christian community with God’s people…until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ…THE WHOLE MEASURE OF THE FULLNESS OF CHRIST. Can you imagine it?  Can you dream it with me?  If you can dream it, you can pray it.  And if you can pray it with just the faith the size of a mustard seed…

Are you with me?

© 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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