The Sins of Community

19 03 2013

Tuesday Re-mix -

“Go to Bethel and sin;
go to Gilgal and sin yet more.
Bring your sacrifices every morning,
your tithes every three years.
Burn leavened bread as a thank offering
and brag about your freewill offerings—
boast about them, you Israelites,
for this is what you love to do,”
declares the Sovereign LORD.  
Amos 4:4-5

In the category of “there’s nothing new under the sun”, many of the problems we see today in the church have been with God’s people a long, long time.  Near the top of that list of problems is that people with hardened hearts which are cold toward God are still showing up at all the traditional times and in all the conventional ways for “church”.  It has been this way for a long, long time…God’s people are often pretty different on the inside than they are on the outside.  We are capable of going through the motions of spiritual things even while our hearts are not turned toward God.  Furthermore, even knowing this about ourselves, we continue to foster a form of “church” which quite intentionally avoids any system or structure that might actually fix this problem. Sadly, we do not really want the kind of genuine community to which scripture calls us, because that would mean accountability and intimacy and giving over some level of control in our lives to the community at large…or, worse, to God.

What I am saying is this: if hypocrisy and lack of integrity are our problems, then genuine Spirit-filled Christian community is the solution.  But it is a solution we are not altogether sure we want…and we have structured most of our gathered church experiences so as to downplay the importance of that very type of community.

Don’t we tend to wrap our “church” experience all up in the hour or so of gathered worship each week?  Oh, we may hit a committee meeting or two, or even a Sunday School class or choir rehearsal, but that hour or so of gathered worship is the centerpiece of our “church” time.  You know why that is?  Because we can come for “worship” and listen and sing and be faceless and anonymous, with no accountability and no intimacy at all.  Maybe I connect with God.  Maybe I do not.  Nobody knows but me.  It is what “church” is dangerously close to becoming for our culture.  And even though we know we should have intimate relationships with genuine accountability, we often choose not to do so.  And even though we choose not to do so, most of our church structures allow us to continue to “move up” into leadership as long as we show up and look right.

It is what church has become to so many of God’s people because it is what we want church to be.  We–all of us–have fostered this form of church by our preferences.  This is not just about the sins of a few bad people.  This is about the church we have all chosen.  The comfortable church.  The one that makes us feel good about ourselves without ever having to become transparent and without ever having to change anything about ourselves.  This is the church we have all made.  This is not about individual sin; rather, this is about the collective sin of us all as a community.

Amos’ words were not aimed at a handful of individuals in Israel.  They were aimed at a nation.  And they are aimed at us all, as the community of God’s people.

But there is good news.

We can still repair this damage.

We can still turn this ship around.  We can still insist on genuine community.  We can still decide that, without one another’s help, we will never become the people God has called us to be.  We can do the hard things associated with transparency and accountability and intimacy.

We just have to decide what we want “church” to be.

© 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




…So That We Can Comfort Those in Trouble

17 07 2012

Tuesday Re-mix -

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.  2 Corinthians 1:3-4

Step 12: Having had a spiritual awakening as a result of these steps, we carry this message to other addicts and practice these principles in all our affairs.

[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.]

There’s a story we tell in the support group ministry I help lead:

A guy is stuck in the bottom of a hole, with no hope of getting out on his own.  The hole is just too deep.  A businessman walks by and looks down in the hole.  From the bottom, the guy yells, “Can you help me out?  I’m stuck down here.”  The businessman reaches into his pocket and finds a couple of dollar bills and drops them down into the hole and walks off.  The guy in the hole just looks up, bewildered.  Then a minister walks by and looks down into the hole.  From the bottom, the guy yells up, “Can you help me?  I’m stuck!”  The minister yells back, “I’ll pray for you!” and walks off.  The guy in the hole is quickly losing hope.  Then another man walks up and looks down into the hole.  Growing desperate now, the guy in the hole yells up, “Please!  Don’t leave!  I’m stuck and need help.”  Upon hearing this, the guy up top puts down his things and jumps down into the hole with the first guy.  “You fool!” says the first guy.  “Now we’re BOTH stuck down here!  What in the world were you thinking?”  And the second guy answers, “Don’t worry.  You see, I’ve been in this hole before, and I know the way out.  Follow me!”

We are at the end of our journey together to recovery from our addiction to independence and self-reliance.  Oh, it is not the end of our journey…just the end of our journey together as a group.  Your journey…my journey…they will continue throughout our entire lives, and these 12 steps are steps we will come back to again and again.  But through prayer and community with other believers who love us, we now have an infrastructure to support our recovery, i.e., a track to run on.  We can move forward with confidence that there really is a way out from this wretched addiction.

Having found the pathway of healing, do we not feel some sense of responsibility now to help others find it?  Having experienced a spiritual awakening of sorts, or at least a rude awakening to the reality of our addiction, do we not owe our friends and family suffering from the same addiction some “heads up” about it?  It seems to me that this message of the American church’s addiction to self-reliance is not only worthy of sharing but demanding of it.

I hereby pledge to do my part.  You?

……………………………………………………………………………….

P.S.- I have so enjoyed our time together in this Tuesday group.  Though our formal gathering is now over (there are, after all, only 12 steps), keep an eye out for a post here or there on this same subject in the weeks and months ahead.  You never know when I might feel compelled to revisit one or more of these 12 steps!

© 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




Seeing Our Addiction Through God’s Eyes

10 07 2012

Tuesday Re-mix -

Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. James 5:16

Step 11: We seek through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understand God, praying only for knowledge of God’s will for us and the power to carry that out.

[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.]

About 18 months ago, my pastor started us on a new prayer journey.  For the first several months, every morning, he wrote a meditation on the model prayer (those morning meditations have since become meditations on our current Bible study and can be found at theeverydayprayer.com).  I have continued that practice, still praying the model prayer every morning.  This journey has been revealing to me.

The most convicting revelation for me thus far has been this: you and I do not really believe in prayer.  Not really.  Not the way Jesus did.  It only stands to reason that, if we really thought that prayer would change big, important things like cancer or sex trafficking or genocide or war, you and I would never stop praying.  We would be praying all day and all night, because there are issues in this world which would warrant that kind of prayer…if we really thought it would make a difference, that is.  But we don’t.  Not really.  That is why work and school and soccer games and American Idol all get larger chunks of our time and energy than does prayer.  Very sad, but very true, I think.

But even if I lack a strong enough faith in the power of prayer over the world, I do at least have a strong faith that prayer changes me (the one doing the praying).  That much I can say with certainty.  Whether or not I believe it changes anything I pray about, it changes me.  Philip Yancey, the author of Prayer: Does it Make Any Difference? says that, for him, prayer is “…a kind of vision correction so that I begin to see the world more as God does.”  I have come to see that, the more time I spend in genuine prayer and drawing close to Him, the more it changes me and how I see the world around me.

Here is the cool part.  That little amount of faith in prayer is actually enough for our purposes!  After all, in our little support group, dealing with our addiction to independence and self-reliance, all we are wanting to change is us!  Do we want God to take away this addiction?  Yes!  But isn’t His way of doing that to “transform us by the renewing of our minds”, changing the way we think about our addiction and changing the way we see it?

I believe the process which Step 11 sets up for us is the guaranteed “continuing education” aspect of the recovery from this addiction.  It assures that we are staying on a transformative path…that we are allowing God’s closeness and God’s Word to continue to wash through us and to change us.

And when we add to that what we have already uncovered about doing all of this in community…well, then the possibilities for change are virtually limitless!  I can honestly say that prayer with a few close friends here and there about our struggles and our own issues has made an enormous difference in me.

What about your story?  How has the process of prayer made a difference in your addiction to self-reliance?

© 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




Promptly Admitting When We Are Wrong

3 07 2012

Tuesday Re-mix -

Step 10: We continue to take personal inventory and when we are wrong, we promptly admit it.

[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 had more than a little bit of trouble knowing what to write here about admitting when I am wrong (my wife is having a good laugh now…and she can stop now, because it’s not that hilarious).  So, with your permission, I am injecting a little humor into our Tuesday group today…because you and I both need a good laugh sometimes in our recovery journey.  Here is an illustration about owning up to our mistakes and admitting when we are wrong.

Happy Tuesday, everybody.  Good luck with Step 10!

© 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




Step 8: Owning the Damage I Have Done

26 06 2012

Tuesday Re-mix -

Step 8: We made a list of all persons we have harmed and we are willing to make amends to them all.

[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’ve been working on Step 8 this week.  I am suddenly feeling a little bit like the guy who casually tossed a cigarette butt onto the ground and burned down an entire forest and didn’t find out about it until long afterwards.  A friend of mine who knows these 12 steps much better than I do once told me that an addict can spend a lifetime on step 8 alone.  Once you start making a list of the people who have been harmed by your addiction, the floodgates open up and it can actually become pretty overwhelming.  That has been my experience as I have considered the ramifications, both known and suspected, of my obsessive self-reliance and its impact on others.

So, in order to avoid feeling completely overwhelmed, I am starting with categories rather than with names.  It doesn’t diminish the scope of the damage, but it helps me at least begin to get my brain wrapped around the depth and the breadth of the damage.  This list is only a start.  But it does get me a few steps further down the long process of considering all those I have hurt.  So, here we go…

1.  My family – How much spiritual damage have I caused each time my wife or daughters came to me needing Godly wisdom and I gave them my own wisdom instead?  Rather than prayerfully discerning the wisdom God had waiting for me in just that moment, I fell back into my “I’ve got this one, God” attitude and hit them with my best shot of fatherly advice.  I shutter to think what the spiritual ramifications have been.  I also can recount lots of painful seasons when my stubborn independence led me to make wrong decisions in material areas such as finances, business, and even relationships and it was my family who paid the price.  Granted, I may have owned the fault and the mistake, but I am now seeing those mistakes as a part of the larger addiction.

2.  My church – I have been teaching the Bible now for some 30 years in the church.  The longer I do it, the less I realize I know.  I suppose that is a sign of Spiritual maturity.  But what that also means is that, in my less mature moments, I have leaned upon my own understanding and relied upon my own communication skills and powers of persuasion to “teach” God’s word, rather than doing the harder work of prayerfully hearing the lesson first from God and then delivering it His way.  I am now grieving the possible ramifications of that in the lives of those who looked to me for a word from the Lord but who got instead a “wise word” from Blake.  This category must also include those who hoped for me to deliver a God-sized vision for ministry, but instead got a Blake-sized vision because I had not taken it to the Lord and gotten His perspective on it.  Also in this category are those dear friends who have stood by and waited patiently for me to trust them with my deepest pains and I have shut them out due to my own twisted sense of independence or privacy and therefore deprived them of the privilege of ministering to me.  That particular group, I fear, is bigger than I can imagine.

3.  Other churches – I am still haunted by my first attempt at mediating a church conflict.  It was a small church in New Mexico.  There were probably a dozen or so “players” in the conflict, including the pastor whose ministry was hanging in the balance.  I remember thinking to myself, “I have mediated hundreds of litigation matters involving complex issues and high drama…how difficult can this small church’s conflict be?”  I asked them to give me a Saturday morning to meet with everyone and get it all worked out.  I think I probably said a short prayer or two on the flight out to Albuquerque.  Long story short…it was a fiasco.  I relied upon my own wisdom and abilities and the whole church blew up.  I did more harm than good.  I know I learned that lesson (the hard way) and have never again taken this ministry lightly.  But I also suspect there have still been moments when I fell back more on my own abilities and less on the Lord in dealing with conflicted congregations.  Again, I cannot even bear to think of the spiritual damage I may have done in those instances.

I am stopping here for now.  I need some time to process just these three categories.  I am praying that God will give me His eyes to see the damage done and His heart to feel the pain that resulted.  I don’t know about you guys, but this recovery process is getting pretty painful now.

How about you?  Care to share?  Are you going to leave me hanging here all by myself?

© 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




“Do You Want to Get Well?”

12 06 2012

Tuesday Re-mix -

When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?” John 5:6

Step 6: We are entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.

[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.]

So, in our 12-step program to recover from our addiction to self-reliance, step 6 is that we are “entirely ready to have God remove” this character defect.  Well, that really is the question, isn’t it?  Are we entirely ready to give up our addiction to self-reliance?  Are we entirely ready to start opening our lives up to God and to God’s people and to start leaning into community?

When I was in college, I blew my knee out messing around in the gym.  It was my first serious injury of my life.  I waited a week or so before going to the doctor, because my addiction to self-reliance was already well-developed by then.  When I did finally go to the doctor, it was still pretty swollen.  He told me that he could not diagnose it with all that fluid on it.  He would need to aspirate it in order to check it out.  That meant he would need to stick a long needle into my knee joint and draw out the fluid.  I grabbed my things and left.  Self-reliance was looking like a pretty good option to me at that point.

Several weeks later, the swelling had all but gone and the pain had subsided pretty well too.  I decided it was healthy enough to play on it again.  I went out on the basketball court and started to play lightly.  Within just a few minutes, it buckled sideways (there were no ligaments left to hold it stable).  It was blown.  Self-reliance was not going to work this time.

I went back to the doctor and let him aspirate it.  Then he diagnosed the problem and told me it needed surgery.  This would be an even greater problem for my self-reliance.  I could not do the surgery myself (that would be ridiculous).  I would have to let him put me to sleep and place myself into his hands and into the hands of his people (his surgical team). I really had no viable option but to let go and let him do the surgery.  I had to decide to let him heal me.

Isn’t that the decision for us here?  Do we really want to be healed from this affliction?  Are we prepared to admit that self-reliance simply does not work…that it only further complicates our lives and that we are simply ill-equipped to heal ourselves?

God (our Great Physician) has his terms, just like my surgeon did.  Healing comes only on His terms.  One of those terms is that we must learn to live in community with His people (the church).  That’s the deal.  Take it or leave it.  It is non-negotiable.  Like surgery, it will come with some pain.  That is pretty much a guarantee.  And it will come with some difficulties…also a guarantee.  But it is where we find healing.

 Jesus spoke directly to this issue in this passage from Matthew 11:29-30:

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

It is true, isn’t it?  Given the option of relying on myself or taking on His yoke, it really is easier to take on His yoke.  Sometimes we just have to hit rock bottom first to realize it.

I am ready.  I want to be healed.  You?

© 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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