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







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