Addicted to Anonymity

10 04 2012

Tuesday Re-mix -

I wonder if we in the American culture have become addicted to anonymity?

Dictionary.com defines addiction like this:

the state of being enslaved to a practice or habit or something that is psychologically or physically habit-forming, as narcotics, to such an extent that its cessation causes severe trauma.

When I think about the community prescribed in God’s Word, particularly in the New Testament church,  I see plenty of problems for our contemporary culture.  We have become a people insistent upon our anonymity.  We value self-sufficiency and independence almost above all things.  We write books about “self-improvement” and “self-made men”.  We idolize individual achievement and we dream about financial independence, and we describe all of this as “the American dream”.  We live in gated communities to keep out the undesirable community.  And we see anyone asking for help as weak and sad.  We have created an entire body of law around the “right to privacy” and we guard our privacy as if it is our most prized possession.  There is no question but that we have, in many ways, worked exactly contrary to the type of interdependence described in the Bible.

But none of that necessarily gets us to “addiction”.  The question is, are we “enslaved” to this need for independence?  Is it psychologically habit-forming?  If we lost it, would we be traumatized?  These are troublesome questions for me.  These are the questions I ask myself as I travel around the country from one church to the next talking about Biblical relationships and New Testament community.  I have to say it…that kind of community is not easy to find, even in the church…maybe especially in the church.

I  believe our culture’s obsession with privacy and independence and anonymity have approached the “addiction” level.  I believe this because we kick and scream anytime we lose those things.  Like an addiction, we actually know that we should be living in community and that we need other people in our lives, but through our actions we choose otherwise.  We choose anonymity, even when we know we should not.  It feels like an addiction to me.  So what about the church?

In the church, we have become so consumer-oriented that we are afraid to create an environment which might actually offend someone’s desire to remain anonymous.  We have done all our marketing homework and we know well what people want and what they do not want.  We aim to give them what they want, because we want to be a “user-friendly” church.  We create huge crowds so that a visitor can come in and, essentially, remain anonymous without being “bothered” by anyone.  What’s worse, we give our own members plenty of leeway to exercise their own desire for independence and privacy and anonymity.  We actually make it possible for people to be “members” without any investment in community or personal accountability at all.  In a sense, we have become “enablers” of our society’s addiction.

There is much to explore on this issue.  But for today, I just want to ask the questions…have we become addicted to anonymity?  And how can the church offer recovery from this addiction?
© 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




Finding Focus in a Church’s Grief

10 01 2012

Tuesday Re-mix – 

“Therefore, holy brothers, who share in the heavenly calling, fix your thoughts on Jesus, the apostle and high priest whom we confess.” Hebrews 3:1

I have been blessed with only a limited amount of genuine grieving in my life.  Frankly, I’ve done a whole lot more consoling of others than I have needed consoling myself.  But you don’t have to be an expert on grief to know that it has a profound effect on our ability to see truth.  In fact, a part of the healing process is learning to look through the pain to some larger truth which, difficult as it may be to grasp in spite of the pain, still has a way of guiding us.

But did you know that the grief process is not reserved only for individuals?  Churches grieve also.  They grieve the loss of a much-loved leader, the loss of a ministry or program, the loss of a “way of doing things”, the loss of unity…all of these can cause a type of grieving process for a church.  And like the grieving process for an individual, a church’s grief can be unpredictable and unrelenting.  It can last a few days or a few years, perhaps even an entire generation.  It can cause the church to do and say things it doesn’t mean to do and say.  But most of all, just like the grief process for anyone else, it is painful…unbearably so.

Moreover, grief has a way of disorienting us, both as individuals and as congregations.  It turns up into down and right into left.  It leaves us not even knowing which way to look for direction.  It is chaotic and complex and confounding.

So, it is in the pain of real grief where we are often left with little orientation other than to fall back onto whatever “safe harbor” we have established ahead of time.  For me, that would be God’s Word.  Whether in my individual grief or in my corporate grief, I have already long since decided where I will turn.  I have placed my most childlike faith in God’s Word, so that, even through the unspeakable pain of emptiness and loss, I can at least find some general sense of my bearings.

Of course, hearing the truth–perhaps even knowing the truth–does not take the pain away.  It does not bypass the grief process.  We must still go through all the pain which grief brings, for however long the process may be for us.  But fixing our eyes on eternal truth at least serves to give us direction, it reminds us to breathe, and then to breathe again.  It walks before us every day of the journey, calling us one more step forward…not around the grief, but through it.

It gives us the only thing we can trust during the otherwise mixed-up season of emptiness and loss.  There is nothing else trustworthy, nothing else which is not capable of leading us astray.  We must fix our eyes on Jesus and cling to His Word…and crawl forward, and then do it again.  And at some point a long way down that road, clarity begins to come again.  And though the loss is still there and has carved out a new normal for us, we still have the one thing worth holding onto through it all…God’s love.  And isn’t that exactly what your church needs most?

© 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 Way Back to Relationship

26 07 2011

Tuesday Re-mix -

Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.  Luke 15:11-12

There are three main characters in Jesus’ story of the prodigal in Luke 15: the father, the younger son and the older son.  Each of them represent a different perspective on bad behavior, and I suspect each of us can relate best to each of them at different times of our lives.  Sometimes we are the one betrayed (like the father), sometimes we are the rebellious one (the younger son) and sometimes we are the one crying out for justice (the older son).  But in every case, Jesus told the story to demonstrate one simple truth: the way back to a right relationship.  And that, it seems to me, can be the most confusing path of all.  I am so glad for what Jesus’ story shows us about how to return to a right relationship, once we have determined to do so.

Seasons of Rebellion. We all have some connection to the prodigal himself, because we have all made decisions which we knew (even at the time we made them) were disobedient to God.  We knew His desire for us and we simply went in a different direction.  It was (and is) rebellion, plain and simple.  Sometimes it is a short season followed by an immediate “what was I thinking?” head-slap.  But sometimes it is a prolonged season when we withhold from His Lordship some particular slice of our life which we just are not willing to submit to Him.  Either way, it is rebellion.  And the way back from any rebellion is, quite simply, confession.  You will not find a more perfect confession in all of scripture than Jesus’ prodigal character’s confession to his father…acknowledgment of the scope of the sin and complete acceptance of the consequences.  From your own season of rebellion, once you have determined to find your way back to a right relationship, the pathway is clear: confession.

Seasons of Betrayal. Fewer of us have experienced this season than the season of rebellion, but it is common nonetheless.  We sacrifice and sacrifice and sacrifice for someone we love, we become transparent and vulnerable to them, we let them into our secret soft places of the heart…and they betray us.  In those seasons, we relate to the father of the prodigal.  And then there is a season of suffering.  We grieve the loss of a love relationship with that person.  We experience a whole host of feelings for that person and about that person, ranging from hate to anger to pity to a deep longing to restore a relationship and then back again.  It is an emotionally chaotic time, wrought with backbreaking twists and turns.  And the father in Jesus’ story eventually gets to forgiveness.  In our season of betrayal, there is suffering and there is unspeakable pain, but in the end, if we determine that the relationship is something we desperately want, Jesus gives us the way back: forgiveness.

Seasons of Injustice. We all experience feelings of injustice from time to time.  But then there are moments or seasons of the kind of profound unfairness that leaves an emotional mark on us.  There are those times when, after all our sacrifices and rule-keeping and doing things the “right” way, some other lazy, rule-breaking rebel is rewarded far beyond anything we have ever experienced ourselves.  These are the times when bad things happen to good people and when amazing, terrific things happen to truly bad people.  We just look on with disgust and begin to wonder whether God is really God at all.  In Jesus’ story, it is the older brother who experiences the “injustice”.  And Jesus demonstrates that the older brother’s way back into a right relationship with his family is to let go of his demand for justice and to pursue his own level of forgiveness.  In our season of injustice, we often must choose what is more important to us: the relationship or justice.  And when we choose the relationship, the way back is to let go of our demand for justice.

Maybe you can relate to each of these characters.  Maybe there is one in particular with whom you best relate right now, because you are in such a “season”.  Jesus’ point is pretty simple, actually.  There is a way back.  You need only make the decision to choose it.

© 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




Pain and Failure as Keys to Community

5 07 2011

Tuesday Re-mix -

“Two men owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii,and the other fifty. Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he canceled the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?”

Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt canceled.”
“You have judged correctly,” Jesus said.

Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little.” Luke 7:41-47

I have two leadership roles in my church, two different “small group” ministries for which I am partly responsible.  I am pretty passionate about both of them, and I am always learning from each of them.  The Gathering is my Sunday morning Bible study group, open to any and all comers, all ages, all walks of life and all levels of spiritual maturity.  It is a slightly non-traditional offering as a part of my church’s “Sunday School”.  We meet around tables, effectively creating “small groups” of 6 to 8 people every Sunday morning for Bible study.  Heart 2 Heart is also a small group ministry, but for wounded people.  Every Tuesday night, these dear friends meet in small groups built around specific issues and pains in their lives.  Some of these groups are dealing with grief or abuse or other woundedness inflicted on them by others.  Other groups are dealing with pain from their own failures or addictions or other issues.  But in all cases, it is their specific pain which brings them together and which forms the basis for their community with one another.

Is there any question in your mind about which ministry’s conversation gets very deep and personal and “real” the quickest?  Can you guess which group reaches a level of intimacy and real community and involvement in each other’s lives  more readily?

Before I make my point, let me pause here and say to all the table hosts and leaders in The Gathering: you guys are amazing, you are definitely getting it right, you are creating a safe environment around your tables where honest and vulnerable discussion of scripture can take place, and I could not possibly be more proud of what we are accomplishing there.  But let’s face it: when it comes to open, raw pain and desperate discussion of it, genuine support/recovery groups just have a clear advantage over even the strongest of small groups.  And it is all because of the point Jesus makes in the passage above.

People who have adequately processed profound pain and/or failure in their lives, or are currently processing it through a spiritual lens, have necessarily developed both the ability and the desire to take friendship deeper faster and to be completely transparent and vulnerable in the process.  They may be messy, even confused and confounded at times, but they have learned (or are learning) more about God’s grace and forgiveness in times of tragedy than anyone who has not yet experienced those kinds of bumps in life.  People who have been so backed into a corner by grief or failure or addiction or abuse that they cannot find any way out at all but for the grace of God have no choice but to sit and allow the Spirit of God to teach them about genuine relationships and the power of community.

The more I have been forgiven, the more grace I have understood and embraced, the more I am able and willing to give forgiveness and grace myself.

The questions this raises for church leaders, then, are these:  Would you rather serve a church full of beautiful, pain-free people who don’t yet know the miracle of grace, or a church full of flawed, broken people who have been through real life and can be fully forgiving as a result of having been fully forgiven?  What about you…do you think your church is best served by a leader whose flaws and brokenness are all kept under wraps and never confessed openly or by a leader whose capacity to forgive is seemingly endless because he/she has been forgiven so very much?

I suppose it all comes down to what kind of church you really want 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




Red Flags of Brokenness

22 02 2011

Tuesday Re-mix -

Broken relationships are like infections, they only get worse with time, and the consequences can be devastating.

They almost always start the same way.  There are hurt feelings which go unaddressed.  Maybe there was bad behavior involved, or maybe there was just an oversight.  Maybe there was no wrong doing at all.  But feelings got hurt and were left that way with no meaningful attempt to deal with them.  The injured person tries to ignore the pain or tries to hurt the other person in return, but the pain itself is left to fester, much like leaving an infection unattended.  Very soon after that, the relationship is broken.

WARNING!

But like the infection, the damage then is only beginning.  There are actual stages of brokenness in the relationship.  They can be identified, even measured to some extent.  There is a common progression, a typical stage-by-stage process which every broken relationship goes through.  The stages represent some clear “red flags” which I can use to check myself.  When I see these things happening in me, I can know I have crossed a line and need to do something about it.  Depending on the person and the circumstances, some may go through the stages quickly, and others more slowly.  But when my relationship with you breaks,the progression is fairly predictable:

Stage 1: “Otherization” – You determine that I am no longer “one of you”.  I am suddenly different.  I have a different character, a different essence.  This represents a distinct change in “us”.  You “otherize” me when you suddenly choose to focus on what is different and you choose to ignore all our history which may show otherwise.  Maybe this distancing is just a defense mechanism, or maybe it is a conscious choice.  Either way, it is taking a step away from our relationship and examining it as if to determine whether or not you will choose to keep it.  This is the earliest stage of brokenness.  This is your first red flag that something is very wrong and is in need of attention.

Stage 2: Speculation – You are now very much focused on me and everything I do or say.  That is because you still care about our relationship and you are trying to figure out what or how I am thinking.  You begin to speculate about my motives, questioning in your own mind why I said that or why I didn’t say this or what I meant when I did that, etc.  In actuality, you will never really know my motives, because we cannot know each other’s heart.  But you will begin to think you do know my motives, and you will be confident that they are not pure.  Time spent questioning motives is a red flag that trouble is in the air.  It is also a clear sign that communication (the only thing that can heal broken relationships) is not happening.

Stage 3: Demonization – You are no longer questioning my motives.  You now are certain they are wrong.  In fact, you are beginning to see things in me which you fear the most.  As it turns out, I am a monster, and evil demon-possessed, insane sociopath with no rational thought at all.  If you once thought I might be a Christian, you are now convinced that I have no relationship at all with God.  In actuality, none of these things are true, but you “see” them anyway…at least that is what your pain is telling you. But the good news is, you are still bothered by all of this, which is a sign that this relationship still matters to you.  It is a sign quickly fading, but a sign nonetheless.

Stage 4: Indifference – This stage represents the death of the relationship.  It usually comes years down the line, but it can eventually come.  You now are completely indifferent to me and to the relationship.  You have said for some time now that you just don’t care anymore (saying that out loud seemed to help you cope, even though it wasn’t true), but now, for the first time, you really have stopped feeling anything at all where our relationship is concerned.  You don’t think about it anymore.  You have grieved its loss and, for all practical purposes, you are now indifferent to it.  The early sign of this stage is when you catch yourself saying (and believing) “he will never change”.  If you say it enough and for long enough, you will eventually believe it, whether it is true or not.  And once you truly believe it, the relationship is dead.  You have killed it.

Of course, you can avoid all of this by just learning to communicate when your feelings get hurt.  Learn to say “ouch”.  Learn to express your pain in a way I would be willing to pick it up and deal with it.  It may be a little tough at first, but isn’t it better than killing a relationship altogether?

© 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




“Don’t Make Me Stop This Car!”

1 02 2011

Tuesday Re-mix –

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Romans 12:17-18

Do you remember getting on your parents’ nerves by fighting with your brother or sister in the backseat of the car?  And do you remember your mom or dad finally getting fed up and saying something like, “Don’t make me stop this car…”.  I understand this sentiment much better now that I have been a parent.  For me (both as a child and as a parent), these words were the last clear communication before someone gets in big, big trouble.  Because once that car got stopped… hoo-boy.

I really believe that is a close sentiment to what God feels when His children get all tangled up in conflict with each other.  I believe that, when we start hurting each other, God feels a real urge to intervene.  And I believe that, if God decides to intervene, ALL parties to the conflict will regret it.

Surely, this is why so much of Paul’s writings to the New Testament church were devoted to how we relate to one another.  Paul knew what all of us must learn:that you cannot be on mission with God and be living in discord with God’s people. And I have begun to see that being on mission with God is the only way to follow Christ.  There is no other way to follow Christ.  If you are following, you are on mission.

Virtually every letter Paul wrote to any New Testament church (Ephesians, Galatians, Colossians, Corinthians, Romans, Thessalonians) contained specific instructions about getting along with each other.  If we are going on this journey, we must behave.  Those are the rules.

So, when you hear God turn and say, “Don’t make me stop this car”, my advice is to change your behavior immediately.  I don’t know what happens if He does stop the car, but I am certain we won’t like it.

© 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




Trust as the Means of Healing

13 07 2010

Tuesday Re-mix:

“…speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ.” Ephesians 4:15

I was maybe 9 or 10 years old.  I was at church (Dad was a pastor…I was ALWAYS at church), playing with a friend out on the church playground.  It had rained, so there was plenty of opportunity for slipping and sliding.  One of us had the brilliant idea of using the slippery circumstances to stand up on the slide and “surf” down it.  The “brilliance” of the idea, however, was soon overshadowed by the sharp pain on the back of my head after it hit the slide on my way down.  I couldn’t see it, but I knew it had to be bad by the way everyone kept reacting to it, and by the way my parents threw me into the back seat of the car and sped off to the hospital.

stitchesThis was a day I would face yet another fear on my long list of childhood phobias.  This was a fear near the top of the list, one I had carefully and gratefully avoided until now: stitches. I can still remember the word coming out of the doctor’s mouth…He was almost apologetic about it, and yet he was certain.  I wanted to ask, “Are you sure?” But I could see it in his eyes.  There would be no getting out of this.  I knew it was inevitable.  So I mustered up all the trust I could find and I put myself in his trained and skillful hands.  Mind you, I didn’t really have a choice, so “bravery” or “courage” probably are not the right words to describe it.  But I did it.  I faced my fear by trusting in someone else.

Pain does funny things to us.  It makes us see things unclearly, it makes us recall things incorrectly, but one of the most troublesome results of pain is that it makes us unwilling to trust anyone.  When I am in pain, I just do not want to let you close, because I don’t know that I can trust you.  That is a problem, because often the healing process requires that I trust someone; it requires that I let down my guard and permit someone to administer the healing mechanism.  For physical injuries, that may be stitches, or medicine, or setting a broken bone.  But for emotional or Spiritual injuries, it usually means a healthy dose of truth.  And truth, it seems, can be the most painful of medicines.

When you are called upon to administer truth into my life, when you must speak the truth in love to me, you must first remove all doubts in my mind about your motives.  You must convince me that you have my best interests at heart.  You must create an environment where I feel safe and where I am willing to allow you to administer painful medicine.  If you do not accomplish this first and foremost, you simply cannot speak truth in love to me, because I cannot hear it.

Speaking the truth in love requires a relationship between us.  It doesn’t have to be longstanding (the doctor who gave me my stitches had never seen me before), but it must be a relationship in which I trust your motives.  Without that, you are not much help to me.

Have you learned to forge those kinds of relationships?  Are there plenty of people in your life who trust you enough to hear the truth from you?  This, I believe, is the work of the church.  This is where we spend our time and our resources: relationships of accountability, relationships built on unconditional love.  Because the injuries are sure to come.  That is a given.  The question is, when they come are the trusting relationships in place to bring healing?

© 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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