“I Can Do All Things…”

2 10 2012

Tuesday Re-mix -

I can do all things through him who strengthens me.  Philippians 4:13 (NASB)

I grew up with a pretty healthy dose of Zig Ziglar and Norman Vincent Peale and The Power of Positive Thinking…or at least with my Dad’s slightly more scriptural version of that philosophy.  Dad used to always say to me, “Son, with God’s help, you can accomplish anything you set your mind on accomplishing…and you can be anything you set your mind on being.”

Honestly, I am not sure I ever really believed that.

I just never really bought into the promise that, “through God, I could do all things.”  The whole notion of being some kind of spiritual superhero sounded glamorous and all, but it raised a few questions in my mind.  First of all, what if I set my mind on being God?  Could I accomplish that?  Secondly, shouldn’t there be some moral correlation to that rule?  Or is it really anything at all to which I set my mind?  And what if what I really set my mind to accomplish conflicts with what you really set your mind to accomplish?  Then what?

I had a thousand questions about this concept, especially the secular version of it.  But even the scriptural version gave me trouble: I can do all things through him who strengthens me.  It would be many years before I would begin to understand it.

As it turns out (I would later learn), being empowered by God is not quite the same thing as being gifted with super powers which I could then go and use either for evil or for good.  Moreover, it does not even mean that my story will always be powerful or successful or even meaningful.  In fact, being the kind of Christ-follower Paul describes in Philippians 4 means that my life story is not about me at all.  Rather, my life story becomes a story about God.

Stop now and let that last statement sink in for a moment.

My life story is not a story about me at all…it is a story about God.  That changes everything, doesn’t it?  Suddenly all my metaphors for life are wrong.  All my strategies fail.  It is an entirely different paradigm.  “I can do all things…” no longer has anything at all to do with me and my agenda, because now it has only to do with God’s agenda in this world and, more specifically, His agenda through and around me.  Now it has less to do with my own accomplishments and much more to do with Him telling me “great and mighty things which [I] did not know”.  I am no superhero.  The only superhero in my life story is God Himself…and He is doing truly amazing things all around me…and sometimes through me.

So it is only through Him that I can do these things, i.e., through His agenda and through His will.  And here is the best part of this truth: this “correction” does not limit this promise at all; rather, it expands it.  Because however grand my agenda and my vision might be for saving the world, God’s is infinitely bigger.  God’s purpose for my life and for your life is immeasurably larger than any purpose we can imagine on our own.

I could never have understood that as a child.  But I was blessed with both an earthly Dad and a Heavenly Father who kept that promise before me long enough for me to find my way back to it eventually.  “I can do all things…”  What an awesome truth!

© 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




It is Always About the People

25 09 2012

Tuesday Re-mix -

My Dad had a kind of a rule when we went on vacation.  Well, maybe it was just a strong preference or philosophy.  Sometimes those things all can sound the same with Dad.  :)  Dad felt strongly that, when taking pictures on vacation, there should be a person in every one of them.  In other words, a vacation picture without a person in it is just a waste of film.  So, anytime we saw something noteworthy or cool and wanted to take a picture of it, Dad wanted someone (ANYONE) to go and stand by the thing for the picture.  I followed that philosophy most of the time, but am just going to confess now that, as I have grown a little older, I have often broken that rule and have taken some pictures of some pretty amazing scenery…without any people in them.

But perhaps that preference says more about Dad and what is important to him than it does about his taste for photography.  You see, Dad is a pastor.  Irrespective of his various titles and positions in ministry, in his heart he has always been a pastor.  To him, people are important.  In fact, they are the most important thing.

I would like to think I have learned that preference from him, especially where the church is concerned.  It is all about the people.

I think it is easy to make it about other things…the buildings, the budget, the music, the parking, the numbers, the location, the constitution & by-laws, the committees, the votes, the worship planning, the strategic planning, the reports, the offices, the retreats, the concerts, and I could go on and on.  You get the picture.  But even as important as most of those things are, they are never more important than the people.  In fact, the only reason any of those things even exist is for the people.  That is, after all, what the church is…just people.

I know it sounds elementary.  Church is about the people.  But it bears reminding once in a while.  And it is a lesson I learned from my Dad.  And for that lesson, I am grateful.

Don’t get me wrong.  I am still going to take pictures of breathtaking scenery on vacation, even without people in them.  But I will never forget what is important.  I promise.

© 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 Routine Maintenance of Every Relationship

18 09 2012

Tuesday Re-mix -

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds,  not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another…  Hebrews 10:24-25

As a teenager starting to drive, I spent one Saturday afternoon learning from Dad how to change the oil in my car.  It was actually pretty interesting to me.  I was fascinated with the whole process.  Dad was very careful to show me how to change the oil filter without damaging it, how to drain the oil and properly dispose of it, how to tighten the drain plug again without stripping it, and how to put the new oil into the engine.  It was a whole process.  I learned it all.

Then, by the time I was 40 years old, I had paid to replace two different automobile engines as a result of NOT changing the fluids regularly enough.  It seems that, while I did learn HOW to change the oil…I had not learned THAT I must change the oil regularly!  I am a slow learner.  :)  The truth is, I have had a hard time learning about routine maintenance in lots of respects…appliances (both major and minor), household, landscaping, automobiles, computers…you name it, if I have owned it, I have struggled with routine maintenance for it.

Relationships have routine maintenance requirements as well.  All relationships do…even Christian relationships.  Relationships between really good people still need maintenance.  Relationships among experts on relationships still need maintenance.  Without that maintenance, even the strongest of relationships will tend toward breakdown.

I am always amazed in my counseling endeavors when I find two otherwise intelligent, personable, Christian leaders who spend little time actually nurturing their friendship with one another and who then seem befuddled by the brokenness in their relationship.  Relationships need regular doses of two elements: quality time and honest communication.  Without those, a relationship dies.  Relationships among church staff leaders need those two elements.  Marriages need those two elements.  Every friendship needs those two elements.  That is the routine maintenance for relationships.

I suppose it comes with the territory of my ministry that I must bear witness to so very many broken relationships among otherwise Godly people.  In almost every case, the brokenness is due to neglect.  Oh, there may have been an issue, even a terribly divisive one.  But it was the subsequent neglect of the relationship which did the damage, not the initial injury.  Relationships, you see, are amazingly resilient.  They can spring back to life out of even the most broken of situations.  But there is one thing a relationship cannot survive: utter neglect.  It requires regular routine maintenance.  Without that, the brokenness turns into deeper and deeper damage.  It is very much like your automobile in that regard.

It is simple, really.  It is not rocket science.  Relationships are just like everything else worth salvaging.  Forsake the maintenance, and pay the price.

© 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




“Loser’s Limp” and Avoiding Apologies

11 09 2012

Tuesday Re-mix -

 “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’  Luke 15:21

“A stiff apology is a second insult… The injured party does not want to be compensated because he has been wronged; he wants to be healed because he has been hurt.”  G.K. Chesterson

I have a pretty tough apology to make this week.  I will confess to you that I do not want to have to do it.  The more I think about it, the more my sinful mind begins thinking other thoughts…alternative thoughts…thoughts of deflecting the fault to someone else, or even of feigning my own “hurt” from the situation in an attempt to distract from my fault.  Do you ever have those kinds of conversations in your head?

My Dad called it “Loser’s Limp”.  I was about 10 years old.  I was the second-string quarterback of the Bellaire Panthers Pop Warner football team.  I was running plays with the second-string offense against our very formidable first-string defense.  I called a simple running play in the huddle, came to the line, called for the snap, and proceeded to turn the wrong direction to hand-off the ball.  It was a busted play and I got smeared all over the field by our entire defense.  I was the last to get up.  I was humiliated, and maybe just a little bit injured.  Maybe.  I did not want to face my coach, so I slowly but emphatically limped off the field, hoping everyone would forget my mistake and just feel sorry for me and my injury (which was growing worse and worse in my mind).  I got to the sidelines and met Dad’s gaze.  He was giving me the disappointed look (I didn’t get that look very often, but I still recognized it).  I protested the look and insisted that I was injured.  And that was the first time I can remember Dad using the term “Loser’s Limp”.  He saw right through my ploy, knew I was not really injured, and knew I was more humiliated than anything else.

The lesson Dad was teaching me was to own my mistakes…to be willing to confess them and learn from them.  He caught me trying to hide behind a fake injury, and he called me on it.  Lesson learned!

Picture the “lost son” in Jesus’ parable of the prodigal.  Wouldn’t it have been easy for him to come home with a bad case of “Loser’s Limp”?  Can’t you just see him limping home and gushing all over his father about the hardships he had been through and playing on his father’s sympathy?  How easy that would have been!  But he did not.  He came home and completely owned his mistake: “Father, I have sinned against Heaven and against you…I am no longer worthy to be called your son.”  No Loser’s Limp there.  It is a model confession and apology.

Let’s be honest here.  I do not enjoy confession and apologies any more than you do.  But my short-lived Loser’s Limp together with many years and a great deal of practice making mistakes has taught me that, in the long run, it is always easier to just own my failures and make my apologies than to do any of the “alternative” things my mind can conceive.  Believe me, my mind can get pretty creative when humiliation sets in and an apology is needed.  It can convince me that my own “injury” is just as serious as the one I caused.  It can keep me so focused on my own Loser’s Limp that my apology comes out stiff and lifeless, and ends up doing more harm than good.

I would like to think I have learned my lesson and can own my mistakes and can make my apologies.  So, here I go…I have a call to make.

© 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




Real Leaders Have Hard Conversations

4 09 2012

Tuesday Re-mix -

…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 4:15

Am I the only one who thinks “Pastor” should be one of Mike Rowe’s “Dirty Jobs” episodes on the Discovery Channel?

Thinking about another truth my Dad taught me about the church.

Those of you who know Dad know that he is certainly capable of “stirring the pot” even to the point of conflict.  That capability is, I think, actually a reflection of a particular leadership skill he possesses…he is capable of having the hard conversations in a church.  You know the conversations I mean: the ones nobody else on the staff wants to have, the ones which may prove to be a bit awkward, even painful.  I have watched him in ministry for all of my 52 years on this earth and, whether as a pastor or a denominational worker, or even as a Sunday School teacher, I have known Dad to step up to the plate many, many times when a hard thing needed to be said or conveyed.

This is not a lesson he has ever spoken to me, at least not that I can remember.  Rather, this is a lesson I learned from watching him all these years.  Real church leaders, the ones who are genuine influencers, are the ones who are willing to sit down and have that very difficult conversation which nobody else wants to have.  The pretend leaders, on the other hand, will avoid those conversations at all costs.

You know well the conversations I mean…

…that volunteer who needs to be “counseled out” of a particular ministry position…

…that employee whose gossip is becoming a problem…

…that Sunday School teacher who cannot seem to keep his favorite theological quirk out of any of his lessons…

…that church matriarch who is being divisive…

…that childcare worker who keeps avoiding the background check protocols…

…that curmudgeon who writes those hateful letters every single week to the pastor…

I could go on and on.   After all, there are infinite examples because there is an apparently unlimited supply of issues and difficulties with which church leaders are faced.  But the point is this: if you cannot muster the courage to speak the truth in love to a brother, if you constantly push the hard conversations off to others, then you are not a leader…not really.  Maybe you’re a manager.  Or maybe you hold some official title that sounds like a leader.  Maybe you are popular on some level, even well-liked to some extent, but you are not a leader.

Jesus was a leader.  And when you think about it, most of His words that ended up in scripture were the hard ones.  So how is it that we allow ourselves to believe our leadership role is going to be different?  It is not…because real leaders have hard conversations.

Oh, and one last word on this subject for those of us who are inclined toward technology.  You cannot have a hard conversation by e-mail or by text or even by telephone.  You have them face to face.  If you are a leader, that is.

© 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




God’s Will: Keeping the “What” and the “When” Together

28 08 2012

Tuesday Re-mix -

Last Summer (2011) will go down forever in the scrapbook of the Coffee household.  It was crazy!  Between May 10 and May 28 (just 18 days), my older daughter graduated from ACU, my younger daughter graduated from MacArthur High School, and my older daughter got married!  That whole month is just a hazy flash in my memory.  But it was not over.  To top all of that off, my younger daughter was driving with a friend through our neighborhood in the middle of a weekday morning and got hit by a drunk driver.  Timing is everything.

The car accident happened at an intersection. My daughter was actually the second car to go through the intersection. The drunk driver blew through a red light and totalled my daughter’s car. My daughter and her friend were (thankfully) spared any serious injury. If the drunk driver had come a second or two sooner, she would have missed us altogether. If she had come a second later, she would have done serious (maybe fatal) damage to my daughter. We have all thanked God for his perfect timing. Timing is everything.

Sometimes it takes circumstances like this to help us appreciate just how important God’s timing is. That is particularly true in the church.

I have lost count of how many conflicted congregations with whom I have worked who struggled in one way or another with God’s timing. Here are some examples:

Moving forward on a narrow majority “vote”…

Paralyzed by caution and missing an important ministry opportunity…

Forging ahead with huge changes without building the necessary consensus…

Making the right decision in committee but fumbling the communication out to the rest of the church…

The pastor weighing in too soon on a controversial issue…

The pastor weighing in too late on a controversial issue…

TIMING IS EVERYTHING.

When considering questions of God’s will, Dad once told me, “God’s perfect will and God’s perfect timing always come together.” I think what he was teaching me was that, knowing WHAT God is doing is one thing, but knowing WHEN He is doing it is another thing altogether…and if we don’t know them both, then we don’t yet have God’s will. Those two things must necessarily go together. It is not enough to have a vision for what God is going to accomplish through our church. At some point before moving forward, we must also have a clear understanding of His timing, i.e., when and how quickly we must move in order to be a part of His plan. Being out in front of Him is a bad place to be. By the same token, lagging too far behind Him is also a dangerous thing.

Whatever your church’s process looks like for discerning together God’s will, it must surely include discernment of His timing too. Without that, bad things happen.

Nice lesson, Dad!

© 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




“Church People Don’t Mind Change…They Just Mind Being Changed”

21 08 2012

Tuesday Re-mix -

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.  Romans 12:2

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.  Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead,  I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.  Philippians 3:12-14

Change is inevitable.  We can fight it, we can rebel against it, we can pretend it doesn’t exist.  We can hide from it, we can curse it, we can cry out to God against it.  But in God’s church, among God’s people, there will always be change…because this revolution Jesus called “my church” is in fact a living, breathing organism.  And where there is life, there is necessarily growth…and where there is growth, there is  [gulp!] CHANGE.  Mark it down.  It is an eternal truth.

Yet despite all of the scripture devoted to this truth and even in the face of thousands of years of evidence of it in the human experience, managing change among God’s people (i.e., in the church) remains one of the toughest leadership challenges around.  I have never met a pastor who did not consider the ushering in of change to be one of his most difficult leadership tasks…ever.  But if you were to come to the conclusion that God’s people just do not like change, I believe you would be wrong.

One of the coolest things my Dad taught me about the church is that God’s people do not mind change…they just mind being changed.  That statement has taken on a variety of meanings for me over the years, but I think how I have come to understand it is this: the only truly effective and God-honoring change in the church is the change born out of the spiritual transformation of God’s people as opposed to change that is imposed upon them.  Like the gardner to the flowering plant, the pastor can create a healthy environment for growth and change, he can protect the garden from harmful environments, and he can pour nutrients into the soil and into the plants themselves, but one thing the gardner cannot do no matter how hard he tries is to create or even expedite the blooming process.  That, it seems, is up to God-ordained processes working within the plant.  Surely I do not need to tell you how foolish a church leader looks when he/she is striving and pressing and bursting veins in the neck trying to force the flower to bloom or trying to speed up the process.

If the church you serve is dealing with issues of change (and everyone is these days), and if your frustration level is growing because it does not seem to be happening quickly enough for you, resist the temptation to expedite or short-cut the process against the will of your people.  Rather, love them, nurture them, pray for them, feed them and help them to grow from within, looking more and more like Christ…then wait patiently for the Lord to bring them to bloom.  Believe me, it will be much more satisfying to you, loving to them, and honoring to God.

“Cease striving, and know that I am God.”  Ps. 46:10 (NAS)

Thanks, Dad.  Excellent 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







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