“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




Feeding the Dog in One Another

9 03 2010

Tuesday Re-mix – This is a popular post from last year, updated and resubmitted for your consideration and comments.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Philippians 4:8

dogfightOur Native American brothers have an interesting way of describing our conflicted behaviors.  They talk about each man having within him two dogs fighting: one good and one bad.  They say the dog that wins at the end of the day  is the one you have been feeding.

That old saying draws upon an eternal truth about the human condition.  We all have a quirky tendency to become the person we believe others perceive us to be.  Good or bad, positive or negative, we actually tend to become more and more like we believe others perceive us to be.  If you have reared children, you have seen this firsthand.  If you tell your child he is “stupid” often enough, he begins to believe you and he fulfills that prophecy.  If you tell her she is beautiful inside and out, she begins to believe that and carries herself accordingly.  There is something very powerful about our perception of others’ perceptions of us, particularly if those others are ones whom we respect or whose opinions matter to us.

This is what makes this final word from Paul’s prescription for church conflict such an amazing insight.  After walking us through some practical counsel about dealing with conflict in the church, Paul ends his advice with a final tidbit that can literally transform some of the most difficult parties to a conflict.

Paul says that, in the midst of the conflict, while we are practicing all his other counsel, we must learn to see the best in each other and to bring that out in one another.  We must learn to “feed the good dog” in one another.  Learning to recognize the Christ-like characteristics in others, particularly those others with whom we disagree, is a skill that can actually (over time) transform them.  If we were to create a culture in our church where we acknowledge the best in everyone instead of focusing entirely and exclusively on what is wrong with everyone, we would be surprised at the change that might take place.

To change the metaphor a bit to one Paul might have used, each Christian has two parts: the Spirit of God and the flesh.  The line between the two is constantly shifting back and forth, so that one day I may act primarily from the Spirit, but the next day anxieties may cause me to act primarily from the flesh.  Over time, I will tend to grow one or the other.  You, as a respected member of my faith community, can influence that process.  You can “nurture” the Spirit in me or the flesh in me, depending on your focus in your relationship to me.  Focus on Christ in me (nurture the Christ in me) and watch it grow!

Therefore, Paul’s final word of advice to the church in conflict is truly brilliant.  Focus on the Christ in one another, because you’re going to need that side to show up in a big way during this season of conflict.  In this way, we can actually inform what others are becoming, and they can actually inform what we are becoming.

So, here is an important question if you are dealing with conflict in your church…did you feed the dog today?  If so, which one?

© 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





Worrying or Praying, Praying or Worrying

2 03 2010

Tuesday Re-mix – This is a popular post from last year, updated and resubmitted for your consideration and comments.

(This is the fifth in a series of posts from Philippians 4 on dealing with church conflict).

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7

Do I need to come up with a poignant illustration to remind you that these are anxious times in our country and in the world?  No, I didn’t think so.  And for church leaders, it rarely gets more anxious than when there is divisive conflict going on in our church…particularly when it seems to be swirling around us personally and our leadership.

Indeed, I have been in many churches where worry and anxiety are the normal state…if they happen to stumble on a season with nothing to worry about, they somehow feel stagnant and they honestly do not know what to do.  In our “I want it all and I want it now” culture, anxiety has become the new normal.

worrycropHere is what Paul understood about worry: it is a behavioral pattern.  Like abusive conduct or overeating or road rage or fingernail biting, worry is simply a behavioral pattern…one which can be broken with the type of “renewing of the mind” of which scripture speaks.  Changing a behavioral pattern just requires changing our perspective, i.e., how we see the thing.  It also helps a great deal to replace the wrong behavior with a right behavior.  In this case, it means replacing worry with prayer.

I have had “Gethsemane moments” in my prayer life, moments when I thought the anguish would overcome me and which required going back to the Lord over and over again through this agonizing process of finally trusting God’s will completely.  That’s not worry, not when we are moving toward God with the problem (even if that movement is measured only in inches).

Worry is the expense of mental and emotional energy with no direction whatsoever.  For a Christian, it is the biggest waste of time imaginable.

So as I see it, worry and prayer are mutually exclusive concepts.  Either I am moving my concerns toward God (prayer) or I am not (worry).  If I am worrying, I cannot be praying.  If I am praying, I cannot be worrying.

In times of conflict, the church needs leaders to be praying and to be leading others to do the same thing.  He needs leaders to be a non-anxious presence in the midst of difficult circumstances.  That, according to Paul, is what good church leadership looks like…especially in the midst of conflict.

You have conflict swirling around you right now?  In the words of Henry Blackaby: “What you do next will reveal what you believe about God.”  Pray, and lead others to do the same.

 

© 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





Paul Knew His Pigtails

23 02 2010

Tuesday Re-mix – This is a popular post from last year, updated and resubmitted for your consideration and comments.

(This is the fourth in a series of posts from Philippians 4 on dealing with church conflict).

Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Philippians 4:5

I believe unresolved anger is one of the big obstacles to the church today.  I find it to be especially problematic in conflicted congregations.  It is awfully difficult to effectively communicate with one another when one side of the issue is constantly pushing the buttons of the other side.  It makes this notion of gentleness a tall order.

pigtailsI remember how hectic Sunday mornings could be when my girls were little.  While Mom was still getting ready, it often became my job to figure out the girls’ hair (usually just a rubber band or two would do the trick).  The problem, of course, was that their hair was often a tangled mess…we never could seem to impress upon them how much easier it would be if they actually brushed it out at night before they went to bed.  And so, usually running woefully late for church already, and more than just a little frustrated by the tangled mess in front of me (it always reminded me of trying to grab a wire clothes hanger out of the closet but finding it all tangled with the other hangers…frustrating may be a bit of an understatement) I would grab a brush, grab a girl, and start brushing.  Not long into the hurried event, there would often be tears and great wailing and gnashing of teeth, followed by a poignant look from their mother…it’s a look I’ve come to fear over the years.  It is a look that shamed me into submission and gentleness on more than a few occasions in our marriage.  And by the way, I learned to do awesome pigtails in the process.

You see, as long as it was all about me and my schedule and my convenience, gentleness was nowhere to be found.  But when I was (gently) reminded to consider how the other person was feeling, gentleness was much easier to come by.

St. Francis of Asisi prayed, “Lord, help me more to understand than to be understood.”  That, it seems to me, is central to the whole concept of gentleness…taking the time to fully understand where the other person is coming from, what is causing his/her pain.  Chances are, find the root cause of the other person’s pain and you will find it much easier to let the Spirit’s gentleness lead out in your relationship with that person.

This is some fantastic counsel from Paul, who just wanted us to navigate our way through conflict  (and pigtails) in a way that brings honor and glory to God.

© 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





Rejoicing Over Conflict

16 02 2010

Tuesday Re-mix – This is a popular post from last year, updated and resubmitted for your consideration and comments.

(This is the third in a series of posts from Philippians 4 on dealing with church conflict).

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Phil. 4:4

So be honest.  How many times did you use that verse before you realized that its context is church conflict?

This verse begins Paul’s prescription for dealing with conflict.  In the case of the Philippians, it was the conflict between Euodia and Syntyche.  In my church it would be a different issue.  In your church, a different one yet.  But in any case, Paul’s first word of advice is “rejoice!”

How is it that Paul can say that about a church fight?  What is it that he understood about church conflict that we are inclined to miss?

wavesFirst, Paul understood that conflict is inevitable in church.  If there are people in your church, there will be conflict.  It is a part of the human condition.  Issues are to the church what waves are to the seashore.  No matter what issue we are dealing with today, there will be another one tomorrow, and another one after that.  How naive would it be to be standing in the surf, get knocked over by a wave, and then stand up and say, “Well, I’m glad that’s over…we won’t have to worry about that happening again.”  Paul understood this.

Second, Paul understood that there will never be a church conflict that sneaks up on God.  Whatever conflict your church may be facing right now, God saw it coming a long, long time ago.  He could have prevented it.  He did not.  He permitted it to come.  How you deal with it will either bring Him glory or shame.  How you respond to the conflict will either make it a very good thing for your church or a very bad thing.  When I work with a conflicted congregation, I often have young families come to me to say they will be moving their membership to another church, because they don’t want their teenagers exposed to the bad behavior in the church.  I always think to myself: so you’re teaching them to run from conflict... what do you suppose will happen when they get married and have their first big conflict?  That’s right, they will run from it and from the marriage.  And when they come to you wanting to get a divorce and you need a lawyer, please don’t call me…I didn’t teach them how to run from conflict.  You did. We don’t want to teach our children “fight” responses to conflict, but we don’t want to teach them “flight” responses either.  What we want our children to learn is how to work through conflict in a God-honoring way.

Third, Paul understood that, with every conflict God permits to visit a church, there is a new opportunity to bring glory to God.  There is a new opportunity to show a watching community that God’s Word really does have answers to life’s problems, including conflict.  Paul understood that and says, “rejoice!”  Paul says, “I’ve heard about your conflict.  Isn’t it awesome!”

So, if you have conflict right now in your church, rejoice!  And if you don’t, rejoice!  But in the future, when you do, rejoice!  Gotta love Paul…

© 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 Am Syzygus

9 02 2010

Tuesday Re-mix – This is a popular post from last year, updated and resubmitted for your consideration and comments.

(This is the second in a series of posts from Philippians 4 about church conflict)

Yes, and I ask you, loyal yokefellow, help these women who have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life. Philippians 4:3

Have you ever thought about your name and wondered how it has shaped you or influenced you as a person?  I have…

syzygusMy name is Syzygus.  It is Greek.  There really isn’t a good English translation of it, but “yokefellow” comes pretty close.  It’s a bit of an embarrassing name, actually, because it is a reference to oxen in a yoke.  I have no idea what my parents were thinking.  But today, looking back on my life, I’m glad they named me Syzygus.  When I think of how God worked in my life, it fits.  I suppose it refers to a co-laborer wearing the same yoke as you, pulling along with you.  If there is any truth to the old adage that names do reflect something about us, then I am a true friend who has walked along with you during good times and bad times, never leaving your side.  I am a person who has been coupled with you through difficult service together.  I have grown to trust you and you have grown to trust me.  I am your “yokefellow”.

I suppose I was not surprised, then, when Paul called me out in his letter to my church in Philippi.  I had been yoked with him in ministry and had been yoked with Euodia and Syntyche as well.  I knew them well and they knew me and trusted me.  As much as I did not want this assignment, I was exactly the right person to confront them about their disagreement.  In his wisdom, Paul knew that.

I suspect Paul also knew that all of us in the church were a bit perplexed about what to do with these two sisters.  We knew their broken relationship had gotten out of hand, and we knew someone needed to love them enough to confront them about it, but none of us wanted to do it.  I suppose we were all hoping someone else would step up, or maybe by some miracle Paul himself would be released from prison and he would come and do it.  Hey, don’t laugh, it’s happened before.

But there would be no miraculous prison break this time.  One of us (or perhaps a few of us) in the church would have to step up and deal with this conflict.  Personally, I usually run from it.  I really hate conflict.  I don’t like getting up in other people’s business, I don’t like being perceived as judgmental, and I don’t like sticking my nose where it doesn’t belong.  Frankly, I can probably think of at least a dozen other excuses if you give me a little time.  Bottom line: none of us in the church wanted to do this, but we all knew it needed to be done.  Some argued it was the pastor’s job.  Others argued it was the elders’ job.  I was neither.  I was just someone who cared deeply for these two women, which is why Paul knew I was the right person to do this.  After all, if it were me who needed confronting, I would want it to be someone whom I trusted and who I knew loved me.  Why shouldn’t Euodia and Syntyche have the same benefit?

I pray that, when you need someone to tell you the truth about yourself, you will have a “Syzygus” in your life.  And I pray that, when someone you love needs a “Syzygus” in his/her life who will help him/her see the truth, you will step up and be that yokefellow for him/her.  I pray that, when God touches you on the shoulder with that assignment like Paul touched me, you will kneel down and pray and then go.  And I pray that God will use that experience to change your life the way He changed mine.

I am Syzygus.  And I am so very glad for that.

© 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

 





A Legacy of Conflict

2 02 2010

Tuesday Re-mix – This is a popular post from last year, updated and resubmitted for your consideration and comments.

(This is the first in a series of posts from Philippians 4 on dealing with church conflict).

I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to agree with each other in the Lord. Phil. 4:2

Have you ever noticed that people don’t tend to name their daughters after these two particular New Testament church members?  I mean you’ll find plenty of Peters, James’, Stephens, Philips, Lidias, Priscillas, and even a few Dorcas’ and Cornelius’, but you’ll have a hard time finding a child named after Euodia or Syntyche.  That is because parents tend to name their children something that is positive or that has a strong legacy behind it.  Most parents do not name their children after people with a bad legacy.  And that is exactly the kind of people Euodia and Syntyche were.

euodia-and-syntyche

Euodia and Syntyche as children

We know practically nothing else about these two women except for the fact that they apparently could not get along.  They may have been critically important founding members of the Philippian church.  They may have had sons who went on to become wonderful pastors or teachers.  Who knows, they may have been teachers themselves.  They may have been wealthy contributors to the work of the church or key figures in the women’s ministry there.  They may have been beloved prayer warriors or wise members of the personnel committee.  They may have been any or all of these things, or perhaps none of them at all.  We simply do not know.  But forever and ever, as long as the kingdom of God is around, everyone will remember Euodia and Syntyche for one thing and one thing only: they could not get along with each other.

How’s that for a legacy?

In my work as a church mediator, I have had occasion to work with all kinds of churches, big & small, city & country, and every imaginable evangelical denomination.  Unfortunately, the ones that often stick out in my memory are the “repeat offender” churches.  You know them.  They are the ones who have fired their last several pastors and continue to live in a state of denial about it.  They are like the friend who has been married and divorced 4 or 5 times and continues to say about it, “Can you believe my bad luck?”  They are churches who, more than any other thing, are leaving a legacy of conflict.  Like our friends Euodia and Syntyche, all that will be remembered about them is this horrible legacy.

So what is my point?  I suppose it is simply to encourage you to leave a better legacy than this.  Don’t let your testimony be remembered as the guy (or girl) who was hard to get along with.  But even more importantly, don’t let that be your church’s testimony either.  If your church is a “repeat offender” church, do something to help them see that and get on a healthy track.  Change the culture, before your name goes down in God’s big book right next to Euodia and Syntyche.

© 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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