The Medium is the Message

19 08 2014

Tuesday Re-mix:

In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son… Hebrews 1:1-2

God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.  Hebrews 2:4

JesusMarshall McLuhan was the first to coin the phrase, “the medium is the message”.  In his instance, he was referring to the ushering in of the information age (specifically, television) back in 1964.  He noted that television (and other similar media) were more than just conduits of information, they were actually shaping and reshaping the message and were as much a part of the message as the message itself.  I suppose we could make the same observation today about social media.  Twitter and YouTube and SnapChat are literally reshaping how (and what) we communicate.  It just seems that, from time to time, a medium comes along that changes everything we thought we knew about messaging and communication.  When that happens, “the medium becomes the message.”

Never in the history of the world has this notion been truer than with Christianity.  In ancient days, God spoke His message through angels, He spoke His message through the prophets, He spoke His message through the law, and He spoke His message through miraculous signs and wonders.  But never was the message so clear and so divisive and so disturbing as when God spoke His message through  Jesus.  The very embodiment of God, representative of all His glory and power and authority, Jesus is “the Word become flesh.”  He is BOTH the medium AND the message.

For Christ-followers (for His church), we have a contemporary medium through the gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed among us.  For us, this is a visual representation of God at work among us.  But for the watching world, it is gibberish.  For that world, there simply is no clearer image of God than Jesus Christ.  His life is a canvass upon which God’s Word is painted vividly in living color.

There is a great deal of talk in the church today about messaging.  It is good talk.  Important talk.  Using all the media available to us to tell the Gospel story is, I believe, important.  But even as we discuss websites and Twitter and blogs and videos…even as we consider signage and platforms and lighting and projections…we must keep one medium ever before us: Jesus.  In the midst of all our new languages and vehicles, we must show the world Jesus.  Because, in the end, He is the medium which really matters.

Show them Jesus.  And let all the other messaging flow from 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




Let’s DO Have Hard Conversations…but NOT On Line

5 05 2014

Monday Morning Quarterback – Encouraging God’s people to be responsible, encouraging and uplifting in their use of social media.

We have said here over and over again that “the church” really must be especially effective at communication. After all, “go ye therefore and make disciples” is pretty much ALL about effective communication. We should not be the ones learning communication from the world…we should be the ones blazing trails in effective communication.

One fundamental concept of effective communication is truly understanding the limits of any particular vehicle. Every form of communication has its limits. We do not use post-it notes to write a doctoral thesis. We do not use texting to break-up a relationship (please, agree with me on that one). We do not use video to make a grocery list. Every form of communication, every vehicle, has its ideal purpose and use as well as its limitations.

difficult conversationSocial media is no different. You want to capture a fun moment in a photograph or video and then share it with friends instantly? Social media is ideal. You want to make the world aware of your opinion, even wisdom, on a recent cultural or political event? Social media works great. You want to reach out to a demographic and get some quick feedback on a particular subject or do some quick and low-cost marketing analysis on a product or service? Social media can help there as well. Even spewing your own spin on controversial topics is easily and effectively accomplished through social media.

But what about difficult conversations? What about the kind of conversations every Christ follower is called to be a part of from time to time, where emotions are running high and where genuine understanding of the other side is running very low? What about conversations that have been “hi-jacked” by groups with political agendas and extremists, which make it virtually impossible to read any statement at all without looking behind it for the real agenda?  Unfortunately, social media has proven itself over and over again to be the WRONG place for those conversations. In fact, trying to have those conversations on social media, with all its public pressures and biases and easy “cut and paste” options has ended up doing a lot more damage to those conversations than good.

Abortion has become one of those issues. Same-sex marriage is another. You can probably name plenty of others. For these kinds of issues, if all you are interested in is spewing forth your own position without listening to any opposing position, then social media works just fine for that. But if you are genuinely wanting to have a conversation, or if you at least want to be perceived as being interested in a conversation, then social media as your communication vehicle has lots and lots of limitations. You get no vocal inflection (all caps and exclamation points and emoticons will only go so far), you get no facial expressions, you get no body language…and all of those comprise a massive percentage of the key information we are accustomed to taking in during a conversation.

If being misunderstood is a genuine concern of yours, then you have probably already experienced this frustration numerous times with social media.  The thing is, we do need to be having these hard conversations. If you’ve been reading my thoughts very long, you already know how strongly I believe that. Having hard conversations is something leaders do…much more so, church leaders! But we should be sitting down face to face and having those hard conversations. Yes, it is less convenient than just lighting up a Twitter feed, but it is critical in order to really listen to one another.

To quote “Dirty” Harry Callahan: “A man’s got to know his limitations.” Church leaders take heed…Dirty Harry was right. Know your limitations. Know when to hit “send” or “publish” or “post” and know when to pick up the phone and set up a meeting instead.

© 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




We Should Have Credentials to Talk About Love

31 03 2014

Monday Morning Quarterback – Encouraging God’s people to be responsible, encouraging and uplifting in their use of social media.

One of the negative impacts of social media on our society is that anyone who knows how to communicate well is automatically accepted as an expert, or at least as someone to be followed and quoted.  In truth, maybe all they really need is an opinion that happens to fit well with other people’s in order to get followed. There are no credentials necessary. There is no life experience necessary. Credibility is “earned” merely by being a particularly gifted or innovative communicator. That notion is both refreshing and scary at the same time. And nowhere is it becoming more of a nuisance than in the church.

love credentialsLast week’s Christian social media posts were filled with comments about World Vision’s President, Richard Stearns’ comment to Christianity Today that his organization would now be willing to hire legally married gay couples to work there, and then the organization’s subsequent quick reversal of that decision.  As you might imagine, Facebook posts and blog posts (and Christ-followers’ comments on both) lit up the internet.  No surprise…it was just the next in what has become a long series of school-yard brawls around LGBT issues within the church. They always draw a crowd. And, of course, the damage to the church is immeasurable. You can hear the chorus of those outside the church: “And THAT is why I will never go to church again.” 

Terrific.

There are a lot of reasons why Christ-followers are going to be on opposite sides of the LGBT issues for some time to come…too many reasons to get into here.  Maybe we will explore all those reasons in other posts.  In the meantime, it is this Christian mediator’s professional opinion that agreement on all the issues is not going to happen within the church in my lifetime, and perhaps not in my children’s lifetime either.  There are just too many forces both within the church and especially from outside the church to allow for agreement.  Political and social agendas have hijacked these issues, making genuine agreement impossible.

The question, then, which we must answer (and quickly) is how we can live together within the church while disagreeing so strongly on these issues.  How do we even converse? How do we minister side by side? How do we worship together? How do we learn at least some modicum of mutual respect for each other’s positions in order to be able to co-exist?  Maybe in the final analysis, all of these questions can be summed up in one poignant question which begs our full focus and attention: In our conversations around these issues, what does love look like?

We know that is the right question. I know that we know it, because we all keep assuring each other that we are speaking the truth in love.  We all talk about how much we love the people on the other side of these issues from us, though we strongly disagree with them.  But based on so many of the comments I saw last week from folks whom I know to be Christ-followers, I’m just not convinced that all of us are the “lovers” we profess to be.  If love has something to do with meeting the physical, emotional and spiritual needs of our brother, I am just not convinced that we are all truly spending much time really loving those on the other side of these issues from us.

And so it is from this place of frustration and fear for the church’s testimony that I propose a simple fix: the church needs “love credentials”.  These are not credentials you can get from a seminary or from a Bible college…all the studying and reading in the world will not earn these credentials.  And they are not credentials even a local church can offer…sad but true.  The credentials I propose are only available and can only be earned from one source: people on the other side of the argument from me.  I propose that, before I publish a comment or a tweet or a blog post talking about how much I really do love “those people” even though I disagree strongly with them, I should be able to point to two or three or four of them who will attest to that fact…just a handful of people on the other side of the argument who will all testify that, yes, I really have loved them well.  These credentials are earned by sitting face to face with people whom I love on the other side of these issues and actually listening to them and understanding their concerns, their feelings…because that’s what love looks like.

That will be my credentials test from now on. Have we had this conversation face to face with people on the other side of these issues who will vouch for our “love” for them? I am just not going to waste any more of my time reading posts from people on either side of this issue for whom I cannot find those credentials. But much more importantly, I won’t be posting my own positions or opinions on these issues either, until I have first had the conversation with friends whom I know disagree with me and have assured myself they will vouch for me.  It seems to me I have some credentials to earn.

How about you? Ready to earn yours? BEFORE you publish that post?

© 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




Speaking Without Seeing

27 02 2014

The word of the Lord came to me: “What do you see, Jeremiah?” “I see the branch of an almond tree,” I replied. Jeremiah 1:11

“Learn that simple lesson well, O you who try to speak for God! You must be seers before you can be speakers.” Charles Spurgeon

It’s the first rule of communication: know what you want to say before you start saying it.  Few things are more frustrating than trying to listen to someone who is trampling on this rule…their mouth is moving and the words are flowing and they have no idea where they are trying to go.  That, I believe, is where the prophets of the ancient days set themselves apart.  They were called “seers”…because they could see what was unseen by all the rest of us.  It was not so much a gift of SPEAKING, as much as it was a gift of SEEING and then simply speaking the truth about what they saw.  That calling was made so very clear in Jeremiah’s case.

?????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????I do not study scripture in the original Hebrew. But Charles Spurgeon did. And he notes that the Hebrew word for “almond” actually comes from a root word that means “awake” or, more specifically, “wakeful”.  That is because the almond tree started to blossom very early in the Spring (even late Winter), while all the other trees were still sleeping.  So, in the Hebrew language, this tree was known as the “wakeful tree”.

The imagery would have been clear to Jeremiah.  His assignment was to see, first and foremost. If Jeremiah will remain wakeful to see, God will remain wakeful to perform His word just as Jeremiah sees it. God’s assignment came with a promise. It always does, doesn’t it?

And isn’t that the church’s assignment as well? Are we not called by God (even set apart) to see the world through the lens of His Word, and then to speak in love about what we see?  Doesn’t the church have that responsibility to see and understand God’s Word and God’s ways and then to speak those truths as a God-honoring interpretation of what is going on in the world around us?

Our ability to speak the truth…our credibility as stewards of that truth…all depends upon our wakeful watching and seeing.  It means seeing God’s Word, seeing what God is doing in the world in which we live, and understanding the unseen world around us as well. It means being genuinely guided by the Spirit of God to see what we otherwise would not have seen and to understand otherwise incomprehensible truths.

Pondering this responsibility, I suppose I am feeling a little panicked.  It just seems to me that, over the centuries and perhaps much more so in my lifetime, the church has been caught a little too often speaking without seeing…sometimes it is not all that clear just how “wakeful” we are being.  Just spend a little time perusing your social media streams today and ask yourself whether “the church” is really seeing or not.  And then join me in praying for forgiveness for when we speak before we see.

© 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




Let’s Not Be Bullies with our Movie Critiques

24 02 2014

Monday Morning Quarterback – Encouraging God’s people to be responsible, encouraging and uplifting in their use of social media.

This year will see an unusual number of “Hollywood” versions of Biblical stories.  Son of God releases later this week.  One month later, Noah hits theaters.  And more will follow.  The Christian bloggers will, of course, be all over these movies with their critiques.

bulliesYou know what is annoying?  Have you ever been in a situation where a small “clique” of insiders who have developed their own expertise on a subject sit back and make fun of those who are on the outside and who do not seem to know nearly as much as they do?  You remember, don’t you?  It was a favorite middle school or even high school past time: the GT and AP students sitting together and making fun of the ignorance of other students…the athletes ganging up on the non-athletic types and making fun of them…the snobby musicians looking down their noses at the pop music lovers at prom.  And do you know why this is annoying? Because it is just a form of bullying.

So, I am wondering if we can make a sincere attempt to guard our testimonies in how we offer our critiques of these upcoming “Biblical” movies?  Let’s not become bullies in how we communicate. Let’s keep the snarky, judgmental, arrogance out of our comments and posts. In talking about these movies, here are a few questions we might ask ourselves before we click the “publish” button on our social media screen:

1. Did I actually go and see the movie…all the way through?  If not, then say that clearly right at the beginning of your critique.  And then stop and don’t bother finishing the critique, because nobody is going to read any further anyway.  Frankly, it is just best not to offer a comment on a movie you’ve never seen, for all the reasons stated here.

2. Why Am I Really Writing This Critique?  “Look at me! Look at me! Look how much I know! Look how smart I am!” Sometimes I cannot help but wonder if we just want people to appreciate how well we know our Bible.  We talk about all the ways this movie does not quite square with scripture, but what we are really doing is pointing out how Biblically literate we are, as compared to Hollywood…by the way, congratulations on that accomplishment.

3. How will this critique “build others up”?  I don’t mean to get all scriptural on you here, but Paul’s warning in Ephesians 4:29 is a good one: Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.  

4. How will this critique enhance my ability to speak into the lives of people who need Jesus?  There is already a prevailing mindset out there that “Christians” are arrogant and closed-minded and brainwashed and judgmental.  Is there anything about this critique that will unnecessarily foster those perceptions?

5. Can God use this movie to point people to Him? I see it often. We complain that there are not more Christian stories or Biblical stories being told by major Hollywood producers.  Then, when one of them takes on the challenge, we sit back and take pot shots at him or her for getting it wrong!  Isn’t the question that matters most whether or not God can use this film to point people to Him?  Does it really have to fit my theology to a tee in order for God to use 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




Bright Ideas Doomed to Fail

3 02 2014

Monday Morning Quarterback – Encouraging God’s people to be responsible, encouraging and uplifting in their use of social media.

I’ve not failed.  I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.  Thomas Edison, on his experiments with prototypes for the light bulb

broken lightbulbIf I call myself a Christ-follower, and I’m not afraid to wear that label publicly, then it seems right to me that I should have some pretty strong buy-in to the great commission in Matthew 28: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,  teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”  It is why we, as Christians, are still here…still breathing.  Even after our salvation is secured, God leaves us here in order to fulfill this commission.

If that is all true, then our messaging on social media becomes purposeful, doesn’t it?  We want to use our very public, very searchable, very permanent social media posts to point to God in some fashion…or at least to preserve our privilege to do so with readers in the future. So, in the spirit of Thomas Edison, here are some messages for us as Christians, which are guaranteed NOT TO WORK:

1. The candidate you voted for is… [an idiot, a liar, a lunatic, a buffoon, a criminal, a bigot, a murderer, etc.].  I don’t know, call me narrow-minded, call me naive, call me a bad American…but I’m pretty sure my starting our conversation with this message is not a good strategy for getting you to listen to anything I have to say about Jesus.

2. You are… [an idiot, a liar, a lunatic, a buffoon, a criminal, a bigot, a murderer, etc.].  Kind of the same thinking as above, but even more personal.  When I use my voice to call people out in this way, I may as well have just decided I do not want to tell them anything at all about Christ.

3. You are a sinner (or are living a sinful lifestyle or are making sinful choices).  First of all, just from an informational standpoint, I’ve wasted both our time by simply stating a theological truism…because we are all sinners.  But more importantly, it’s not exactly opening line material if an actual conversation (or even a friendship) is what I am hoping for in the end.  Is it true? Yes (for both of us). Is it good strategy to get you to listen to me? No.

4. Here’s where I weigh in on this extremely emotional and divisive and controversial subject…  Do the math. If the entire country is deeply divided on the issue, then a large percentage of the people who have access to my post are going to be offended by it.  If my goal is to build bridges for us to have honest and open conversations, so that I can share with you about the most important thing in  my life (Jesus), why would I start the conversation with a slap in your face?

5.  I have a deep seated need to be a part of a tribe, and here’s the tribe I choose and the colors I wear and if you find it offensive, it’s your problem and not mine.  Tribes are a funny thing.  We all have them.  We all need them.  And there are ways for me to talk about my tribe that are calculated to minimize the offense to those who are not in it.  But when I throw it in your face and just expect you to “deal with it”, because you happened across my Twitter feed, I am losing my ability to speak truth into your life.

These are just some opening lines that seem guaranteed to fail to me.  How about you?  What opening lines have you seen Christ followers use that were ill-conceived and doomed from the outset?

© 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 Jesus in the Church

23 01 2014

He entered Jericho and was passing through. And behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus. He was a chief tax collector and was rich. And he was seeking to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was small in stature. So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him, for he was about to pass that way.  Luke 19:1-4

stained glass JesusMake no mistake. God was at work in the heart of Zacchaeus, drawing him toward Him.  God placed a yearning in his heart that would make this wealthy businessman climb a tree like a child in order to get a glimpse of Jesus as he passed by.  God still does that.  He is still in the business of drawing people to Himself.  And whether or not all the marketing surveys show it, He is still drawing those people to the body of Christ…His church.

The question is, are we doing our part to make sure an unbelieving world can actually see Jesus in us when they look?  When God stirs their hearts to go to some lengths to “climb trees” in order to get a glimpse of Jesus in us, are we conducting ourselves in a way that helps?

When a watching world looks at our social media posts, do they see Jesus?

When the gay waiter serves our table, will he see Jesus?

When our  banker sees how we handle our finances, does she see Jesus?

When those people who voted for the other party in the last election show up at our church, do they see Jesus?

When that  telemarketer calls our house, will he hear Jesus in us?

When that staff member gossips about us, will he look and see Jesus in us?

When that embittered, divisive congregant blows up yet another church business meeting, will she see Jesus in you?

God is still doing His part.  He is still drawing people to the church.  The question is, how are we doing with our part?

© 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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