Community . . . God's Way


Maybe Worship Style Is Not the Issue

May 05, 2009

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

Gathered worship is about approaching the throne of grace together. That’s what makes it a very different experience from personal worship. In gathered worship, the Spirit of the very God I come to worship lives in my co-worshiper. That makes relationships critical to gathered worship. When I look across the congregation and see my dear friend profoundly expressing his love for the Lord, it doesn’t matter so much whether I’m loving the music, because my dear friend clearly is. I worship because he is worshiping. All that matters at that point in time is how I feel about God and how I feel about my friend. That is enough.

So here is a bottom line: if relationships among worshipers are everything God wants them to be, worship style will not be an issue. If relationships among worshipers are broken or non-existent, it will not matter what worship style you choose. It will be wrong.

A word to my worship leader friends: spend less time worrying about whether to program hymns or choruses and more time invested in creating Biblical relationships among your worshipers.

© Blake Coffee

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There’s a Difference Between Childlikeness and Childishness

April 21, 2009

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

In the entire Bible, there is no chapter or passage which comes up more often in the midst of church fights than Matthew 18, particularly the passage in v. 15 and following which talks about how to confront a brother. Unfortunately, people abuse it more than they use it, and that is because they don’t really understand it. They don’t understand it because they read it out of context. But in context, read together as one huge lesson (the way Jesus taught it), it makes perfect sense. In fact, it shows Jesus’ utterly amazing insight into the church and how it would function over the centuries to follow.

angry-childIn my work with conflicted congregations, I lost count a long time ago of the number of times people did really hateful, humiliating things to each other all in the name of “confronting a brother” pursuant to Matthew 18:15-17. The truth is, people often (usually?) decide first what they want and then use scripture to help them get it. If you think about it, it is a pretty childish way to go about doing church. Then again, childish behavior in the church doesn’t surprise most church leaders any longer. It disappoints, yes, but it doesn’t surprise. Even Jesus’ own brother, James, wrote about it in his letter to the church:

“What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight.” James 4:1-2.

It is a vivid picture of childish behavior, as true today as it was in Pastor James’ church 2000 years ago. People …

With Apologies to Theologians Everywhere…I Loved “The Shack”

April 14, 2009

Tuesday Remix – This is a popular post from last year, updated and re-submitted for your consideration and comments.

Hello. My name is Blake (everyone yell altogether: “Hi, Blake!”), and I liked The Shack. Reading some of the theological reviews of the book, I feel like there must be something very wrong with me, that I would dare to favor a completely fictional story which contains some (allegedly) questionable theology. But I do like the story and found it quite helpful even in a Spiritual sense, which leaves me wondering if it is possible for God to use an allegedly theologically flawed story to draw me closer to Him in our relationship. Apparently it is possible, and judging from the many positive reviews from Christians around the country, I am not exactly out on a limb in this judgment.

Let’s first be clear about some things: (1) I am no theologian, at least not in the “seminary-trained, original Greek and Hebrew” way of talking about theology, and I have never held myself out to be so; (2) I suspect I can find some theological point on which to disagree with almost any author writing today, so I do not derive my understanding of God by trying to emulate any person’s theology; (3) take point number (2) and magnify it several times as it may relate to works of fiction.

So, with all those caveats firmly established, I recommend The Shack…as an allegory for the healing process and as a story that explores the question, “How can a loving God allow such unspeakable pain as our world sometimes experiences?” I like the book. As a person called to a ministry to hurting people and as a friend called to walk alongside those hurting people, I appreciate the …

Celebrate the Birth of a Revolution

April 10, 2009

The Revolution was not born when Christ was born.  The revolution we call Christianity was born when three world-changing events occurred within a couple of months.  We remember the first of those today: the crucifixion.  We remember the second one in a couple of days: the resurrection.  And the third is a day we remember as Pentecost.

And with these three events, the world would never be the same again.


I’ll be taking some time this weekend to reflect on all of this.  Hope you will do the same.  See you on Tuesday.

He is risen.  He has risen indeed.…

Languages of Worship

April 07, 2009

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

Imagine this: you feel inspired to adopt a few children. You’ve always wanted a larger family and your (and your spouse’s) heart is breaking for the children around the world who are in need of Godly parents. So, you adopt one Chinese child, one Russian child, and one child who is hearing impaired. For now, each of them only speaks their language (Chinese, Russian, and sign). It’s your first night all together at the dinner table. You, your spouse and your three new children are all seated, staring at one another over a pot roast lovingly prepared by you. Here is my question: what language(s) will you speak at the table?

Maybe the more important question, the one more pertinent for the purposes of this post, is this: will you love these children enough to learn some words in their respective language(s), or will you coldly refuse to learn a single word in their language and just wait for them to learn yours?

Worship styles are like that. They are learned languages. In many cases, they are the only “worship” language spoken by some individuals. Whether or not I am willing to learn the language spoken by my brother is really just a question of how badly I want to communicate with him. Do I love him enough to want to learn his language?

The world is becoming smaller, and there are literally thousands of “languages of worship” around the world. For a local body of worshipers who are at all open to new worshipers joining them, it is becoming more and more impossible to limit worship to only one language (i.e., only one style). As new church members color the …

Quit Griping and Just Worship. Seriously.

March 31, 2009

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

I miss having children’s art on my refrigerator. I’m between seasons for that (kids are too old but no grandchildren yet). I always loved getting the artwork from them after they had spent hours creating them. I had a lot of responses when I got them, but here are some things I NEVER said: What, are you kidding? You call that a portrait? Can’t you even draw a face right? This doesn’t even remotely resemble our house. This is not a good tree at all.  This is not good enough. I don’t want this. Can you even imagine a parent responding that way?

I can’t either. Nor can I even imagine God looking down at the heart of one of his children and saying these same kinds of things about their worship efforts…not any longer, not under the new covenant where “true worshipers” worship “…in Spirit and in truth” as opposed to form and place.  I just don’t think God gets nearly as stressed about worship styles as we do.

As a church mediator, I have to tell you, I’ve just about had my fill of the fighting over worship styles. Contemporary versus traditional: which one is better? I think I have memorized every verse of each side’s battle hymn (or chorus). They’re too shallow. They aren’t genuine. They sing the same words over and over again. They’re too stale. They aren’t user-friendly. Their hands are in the air. Their hands are in their pockets.  They have frowns on their faces when they worship. They preach too long. They preach too short. They don’t do an altar call. They don’t take an offering. They take too many offerings. They stand too

I Think That I Shall Never See…

March 24, 2009

Tuesday Re-mix – this is a popular post from last year, updated and rerun for your consderation and comments.

I think that I shall never see…

…a Christian lovely as a tree (with apologies to Joyce Kilmer). The big, strong, deep rooted tree  is the image to which I am continuously drawn when I think of “growing” in a relationship with Christ. You know, the Psalm 1 “tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not whither.” It is the image of perfect health.

It is also the illustration we used  in our Sunday morning Bible Study (you can find us here) as we talked about the “Spiritual disciplines” of the Christian life.  One of the disciplines we studied was  the discipline of giving. Once again, just the preparation of the lesson alone brought me great conviction. Here is the passage that got me:

Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. II Corinthians 9:6-7

I was brought up in the church. I was taught about giving at a very early age. I have been a fairly faithful “giver” pretty much all of my adult life. I have done it in (very small) part as an act of worship, but much more so out of a sense of “it’s just the right thing to do”. I see it as a part of God’s economy. If God says it’s a good way to handle my finances, that’s enough for me. I saw Cecil B. DeMille’s Ten Commandments as a child, and God has had my attention ever since …

The Great Mystery of the Ages

March 17, 2009

I love a good mystery. I love trying to sort through all the clues and pieces of evidence in order to figure out the key, the central truth that explains everything. I guess that’s what intrigues me about Paul’s comment to the Colossian church in chapter 1 of that letter:

“…the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the saints. To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” Col. 1:26-27.

I believe when God created man (and woman) in His own image, this mystery was more apparent to the angels looking on than to the created man. Being created in God’s image, whatever else that means, means being created with the capacity to be indwelled by the Holy Spirit. Man was created with a void in the shape of God’s spirit; a void that would not be filled on a large scale until a day we know as Pentecost. Everything changed at Pentecost. The answer to the mystery of what that void was all about was then revealed. For the first time (at least on a large scale) the Spirit of God completed what was God’s plan from the beginning, to indwell His creation. God, the Spirit…Christ in you, the hope of glory.

But isn’t it also the hope of unity among God’s people?

When we ponder the mess of broken relationships and bad behavior that seem to mark the church, and when we shake our fists at God demanding a way to “fix” the brokenness, to straighten out His people, hasn’t He already given us the fix? If the Spirit of God Himself really does live in every member of His …

“Only YOU Can Prevent [church] Fires”

March 03, 2009

Tuesday Remix – This is a popular post from last year, updated and re-run for your consideration and comments.

Church fights…forest fires.  Perhaps it is Ron Susek’s book Firestorm that brings the illustration to mind (one of the really good books out there about church conflict), or maybe it is the “scorched earth” I find when I first look across the landscape of a troubled congregation.

Whatever the reminder, a raging forest fire is a great metaphor for a church fight. Once it gets to the “out of control” stage, the devastation is unimaginable and the utter helplessness catches you completely by surprise. Many of you know this from personal experience.

I am no expert on fighting forest fires, but I know this about fire: it needs oxygen to survive. Find a way to cut off the oxygen, and the fire will dissipate quickly. Water, dirt, foam, wet blankets can all serve the purpose.

Firestorms in churches also have a fuel: gossip. Without it, they cannot survive. But with enough of it, the small initial flames of conflict can grow bigger and faster than our minds can fathom. It is a universal underlying factor in every single church conflict with which I am even vaguely familiar. Gossip always makes the conflict worse, not better.

Here is how I define gossip (hide your toes, there’s a crushin’ a comin’): anytime you find yourself in a conversation about a brother or sister who is not here and he/she is not being edified in that conversation, it is gossip. I take this definition from several places in scripture, such as Ephesians 4:29: “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.”

Weddings and Forest Fires

February 24, 2009

Tuesday Remix – This is a popular post from last year, updated and re-posted for your consideration and comments.

Last Summer, my family vacationed in San Francisco. The real cause for the trip was a family wedding that took place in the Redwood Forest (Kent and Amanda, my niece and her husband). Finding such a breathtaking place to start their married lives together is a testimony in itself about the spirits of these two much-loved family members. The ceremony was beautiful and amazing and images from it will remain burned in our memories forever. It was enough to help us all forget the hundreds of forest fires raging around us in the Northern California area, at least until we got back to our hotel rooms and watched the local news.

The irony is thick, isn’t it? A home filled with creative expressions of love is birthed in the midst of fire and destruction. What kind of divine entity masterminds that? What is the character of a God Who brings us such joy while permitting such devastation?

I could not help but think about the church and its dizzying tendency to provide us with some of our most beautiful and some of our most painful memories, all within days of one another. Even in the midst of real firestorms, God continues to move and to work in the hearts of His people. The God of the universe can do that. This is no God conceived in the small mind of a human being. Who could have ever written such a story?

This same God has left his fingerprints all over the church. His people carry with them the same incredible ability to provide a place of powerfully positive emotions and enormously damaging circumstances. The church is very much like that: …