Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Upgrading the Church (Part 1)

I’m hearing a stack of smack about the postmodern church needing an upgrade. And with church currently carrying an out-of-tune melody, the declarations hold merit.

How does God view His house these days? And how would He fix the disarray within?

Ask yourself these questions routinely and dare to be unmotivated.

Neil Cole, author of Church 3.0: Upgrades for the Future of the Church, voices this well in his recent release, claiming an organic operating system is crucial concerning the effectiveness of programs, worship methods, and structural issues. And organic, for those who need clarification, is simply the nutritional value (sustenance) of a church’s spiritual life and efficacy to witness.

**Just a quick side note: If you read about this subject matter often, you may find writers indirectly evaluating the church as the latest Microsoft product or a Triple Play Starter Package. – I’ll do my best to veer from this “norm.”)**

Now, I believe the church doesn’t require a complete makeover, but it unquestionably needs renovations that shatter some funky mold that has been in place for several centuries. Cole, in fact, traces certain meticulous huff back to 300 A.D.

Bottom line: The church is not doing everything wrong. It just could do most things better.

Lingo-shmingo aside, let’s investigate why the church is integral to Christianity, and what improvements should be made without finger-pointing preferences. Seriously, the last thing anyone should want to hear is constructive criticism masquerading as biased nitpicking.

So the church is guilty for not penetrating secularism, the marketplace, and the neighbors next door, eh?

Chances are you’ve heard a blend of the following as to why this is so: an overemphasis on clergy-led political structure, an over-institutionalized approach, a strong internal community with a weak external counterpart, etc.

For the most part, these assertions are correct. Church is incredibly business-like in its procedures these days, and rising generations aren’t grasping church as a people, as compared to a place. They don’t understand church is just as much verb as it is noun. (By verb, I’m implying the heart of any church – the community of God at an appointed place – should strive to see the far corners of nations reached, starting from backyards to unchartered igloos and Asian shacks.)

Is church necessary? Yes! Why? Because it links koinonia to the Kingdom.

It is encouraging to hear the volumes of youth hungry to expand the Body from the comfort of homes to the chaos of the streets. However, the fact the same persons doubt the answer to the question above is a strong indicator that the church in America, as a whole, is not succeeding at full potential. Perhaps the definition of church has become so skewed, we can’t separate church from sanctuary.

The key word is balance.

In the post-ascension era, the early church held two services a day, both at a chosen meeting place and the home (Acts 2:46). Back then, there wasn’t so much division over location, since abundance of life flowed from the quality and quantity of social and positional diversity. Also, clergy weight didn’t have the same prominence as it does today. So the end result revealed healthy corporate activity, both relationally and spiritually (Much more I could say, but I’ll try to keep this brief…)

Today, the scene is much different, though somewhat similar in certain circles.

Yes, we have to place higher value on relationships and a discipleship culture that fuels evangelism. And yes, the church must utilize a systematic approach to make this happen. After all, organization is a branch of holiness. But there’s abuse in the house these days. There’s too much temple junk penetrating ministries, curriculums, and church agendas around the world - too much selling, self-promoting, and divide between clergy and congregation.

Bottom line: Without anointed balance, things get ugly…fast!

Of course ministries and programs are a blessing. But it’s a curse for the Kingdom if opening blind eyes loses focus. It’s a poison to manifestations of the Spirit that illuminate the existence of an all-mighty Supreme Being.

Many verses in Bible portray how church was intended to function. One of my favorites comes out of Ephesians 4:

“For the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God… may [we] grow up in all things into Him who is the head – Christ – from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.”

~ Ephesians 4:12-13; 15-16

Note the analogy of the body and parts. Like in Romans 12, the exercising of spiritual gifts among all is vital to church life. And once again, we’re back to determining exactly what is it means to be “organic.”

Interestingly enough, the philosophical dictionary captures a similar viewpoint on the term: If an entity such as a work of art, or the state, or a complex of pleasure and desire, is thought of as an organic unity, the implication is that the whole cannot be exhaustively understood in terms of the parts, since the parts and their functioning have in turn to be identified by their role in sustaining the whole.

In conclusion, the church must make a shift in format and perspective, not a total overhaul that forsakes the genuine right. The answers can be found by a balanced mindset, applying established historical concepts, and remaining true to the Word.

More to come on this matter in the days to come…

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Favor & Fire

Two years ago, I began settling into what would be the breakthrough summer of my life. I regained a solid stride. My outlook recaptured its idyllic state. Electric expectancy became my calling card. And finally, after a grueling transition year, my destiny had gathered some sheen.

Things were looking up then.

But one essential ingredient was missing: the trials. Though new wine of a changed heart had been tasted, it hadn’t garnered a seal of approval. And yes, though I had tapped into some momentum under favorable conditions, the road to freedom had only begun.

Back then, the stark contrast alone between past and present days provided propitious hope. But despite the abounding good, youthful ignorance kept subtle habits (i.e. replaying the past, sporadic forgiveness, belief in certain deceptions) from being completely relinquished. Thus, every defining moment during those summer months lost crucial capability to intimately cement itself to my identity.

I still showcase a smile when reminiscing about those days. For in the accounts of my memory bank are profusions of affirming memories.

But with those past “deposits” granted, the Lord should have been permitted to drill more of him deeper into my being. Instead, I rode on waves of diverting contentment, which loosened select standards and cracked me to concerted brokenness.

During last weekend’s Not Alone 2010 conference, the difference between times became more apparent upon hours of soaking prayer. Among the prophetic words of knowledge, pictures, and healings that took place, perhaps none struck me so vividly then the following revelation:

Often times, our knack to celebrate integrity can only happen to the extent we overcome adversity and emerge victorious from moral combat. When failures emerge from resolute patterns, as compared to erratic blunders, the veracity of a person must be interrogated. Still, I would submit it’s better to learn from heart pains, than coast on a cruise control that caps Christ’s power to permeate his glory into our radiance. For when God shines, we must absorb all His glimmers, sparks, and gleams. When favor falls, hold to it closely. Never let go. Quench the temptation to convert excitement into a distraction. Burn the right way. Don’t let a genuine Spirit move fizz into an evaporating buzz that crashes the Kingdom (rather than advancing it).

For how can one be on fire, if it is not asked or desired? How can roots of sin and strongholds deracinate without a thirst for iniquity-consuming flames?

Fire (a.k.a. a passionate, holy burn) should always be a versatile element no matter the realm. It helps maintain a hunger for the ways of God and consumes transgression at the point of surrender. If we want a soul fire, why not let it burn vertically? Are we believers that want convenient bonfires or explosive wildfires that push our thresholds of vulnerability?

It’s time to get real, people…

Monday, June 7, 2010

Loving with Total Strength

The sky couldn’t be more stunning for a June summer day. Blanketed across the sky are dazzling blowoff cirrus clouds whipping with the cumulus, as widespread convection over the Plains and Mississippi River valley stir in their aerial splendor.

Yet atmospheric energies haven’t been the only things churning as of late.

The past few days, my heart has been pounding faster than an “I am Legend” darkseeker. Ok, maybe not that dramatic, but point being I’ve gained some incredible, new life, having joined to an unshakable revelation that had been brewing for weeks. Saturday, the light bulb went off; Sunday, the word was confirmed (thanks in part to an anointed man destined for Pacific greatness).

Once the clock struck noon yesterday, I knew I had undoubtedly heard the heartcry of God.

Isn’t it amazing when the Holy Spirit overflows unfathomable refreshment, even when shame and guilt are inches away?
You see, I’ve been loving people (from those I love most intimately to strangers on the street) with all my heart, but I haven’t loved them with all my strength! So I suppose it’s fair to say I really haven’t been loving people with all my heart, since complete love breaks the yoke of weakness. One can’t be so content that he or she is exalting Christ with a reverent heart. It must be fearless as well, since true love accompanies AND is supported by true strength. And the hard truth, in my case, is that I haven’t let maximum strength permeate my relationships. Even at 95%, I am very unsatisfied.

The fascinating part to this story is I haven’t felt as if I’ve fallen down. Instead, I’ve been raised up. I haven’t been knocked out; just simply awakened.

Now since grace is rooted in love, we can interchange them for sake of point and emphasis.

Let’s look at 2 Corinthians 12:9 with the substitution applied:

“'My love (grace) is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”

Here, Paul makes a worthy association between power (strength) and love (rest). Paul knew his apostolic ministry could not be demeaned by the schemes of the enemy. Paul knew weakness couldn’t ultimately separate him from God’s love and the assignments granted to him. He possessed complete assurance and faith in the manner in which Christ qualified him. Despite the times he had fallen short, Paul understood the links connecting holy satisfaction to suffering and sin.

2 Corinthians 12:10“Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

So if we are to love, we must desire to love with the best of that which we’re given. The Great Commandment, from Deuteronomy 6:5, concludes with loving God with all strength, suggesting love is only superficial without a submissive brokenness to sacrifice. Just imagine a husband loving his wife, but not giving up an unhealthy addiction or destructive habit for the sake of greater love. Too much of love these days is pick-a-little, talk-a-little. Cheap. Cheap. Cheap.

But God’s grace and love is distinguished by unimaginable strength. It’s a facet of His nature we must all collectively aspire to. So if I find myself casual to the point of compromise in any one area, I should know I am not loving with my everything. And how can I dare say that isn’t sin?

In Jeremiah 16:19, Jeremiah cries out to the Lord, acknowledging him as both strength and fortress. Thus, we can realize strength is not confined to just power, but represents security as well. The Hebrew meaning (“azaz” – to be firm and strong) is referenced approximately 100 times in the Old Testament alone. That right there should tell us “strength” is a big deal.

When we share God’s love with others, we need to recognize that God loves with all His strength, not just all His heart. And yes, heart should imply strength, but at the same time, their discreteness must be taken into account. The fact is many people love with their hearts, but not enough foundational strength as backing. And since love without strength is powerless, our lives must exemplify a heaven-aimed passion saturated with strength (see 2 Sam. 6:14 – David dancing before the Lord with all his strength).

Jeremiah 19:21“Therefore behold, I will this once cause them to know, I will cause them to know My hand and My strength; and they shall know that My name is the Lord.”