Friday, September 21, 2012

Breaking Taboo

When it comes to favorite pastimes and surefire sources of laughter, I’m reminded of Taboo, the game known for its outrageous cards and legendary buzzer.

Yet, as I pondered the name of the game, upon finding it in my closet, I found myself mentally adrift. In church culture, has the word “taboo” become, well, taboo? And if the answer is “yes”, how do we contend?

Before we pursue answers, we have to realize some key truths about the “church-taboo” dichotomy.

For one thing, the church at large has developed this idea that the unacceptable can’t be corporately discussed - that intolerable is wildfire, only contained if quarantined into smaller fires, extinguished behind the veil of conditioned understanding. However, this type of veil opposes the living, breathing Word of God. Why? Because this version of veil shields believers from deeper dependence on the Holy Spirit. Although secular independence says otherwise, the fact is only God can establish veils and draw the line between acceptable and unacceptable.

When we study the Bible, we discover a certain curtain that, on rare occasions, lifts up to reveal things normally hidden (2 Kings 2, 6). We see this with the birth and baptism of Jesus, the transfiguration and the prophetic visions of Joseph and Daniel. With each uncovering, God’s absolute authority and power allows glory to be encountered for the sake of communion at a specific time. And when authority, power and glory intersects, God manifests His perfect love through the disclosure of plan and purpose; however, as spectacular as this is, challenges often stand in the way of whole-hearted devotion and complete obedience. Although supportive evidence abounds as to why this is so, what I can say is the body of Christ must be careful not to fabricate veils to shun what culture considers “taboo”. For only God can authorize the institution of veils into relationship. When we investigate the Scriptures, there is a higher spiritual framework to embrace, one that requires routine heart inspection.

In examining ourselves, we cannot be afraid to ask the following questions concerning the “taboo dilemma”:
  • Ø  Do we not see how passive-aggressive approaches fuel the church-wide temptation to cower in the face of discomfited dialogue?
  • Ø  Do we not realize how lax stances customize the Word to tailor agenda, needs and results, thus, dowsing the power of the Holy Spirit?
  • Ø  Do we not care that such a mentality (see bold text) quenches holy fire to render hearts for the sake of avoiding all that is taboo?

Friends, we must realize that truth calls us to actively engage the unbearable, address the inexcusable and conquer the impossible. God is not honored with overprotective inclusivity - when the heaven-bound tiptoe around imperative subject matter, treating His absolutes like some fragile, fine china, when contrarily, they are steadfast, strong and enduring (see Psalms, John 1 & 3, Colossians 1, 1 & 2 Thessalonians 1, James 1). He is not glorified when the church customizes the identity and joy of sanctified dialogue, or exalted when the power of Scripture and Spirit is dialed down to scale partial faith.

But God is honored when His people are united in educating the lost, the confused and the suffering (Isaiah 58, Romans 1). He is glorified when the church lives out boldness in fullness, operating out of surrendered connection to His heart, without the joke of pretentious religion (Isaiah 2, Psalm 73).  He is exalted when discernment is balanced into a desire to emphasize relationship over regulation, and when courage encourages one to talk about the socially unacceptable in a perfectly acceptable way*.

Truly, if anything is to be deemed “taboo”, then the church’s futile attempt to conform to unholy standards should be high on the list. Seriously, just say “boo” to “taboo”, grow up (the Jesus way), love with hope, love with faith, encourage the courage in others, while standing tall in the face of fear. Friends, the time is ripe and the time is now to tackle difficult issues that modern Christianity is facing. In the meantime, ask the Lord to hone your patience and discernment. Ask Him to fill you with a greater hunger to seek Him consistently and persistently. And as momentum collides with revelation, you’ll understand how “taboo” is severely overrated in contrast to the thrill of the unveiled God.

* Out of a posture of obedience and worship.
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Thursday, September 13, 2012

Make Love to Pressure?

In 2004, Stephen Jackson, shooting guard for the San Antonio Spurs, cemented his legacy in sports media lore when he boldly declared, “I make love to pressure”, referring to his ability to hit difficult shots in clutch situations. Although Jackson’s flair for the dramatic has often transcended into off-court notoriety, with this statement, he inadvertently released silver-linings of truth that we, believers, can rally around, specifically how we merge a Christ-centered approach into the arena of pressure.

Before I continue, permit me to step back a few decades.

I’ve always loved basketball. In terms of athletic uproar, nothing beats the sound of a swished net in an electrified arena with the game on the line. For years, I have retained an enthusiasm for the game as an avid NBA (National Basketball Association) fan, one that started with John Paxson’s game-winning three-pointer in game 6 of the 1993 NBA Finals and carried on through the championship runs of the Chicago Bulls, Los Angeles Lakers and San Antonio Spurs.

During this time, I developed a particular admiration for athletes who overcame adversity with perseverance – players like Chris Webber, Scottie Pippen and Sean Elliot among others. In my mind, the best basketball players played with passion, selflessness and contagious confidence. So whenever I took my talents to the basketball court, I made a conscious effort to emulate my style after my hardwood heroes.

Not only did basketball have physical and physiological benefits, but relationally, the sport provided an outlet of relatability and acceptance among my peers. Whenever a conversation transitioned into basketball, I would instantly illuminate, digging into the dialogue through the sharing of random statistics and background info. Occasionally, such hoopfest exchanges would include the off-court shenanigans committed by a particular player or coach. So as I read in my Bible the other day, reflecting on the powerful wisdom in James 1, Stephen Jackson flashed back into mind.

I don’t know about you, but when I think about pressure, I don’t automatically default to strawberry fields and pocket full of posies. If careless, I can allow stress and worry to overwhelm me to the point of fear, whether rejection, failure or unmet expectations. Deep down, I believe in the divinely created man who will consistently ride waves of grace and supernatural strength to victory in the face of pressure; however, on the surface, I can, at times, wrestle with my own preconceptions of pressure and its corresponding triggers. Thus, as the dichotomy between outer angst and innate faith expands, I am compelled to make an important decision. In light of James 1:2-3, will I cave into vain misunderstandings or consider troubles as joys to behold?

The answer should be quite clear. In God’s eyes, to be tested is to be entrusted and ultimately empowered by the power of the Holy Spirit. If you desire fullness in Christ, then it makes no sense to tremble with timidity, but with referent fear and humility. Until we understand how this self-emptying devotion is an emphatic privilege, we cannot know the joy that comes when we persevere under pressure. Let’s think about the battlefield in the context of spiritual warfare. The army of God must not only thrive in pressure, but should also want to love it, as the embrace corporately matures us into His image and likeness. In Luke 12:48, we are told, “To him who is given much, much is required.” Again, God is entrusting us to share His story, counting on us to transform lives to transform the world. How can we not view pressure as privilege? How can we fail to recognize pressure as potential in progress*?

If we sincerely believe in the goodness instilled in us by a supremely sovereign God, and desire to advance our faith, hope and love in Him, we have to shake off hesitation and position ourselves to apply perseverance into pressure. As we walk in this, we will discover how perseverance helps renew faith, sharpen discernment, strengthen hope, anchor prayer and cultivate steadfast love, all the while, teaching us how to receive new life and refreshment from the Lord through His resurrecting power. In all things, we are given the capacity to overwhelmingly conquer through Him who first loved us (Romans 8:37).

So don’t just respect pressure from a distance; go out of your way to appreciate it up close. Don’t go looking for trouble, but believe that God will equip you to endure the trials, adversities and pressures you encounter. The truth is there will be times when God gives you more than what you can handle (Note: many people misinterpret 1 Corinthians 10:13; the reality is God will not let you be tempted beyond your ability), but at the same time, He gives us the gift of perseverance to make it through without succumbing to the flesh. How great is our God? I’m under no pressure whatsoever to proclaim the greatness that He is.

• Voiced by Kurt Warner, former NFL (National Football League) quarterback for the Arizona Cardinals

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Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Upgrading the Church (Part 1)

Originally published 6.29.10...

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…

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