Wednesday, March 25, 2009

"Fishing When The Water Gets Low" by Garris Elkins

When I was a kid growing up in California I lived in the Silicon Valley before there was much silicon. Our street had only six houses on it, all on one side of the road, and in front of our home lay the great adventure land of Mr. Dardanelli's orchard. Behind our back fence was another orchard that belonged to Mr. Ashlock. I recently visited this street and today it is surrounded by a hospital and medical businesses. Things have changed.

In those days most of our shopping was done in San Jose, so we would drive home on Winchester Boulevard. Along the road, and behind a chain link fence, were several percolation ponds that belonged to the local water district. To a little boy's reasoning and imagination, something really special must have been in those ponds to have a fence put around them.

When I was about eight years old, my dad, a man who was a child at heart, enlisted my little brother Dwain and me to join him in an adventure. Dad said he was sure that because it was now late summer, and the water was being drained out of the ponds, that the fish in the shallow water would be easy pickings. Little did my brother and I know what Dad had planned.

The day of the adventure arrived and instead of fishing poles dad brought only gunny sacks that he threw in the bed of his Chevy pick up truck and said, “Hop in boys.” We asked about the gunny sacks and dad simply said, “I will show you.”

You would have to know my dad to fully understand what was about to take place. I am sure the “No Trespassing” signs that hung on the six foot high chain link fence were meant for other people, not the Elkins boys. Dad parked his truck out of sight near some bushes and we made our way to the ponds still not knowing what he had planned. As dad held up the bottom of the chain link fence, my brother and I scooted underneath and then stepped into the world of the percolation ponds.

The water was almost completely drained away and now only about six inches remained. There before our eyes were hundreds of the dorsal fins belonging to blue gill, crappie and bass – all swimming frantically around looking for deeper water. The surface of the water was alive. It looked the movie “Jaws” except with smaller fins and without the terrifying theme music.

My brother and I looked up at our dad and he said, “Go get em' boys!” That was all we needed to hear. Into the shallow water and mud we launched. Fish fins were going in all directions. Some were jumping out of the water. Others were swimming away from us like some Alaskan salmon fighting its way upstream. My brother and I were laughing and shouting as we tried to scoop fish into our gunny sacks. Frantic fish are slippery.

Since grabbing fish with our hands wasn't working out very well, we tried a new tactic - punting. We began to kick fish up onto the banks where we could trap them with our hands and feet. This went on for about an hour until several big gunny sacks were filled. It was an amazing discovery to find out that you could fish without fishing poles.

My mom was a very patient woman. She knew that when dad took her boys on an adventure that they would usually return home in various forms of disarray. We left for this fishing adventure wearing a typical boy's uniform of the 1950's – a white tee shirt, 501 Levis jeans with six inch turned up cuffs, and either P.F. Flyers or U.S. Keds high top tennis shoes. Upon our return home, from head to toe, we were adorned in varying shades of drying brown-colored mud with a little green moss tossed in for color.

After “wrastling” a few hundred fish into our gunny sacks, we also smelled to high heaven. Mom greeted her male offspring and her wayward husband with the command, “Hose off in the back yard and take em' off before you boys come in my house.” Mom said this with a smile on her face.

For the next few hours dad cleaned loads of fish. We ate the blue gill, crappie and bass until they came out of our ears. Our neighbors ate a lot of fish as did dad's construction crew and anyone he met in casual conversation for the next few days. The overall cholesterol level of Campbell, California went down that week because of our fishing expedition.

It was easy to get the fish when the water was low because they had fewer options. Fish have a lot of options when the water is high. They can swim at different levels and in various temperatures zones. They can swim away from danger that appears at the surface or underneath the waterline. But when the water in those percolation ponds was drained away, so were their options.

This reminds me of what is taking place today in our world. The financial markets, declining home prices, and the lack of available credit has drained the water out of the pond. The previous options are gone. People are swimming on the bottom with their dorsal fins exposed at the surface. When circumstances like these develop the church needs to find ways to get in among the fish and harvest them.

In John 4: 34 – 36 Jesus speaks about a time of harvest. “My nourishment comes from doing the will of God, who sent me, and from finishing his work. You know the saying, ‘Four months between planting and harvest.’ But I say, wake up and look around. The fields are already ripe for harvest. The harvesters are paid good wages, and the fruit they harvest is people brought to eternal life. What joy awaits both the planter and the harvester alike!”

Most Christians can see the opportunity that is before them in this time. We have been looking and we see a field ready to harvest. God wants His people to think outside the evangelistic box we have worked in for the last twenty years. The water has never been this low in our life time and the opportunity has never been so great.

The percolation pond episode taught me something about the harvest.

If the fish aren't harvested they will die.

Most people think these times are desperate because the money is drying up and their options are evaporating. But the real reason these times are desperate is because eternity is at stake and time is running out. Up and down turns in cultures have taken place for thousands of years. This is nothing new. It is new to the fish who are now in a shallow pond.

The Kingdom of God is about harvesting people to eternal life instead of letting them die in their sin and become locked in a state of perpetual death for all eternity. It is never about having cultural redemption as our primary goal – it is about human redemption. Unless a life is redeemed it will not live. Redeemed lives bring change to dying cultures.

There will always be a fence.

God is asking His people to not allow any barrier to stand in their way. Life, hell, religion and culture will put up the “No Trespassing” signs to keep us away from the fish. Harvesters don't see fences with signs, they see fish. Whatever barrier stands in the way we must move past it to get to the fish. To become a harvester you will have to violate someone's “No Trespassing” sign.

You will get muddy.

The day my brother and I stepped into the muddy water the last thing we cared about was what would happened to our cloths. The fish were all we were thinking about.

I want to be that little boy again in how I go after the lost. Many times we look at our personal image and try to stay clean and invite the fish into the church services that we have designed especially for them. Fish really don't leave the pond. The fishermen must go to the pond. If you end up in the pond, everything you own will be touched. Muddy is OK. Muddy water is where dying fish are trying to survive.

We didn't use fishing poles.

Fishing in the percolation ponds required a method of harvesting different than we would normally use in deep clear water. The fish in the draining percolation pond would never hit a lure or bite a worm. They were dying and the past and predictable methods of fishing would not work in these circumstances. This harvest required a new and unusual methodology – feet, hands and gunny sacks.

The harvest will be filled with joy.

The day my brother and I harvested all those fish I wish we could have video taped the event. We yelled and shouted with joy. The expression on our faces said, “Christmas morning!!!” Dad was on the bank laughing and encouraging his sons. The pond that was a place of death was now turned into a place of joy. The harvest made us happy. Even our anticipated return home to mom's smiling directives was filled with joy. Fishing when the water is low promises great joy for those willing to climb under the fence and get muddy.

Years later after I grew up, I came home and drove by those percolation ponds. I stopped and peered through the fence and the memories of that day began to flood back into my mind. I saw a proud father on the shoreline encouraging his two sons. I saw white tee shirts caked in mud. I heard little boys laughing.

That day, as a man looking through the chain link fence, my return home was during the same time of year that we had made our great harvest. There in the mud I saw hundreds of unharvested fish laying at the bottom of the pond rotting in the mud. I was glad my father showed me many years before how to harvest fish when the water gets low.

Friday, March 20, 2009

"Future Battles" by Garris Elkins

Recently, I watched one of those cable shows about modern technology. They described a new breed of missiles. These missiles have the ability to loiter. Up to this point I always thought “loitering” was something that was prohibited. In the small town where I grew up I can still remember the local policeman walking up to groups of kids standing beneath the “No Loitering Allowed” signs and telling them, “move along.”

Modern missiles can now be launched from hundreds of miles away and sent into a targeted region before an attack begins. Computer savvy warriors fly these missiles in a way similar to a kid using a joystick to play a video game. Once the missiles arrive in the targeted region they simply fly around in circles, loitering behind a nearby mountain range just out of enemy radar. When the time is right, and the target is acquired, a new command is sent to the on-board computer and the smart missile flies over the mountain range and into the adjacent valley destroying the target. Depending on the fuel economy mode some of these missiles can do this for hours and even days, if needed.

As I heard of this futuristic weaponry I thought of prayer and the warfare each Christian faces. Many of us pray for the immediate needs of our families and ministries – the things we see and feel, but have you considered that God has us pray for future battles? In future battles, when our lives have yet to arrive on a distant battlefield, our current prayers are being sent up into eternity to loiter until the time when the Commander of our faith releases them into a future target. As the Spirit prompts us to pray our prayers are gathered and then, in God's perfect battle plan, delivered back into time in a massive onslaught against the encampments of hell. Our prayers wait for the voice of the Lord to deliver their payload of victory.

Revelation 5:8 describes an end-time scenario that speaks of stored prayers that are released at a later date.

"And when he took the scroll, the four living beings and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp, and they held gold bowls filled with incense, which are the prayers of God’s people.”

Some of the prayers that will be released in Revelation 5 will be thousands of years old. You and I are praying some of those prayers right now. In these golden bowls are the prayers of the Apostle Paul and other believers from the Early Church. In these golden bowls are the prayers of the persecuted church of today coming from some distant village deep inside China. The bowls in heaven contain prayers that span thousands of years of Kingdom history.

In the Book of Joshua the great warrior is about to die. He is reviewing Israel's history and future with God and how their battles will be fought. In Joshua 24:12-13 Joshua, speaking for the Lord, said,

“And I sent terror ahead of you to drive out the two kings of the Amorites. It was not your swords or bows that brought you victory. I gave you land you had not worked on, and I gave you towns you did not build―the towns where you are now living. I gave you vineyards and olive groves for food, though you did not plant them.”

Maybe this is what Paul was talking about when he told us to put on our spiritual battle garb and simply stand. You and I may show up on a battlefield dressed for war with a sword and a bow, but the battle always belongs to the Lord.

Throughout history, the Church has walked among the ruins of hell's encampment, knowing that God had gone before them. We, also, will walk into places of victory. We will realize that the prayers of our ancestors have been poured out upon our impossible situations. We will be humbled and amazed at what we see around us.

Can you imagine what it will be like to know that many of us are about to walk onto battlefields where we will see the enemy already devastated? Many will walk into the shattered encampments of hell and know that something supernatural has visited the battlefield prior to their arrival.

As we come upon these places of victory what should our response be? As the ruins of hell smolder around us God is asking His people to raise up the sound of worship that may contain words like these;

"God has visited this place in power before our arrival. The sword and bow we brought to the battle did not secure the victory. Before we arrived God became a terror to the things that terrify us. He has poured out His glory and the prayers of His saints and has devastated the work of hell in this place. This victory belongs to the Lord! Blessed be His Name!”

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

"The Bottom-line of Everything" by Garris Elkins

I like getting to the bottom-line of things. If I know the bottom-line in a given situation I know where I stand and I know what I am required to do even when life is confusing and seems directionless.

Maybe it was all the years I spent as a cop responding to emergency situations where I developed an appreciation for “just the facts.” I had to make split-second decisions with lives hanging in the balance. Knowing the bottom-line was essential for a proper response.

In Mark 12:28 a man came to Jesus with a legitimate question – he asked, “What is the most important commandment?” – in other words, what is the bottom-line?

28 “One of the teachers of religious law was standing there listening to the debate. He realized that Jesus had answered well, so he asked, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”29 Jesus replied, “The most important commandment is this: ‘Listen, O Israel! The Lord our God is the one and only Lord. 30 And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’ 31 The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these.”

32 The teacher of religious law replied, “Well said, Teacher. You have spoken the truth by saying that there is only one God and no other. 33 And I know it is important to love him with all my heart and all my understanding and all my strength, and to love my neighbor as myself. This is more important than to offer all of the burnt offerings and sacrifices required in the law.”

34 Realizing how much the man understood, Jesus said to him, “You are not far from the Kingdom of God.” And after that, no one dared to ask him any more questions.

The man asking the question actually got it right. Jesus realized that this man understood truth and told him that he wasn't far from the Kingdom.

When the church in the West shares its reason for existence we use phrases like, “Loving God and Loving People” to define our calling. In fact I have used those words myself. But there is more. The Great Commandment really has three parts. Jesus stated another component that some have not included in the definition of the Great Commandment.  

Before we can love God and love people we need to understand what Jesus said just before, and in conjunction with, the statements about loving God and people. Jesus said, “‘Listen, O Israel! The Lord our God is the one and only Lord.” Some translators have rendered this to read, “The one and only absolute God.” Jesus was quoting from Deuteronomy 6 a phrase that devout Jews still quote today.

If you follow the logic of what Jesus quoted He was saying, “Listen, people, this one and only absolute God has a one and only Son and my name is Jesus and I am standing right in front of you.”

Some in the Church are loving God and loving people without publicly mentioning the name of the one and only Son of the one and only Lord. It is too easy to simply blend in with the good deeds of an NGO or some other serving group and lose the distinctive personality that drives our efforts.

For 2,000 years of Church history people have been martyred because of the name of Jesus. While the Church has been called to do good works - to feed the poor, to build houses and to serve in soup lines - no one was every killed because they handed out a sandwich to someone. People were martyred because of the name of the Son of the One and only true God, who confronted the darkness in a culture.

The good works are important – please do them. But the work and the message of the Church is all about the Name. The Name redeems, not the works of the redeemed. All that we do has to be connected to the Name.

About ten years ago when I came to Medford I noticed that we had a stack of cards on the lobby counter. On the cards were the printed words of St. Francis of Assisi, “Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words.” I am sure that when those words were penned they were powerful and relevant. They still are in many ways. But I had a problem with them in the context of our current American church culture.

One night when I was alone in the lobby I threw those cards in the trash. I threw them away because for the previous four years I had been working in Eastern Europe, where I saw a church that had survived horrible persecution because of the Name. To even whisper the Name in the public square could mean prison and in some cases death.

Jesus said in Mark 9:41 “I tell you the truth, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to Christ will certainly not lose his reward.” The giving of just a cup of water contained a reward when it was attached to the name of Jesus.

The Great Commandment is about selling ourselves out to God in totality and doing the good works in the name of Jesus. Without attaching the name of Jesus to the cup of water we blend in and become just another nice voice in the crowd.

It was the Name that got the Apostles martyred. It is the Name that still makes the demons shudder today. It is the Name that changes the atmosphere of a cocktail party where any form of degrading conversation is allowable. It is the Name that has the power to do the impossible.

The Church has been called into the market place to be a witness to the one and only true God representing His one and only true Son. Our calling is to live out fully committed lives and to do many good works in His Name. Our calling card to our culture must have His name printed on the front of the card or we are not fully living out the Greatest Commandment.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

"I Want To Live!" by Garris Elkins

When I was a police officer I saw many strange things. My life in law enforcement was many years ago, but the memories still linger.

One morning I got a call right out of the station to meet a man who would lead me to the site of a motor vehicle accident located on a rural highway out in the country. It took me the better part of thirty minutes rolling Code 3 to get to the scene.

Highway 9 connects the Santa Cruz area on the Central California coast with the small town of Saratoga where I was assigned as a patrol officer. This highway is notorious for its sharp turns and horrible accidents.

When I arrived at the scene I was met by the man who had called in the initial report. He worked on a nearby ranch and on his drive to work he noticed an overturned vehicle at the bottom of the canyon. The man and I walked to the edge of the roadway and looked down the steep embankment. Several hundred feet below me was a small sports car that had obviously skidded off the road and then rolled over several times coming to rest upside down at the bottom of the canyon.

Our only access to the accident was to drive farther up the highway and then enter the canyon via a ranch access road. We came to the end of the dirt road and began to hike in to the accident scene.

As we approached, I saw a set of legs sticking out from one side of the little car and another set of legs sticking out from the opposite side. My walk became a run.

Arriving  at the driver's side, I put my face down to the ground level, peered in and yelled something. Then I heard a faint voice call back to me, “Help!” The voice was just above a whisper speaking under the compressing weight of the vehicle.

I called for rescue on my radio and then began to dig a tunnel under the car with my bare hands to get closer to the person behind the voice. It took me a few minutes to make a tunnel large enough to get me face and chest under the car. The dawn was just breaking so the light was limited, but it was enough for me to make out the two faces of the people who were trapped under the car.

Both girls were laying on their stomachs, face to face. Their faces weren't more than twelve inches apart. Now my face was also inside that dimly lit space and I could see that the passenger had already died. I had to be careful not to move the car for fear of adding to injury to the survivor.

The girl spoke again and said, “I want to live.” I told her she would live and to keep talking to me until rescue arrived - we would get her out of there.  As we waited I encouraged the girl to keep talking, telling me her sad story. 

The night before, she and her life-long best friend, decided to go to the beach in Santa Cruz for the day. After a day of fun and sun they put the top down and rode home on a warm summer night. Somewhere on their journey home they entered a turn too fast and went over the edge. They were just a couple of young giggly girls enjoying a beautiful day at the beach. They were every dad's little girl. This was an innocent trip that turned tragic.

The girl told me that around 11:00 p.m. she took one of the hairpin turns too fast and went over the side. She recalled rolling several times before the sports car came to rest at the bottom of the canyon atop both of them. For the first couple of hours the girls talked and cried out for help. After awhile they knew no one would hear them.

The girl told me that sometime in the night her friend started to sound faint and finally stopped talking. She called out to her, but received no response. In the middle of a dark night at the bottom of a very lonely canyon, a grim reality began to set in.

I could not imagine what it would have been like to have been under that car for the last nine hours. I could not imagine what it would have been like to see the coming light of dawn that would reveal the dead face of my best friend. I just couldn't imagine what this girl was going through.

It took about thirty minutes before the rescue units finally arrived. Once rescue was on the scene, the car was secured and eventually lifted off of the girls. The living girl was placed into an ambulance and taken away to the hospital. Her wish to live was granted. I waited for another hour with the dead girl, now covered with a bright yellow plastic blanket, until the coroner's unit came and took her away in a black plastic bag.

The events that day taught me about the power of hope. In Hebrews 6:19 the scripture says, “This hope is a strong and trustworthy anchor for our souls. It leads us through the curtain into God's inner sanctuary.” This kind of hope is not put in jeopardy by the events we suffer here on earth. It is anchored in an eternally secure place. No matter what this life throws at us the anchor will hold.

When Paul wrote to the church in Rome he talked about hope in a future glory that gives context to our present suffering. In Romans 8:18 he wrote, “Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later.”

Even the Church can lose hope when she does not compare this life and its suffering with the glory that will be revealed. This hope of our future eternal glory needs to be compared to the temporary pain and suffering we experience in this life. Paul couldn't write verse 18 unless he had made the comparison. Neither can we.

Where we miss it is when we fail to make the comparison. Sometime we simply go on with life's struggles and end up focusing only on the pain – like the girl under the car. She looked at death in the face and wondered when she would join her friend. She stopped crying out for help because her situation seemed so isolated that no one would hear her cries. She began to lose hope.

We can also feel alone under the crushing weight of what life brings our way. After awhile that weight becomes more than we can bear and we give in to the crushing weight of hopelessness.

Romans 8:21 gives us the context in which this hope is experienced. “The creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay. For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.”

Creation is groaning because it still remembers what it was like before the fall.
The apple tree your backyard, or the grass in your neighbor's field, is looking forward to the reversal of sin's effect that began in Eden. All creation wants to go back but it can't until God's plan is fulfilled in His people. Creation is groaning in anticipation of what is coming. But it is not just creation that is groaning.

Romans 8:23 “And we believers also groan, even though we have the Holy Spirit within us as a foretaste of future glory, for we long for our bodies to be released from sin and suffering. We, too, wait with eager hope for the day when God will give us our full rights as his adopted children, including the new bodies he has promised us.”

We groan because who we have been destined to become is not yet fully realized. We groan because we know there is more. Hope is the bridge through the seasons of groaning until the future glory is revealed.

Romans 8:24 tells us, “We were given this hope when we were saved.” Those who follow Jesus Christ already possess this hope. Hope was deposited in us the day we said “yes” to Jesus. We don't have to wait for anything to change. We can speak hope now.

In a world where hopelessness weighs down on people each day, the word of hope becomes a powerful tool for change. When we live in the “eager hope” of rescue, the words we speak bring life to situations that appear hopeless. The girl under the car cried, “I want to live!” My reply to her, that her rescue was coming, changed everything.

When you come across a life trapped under hopelessness, and you hear the words, “I want to live,” you and I have something to say. We have hope.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

"God is Talking" by Garris Elkins

Several months ago while I was in my study at church a dove landed on the sidewalk just outside my office. I like doves so I got up from my desk and went to the window and spent some time enjoying the bird. The next day the dove showed up again. This went on for the better part of a week - everyday. Towards the end of the week I finally asked the Lord, "Is there something here You are trying to say to me?" In an instant I heard the Lord speak to my heart, "Invite My peace into the church." There were no issues going on in the church. No problems. In fact, it was a great season of God's presence in our body - but in simple obedience I said, "Lord, I invite Your peace into this church." I felt that my simple prayer was a deposit for the future.

The next week I was driving to the church as scheduled on a particular day each week that the Lord has me arrive very early to be alone with Him. The staff honors this time for me so no one shows up. I have the sanctuary and facility all to myself. I can walk around and pray loudly. I can lay down before the Lord. I can do all kinds of things with just me and the Lord. I am usually at the church by 4:30 a.m. There is never a need to set the alarm for this day of the week because the Lord wakes me up. I think He loves this time with me also and He nudges me awake to be with Him.

On this particular morning as I arrived at the church and began to turn into the dark driveway - the sun was still an hour away. There it was - a dove nesting on the parking lot. I slammed on the brakes and just looked at the dove. Doves don't nest in parking lots like this in the middle of the night. This dove was not standing on it's legs. It had nestled down and had made itself comfortable waiting for me. This is unusual for a dove, or any bird for that matter, as the trees are the only place predators can't get at them during the night.

As the dove and I sat in our respective spots and stared at each other the Lord spoke again, "I am bringing My peace into the dark and fearful places in peoples lives." As soon as I heard those words the dove flew away. What was very interesting for me was that I was coming into the office that morning to finalized a message on the peace of God in the dark places of our lives.

I had doves on my mind by now. As I kid I grew up in Central California where there were lots of dove. Now those creatures were being used by God as His props through which He was speaking to me.

A week after the dove in the parking lot incident I came to church as I normally do with the sun up and life as normal. The pastors were meeting this morning for prayer so we all get there an hour before we open the doors for business. As I turned onto the street where the church is located I could hardly imagine what I was seeing. Just above the driveway entrance to the parking lot were 10 dove all bunched together on a telephone wire immediately above me. I actually stopped and counted them - ten in all.

After I parked the car and got out the 10 dove had flown away. When I was settled in my office I couldn't get this last group of dove out of my mind. I pulled out a reference book and checked into what "ten dove" might mean. I knew dove were a symbol of peace, but I sensed there was more with this incident. As I researched the dove I felt directed to look at biblical numerology and found that the number ten is a number that means "testimony." In that moment the Lord spoke and said, "I am going to give you something to testify about!"

I love it when I sense the Holy Spirit is speaking to me. A new faith arose within me in the anticipation that God was bringing Living Waters something to testify about. Then I realized that this exact month was the 10th year of my ministry in Medford.

I haven't see many dove since those three appearances, but I have processed those events and the Lord's instructions to me. Several things began to become clear.

I was in a season when I was more sensitive to God than normal. In that season I was open to Him speaking to me. As a result I didn't dismiss natural things, like doves, as having nothing to say to me. After all, God created these animals and He could use them to get my attention.

The dove were not the issue - the word of the Lord that followed the dove appearing was the thing God wanted me to grasp. As beautiful as dove are the word of the Lord is magnificent and wonderful beyond imagination. His word, not what He uses to get our attention, is the main thing.

I never want to get so busy doing the ministry that I become numb to the voice of God trying to speak to me. I want to cultivate a sensitivity to the world around me. I have started to look more intently at what is taking place around me. God is always trying to get our attention. He loves to use what He created to get our attention so He can encourage us in each season of our lives.

As a funny side note, just last week I was driving in my car heading to an appointment when all of a sudden a dove flew out of the sky and flew right next to my window. I must have been doing 35 m.p.h. in traffic. The dove paced himself with my car for a moment - a moment long enough for me to be reminded that God had spoken those previous words to me about peace. Once I realized that the dove flew away. God didn't want me to forget.

Look around at your life and realize that God is wanting to get your attention so He can speak to you. His words might be just behind some natural things that are taking place in your world. Take a moment right now and look up. He might have something trying to get your attention so He can tell you how much He loves you. Living in the anticipation of God speaking to us changes everything.

"We Really Never Get Past Jerusalem" by Garris Elkins

As Jesus was about to leave the earth after His resurrection He set in motion the final preparation of His disciples to carry out His mission on earth. Pentecost was coming soon. In Acts 1:8 Jesus said to His disciples, "But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere - in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."

I used to look at these words as the progressive unfolding of the church geographically - and yes, that is true. What started in Jerusalem migrated from region to region until most of the earth has been covered with the witness of Jesus Christ. But there was more to that understanding that I was about to learn.

A couple of years ago I was preparing a teaching on missions for a group of pastors in an Eastern European nation. As I prepared to speak the Spirit said something to me, "You never leave Jerusalem." I found that statement odd since I knew what was in the text. The Spirit was about to deepen my understanding of the mission of the church.

When we send out missionaries to the ends of the earth, or to an inner-city mission, we are sending people to those distant places to raise up leaders and plant churches who will eventually reach their city. To those being reached their city is their Jerusalem. For the last 2,000 years those cities have been found in places described as the "ends of the earth." In that sense, all of our sending enterprise is a ministry that sends people to distant lands or people groups to train them to reach their own Jerusalem.

Having spent some years overseas in different nations, I can remember the first few times I traveled outside the U.S. It was exciting. It was really an "uttermost part of the earth" kind of experience. As those experiences became more frequent, and eventually became a physical assignment overseas, I realized that the people of Berlin, Germany lived in their own Jerusalem. Berlin was not a distant land to them. It was distant to me. Berlin was home to the Berliners. The people of Kingston, Jamaica lived in their own Jerusalem. To the residents of Kingston, Kingston was their Jerusalem ,not a Judea or a distant Samaria. If I was going to be successful in my calling I would have to go to a distant land and actually see it through the eyes of those living in their Jerusalem. I was not going to those places to help them reach an unfamiliar place. They lived, worked and ministered in a familiar Jerusalem. Jerusalem is all around us. It is the street we live on. It is the workplace we enter each day. It is the parking lot we walk across to attend a worship service.

The indicator that we have grown in our calling and Kingdom assignment is when we begin to see the need to invest and serve beyond the boundaries of our own Jerusalem. A healthy church or ministry is always looking beyond it's own sphere of influence towards Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth. As we faithfully serve the assignment God has given to each of us He will begin to stir up that Acts 1:8 Spirit-breathed calling to go as His witnesses to help people repeat the same process in their city. When that stirring takes place the church begins to move past what is familiar and her footprints will be found beyond the known Jerusalem in the streets of Judea, Samaria and the ends of the earth. In one sense we never really get past a Jerusalem mindset as we journey towards the ends of the earth. Wherever we go we will eventually arrive in someone's Jerusalem.

"Lovers and Historians" by Garris Elkins

When Jan and I were getting ready to go out and plant our first church our pastor, Roy Hicks Jr., called us into his office for an appointment to solidify some final details before we were deployed. In that conversation Roy asked us if we were ready to pastor and understood what it meant and we ignorantly and innocently responded, "Yes!" Roy smiled and the conversation moved on.

In those precious minutes with Roy he said something else that has followed us for the last several decades as we have ministered in the United States and overseas. Roy said, "When you go to plant the church go there and be a lover of the people and a student of their history." Those words had a great impact on us then and now.

When Roy told us to go as lovers of the people and historians of their culture we were given the gift of freedom. Roy did not send us away with a results-oriented assignment. He sent us away with a wisdom that has followed church planters for the last 2,000 years. We honestly did not have any idea on how to plant a church, but the "lover and historian" thing made sense to us - we could do that!

When we didn't know what to do in a given season of ministry loving people was a great default. When we couldn't figure out why people responded in a negative way to our acts of love a study of their personal history helped us see them in a different light - a merciful light.

When we love people just where they are, and when we know their personal history, a couple of things are deposited into the mix. Loving people always brings a blessing, not only to the one being loved, but also for the one who gives the love. Your love may be rejected, but when you choose to love you are tapping into the very heart of God and that heart will sustain you even when your best attempts to love and lead others seems to be failing.

When we study the history of any group of people we begin to see their lives from the viewpoint of God's mercy. History helps us understand that the painful and hurtful things people do to us are not personal and we should not take them personally. The negative responses to our acts of love are how people have made their painful history work for them. We simply got in the way of their reaction and took a hit. It isn't personal. In each new season of life and ministry take a moment and commit yourself to be a lover and a historian of those you are called to lead. The acts of love you release, and the knowledge of the history you gain, will become a buffer between you and the strident seasons that ministry will inevitably bring your way. Loving people amidst their broken history is a powerful testimony of God's love.

"Watching What Cannot Be Seen" by Garris Elkins

I don't know how many times I have read Hebrews chapter 11 - the faith chapter - maybe a hundred times? Each time I savor it's truth. This morning I just finished reading it again. Part of verse 27 jumped out to greet me in a fresh way. The last part of the verse (in the NLT) said, in reference to Moses, "He kept right on going because he kept his eyes on the one who is invisible." I was stunned with the power of the words. "...he kept his eyes on the one who is invisible."

Like many places in the scriptures God asks His people to keep going even when they cannot see anything of Him in the natural realm. People of faith are seeing things that aren't there. Their progress is measured by their obedience to what is not seen.

The scriptures have many examples of this kind of lifestyle. Moses was blinded in the cloud of God's glory and was given direction for the nation of Israel. The children of Israel walked through hallways of water that blinded them to what was taking place around them as they crossed the Red Sea en route to the Promise Land. Peter, James and John were encased in a cloud on the Mount of Transfiguration and heard the invisible God speak. The early disciples huddled within the restricting walls of the Upper Room and then God showed up and empowered them to move out as the Church.

We keep moving forward in our life with God by keeping our eyes on "the one who is invisible." He is invisible because faith works this way. Faith is the line of spiritual sight that bridges the distance between what is not seen in the natural and what is "seen" in faith.

The next time you are asked what your assignment is for this season of life it may sound strange to some to hear you say that you are watching something that cannot be seen. But to those who understand the truth of Hebrews 11 they will most likely smile, nod in agreement and offer no words. Some things, like faith, can only be lived out because our words cannot adequately explain what we are looking at.

"A Place Called Separation" by Garris Elkins

Fear is not static or lifeless - it is a presence that wants to draw us into a process of death and separation.

The process of fear starts by creating suspicion. Suspicion leads to judgement, and once a judgment has been made, and allowed to create an alternative reality, we end up separating ourselves from the very people we once loved, but now have judged. The sad thing about this whole process is that many times our fears are unfounded. Because this kind of fear is vaporous in nature it is about "what could happen." This kind of fear is hard to grasp and deal with reasonably. When we let fear take residence, and grow without engaging God, some horrible things can happen. I have seen people walk away from marriages and churches over this kind of suspicion-laced and unfounded fear.

Can you imagine a marriage where fear is allowed to roam free and without confrontation? For example, a husband develops a fear that his wife will be unfaithful. She has never done anything to warrant such a fear, but the husband is afraid anyway. When the husband doesn't deal with his fear, and the fear takes residence in his mind, it begins to grow. Once fear is in place and living unchallenged the husband begins to look at everything the wife does through a lens of suspicion. The innocent glance in the direction of another man she doesn't even notice is taken as a flirt. The phone call she just hung up is surely a secret lover. The suspicion then leads to a judgment - "my wife is committing adultery - I just know it!" In the end a marriage does not survive in the destination of lost trust. We don't get to this place without help from hell. We also don't get to this place without our participation.

Fear spoke in Eden and said, "Did God really say.....?" That sentence from the Father of All Fears caused the will of God to be suspect and created another path that led to all humankind being separated from God. This is insidious. It was there in the beginning and it still roams the earth looking for lives and ministries to devour.

All our fears are looking to fulfill their ministry of darkness by separating us from each other. Separation is the ministry of darkness. Darkness calls out to fear to bring in a harvest.

Fear is something God calls us to move through - not live within. The greatest work God wants to do in our lives is on the other side of our greatest fears. On the other side of our unresolved fear lies unfulfilled destinies and unfulfilled callings. Our unfounded fears about each other have to be confronted and dealt with or they will carry us away to a place of sorrow called “separation.”

"The One Thing" by Garris Elkins

Every life has that "one thing" God is after. That one thing is what holds us back from moving into the calling and destiny God has planned for each of us.

In Mark chapter 10 a sad story about a rich man takes place. This man comes to Jesus and asks, "What must I do to inherit eternal life?" Jesus tells him to live in obedience to God's Law and quotes the last five of the Ten Commandments - the ones dealing with how we are to relate to people. The man responds that he has done all of that.

The Lord then went after the one thing in this man's life that stood between him and God - his wealth. It is not always wealth. It was in this particular case. It can be your boat. It can be our education or stature in the community. It can be my ministry or yours.

Jesus asked the man to liquidate his assets and give the money to the poor. No answer came from the man - his countenance fell and he simply walked away. This is what happens when the "one thing" stands between us and God. We will usually walk away from a deeper relationship with Him. I am sure this man continued to do the religious thing, but he would never become the man called him to be until the "one thing" was dealt with.

God has been asking me lately about some "one things" in my life. By themselves they are not evil. It is what I do with them, and where I place them in my life, that makes them evil. Evil means that they have become a barrier to God's work in my life.

God is going after the things in the life of His people that are similar to the wealth of the man in Mark 10. It can be fearful to say yes to Jesus beyond the act of getting saved. This is where Lordship takes place - where He leads and we follow. We first meet Him as our Savior then give Him permission to become our Lord. While He is Lord of all, we are the ones who chose to make Him the Lord of our lives.

God is after that "one thing" in the life of every member within the Body of Christ. Once we make the decision to deal with our “one thing” our individual decisions will begin to touch the lives of others and, in the end, bring new health to the Church. If we let Him go after that "one thing" in our life we will find out who He has destined us to become. Our destiny and fulfilled callings always stand on the other side of our “one thing.”

"Word, Worship and the Witness of God's Spirit" by Garris Elkins

As a young pastor-in-training my ears strained to listen to leaders who seemed to shepherd the church with wisdom. My pastor, Roy Hicks Jr., who pastored Faith Center in Eugene, Oregon, and who is now with the Lord, said something to a group of us about thirty years ago that I will never forget. Someone asked what Roy used to determine if a meeting of the church was successful and Roy fired off the words, "Word, Worship and Witness." I will never forget those words. They became the desired benchmark of the last thirty years of my ministry. When those three ingredients were in place our meetings always carried the weight of heaven.

The Word is obviously the written Word of God without a doubt. All that we do must be strained through the logos Word of God to make sure we are in line with truth. There is another word and that is the rhema Word of God. These are the words spoken by the Word of God Himself that may come in forms other than a leather-bound bible. These rhema words work hand in hand with God's written Word. They enhance each other. To have a gathering of the Church and not have God speaking to us is foreign not only to the history of the church but to the very nature of God. He loves to speak to His kids.

Worship is our highest calling. Our lives, our words, our ministries,everything, is to be an act of worship. In the church worship is usually that time of ministry with the worship team, music and song. When Roy mentioned worship he never intended us to understand this to mean something we don't participate it. Worship should draw us out and make us feel vulnerable. Worship is never to be a performance that I watch from my chair. Worship can only be done by people who know the One they are worshipping. If our worship is not allowing the release of God's Spirit to bring His gifts and fruit into our midst we are missing one of the greatest joys in life.

The Witness of God's Spirit is where it is easy to let things slide. The gathering of the Church is just that – the Church assembled. I never did understand the contemporary definition of a church gathering that focused on non-believers needs primarily. That was something I always thought the church did in the streets. The church gathering was the place where we came to get healed up and equipped to go out into our communities and see the work of God in power and demonstration. The gathering of believers is a time when the Church needs to experience the witness of God's Spirit so that when they do venture out into the streets they can actually live like the people who are recorded in the Book of Acts.

The Word, Worship and the Witness of God's Spirit will redefine what we do when we gather and it will give us the goods we need to minister once we leave the church building.

"What Are You Going To Do With It?" by Garris Elkins

Last week I walked out of my office and down the hall into the lobby of the church. As I stepped into the lobby a man called out to me and asked if he could have a moment of my time. I just so happened to be free and invited him back to my office.

There was great joy on this man's face as he introduced himself and mentioned his connection with me. We had met at someone's home about six years earlier at a party. I vaguely remember the meeting. I asked, "What can I do for you today?" He immediately responded, "God healed me!" He went on to say that he had growths in his colon and cancer spots on his liver. In just the last few days his doctors checked his colon and the growths were gone. His liver came back clear also. He had a good reason to be excited.

I asked him how these healings took place and he said that his granddaughter, a young woman in our church, laid hands on him and prayed for his healing. He was not sure if anything had happened until the doctors gave him the good news. He said he had joy growing inside of him.

The Lord prompted me to ask him a question, "What are you going to do with it?" The man said, "Do with what?" I said, "The healing." I told him that God had given him a wonderful gift and that he was to share it with other people. He went on to tell me that he did not go to church. I said that didn't matter at this time. I asked, "Do you know the Lord?" He said that he did and that years ago he had asked the Lord to be his Saviour. He just didn't go to church.

I felt like I was giving this man a prescription when I said, "You need to leave my office and go down to the nearest Wal-mart and stand there waiting for people who are physically broken to walk by. I said the Holy Spirit would prompt him who to approach and share about his healing. I told the man that his words would fill the air with faith. His faith would displace their hopelessness. I mentioned that he could then ask if he could do for them what his granddaughter did for him -pray for their healing.

The man left my office after we talked for a few minutes more. He was now a man on assignment. I may never know if he followed through on the prescription or not.

The question I posed to the man, "What are you going to do with it?" pertains to all of us who have had God touch our lives. It really is not enough to be a blessing collector. God wants to bless each of us with many wonderful things and then have us turn around and touch others with a similar blessing in His name. Living this kind of life changes everything.

"The Mini-Sabbatical" by Garris Elkins

I have a pastoral coach. In years past I have had those wonderful relationships with other believers where we walked with each other through the seasons of life. Our iron sharpened each others iron. But this is the first time I have ever had a personal coach - someone who meets with me once a month and coaches my calling.

My coach is Dave Jacobs. For years Dave was a pastoral coach for the Vineyard Churches in the United States. He is still connected to some leaders in that movement - just not on the payroll. God called Dave to reach out to the many pastors who feel disconnected from the large mega-church model of leadership. What I love about Dave is that he purposefully looks at your heart more than prescribing a leadership pill filled with solutions. You can find out about Dave's ministry at: www.smallchurchpastor.com While Living Waters is not a small church, the principles Dave shares transcend the size of a particular ministry. I would recommend Dave to the mega-church pastor and the beginning church planter. Dave has pastors around the globe who view him as a mentor.

Dave attends the church I pastor, Living Waters in Medford, Oregon, along with a large group of family that comprise the wonderful Jacobs clan. Dave approached me a few months ago and offered his services as a coach. I jumped at the idea. Getting some time each month with this great guy is a real bonus. Dave is married to Ellen - a warm, wise and approachable leader in her own right.

A month ago Dave said, "You are healthy spiritually. The church is strong and you have a great staff. This is the perfect time to get away for a 30 day mini-sabbatical. Most guys wait until they are burned out. You should consider taking a mini-sabbatical now." I dismissed it for about 10 seconds until I felt the Holy Spirit say, "Clear the calendar and do it in January." Well....I start tomorrow. I am not sure how to do this except I know God will show me. I have the guest speakers lined up and Dave is one of them. The staff and leadership of the church think it is a great idea. Jan and I will show up at one of our weekend services and simply be there. (We ended up only attending one service which Dave said was wise.) I won't be in the office. My days will be filled with prolonged time in the Word and prayer. Apart from that God has me all to Himself.

In a month I will most likely have some wonderful nuggets of revelation that God will deposit in my heart. Already one struggle has emerged. I need to put to death the blue collar work ethic I grew up with that says "real" work is done with sweat and labor. I think God is trying to show me that the deep and abiding work of His Kingdom is not done with human effort, but rather by the power of His Spirit.

Someone once said to me that 99% of what needs to take place in our lives and ministries will happen if we will simply "show up" and do the right thing. Showing up in those places where we are assigned, and doing the right thing, will open the door for God to do something supernatural.

After note: The mini-sabbatical was fine. I'm not sure I will do it again, but I did learn somethings. One thing I learned was that I have a good schedule already and the time away simply confirmed it. I also got to press deeper into writing and that was a blessing.

"I Took My Cross For A Drive" by Garris Elkins

Please don't let the title of this posting offend you - I will try to explain.

About 30 years ago my brother, Dwain, built a beautiful laminated wood cross for me that hung in the sanctuary of the first church I pastored. The cross was a combination of beauty and raw strength. When we transitioned from our first church the cross went into deep storage. Last month my wife, Jan, needed a cross as a ministry station icon for a wonderful night of worship in our sanctuary. After the evening was over Jan temporarily deposited the cross in my office where it has stayed for a few weeks.

This morning , while I was at the church early praying, I got one of those nudges of the Spirit. I felt I was to take the cross and put it in the back seat of my car and literally drive it around the entire Rogue Valley. It was still "o-dark-thirty" when I put the cross in the back seat and began to circumnavigate the valley where I pastor.

The assignment from the Lord was simple - put on a worship CD and drive around the perimeter of the valley touching all the cities. While I drove I was to pray in the Spirit and praise and prophesy over the people of this region. Last month I posted a prophetic word for 2009 and one element of that word was that 2009 would be a year of unusual prophetic acts that would become targets of God's outpouring. This drive around the valley was one of those unusual prophetic acts.

The cross means many things to many people. This morning the cross was an announcement that resurrection life was coming. Today, the cross was also an announcement to the people of this region that what appears to be dead will come alive again. Just as the cross was half the message of our deliverance, today's drive was a prophetic act about the other half - resurrection. The cross was, and still is, an announcement about the coming of God's resurrection power and freedom. The Early Church fathers, and hopefully those of us that follow, will realize that our message for 2009 is not one of death but of resurrection.

The cross makes hell nervous when the church understands that we not only live on the other side of the cross, but we also live on the other side of the empty tomb. Both are connected and one precedes the other. When we live with the anticipation that this new life is for this new year, and every year from now until His coming, it changes everything we do and think.

I experienced many different things as I drove the cross around my valley. The roads were icy. There were patches of fog with ice crystals falling on the roadway. There was an unbelievably beautiful color of pink on the clouds as the day was trying to break. There were songs on the CD that talked of something new coming.

On the first Easter morning an empty cross was yet to be understood by those who would become the church. We know different. The Cross made way for the empty tomb and the coming power of the Spirit. As I drove around the valley this morning I could not help but think some of what I was doing was in partnership with God and His angels.

When I turned back onto the street where I first begin this mornings journey I looked at the clock - it took 1 hour and 18 minutes to make the drive.

"Bread from Heaven" by Garris Elkins

Each week I get a note from our bookkeeper letting me know the amount of our Sunday offerings. I was humbled at the giving of our people considering the condition of the world economy. I went back into my office and got down on my knees and thanked God for His goodness when so many in our world are struggling financially. I thanked Him for the people of Living Waters that are learning to walk in new levels of faith.

I got up and crafted an email to our Financial Council to share with them what God was doing in our finances. We have been seeing supernatural provision that has been exceeding our monthly budget. We can't figure it out. It is simply God doing something that the world's economy says should not be happening.

As I sat at my desk I heard a loud thud against my office door – like someone had thrown something against it. My office faces a busy street that is one of the main roads leading to a large high school adjacent to our church property. I thought the thud against the door was connected with some act of youthful exuberance.

I got up and opened my office door to look for the prankster. No one was there. Then I looked down. There on my doorstep was a pizza crust – a big one. Then I saw the large crow flying away that had apparently carried the pizza crust through the air and then dropped it against my office door. He was a really good bomber because you would have to throw a perfect shot to make in over the bushes and under the roof line that adorns the back porch of my office. If fact, dropping the pizza crust, and having it hit my door, resembled the accuracy of a laser-guided bomb.

All of this, the door opening, my looking down and seeing the pizza crust and then seeing the crow fly off, took place in just a few seconds. As the crow was flying away the Lord instantly reminded me of Elijah who was told by God to go to the Brook named Kerith and wait. Elijah was told that God would supernaturally provide for him.

In 1 Kings 17:3-5 the text says, “3 Leave here, turn eastward and hide in the Kerith Ravine, east of the Jordan. 4 You will drink from the brook, and I have ordered the ravens to feed you there. 5 So he did what the LORD had told him. He went to the Kerith Ravine, east of the Jordan, and stayed there.”

All the pieces began to fit together. Months ago God spoke to me about the supernatural provision He was bringing to His Church. A supernatural provision that could not be understood with the natural mind. A supernatural provision that would come to His people in ways that could not be predicted or measured.

As I stood in the doorway I felt the hand of God on my shoulder letting me know that no matter how strange this world gets, that we are still His children and He knows how to get bread to our doorstep when the access seems impossible.

"Pronouncing Wholeness" by Garris Elkins

For a year God had parked me in the Book of Acts. Acts was my yearlong assignment. For a year I read Acts in my private time with God. Each day I studied its history and culture. I soaked in its revelation and wisdom. Since Acts was the clearest picture of the church at work in culture I wanted to know what that kind of church looked like.

In that season of ministry, when I was assigned to the Book of Acts, my wife and I had our ministry base in Berlin, Germany. We were scheduled to fly to Athens, Greece to train a group of churches and the Book of Acts was to be our text for those training sessions.

As I finalized my notes I noticed something. It seemed to jump out of the pages at me. How did I miss it in all of my studies? In that moment I realized that in the Book of Acts the church commanded more than they prayed for things like healing. Something had to be wrong. Maybe I just missed it. This was a stark revelation. I reread Acts again. I wanted to find the text filled with prayers for healing but the pages of the text did not provide this kind of evidence . Instead of prayers for healing I discovered that the disciples pronounced words of healing.

In Acts 3 I looked again at Peter and John healing the lame man and I noticed that no prayer was recorded. What is recorded is a command,”I don't have any silver or gold for you. But I give you what I have. In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, get up and walk.” They passed this man every day as they went to the Temple to worship. What made this one day different?

In Acts 9, in the healing of Aeneas, again no prayer was offered, just these powerful words,”Jesus Christ heals you. Get up, and roll up your sleeping mat.” As I read on I saw where Tabitha was healed. The text reveals that Peter tells everyone to leave the room and then he gets down on his knees to pray. After prayer Peter then turns to Tabitha and says, “Tabitha arise. And she opened her eyes and when she saw Peter she sat up.” This was the closest thing to a prayer for healing that I had seen in Acts. What did Peter hear in prayer before he turned and told Tabitha to arise?

As I read on a strange excitement began to fill my heart. Along with that excitement was the feeling that God wanted me to discover something. The Church has lost the power of the command.

In Acts 14 the text described a crippled man in the town of Lystra who was listening to Paul preach a sermon. When Paul realized the man had faith to be healed, Paul shouted to him, “Stand up.” The man then jumped to his feet and started to walk.

These observations about prayer in Acts are not meant to be some new formula for prayer. There really isn't anything new – just things to be rediscovered. What is evident in the lives of these early saints is that they ministered in the power of revelational knowledge. They were able to pronounce healing because they heard something spoken from God's heart that just a moment before was a discussion around the Throne of God. Something of heaven had invaded earth.

Does this mean we are not to pray for the sick? Not at all. What it does mean is that God may have some things to say to us before we launch off in prayer. God is asking us to pause for that prophetic word that will radically change a broken life into a whole life. He wants us to hear that unique and specific word of healing he has for those hurting people who stand before our lives everyday.

The Book of Acts is the history of a church moving in the moment-by-moment revelation of God. They ministered out of a revealed word from God for a specific moment and circumstance.

Some things began to emerge as I soaked in what I was discovering. These miracles happened in the daily routines of life. In Acts 3 Peter and John would have been going to the Temple everyday at 3:00 p.m. It was like clockwork. The lame man would have been there at the same time and place as Peter and John passed him by each day. What was different about this day is that God spoke a word to Peter about His miraculous intentions for this mans life. Once that word was spoken to the lame man he was healed.

These miracles happened outside the walls of the church. The Book of Acts is about God showing up in homes, on the local street corner and any place broken people might frequent. God wants to get His prophetic people out into the marketplace to pronounce His will to a dying and broken world. Miracles are waiting to take place at the local McDonald's, Starbucks, and in line at the DMV. What God desires to do is to make us ready for a miraculous marketplace ministry. To do this we need to understand that we are the church no matter where we find ourselves.

These miracles happened when someone was willing to pause in the moment. We are all busy. Life is busy. The downside is that our lives can become so busy that we are no longer available to do the business of the Kingdom. When we are too busy to engage the passing moments of life we miss the joy of being used by God to do something supernatural in His Name. This kind of miraculous marketplace ministry is available to those who will cultivate the ability to hear His voice amidst all our mind clutter and the din of culture.

Peter and John could have checked the time of day and realized they would be late for the three o'clock Temple service. If they had yielded to the clock of culture instead of the clock of heaven we would not be reading about this miracle in Acts

God is calling you to partner with him to accomplish his will on earth. He has things to say to people who have lost hope. He wants to say those things through you.

This prayer is offered to you. Pray it now so that when you finish reading this article you will be available for God to use in the next supernatural moment that intersects your life.

Father God, I want to hear your word for the broken world around me. I want to be like Peter who was willing to stop long enough in his daily routine to hear your healing word for a broken man. Train me to be a person who can hear Your word and then proclaim it in faith. I ask this in the mighty name of Your Son, Jesus, amen.

"Pastor - Can we dial it down?" by Garris Elkins

It is early Thursday morning and I am reflecting over our Wednesday night service. We have been doing something different on Wednesday nights. Last night our time together, not much more than an hour, was simple - I read Philippians from start to finish, no preaching along the way - just the Word. I set up the reading with about a paragraph worth of history. The reading took about 20 minutes. At this point we put on some beautiful worship music and simply rested in the presence of God. There was no worship team. No graphics on the screen. Just the music and the church resting in God's presence. This went on for about 30 minutes. During this time the people could get up and take communion. They could assume any posture they wanted anywhere in the sanctuary. And then after this time of resting and listening prayer we had the church break up into small groups of 3-4 people to pray for their lives, the church and the community.

We wrapped up the night with our offering and announcements. When it was all done people lingered longer than on other nights. There was a feeling of rest and fellowship. People wanted to linger in the presence of rest.

So, as a pastor I want to ask you my fellow pastors - "Can you dial it down?" It is tough in a program-driven world to think that your people can survive without always being driven towards a planned experience. The people who walk into the doors of our churches are emotionally fried. They have few places to dial down and simply be in God's presence.

Taking the step to make something like this available to your church might be tougher than you think. Not tough for the people - they are hunger for it, just tough for pastors who have always felt the need to produce. Your people are waiting for you to give them an oasis of rest where outcomes and results are not what drive the structure of what we do when we gather.

"The Miraculous Environment of Honor" by Garris Elkins

Honor creates a supernatural environment. Without living in honor with all people, the Church can never rise into the fullness of her calling and see the miraculous transformation God has planned for the nations.

Honor is a word that means, “to value someone or something.” Value conveys honor. Honor is only possible when we see the value that God has placed on people. He came to die for all people. The value of a person causes us to honor them for who they are in God's redemptive plan. Honor is not something we give based on a person's performance or something we give to those who deserve or earn it. Honor is granted by God from eternity before any of us can perform rightly. Honor is an act of grace.

Who should we honor?

Romans 12:10 tells us to, “Honor one another above yourselves.” Some think this only applies between believers. If that were the case then most of our modern missions enterprise would have shut down. Missionaries are being sent each day on missions of mercy to honor those who feel abandoned and alone. The very act of taking the Gospel to people groups is a journey of honor. People see the heart of God most clearly when someone steps out from the noise of the condemning crowd and says something that honors them as a unique creation of God.

Two times Jesus visited His hometown. Both times the people rejected Him. The Word tells us that because the people were without honor He could not perform many miracles among them..

Mark chapter 6 records one of these visits by Jesus to Nazareth.

“1 Jesus left that part of the country and returned with his disciples to Nazareth, his hometown. 2 The next Sabbath he began teaching in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed. They asked, “Where did he get all this wisdom and the power to perform such miracles?” 3 Then they scoffed, “He’s just a carpenter, the son of Mary and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas, and Simon. And his sisters live right here among us.” They were deeply offended and refused to believe in him.”

The word for “offended” in verse 3 means, “to be caught in a trap.” The people of Nazareth were caught in their own trap of judgement constructed from of their opinions of Jesus. Some said that He was just a carpenter - they judged Him vocationally. Others said He was just the son of Mary – they judged His family. Still others said His sisters lived right there with them - they judged Jesus based on their familiarity with Him.

Most of the time we only see people on the surface in their occupation, family background, political affiliation or personal brokenness. God sees people differently. God sees people with the finished product in view. The bridge between brokenness and the finished product is constructed with words and actions of honor.

“4 Then Jesus told them, “A prophet is honored everywhere except in his own hometown and among his relatives and his own family.” 5 And because of their unbelief, he couldn’t do any miracles among them except to place his hands on a few sick people and heal them. 6 And he was amazed at their unbelief.”

Mark's account was the second time the townspeople of Nazareth rejected Jesus. The first time was in Luke 4 at the start of Jesus' ministry. On that visit the people actually tried to kill Jesus. Nazareth was a tough place to visit.

The problem in Nazareth was a lack of honor. In Mark 6:4 Jesus said, “A prophet is honored everywhere except in his own hometown and among his relatives and his own family.”

Did you catch the connection between the lack of honor, unbelief and miracles? When honor is not present neither is belief and when unbelief is not present the miraculous of God is limited. God's presence is attracted to honor. Verse 5 contains some chilling words, “and because of their unbelief He couldn't do any miracles among them.” If we are contending for the miraculous of God then we must choose to live with honor.

When we don't deal with our judgements, we step into a trap of our own making and end up dishonoring God and people. In Nazareth the talk in the streets was, “He's just Mary's son. Last week He fixed the door on my house – who does He think He is?” “Hey, I know His brother – He is no Messiah – we went to school together!” God is always doing more in a life than we can see on the surface. Honor sees deeper.

The unbelief and dishonor is Nazareth was persistent. There was a pattern of dishonor in Nazareth. Someone said once that if you do something once it is an accident. If you do it twice it is intentional. Nazareth was given over to dishonor and it shut down the move of God in their midst.

Some questions to ask:

How do we honor someone who is not honorable?

Choose to prophesy to the gifts and destiny within that life. In the parable of the hidden treasure in the field, Jesus said the man wanted the treasure hidden in the field so badly that he bought the whole field, dirt and all, just to have the treasure. God is calling the church to a level of radical love and honor so strong that we wouldn't mind the dirt in someone's life as long as they became God's treasure in the end. When we honor another person we are honoring a life-assignment that came from eternity and was short-circuited in this realm. Giving honor jumps-starts a life and realigns a person with God's original intention for them.

How do you honor someone who has failed you?

Speak the truth in love. Create a pathway of grace with your words so people can return from failure. Never compromise truth and never use truth to beat someone into submission to your way of thinking. Truth spoken in love sets people free. This freedom is part of what it means to honor someone. The one who gives honor is set free themselves from the need to punish the one who has wronged them.

Each of us will have to live with the results of our words and actions. If we choose to honor every person as a unique creation of God then we will bring honor to God. We will also experience the miraculous presence of God in our churches, our cities and our nation. Perhaps the next great revival in the Church will be a breakout of honor that will lead the way for an outpouring of the miracles we read about in scripture that should have taken place in Nazareth.

"Challenged Authority" by Garris Elkins

Almost thirty years ago I was sitting around a table with five other young and inexperienced pastors. We were in a small meeting room at Montana State University in Billings, Montana. Seated with us was Jerry Cook, the author of the tremendous book, "Love, Acceptance and Forgiveness." Jerry was the guest speaker that week at Faith Chapel in Billings and he was also scheduled for this time with the pastors.

As Jerry spoke I could see that he had a powerful command of words and body language. He spoke with great humility and he also had a wonderful way to get into your face and make you like it!

I can't remember all that Jerry said that day except for one profound sentence that has stuck with me all these years. Jerry said, "Your authority will never be established until it is challenged." That sentence seemed to freeze-dry itself in midair. I really didn't know what it meant because I was so young in leadership at the time. I was smart enough to write it down and commit it to memory.

Over the years that statement has proved to be so true, but not for the obvious reasons. Challenged authority is not so much a chance for followers to be told to "get back in line" behind a leader, rather, it is an opportunity for a leader to evaluate their personal response to the challenge and hopefully move into new dimensions of his or her calling.

When our authority is challenged we have a chance to learn a few things:

1. We can learn what our perceived authority is really based on. If it is a God-given authority it will still be there after all the messes are cleaned up that resulted from the challenge.

2. We can learn that our God-given authority does not need defending. God-given authority is established by God and empowered by His Spirit. A smart leader simply walks in authority and holds it with an opened hand. God does the establishing part. We never have to grasp onto our authority to make it secure.

3. We can learn that how we respond to the challenge of our authority carries a far greater impact on those who watch our response than the challenge itself. When leaders get insecure we say and do very foolish and regretful things. People can get hurt by insecure leaders.

4. We can learn that sometimes we are dead wrong in how we have moved in our God-given authority and we needed to be challenged. It is never comfortable to be challenged. Each time this happens a wise leader will ask God, "What in this challenge is You - what are You wanting to say to me?" You will always have something to take away that will make you a better leader.

If you lead in the business world, a ministry in the church or are simply baby-sitting some kids, somewhere in that process a challenge will come. Expect it, but don't live in fear of it. God uses authority, and the challenge to it, as one of many tools to advance His Kingdom. He also uses the challenge to a leader's authority to advance the leader. If you are in a season where you are being challenged God has good things planned for you. Rest in Him. Trust Him. Love the challenger and then watch your authority become established for a new season that could not have come without the challenge.

Monday, March 2, 2009

"Vision Cast In A Cloud" by Garris Elkins

For years I taught people how to create mission statements for their lives and how to develop a vision along with a personal set of values. It was good, but I don't do that anymore.

At first these vision planning sessions excited me. Then something changed. A hunger for something deeper began to move me away from what I had been doing. All of this vision casting became dry and laborious to me. I began to think, “Where was all of this programming and planning in the Word?” When I read the scriptures I found people who woke up everyday and had no idea that God was about to visit them and radically change their lives.

What bothered me about the way I went about gaining vision was that I created a “vision” and then invited God to come and bless it. What I was doing looked more professional than hanging a sign on a storefront church and advertising “Revival This Week”, but it was really the same thing. I remember the day God said to me, “Stop being a pusher - a pusher of principles - seek My presence.” Since then the vision for my life and ministry has been the pursuit of His presence.

The more I looked into the Word the more I saw people who had deep encounters with God and those encounters became their vision. The Bible is filled with people like this. God revealed Himself to Paul on the Road to Damascus and he left it all to follow Jesus. Peter stood in front of a fish BBQ on the shoreline after his denial and was restored. Jacob wrestled with God and then walked away with a limp. The Church in Antioch was having a worship service and God said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Paul for a special work I have for them...” and the Gentile mission was birthed. Elijah stood in the mouth of the cave straining to hear the still voice of God and then He did. And then there was Moses the reluctant leader. Moses' anthem was, “God, can't you get somebody else!' God's encouragement to Moses was that His presence would go with him. “Follow My presence Moses and you will get there.” Moses ended up being one of the greatest leaders in scripture.

God's presence is powerful. Presence defines who we are as the people of God. The only thing that distinguished the children of Israel from the surrounding nations was the presence of God. From a purely anthropological point of view there was nothing different between Israel and the surrounding nations. The children of Israel had festivals, they cut their bodies and they worshiped a deity so did the other nations. The difference that defined them was the presence of the One true God in their midst. It hasn't changed since then. More than living a moral life (please be moral!) it is the presence of God in the church that distinguishes us from the world around us. The Pharisees were moral, but they weren't led by His presence.

In years past some in church leadership, including this writer, have spent more time searching for vision in the business section of the Barnes and Noble book store than seeking a life changing encounter with God. We spent a lot time honing the habits of highly effective people instead of living in a moment-by-moment hunger for His presence. Thankfully, many are parking that model in the past. Only out of His presence a Kingdom based vision flows. Much of what many of us did that was called "ministry" didn't require God to show up in order for it to get done - it just required a lot of busyness.

There is a lot of burnout in the church because we can appear to be busy and still not be living moment-by-moment in His presence. In His presence is fullness of joy - nowhere else - not even in the midst of perceived success.

In Exodus 19 a very insightful event takes place that reveals how God processed vision with Moses. In verse 9 the Lord said to Moses, "I am going to come to you in a dense cloud, so that the people will hear me speaking with you and will always put their trust in you." Some things in this verse help us see how vision casting took place for Moses.

In verse 19 the Lord said: “I am going to come to you...” God is the One Who comes to us with vision. We don't create vision and then invite Him to come to ours. Everything flows from Him. The beautiful part of this verse is that He is the one pursuing us with vision. In fact, He is the One Who is always pursuing His people with vision.

In the Hebrew language the word for “face” can mean “presence.” When we choose to pursue the face of God in all areas of our lives we invite His presence to come. When we are in a season of doubt the single most critical thing we can do is turn to God and seek His face. The direction and the answers we so desperately desire will take second place compared to the joy of simply seeking Him.

God said to Moses, “I am going to come to you in a dense cloud...” This cloud was so dense that Moses could not see what was ahead of him. He was blinded. In order for God to birth vision in his people He must first blind us to every sensory tool we possess. A dense cloud is not a place where you and I can really see anything. We are not in control in the cloud of His presence.

Are you in one of those moments when you can't see the next step? If you have given your heart to Him chances are this is being done on purpose. He led you into the cloud of His presence. God has something He wants to show you, but He must first turn off your natural ability to process your circumstance. A season where you don't see anything sets you up to hear everything.

“The people will hear me speaking with you and will always put their trust in you." The most important thing someone can do to develop trust with those he or she serves is not to pursue success, but to pursue God. God births trust in a servant-leaders ability to lead when people hear us having a conversation with God. If you are asking God for the next step the way you go about choosing to live your life ,and the choices you make based on those decisions, will be the language that tells others you and God are talking. This is that non-verbal language of faith. Living in His presence may not seem very linear. It is sometimes hard to connect the dots. That is what life is like in the cloud. We want roadmaps. God promises presence.

This way of living can be as simple as giving up the need to have an answer and simply resting in Who He is. What could Moses do on Mount Sinai? Nothing except listen. He couldn't see the end of his nose. This may seem vulnerable, but this is where trust is developed in you and in the people who look to you for leadership. This applies to a single mom leading a child or the director of a world-wide ministry leading thousands. Trust is developed when the people we serve know we are in dialogue with God.

The account of Moses on the mountain continued in verse 16. “On the morning of the third day there was thunder and lightning, with a thick cloud over the mountain, and a very loud trumpet blast. Everyone in the camp trembled. 17 Then Moses led the people out of the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. 18 Mount Sinai was covered with smoke, because the LORD descended on it in fire. The smoke billowed up from it like smoke from a furnace, the whole mountain trembled violently, 19 and the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder. Then Moses spoke and the voice of God answered him. 20 The LORD descended to the top of Mount Sinai and called Moses to the top of the mountain.”

There were many exciting things that took place on Mount Sinai that day. Thunder, lightning, a thick cloud , billowing smoke, fire, earthquakes and a loud trumpet blast. It was so exciting that the people trembled and so would we had we been there! These dramatic things were not vision being cast. They were simply dramatic things that surrounded the voice of God. The vision was cast by His voice. The vision, in this case, the Law spoken by God, would lead an entire nation. The most exciting thing that took place that day are found in the last words of verse 19: “Then Moses spoke and the voice of God answered him.” A man in dialogue with God.

This experience with God's presence did not happen just once. In Exodus 24 Moses spent forty days and forty nights on the mountain inside the cloud of glory. In Exodus 24:18 the text says, "Then Moses disappeared into the cloud..." I think this is what a Kingdom vision is all about - the people of God disappearing into His presence so that only He is seen and heard. When they walk out of the cloud they are changed forever.

This is what happens when God takes us to a place where we cannot see the next step. He leads us to these places so He can have our undivided attention. When God's servants are looking for direction, and they are seeking His face, out of the cloud will come His voice.

"The Purpose of Old Wounds" by Garris Elkins

Yesterday, Jan and I went to see the movie Valkyrie. The movie was based on the true story surrounding the events of a failed assassination attempt on Hitler at the infamous Wolf's Liar. It was good cinema and Tom Cruise did a great job acting out his character.

Many of the scenes in the movie took place in Berlin - a city Jan and I lived in for four years in the late 1990's. We love the German people. We were treated with love and respect when we lived as guests in this great nation. Jan and I both felt that if we were Germans we might feel good about this portrayal by Tom Cruise of a real patriot who tried to end Hitler's tyrannical rule.

When we lived in Berlin we did what we have always done in a new culture – we spent time being historians of the people and the place. This meant getting out and walking the streets and listening to the culture. Being a historian of a culture means looking deeper than what appears only in the tourist brochures. You have to walk the streets and get off the beaten paths to see the real history of a nation.

Berlin is a city of great contrasts. When Germany was divided West Berlin was like an island of color amidst a sea of gray that East Berlin, and the whole Communist model, had provided. When East Germany dissolved, it was like someone pulled the plug on a lake. The island of beauty that emerged was West Berlin surrounded by the drabness of the East. In fact, not far from our home on Am Pfarracker Strasse, in the south of Berlin, was where the old Berlin Wall existed. I used to ride my bicycle to that location.

At the time we lived in Berlin, almost ten years after the Wall came down, you could still see the difference between East and West. The homes in what was old East Berlin were drab grays and greens. The homes in West Berlin expressed themselves in multiple colors. Life was in seen in color. While some of the homes in the old East were transitioning to the new colors of freedom, it was not hard to see the lingering effects of a harder time.

Some days I would take the U-Bahn into downtown Berlin and then I would have to get out and walk to my final destination. It would be on these walks that I would come across evidence of World War II. Down some side street bullet holes were still visible on the stone walls of an old building that survived the Allied bombing. Turn another corner and there would be the impact point of a mortar round that fanned out it's wound track on the rock wall. On another wall would be the pock marks of machine-gun rounds that resembled someone holding down the period punctuation key on a computer key board until it ran off the page.

Whenever I saw those old bullet marks and shrapnel scars I wondered who stood in the way of their deadly effects. Was it a young G.I or a German soldier like Tom Cruises' character in the movie? Many times I paused, then reached out and put my hand into the wounds on the scared wall. Those scars spoke to me. At times I would get introspective. Other times I would get emotional. I loved Berlin for a lot of reasons. I think what I love most about Berlin is what it taught me spiritually.
I learned that the wounds in our past give us perspective in the present. Wars end, but the scars remain.

Today, if you had the privilege of walking throughout Berlin you would see one of the most beautiful and unique examples of reconstruction on the planet. The old East Berlin looks nothing like it did before. Some of the most beautiful modern architecture in all of Berlin, East or West, exists in the East. As one walks among these masterpieces of an architects creativity it doesn't take long before you come to an old section of the city where you still see the bullet holes in a wall. The scars of the past meet the new life of the present as an advertisement of hope.

The perspective a city like Berlin brings is the reality that no matter how difficult the war is today that someday peace and rebuilding will have the ultimate victory. That is the nature of God's Kingdom - expanding wholeness. The scars of our past are used by God to help us press into a future of hope, wholeness and reconstruction that He has promised for each person who calls Him Lord. I learned that walls don't last forever.

I mentioned that I used to ride my bike from our home in Berlin to where the Berlin Wall used to exist. When the Wall originally went up, even as a young boy watching the black and white national news broadcast on our old RCA television set, I hated what the Wall signified. Families were separated. Lives were lost trying to escape to freedom. The long and vacant gaze of hopelessness in the eyes of the East Berliners coming over my family TV set in 1960's American Suburbia did something deep within me. Little did I know that someday I would live in the very city that sparked such emotion in me.

The Berlin Wall was a symbol of separation for a time. What is interesting is that today if you were to ride your bike from my old home in Berlin to where the Wall existed you would find a bike path. The Wall is gone. Where the Wall, along with it's barbed wire, cement walls and machine gun turrets once existed, today you find people peacefully riding their bicycles, moms together strolling with their kids in tow and old couples sitting on park benches in peace. I learned that there is a plan for the future in the Master Architects mind.

In the late 1990's, when we lived in Berlin, I followed the news about the reconstruction plans for East Berlin. What intrigued me most were the bios of the architects seeking contracts to design some of the magnificent structures that stand in Berlin today.

It's not a stretch of the imagination to think that some of these architects had grown up in a divided city and dreamed that one day they would change the visual landscape of the city with their creativity. Some of them were school children in East Berlin when the Wall was constructed. They grew up living behind a Wall of separation. They were told to paint their houses in the drab colors of the collective mindset. Ahead of these architects was an appointment in the future that would bring the release of their God-given gifts to imagine what things could really look like in a place of freedom.

As I write this, many people feel walled in economically, socially and relationally. What used to be vibrant and alive is now clothed in the drab colors of fear. The walls of life are pock-marked by the enemy's gunfire. Some might ask, “Where is the hope?” Our hope is in the Architect Who has a plan for our reconstruction. With God our lives are like Berlin. Berlin went through WWII, communism and separation, but now the city is beautiful. In the natural realm the architects of structure and culture went to work rebuilding a city and eventually a nation. God, the Master Architect, has the same things planned for our lives but on a far grander scale. He is the Rebuilder of broken things.

I learned that God has a bigger purpose for our lives. God's purpose for our lives is to bring us to a place where we can put our hands into the wounds of our past and begin to praise Him for the good He wants to do in our future. Touching the wounds, and believing that He is good and has good things planned for us, becomes the prophetic act of belief that changes how we see life today and how we will live our lives in the future.

God's purpose for our lives is to help us see that He is bringing down the walls that separate us from others. His purpose is transformational. The place where a wall once existed will become a place life and freedom.

God's purpose for our lives is to bring us into alignment with His Kingdom plan. He is the Master Architect and has a plan for each of us that was birthed in timeless eternity - a place without war, fear and separation.

"Watch The High Places" by Garris Elkins

Places dedicated to prayer attract me. When I was a student at Multnomah in Portland, Oregon I enjoyed walking into the prayer chapel and sitting on the wooden pews. The chapel is as old as the campus. At one time someone proposed removing the old chapel to make way for campus expansion and the uproar from past students stopped that line of thinking in its tracks. Thousands of students have waited within its walls to hear from God. It is a special place.

I can still recall the smell of that old wood structure. My first visit there was when I was a young twenty-something Bible college student trying to find my way with God. Each time over the last several decades, whenever I travel through Portland, I slip into one of those prayer chapel pews and talk to God. It is a timeless place. My mind always wanders to imagine who received life-changing direction in that chapel. I am sure missionaries struggled with the early formation of their calling in those pews. Young pastors in the making heard words similar to what Moses might have heard from God- “Yes, you can!”

Some of the heroes of faith we read about today are people who started out in chapels and special places of prayer just like this one. When we set aside a time and a place to be with Him special things happen.

This week Jan and I were in Redding, California for some meetings at Bethel Church. When we visit Bethel the prayer chapel always gets some of our time. The Bethel prayer chapel is not only appealing from an architectural point of view, it is stunning for its expansive view of the surrounding mountains. On this particular evening I chose to sit in a chair and look north. In fact I put my chair atop the letter “N” that is embedded in the carpet compass rose that indicates North and orients the chapel to the surrounding geography and beyond. Usually I lay down and soak in the beautiful worship music. Today I was on assignment in a different posture.

In my field of vision was Mount Shasta - all 14,179 feet of her majestic beauty. Mount Shasta is what is called a stratovolcano. A stratovolcano is a tall conical shaped mountain with many layers. These volcanoes are constructed by repeated eruptions and coolings and therefore form the many strata that give the volcano its tall and steep appearance.

As I sat in the prayer chapel looking out towards Mount Shasta the sun had already begun to set over the western horizon. The only piece of earth still illuminated was the summit of Mount Shasta. It was vivid and striking. The problem with using words to describe what you see is that you struggle to describe color and its interaction with your mind and emotions. As I write this I am feeling like my words are only a postcard trying to describe a scene from a fantastic vacation vista.

Shasta was reflecting the sun in a color that I would need a combination of words to describe - salmon, pinkish, a bit of orange and white. You would have to see it to really know what I am trying to describe. The surrounding valley was already under the subdued light of evening, that twilight bit of light that lets you make things out, but not quite. Mount Shasta sat atop this twilight in a proud display of glory. She was created for this moment.

Then the Lord spoke. He said, “Watch the High Places.” In the next few minutes I would have one of those conversations with God where He used what He had created as part of His vocabulary. Our conversation was a combination of Spirit-led impressions and the visual display of what I was viewing from within the Bethel prayer chapel. As I looked at Mount Shasta I noticed that the color and light that was striking the mountain was coming from the west. The east side of the mountain was similar to the colorless twilight of the surrounding valley below that was not being bathed in light coming from the setting sun.

As the day continued to wind down its display so did the light striking the mountain. The shadow of evening twilight began to crawl up the mountain encroaching upon the light display that had captured my attention in the first place. Inch by inch the twilight climbed up the mountain as the earth rotated and blocked each previous angle of light. The rotation of the earth was darkening the mountain.

I continued to watch as the very tip of the mountain hung onto the last of the sun's rays and then it was all gone. The show was over. It was like I had just watched a great movie. Now I was left with only the film credits scrolling along to the sound track music playing in the background. I was waiting for the “The End” to scroll up onto the screen and dismiss me from the theater. Twilight had erased the day and now night was falling. The mountain finally disappeared and then false light of human culture began to poke through the darkness.

As I sat there looking into the darkness the Lord continued to talk to me. I realized that this experience of watching the light of evening disappear into the black of night is what life is like sometimes. We have seasons when life and direction is really clear. It stands out just like Mount Shasta in its brilliant display. We feel confident because we can see things. You know where life should be positioned and there are no surprises. Then the night comes and all the references go away and we get nervous.

For some this absence of reference is the loss of a loved one. The loved one was brilliant in life and now they are gone. Someone else had a promise for their life, maybe a calling, and now it has disappeared over the horizon and all you have to contemplate is the darkness that swallowed up your hope. Life can bring us from a vivid place of color and life to the dimness of twilight and then all of a sudden its all gone. What do we do then?

As I sat in the prayer chapel, peering into the darkness, the Lord let me know that if I would simply continue to look into the darkness long enough, where the mountain used to be, that the sun would rise again and the mountain would display its glory once more in the morning. At that moment I knew what He meant when He said, “Watch The High Places.”

When we watch the high places we are taking a posture of hope and faith that says God is not Someone with a single cycle of promise. He always has another morning waiting for us. He is looking for people who will continue to look in hope for His coming faithfulness. That is why we continue to pray in the night in the direction of His will. This kind of prayer believes that things rise again.

What are those high places in our lives? A high place can be the last time God spoke a word of instruction to you. It is that last place He pointed your life in a destiny direction. Maybe that word has entered the night and you are wondering what you are to do in this dark season. The answer can appear to be overly simplistic and foolish - keep looking at the last place the mountain was visible, it will show up again. Many times we miss what God is doing because we start looking in other places. In the darkness we turn our chair around and begin to look south instead of north.

A high place can be a physical assignment from God. Sometimes the miracle we long for happens because we stay simply stay put. Stay married. Stay in school. Stay in the ministry. Stay employed. Some of these assignments can enter the dark rotation of night where it is easy to lose your bearings. Keep looking in hope at your assignment. All life-assignments enter those times when you wonder where God went along with the people involved in your assignment. Just because we cannot see the Promise does not mean it is not there in the night.

With God the night never lasts forever. Morning is always part of His plan. The Psalmist wrote, “Weeping may endure for the night, but joy comes in the morning.” Your life assignment may be in the weeping time of night, but daybreak is coming with joy. Don't let the night move you away from this expectation. The night is a place where we make the choice to worship what is not seen or felt. This is where miracles are released.

As Jan and I got ready to go to the evening meeting at Bethel the Lord finalized His word to me. As I pondered the beautiful sight I had just seen on Mount Shasta I realized that in a little more than twelve hours the sun would rise once again and light the mountain. This time it would come from the east and bath the east-facing slopes with new morning light.

I knew that if I showed up at the prayer chapel at sunrise the next day I would be treated to another display of grandeur. In order to see that sight I would have to be in the same position as the night before looking in the same direction. It is the same with God. When you are in a night season keep looking into the darkness where He last appeared and He will make Himself known just as faithfully as the coming of a new dawn.