Tuesday, June 30, 2009

"Discovering God's Purpose In Shame" by Garris Elkins

The one who trusts in the Lord will never be put to shame.“ Romans 9:33

When I was 12 years old I entered Junior High School. As a boy in the 6th grade I was warned by my classmates that the big kids in Junior High liked to pick on the incoming 7th graders. The summer of my 12th year was filled with a fearful anticipation of what was to come. Once I entered the 7th grade I was never picked on by any of the kids. My greatest sorrow was at the hands of a teacher.

Each morning all the school buses would arrive and the kids would be off-loaded and assembled in the cafeteria before the start of class. The cafeteria held about 300 kids. I could never figure out the reason for having us sit in the cafeteria for those thirty long minutes, but we did. The playground seemed a lot more fun than sitting on the hard cafeteria seats. There was a rule in the cafeteria – no one could talk and no one could chew gum. I did well on the “no talking” part, but one day I forgot that I had a piece of chewing gum in my mouth.

That morning as we sat waiting in the cafeteria, the silence was broken from across the room by the booming voice of Mr. Johnson (I have changed his name just in case he is still alive). Mr. Johnson was a tall, handsome man that all the girls really liked. 

“You there – chewing the gum, look at me!” I am not sure how many of us were secretly chewing gum that morning but I had a bad feeling Mr. Johnson was speaking to me. I turned my now pale young face his way and then he pointed his finger directly at me and boomed out a second time. “Don't spit the gum out yet...get on your hands and knees and crawl over here and spit it out in front of me!” Time slowed down and I entered the Twilight Zone.

At that point I was not sure which of my body fluids would release first. My entire world was collapsing around me into a pit of personal and profound shame. The laughter and mockery from the kids in the cafeteria rose in volume as I got down on my hands and knees and started the longest and most humiliating journey of my young life. I was wearing new pants and shoes that most kids wear early in a new school year. With each shuffle towards Mr. Johnson, my shoes and pants mopped up the dust, food debris, and grease from the floor.

As I arrived at the feet of Mr. Johnson he demanded that I, “spit it out like a dog,” and then crawl back to my seat. I was emotionally numb by now. I really don't remember much about the return trip. I cannot begin to tell you the depths of personal shame I felt that day. I realize that today Mr. Johnson might have lost his job for what he did and the school would probably be sued, but this was a long time ago. Things were different then.

Several years ago I was in the Silicon Valley of California where I grew up and where this incident had taken place. Jan and I were there for a conference, so early one Sunday morning I left our hotel room alone and drove to the old school where this incident took place. The campus was deserted on this early weekend morning. I was alone with my memories. As I walked through the campus, I came to the cafeteria and stood there looking through the windows. I heard echoes of conversations from years before. I was overcome with emotion. As an adult I could not believe that anyone would treat a little boy that way. Standing there I felt like a 7th grader all over again.

In the many years since that incident I have wondered what purpose there was in experiencing such pain. For all these years each time I thought of Mr. Johnson I prayed for him and I forgave him so that I could be set free from the prison of shame where he was the cruel warden. Forty years after Mr. Johnson publicly humiliated me I found the reason why I had been praying for him all those years.

My wife, Jan, ministers to people through listening prayer. Listening prayer allows the Holy Spirit to walk us back to the roots of our pain and sorrow to experience the freedom that only Jesus can bring when His truth replaces a lie. I asked Jan to pray with me through this event so I could see God's larger picture of what actually took place that day. 

As Jan and I prayed, I began to feel the sorrow of the young boy I had once been. I was in the cafeteria again. I heard the horrible voice of Mr. Johnson. I felt the hard floor under my knees. I experienced the feeling of shame. It felt like I was a full water canister turned up-side down and then uncorked. Everything drained out of me, leaving me empty - then I saw Jesus. He was crawling alongside of me. He was wearing a white robe. He was on His hands and knees just like me shuffling across that dirty floor. He was unaffected by Mr. Johnson's loud commands. Jesus had His eyes fixed on me! He had the look of deep and profound peace upon His face. His peace radiated into my humiliation.

As Jan tenderly walked me through this moment of freedom she asked me, “Garris, is the Lord saying anything to you?” Through my tears I repeated the Lord's words, “Yes, He is saying, 'For all these years you have been the only one who has prayed for Mr. Johnson. I am using your prayers to reveal My love to Him.'”

In that moment it all made sense and God's peace began to vacuum the shame from my heart. I wept for Mr. Johnson and the great privilege I had to be used by God to pray for this man. My shame now had an eternal purpose attached to it. 

We discover the purpose of God in our place of shame when we see Jesus. 

Hebrews 12: 1 “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. 2 We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne.”

One of the weights God wants us to strip off his children is shame.  Shame slows us down from moving with God into the destiny he has for each of us.  We can't run with endurance if shame is sapping our strength during the race.  This race is run by keeping our eyes on Jesus, not on our shame.  Our strength comes from that vision.

When I knew Jesus was crawling on the floor alongside of me, and I could see his eyes of compassion looking back at me, I knew that I had discovered his purpose in my place of shame.  He endured the shame of the Cross so that we could be free from living under the weight of unresolved shame. Seeing Jesus dissolves the painful imagery of shame.

If we allow God to meet us in our shame, and trust Him there, He will reveal His truth and purpose to us. Peace comes when we see Jesus with us in the place of our greatest pain and sorrow. When God's presence is experienced and realized, and His purpose is revealed, the shame and the lies attached to that shame are replaced with God's heart and truth. Our painful history now becomes a place of honor. It has been a great honor to pray for Mr. Johnson for the last 40 years. I pray that God will make Himself known to Mr. Johnson and that someday I will worship with him around God's throne.

The Lord spoke this word in my heart for those who may be trapped in shame:

I will reveal my purpose in the midst of your greatest shame. Shame will no longer be your master. You think it impossible to live without shame, but I have other plans for you. I will remove from you the blanket of heaviness that surrounds you and wrap you in a garment of praise. I was there with you as shame unfolded its plan, but you did not hear Me. I am here now with you and want you to hear the words I spoke to you on the day of your shame. I was there and I am still here with you. Listen to My words – they will bring life to your place of death. I will put your shame behind you and it will become only a distant memory.”

Sunday, June 28, 2009

"Prayer - The Power of Agreement" by Garris Elkins

(This is part three in a five-part article about the “H.O.P.² E.” acronym taken from the book, “They Told Me Their Stories,” where the environment of faith was described that attracted God's healing power to the Azusa Street revival. This article deals with the third letter in the acronym – Prayer.)

Recently, I read a testimony of a group of young men and women who went to Disneyland for a day. As they enjoyed the rides they stopped at the Food Court and noticed a young man whose arm was in a sling. One of the group felt impressed to pray for his healing. When the prayer was over the young man was completely healed and could freely move his arm. He started crying with joy because he was the star football player for his school and the injured arm would have sidelined him for the upcoming season.

For the next four hours over one hundred people lined up in the Food Court at Disneyland and got healed through the prayers of those young men and women who stepped out in faith. An equal number of people gave their hearts to Jesus because they saw the power of God. It all started because someone followed the nudge of God's Spirit to pray. The “Happiest Place on Earth” actually became its namesake when God showed up in power.

The release of God's presence and power through prayer takes place when we come into agreement with the will of God. When we pray in agreement with God's will His supernatural power is released into areas not accessible by human logic and reasoning. The continual and persistent prayers of the church are the battering rams of heaven that bring down the strongholds of hell in our lives, our community and in the earth.

In the Azusa Street Revival of the early 20th Century a small group of believers gathered for months to seek the face of God in prayer. They had a passion to pursue God and that passion worked its way out into fervent prayer, calling down the power of God into a building once used as a a livery stable.

Aimee Semple McPherson, the great revivalist and founder of the Foursquare Church commented on the Azusa Street Revival and said, “Hungry hearts were praying earnestly, however, and the Lord answered prayer in a wonderful way. They who had lost their first love caught the flame and re-consecrated their lives to service.” The seeking heart will always be found by God.

Frank Bartleman, one of the leaders at Azusa Street, wrote Evan Roberts in the Welsh Revival to get instructions on how to experience an outpouring of God in Los Angeles. Roberts wrote back and said, “Congregate the people who are willing to make a total surrender. Pray and wait. Believe God's promises. Hold daily meetings. May God bless you is my earnest prayer.”

Robert's advice was taken and history reveals what happened when people gathered to pray for God to make Himself known.

In Luke 11 Jesus taught His disciples about this kind of prayer,

“5 Then, teaching them more about prayer, he used this story: “Suppose you went to a friend’s house at midnight, wanting to borrow three loaves of bread. You say to him, 6 ‘A friend of mine has just arrived for a visit, and I have nothing for him to eat.’ 7 And suppose he calls out from his bedroom, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is locked for the night, and my family and I are all in bed. I can’t help you.’ 8 But I tell you this—though he won’t do it for friendship’s sake, if you keep knocking long enough, he will get up and give you whatever you need because of your shameless persistence. 9 “And so I tell you, keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. 10 For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.”

It is easy to study the mechanics of prayer and create a methodology of how we should pray. When we do this we can forget what actually motivates people to pray – the need for results. To pray without the hope of God showing up and actually doing something will soon shift our praying into a labor intensive effort where the answers fall back on us for fulfillment. At this point we burn out and the joy of prayer lifts.

Closed doors will open when we pray.

When Jesus taught His disciples in Luke 11:8 He gave us insight into what happens when we pray. “If you keep knocking long enough, he will get up and give you whatever you need because of your shameless persistence.“ When we seek God and knock, closed doors will open.

When Jesus used this illustration from His culture the image he employed is one of a home all buttoned up for the night. In the Middle East people left their doors open all day long, but at night the family and livestock would bed down in their one room home. At night this single living space was crowded and easily disturbed. Any knock at the door would wake up everyone and everything in the house. When the door closed at night it was only opened for emergencies.

When God answers this kind of prayer, doors will open that may even violate cultural norms like doors being closed at night. This kind of prayer greases the hinges of obstacles and swings them open to access the realm of heaven. When heaven is manifested upon the earth supernatural things begin to take place, like star athletes getting healed at Disneyland or someone healed in line at your local supermarket.

In the Azusa Street Revival, those who chronicled the miracles said that when the church would begin to sing in the Spirit the manifestation of miracles, signs and wonders would increase. These prayers, when sung in the language of heaven, opened up access into the heavenlies and what was hovering above this kind of prayer fell into the midst of those gathered. Sometimes we don't know how to pray but the Holy Spirit does if we will simply partner with him.

Supernatural provision will come when we pray.

Jesus said, “For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.” Everyone.

In the illustration Jesus used the persistent prayer of the friend to release the bread of heaven. Like the manna, the bread came because God was the only one who could provide it. The bread of answered prayer exists behind doors only opened in agreement with God's will.

So much of what is missed in understanding prayer has to do with our perception of God. Jesus went on to say in Luke 11: 11-12,

“You fathers—if your children ask for a fish, do you give them a snake instead? Or if they ask for an egg, do you give them a scorpion? Of course not! So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him.”

The word “confession” means to agree with God. This is usually associated with sin and our confession of sin. Confession is my agreement with God about something He sees in me and wants me to come into agreement with Him about. When we confess, we are agreeing with what God sees. Once our understanding about anything comes into agreement with what God is seeing, whether it is confession of sin or asking and knocking in prayer, real change is possible. This is why so much of prayer is about seeing what God sees. As we see God as He truly is we will begin to pray differently because we see Him as our Father who wants to bring His goodness to us. Confessing His goodness in prayer opens our spiritual eyes to see his heart and purposes more clearly.

We can reduce God down to someone who only gives to us based on how good we are. When we make that deduction we are saying that our actions change His character. God's character is intact and unchangeable by human frailties. He is good and will remain good throughout all eternity. He is good, not because we fully understand prayer, He is good because He can be nothing else but good. God loves to open the door to us if we will come into agreement with Him.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

"Obedience - The Power of Alignment" by Garris Elkins

(This is part two in a five-part article about the “H.O.P.² E.” acronym taken from the book, “They Told Me Their Stories,” where the environment of faith was described that attracted God's healing power to the Azusa Street revival. This article deals the second letter in the acronym – obedience. )

When I used to fly airplanes I would rely on ground based navigational systems which provided radio beams that were transmitted to my on-board flight instruments. My instruments would lock onto the transmissions and help me navigate to my final destination. If I aligned myself with the proper frequency and heading I would arrive safely and on time at my destination. If I ignored what the instruments were saying I could have ended up in places I had never planned to visit. Obedience is heaven's navigational system for the Church. There are many destination options out there, but only one destination is God's purpose for our lives. A pilot off only one degree of heading can literally miss an entire continent because the error is multiplied over distance.

Teaching people about obedience has been reduced to something akin to a tolerable root canal procedure that says, “This is something you really need to do.” Teaching obedience in this way has usually been done with the “what we have to” part that misses the real purpose of obedience. Obedience is about alignment. Obedience aligns us with God and takes us deeper into intimacy with Him and directs us towards His Kingdom purposes.

Jesus lived in constant alignment with the Father because Jesus was obedient. Jesus saw what the Father was doing and then aligned Himself with the Father through His obedience. In John 5: 19 Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself. He does only what he sees the Father doing. Whatever the Father does, the Son also does. 20 For the Father loves the Son and shows him everything he is doing.”

This visionary obedience can get messy. Jesus saw the Father tipping over tables in the Temple and He did the same. Jesus saw the Father spitting into the mud and putting it in the eyes of a blind man and the blind man was healed. Jesus saw the Father talking with a morally comprised woman caught in the very act of adultery. Jesus saw the Father speaking hope to her and He relayed heaven's message. Jesus accepted a dinner invitation to a corrupt tax collector's home when the practice was against cultural norms. The tax collector then made a life-altering decision to follow Jesus and leave his greed behind. Visionary obedience is messy and can be offensive to some people, but it will accomplish God's will on earth,

In the great Azusa Street Revival in the early 20th Century the leader of that revival, William Seymour, a black man, would sit in the church service with a box on his head. After awhile he would get up, take the box off his head, and then tell entire sections of those seated that they were now healed, and they were. Visionary obedience could be dangerous and open to mockery and condemnation, especially if God wanted you to do something unusual. At Azusa Street, God's Spirit also brought people together in an unusual way – there was no segregation, rich or poor, black or white. The walls of prejudice came down in an intolerant era when people aligned themselves with God.

Some people criticize doctrine and theology built on experience. Our present day doctrines and theologies of the Church are all built upon the initial encounters people had with God. It was all about experience. These theologies and doctrines were built upon the experiential response of people to God's fresh revelation.

Moses' experience on the mountain with God gave us the Law. Joshua was told that he would possess wherever he walked and from Joshua's stroll we developed an understanding of faith and spiritual conquest. David's struggles with God and life, as recorded in the Psalms, gave us a theology about the heart of God. The Early Church was gathered in the Upper Room when the Spirit fell and the doctrine of the Holy Spirit was birthed. Paul's experience on the Road to Damascus gave us an understanding of a God who pursues us with our calling no matter how messed up our motives might be. John on the Isle of Patmos had an other-worldly vision experience that became our understanding of the end times. We can forget that we are in a relationship with God who is a real Person. Relationship with a Person is about experience.

When we experience God, and then we write those experiences down in our books of doctrine and theology, it is both a blessing and a concern. It is a blessing because we can refer to those truths to keep us on track. It is a concern when we think that God is no longer in the business of releasing experience to His Church . That thinking then develops into a school of thought with someone declaring that experience is no longer needed. When this happens the Church stops looking upward and instead looks into dusty books for life. How easy it is to settle for an experience-less life with God. To make ourselves more comfortable with our lack of experience, we then develop criticisms of those who pursue an experience with God and label them as simple-minded and shallow, or worse.

Jesus spoke of obedience in Luke 6: 46-49; “So why do you keep calling me ‘Lord, Lord!’ when you don’t do what I say? 47 I will show you what it’s like when someone comes to me, listens to my teaching, and then follows it. 48 It is like a person building a house who digs deep and lays the foundation on solid rock. When the floodwaters rise and break against that house, it stands firm because it is well built. 49 But anyone who hears and doesn’t obey is like a person who builds a house without a foundation. When the floods sweep down against that house, it will collapse into a heap of ruins.”

In verse 46 Jesus questioned the motives of those listening, “So why do you call me 'Lord,' when you won't obey me?” Jesus was asking a question that linked obedience to Lordship. Lordship to the Person of Jesus Christ is found in my willingness to obey Him. If I am not obedient to Him I have made a decision to live unaligned with Him and be the lord of my own life. Instead of standing on the sure foundation of God we can end up standing on the sinking platform of human wisdom and reasoning.

Jesus spoke to His disciples during His Upper Room Discourse in John 14: 14-17 and said, “Yes, ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it! 15 “If you love me, obey my commandments. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, who will never leave you. 17 He is the Holy Spirit, who leads into all truth.”

Those gathered on Azusa Street one hundred years ago lived in a loving obedience that not only aligned them with God, but their obedience aligned the power of the Spirit with their lives. This alignment released the miraculous healings that took place in that great revival.

The people gathered on Azusa Street were obedient to what God was revealing. When God showed them something, they acted on it, and God was attracted to their simple obedience. God is drawn to a life aligned with His heart and purposes. When He comes to that place of obedience, He brings with Him the power of His Spirit. When God's Spirit is present wonderfully supernatural things begin to happen.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

"Humility - A Place of Power" by Garris Elkins

(This is part one in a five-part article about the “H.O.P.² E.” acronym taken from the book, “They Told Me Their Stories,” where the environment of faith was described that attracted God's healing power to the Azusa Street revival. This article deals the first letter in the acronym – humility. )

One hundred years ago a profound revival visited a livery stable in Los Angeles on a street called Azusa. People from the far corners of the globe visited this old rundown building to witness the healing power of God demonstrated in startling and unusual ways. Arms grew back, cancers left bodies and tumors fell off. Thousands were healed.

The revival was characterized by the visible manifestation of God's glory. God's glory lay in the building like a fog. Little kids would play in it. The glory of God was manifested in the building and also in the surrounding neighborhood. People getting off at the central train station in Los Angeles, unaware that the revival was taking place, would step onto the platform and fall under the power of God. The fire department was called because the fire of heaven was visible on top of the building and people thought the building was burning down. God was making Himself known in a powerful way.

The leader of this revival was a black man. His name was William Seymour. At the start of each service Seymour would put a box on his head and stay under the box sometimes for ten minutes and other times up to an hour. He would then get up, take off the box and walk over to a section of chairs and tell everyone in that section that they were healed – and they would be! Some people struggled with Seymour and his box. The really sick people didn't mind the box on Seymour's head because they left the building healed.

This revival birthed churches that many of us are familiar with today – The Church of the Nazarene, Assemblies of God, Christian and Missionary Alliance, Foursquare, Calvary Chapel and the Vineyard Churches. Just about anyone who moves in the Gifts of the Spirit today can trace their spiritual DNA back to the meetings on Azusa Street.

In the great Azusa Street Revival the prophets who were in those meetings prophesied that 100 years in the future, in the years of 2009 - 2010, a greater outpouring of God's glory would take place upon the earth. We are living in that prophesied time today.

As some have studied this world-changing revival several things have been discovered about the people who gathered in those meetings on Azusa Street. It is called the Azusa Code. An acronym was created for this code - “H.O.P(2).E.” This acronym is defined by the words - humility, obedience, prayer, purity and expectation. These five elements were in the atmosphere of this revival and other revivals in church history. God was attracted to this atmosphere and history reveals what happened.

The word humble means, “to press down.” It is a word picture of someone taking their hand and pushing something down. Humility is not a demeanor or a certain way of speaking. Humility is an action. Humility pushes one thing down so that something else can rise up.

When someone is humble, in the way the Word defines humility, they are someone who pushes down those things that bring dishonor to God. As they push down what dishonors God, God is able to raise up what honors Him.

I Peter 5:6 says, “So humble yourselves under the mighty power of God, and at the right time he will lift you up in honor.”

As we choose to live in this place of humility the power of God is attracted to that choice and supernatural things begin to take place. Humility lives under the mighty power of God. When the Church is positioned in humility under God's power, He will raise us up to new places of honor because He can trust us to carry out His agenda.

When we live as humble people, God is able to go to work for us to accomplish things that are beyond human ingenuity and strength.

James 4:6-7 tells us, “God opposes the proud
 but favors the humble.” 7 So humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”

1. Humility releases God's supernatural favor.

Favor is what opens the doors that are closed in our lives. Favor turns a business deal around. Favor causes a wayward child to hear and respect a parent. Favor is used by God to make the impossible possible.

2. Humility becomes a weapon of supernatural warfare.

As we humble ourselves before the Lord, we live in the resisting presence of God that causes hell to flee from our lives. Humility is connected to heaven's power. Humility scares darkness and makes it run away.

Today, as you and I seek a greater outpouring of God's presence, we will welcome the Holy Spirit to identify those things that would raise themselves up against the knowledge of God. The presence and power of God will then come bringing supernatural change that will affect the very atmosphere of our lives and our communities.

Monday, June 1, 2009

"I Don't Want To Be Absorbed!" by Garris Elkins

As I write this article I am inside a warm cabin in Central Oregon. It is raining outside and a fire is crackling in the fireplace. Even though it is early June, the fire feels good.

Like most cabins used by lots of people throughout the year, the accumulative effect of all those visits is that people leave magazines behind. Each table in this cabin has stacks of magazines that reveal the eclectic reading appetites of past visitors. I wanted to do some reading, the kind I do when I have to kill time waiting in the doctor's office for an appointment. Laying on one coffee table was the March 31st, 2009 edition of The Economist magazine. I grabbed it and began to scan through the pages looking for something of interest.

Twenty-six pages into the magazine was an article titled, “Shocking Science” written by Geoffrey Carr, the science editor for The Economist. This science editor was trying to tackle the topic of religion and religion's frenetic response to science. I got bored with the article half-way through, but decided to hang in there since the article was only a one pager.

In the last paragraph of the article were these words, “Examining the biological and evolutionary causes of language is a respectable endeavor, so why not apply the same approach to religion? This sort of science seeks not to transcend religion, but to absorb it and reduce it to just another natural phenomenon that can be prodded, measured and explained. Such research is now going on apace – and set to provoke screams that will echo well beyond 2009.”

The words “absorb” and “reduce” bothered me. What made Jesus so dangerous to darkness was that His life and actions could not be absorbed into established world views, nor could the miracles He performed be reduced and therefore explained in the natural realm. The unmeasurable and unexplainable supernatural presence of Jesus was the monkey-wrench thrown into the wheels of human logic.

Many times throughout church history the supernatural gifts of the Spirit were the only way to make inroads into a culture. People can't argue with the absence of cancer. People can't argue when a new eyeball is formed in the socket. People can't argue when a dead person rises from the dead and starts knocking on the casket lid wanting out.

The words of the science editor are prophetic of where we can head if we fail to revisit the assignment Jesus gave His disciples to heal the lepers, give sight to the blind, drive out demons, speak with new tongues and all the other Kingdom manifestations that are not measurable or explainable. The supernatural display of the miraculous in culture is what keeps the Church from being absorbed and reduced to the status of just another natural phenomenon.

When God shows up in power, the world will realize that something is present that our limited attempts of measurement cannot define. In that moment, worship is possible because Someone unmeasurable and unexplainable is being displayed.