Thursday, July 30, 2009

"Five Degrees to Separation" by Garris Elkins

A few years ago a trivia game emerged called “Kevin Bacon and the Six Degrees of Separation.” The theory goes that in this game any actor could be linked through their acting roles to Kevin Bacon, a fellow actor, within six relationships. While this trivia game is fun for actors in Hollywood, there is a more serious game afoot amongst Christians - it is called, “Five Degrees to Separation.”

Over the last thirty years of shepherding people within the church, I have noticed a strange pattern develop in some relationships. There are five steps that people go through from living in relationship with each other to a disconnect and eventual separation. The progression takes place in this order : peace, suspicion, fear, judgment and then separation.

We start in a relationship at peace with each other. The peace brings with it hope and joy and the anticipation of a long and lasting relationship. Then something happens. The peace is disrupted and a tugging sense of suspicion about the other person begins to disrupt the equilibrium of peace. After the suspicion grows unchecked, fear sets in and we begin to self-protect from the fear of hurt or abandonment that our suspicion feeds upon. The fears motivated by what could happen become a judgement against the other person and once the judgement is in place we feel justified in separating ourselves from the person we used to live in peace with. Separation is the by-product of judgment.

How does this happen? I think it happens when you and I fail to protect the peace. We can protect the peace of God in our lives when we challenge the first knock of suspicion at the door of our relationships with other believers. When we hear that first suspicious knock we should go to the person we used to live in peace with and ask, “Why am I feeling this way?” Hell cannot breed in the light. When we bring a dark knock to the light of day, the one knocking will slink back into the shadows and not approach our door.

It doesn't take long to get from peace to separation. It can happen in a day. In fact, it can happen in minutes. Romans 12 tells us that, “as far as it is possible with us, be at peace with all people.” The “as far as possible” part means that in order for it to be possible we first have to do everything possible. That can mean rebuking the words of doubt in our mind that came from the dark side taking those thoughts captive, and walking them to the Cross where we put them to death. It can mean we get really serious about this and commit ourselves to bless someone each time we think of them, so the motivating spirit of separation will flee at our resistance. We have to be proactive and fight for the peace.

The test of whether or not we have lost peace with another believer can be found in the way we think about them and how we choose to relate to that person. There are some common attitudes that surround a work of separation:

We find that we no longer want to be around the person we are suspicious of.
We no longer live in honor with them and speak words of death, not life.
We begin to talk to others about them in secret – we make secret plans.
We entertain accusations without giving the other person a chance to respond.
We start to gather a following to agree with our suspicion and judgment.
We make plans to be gone from their life.

The writer of Hebrews tells us that Jesus broke down the barrier walls that separated us from God. When God's Spirit is present and we are walking in communion with Him, walls of separation come down. When we are not following God's lead walls of separation are built.

When I lived in Berlin, Germany, the remnants of the old Berlin Wall still lingered. That wall went up to separate people. In some cases the wall was built right through an apartment complex and divided life-long friends who had lived next door to each other for years. The wall was built unexpectedly one day and stayed in place for years. The day the Berlin Wall came down the city of Berlin, and the world celebrated.

The only way the walls between believers can come down is that we live in the open and honest environment of peace with each other and fight with all we have when the first knock of suspicion is heard upon our door. What is at risk is the peace of God. This peace is worth fighting for because once we experience it, we will never want to live without it. Where the Spirit of the Lord is there is peace and where there is peace, believers dwell in unity with one another.

Monday, July 20, 2009

"The Pivot Point" by Garris Elkins

Recently, I have been talking to believers about establishing their “pivot point”. A pivot point is that place where you put one of your feet conceptually and say, “This is my bottom line – I can't give this up."  There is not a lot that should occupy that spot.

The Early Church father, Clement, said, “In the essentials unity, in the non-essentials liberty and in all things love.” Clement was wise. He knew that as the Church developed, some people would start to get nervous if other believers did not live their faith in lock-step agreement with them.

I have always thought the essentials should be reserved for those things that had to do with the God and Jesus as the “way, the truth and the life and no one comes to the Father but through me” kind of things. I want my feet firmly planted in those essentials because without them we don't have a biblical Christianity.

The power of having a pivot point is that I can pivot towards something new without disconnecting with the essentials and closing the door on expanding my circle of fellowship. I can pivot towards the Presbyterians and bring something Presbyterian back into my pivot point. I can pivot towards a healing revival and bring back a new level of faith from a Latter Rain revivalist. I can pivot towards a Catholic and bring back a new respect and reverence for the Lord's Table. As one pivots, with their belief in the essentials firm and unshakeable, spending time with different kinds of Christians is actually a lot of fun.

Friday, July 17, 2009

"Expectation - The Power of Belief" by Garris Elkins

(This is part five 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 that great revival. This article deals with the final letter in that acronym – Expectation.)

A good friend of mine is now in his late 60's. He grew up working on his family ranch and then he was called by God to walk away from that life and enter the ministry. He has been all over the world training leaders, planting churches and starting training institutes. He has served God faithfully, but has few of the physical possessions our culture equates with success.

My friend wrote something on his blog recently that really touched me. He said, “Sometimes I think, 'What would life have been like if I had spent the same years building a business as a missionary and pastor? Where would I be and what would I have to show for my work at this stage in my life.'  So much of what I have now is very intangible. And here's the scary thing about it – if I stop believing, I have nothing. The only way to have a sense of satisfaction and achievement about how I've spent the years of my life, is to believe- to believe that Jesus is real, that God called me to do what I have done, and eternity is what really matters.”

I was struck by the phrase, “ - if I stop believing, I have nothing.” I stopped to ask myself, where in my life am I living like this? Where is the raw belief and expectation that causes me to be truly dependent upon God? This isn't about where one lives on the economic scale – it is about where we stand in our belief. A rich man can say this just like a poor man. This believing posture is that place of faith where we choose to make God our only option.

When the Azusa Street Revival was taking place expectation was high. The people on Azusa Street were in the same place my friend found himself. They knew that unless God showed up nothing was going to happen. All they could do was believe. The saints on Azusa Street expected God to move when they gathered, and he did. They expected the blind to see; the lame to walk; an arm to grow out and the deaf to hear. Expectation changes the spiritual environment of our lives.

In 1906 people would travel into Los Angeles from all over the world for business and pleasure. Many would arrive by train. Historical records tell us that the glory of God flowed out from the meeting place on Azusa Street into the surrounding neighborhoods. People exiting the train would step off onto the arrival platform and fall down under the power of God. They had no idea that just a short distance away one of the greatest revivals in modern history was taking place. The glory of God was flooding into the city.

One young Hispanic boy lived near Azusa Street. He said each day he would look towards the building where the revival was happening. He knew the meetings had started when he saw flames of fire appear on the roof. These were the flames of God's Spirit – not a natural fire.

The City of Los Angeles was experiencing the glory of God because the Church was living in the expectation that God was at work in their midst. The hope of a city is the church living in expectation of God. Real hope for our cities is not found in a newly elected government official, a unique community program, or a well-crafted budget. The hope of a city is the Church rising in her calling and aligning herself with the will of God.

At the start of Matthew 11 Jesus had just instructed His disciples in the previous chapter to go out and preach the Kingdom by healing the sick, cleansing lepers, raising the dead and casting out demons. He told His disciples that this kind of ministry would bring them persecution. He told them to fear God – not man. He told them to take up their cross and follow Him.

Following these instructions, chapter 11 begins with Jesus saying,

“ When Jesus had finished giving these instructions to his twelve disciples, he went out to teach and preach in towns throughout the region. John the Baptist, who was in prison, heard about all the things the Messiah was doing. So he sent his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you the Messiah we’ve been expecting, or should we keep looking for someone else?” Jesus told them, “Go back to John and tell him what you have heard and seen— the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life, and the Good News is being preached to the poor. And tell him, ‘God blesses those who do not turn away because of me.’”

John the Baptist was in prison awaiting his execution. In just a few days John's decapitated head would be presented as a macabre party favor for a dancer in the king's court. John is now wondering whether Jesus is the real thing. This is the same John who was there at the beginning of the Lord's ministry when the skies opened up and the Spirit descended upon Jesus and the very voice of God spoke from heaven. John saw the miraculous affirmation of Jesus, but now he is wondering. Places of imprisonment can do this to a person. The past miracles are not what comforts us in places like this. We need a real-time word from the Lord.

The answer that Jesus sent back, “the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life, and the Good News is being preached to the poor” is an answer with evidence. The evidence is what John needed to hear to confirm that Jesus was the Messiah.  

There are some questions we need to ask.

1. What can we expect from God?

We can expect that God will be with us. “I will not abandon you as orphans – I will come to you.” John 14:18.

No matter where we find ourselves, Jesus promises to come to us with the evidence of his love and presence, affirming us as his children.

2. We can expect to be empowered by God.

“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.” Acts 1:8

God promised to send his power to us. What God calls us to accomplish in his name cannot be done in human strength or strategy. Because God is faithful we can expect his supernatural power to be there when we need it because he made a promise that we would receive the power.

3. We can expect to do the greater works of Jesus Christ.

“I tell you the truth, anyone who believes in me will do the same works I have done, and even greater works, because I am going to be with the father.” John 14:12

The greater works come because Jesus has sent the Spirit back to the Church. Acts 2: 33 says, “Now he sits on the throne of highest honor in heaven, at God's right hand. And the Father, as he had promised, gave him the Holy Spirit to pour out upon us, just as you see and hear today.”

The Lord sits above all power structures, disease, world governments and demonic powers. We as the Church are now seated with Him in the heavenly realms. We live in two realms - here on earth and with him in eternity. As Jesus pours the Spirit upon the Church on earth the descending flow of God's presence carries with it the power to break the chains that imprison people.

4. We can expect that Jesus will prove himself true.

“During the forty days after his crucifixion, he appeared to the apostles from time to time, and he proved to them in many ways that he was actually alive. And he talked to them about the Kingdom of God.” Acts 1:3

Jesus comes to His Church, and to the unbelieving world, to prove he is alive. His proof is found in the answer Jesus sent back to John the Baptist. This proof is what Peter said when he spoke to the crowd on the Day of Pentecost, “just as you see and hear today.” When God shows up, what he does will be seen and heard. God doesn't show up as a voiceless theory or an invisible concept. He makes his presence known by bringing the evidence of heaven down upon the earth.

When we expect God to come, that expectant mindset will change everything. No longer is our life a holding pattern for heaven. We begin to believe now, in this present hour, the message Jesus sent back to John in prison. That message helped John refocus on the Lord and then die in peace.

Monday, July 13, 2009

"I Don't Believe In That" by Garris Elkins

My dear friend in Central Oregon, Jim Stephens, writes some profound things on his daily devotional. A few months ago Jim wrote that he was not going to use the word “awesome” anymore, except to describe God. Jim's commitment on personal vocabulary is such a wise word in a world where we say, “I love hot dogs and baseball” in the same breath that we say we love God or our family. In our haphazard use of words we sometimes dilute their true meaning.

A few months ago I had a conversation with someone who was in a meeting where the person leading the service was moving in a free and bold approach to God. Physical healings were taking place and people were being set free – some people even fell over under the power of God.

When God moves in unusual ways sometimes people will say, “I don't believe in that!” They might be focusing on the style of what is taking place and not the substance of what God is actually doing. We all do this from time to time. When something different is happening around us that is new and maybe even uncomfortable, we want to find a place to position that experience so we can deal with it. Sometimes we say, “I don't believe in that!,” but really we are saying, “I am uncomfortable.”

Today, I have been processing how to respond better to people when they make such comments. The next time someone says to me, “I don't believe in that!” I would like to be more nurturing in my response. Maybe I could respond with words like these, “You just said that you don't believe in what you just saw. Maybe we should reserve the word 'belief' for things that deal with the person of God, His Son, the Holy Spirit, and the way of salvation. Maybe our use of the word 'believe' is getting confused with what we like, don't like, or even feel comfortable with.”

As I reread some of the Early Church creeds recently, the authors were wise enough to keep the creeds simple and focused on God and His Church instead of linking “belief” to personal preferences that can be jaded with our fears and human experience, or the lack of.

Just a thought.

Friday, July 10, 2009

"Purity - The Power of Sight" by Garris Elkins

(This is part four of 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 fourth letter in the acronym – Purity. )

In the Azusa Street Revival of the early 20th Century, William Seymour, the leader of that great out-pouring, was described as having a child-like faith. He would take steps of faith that only a confident child would take knowing they were fully and completely loved. His sense of innocence, and the innocence of those around him, came because they saw themselves as children of God who had been made pure and holy by the blood of Jesus Christ.

Historians who have studied the events surrounding this and other great moves of God's Spirit realize that purity was a primary ingredient in the environment of the miraculous. These people knew God had made them into a holy and pure people at the moment of their conversion. They lived out this understanding by making pure life-choices that reflected their position before God.

Purity is not a moral code. Purity is the new condition God gave us when we came into relationship with His Son. Colossians tells us that we were transported from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light. God picked us up from within the old condition that was impure and placed us into the new condition of purity. When we understand that we are pure in God's eyes we begin to align the decisions we make with that new identity. How we see our condition before God will determine how we respond to God.

The Pharisees lived with an outward moral code of purity yet Jesus described them as white-washed cups on the outside who were filled with corruption on the inside. We can get the external code of religious purity down pat and still miss the deeper understanding of what it means to be pure.

The Old Testament is filled with shadows that were cast by the person of Jesus Christ. His stance in the completeness of eternity cast a shadow into Jewish history that fell upon the implements and places of worship. The Temple image was one of those shadows cast and so were the duties of the priest. To follow the shadows of the Old Covenant will bring us to the Person of Jesus Christ.

In the Old Testament a priest would enter the Holy of Holies once a year to atone for the sins of the nation. Israel held its collective breath waiting for the priest to exit from behind the veil to see if their sacrifice was accepted.

Inside the Holy of Holies, and behind the veil, was the the Ark of the Covenant. This box contained a copy of the Law, Aaron's budded rod and pieces of manna. Each of these items within the Ark revealed God's provision to broken people. The existence of each of these items came because people wanted to live outside of God's will.

On top of the Ark was the Mercy Seat - a flat area where the blood from sacrificed animals was placed to cover the sins of the people. Above the Mercy Seat stood two Cherubim facing each other with outstretched wings. These figures looked down upon the Mercy Seat to signify the anticipating gaze of heaven upon the place of mercy.

In the space between the Cherubim is where God choose to manifest His presence on earth. This space was undefined and uncontrollable, just like the presence of God. God wanted Israel to know that He could not be reduced down to a simplistic and limiting man-made definition and that no human could control or contain Him.

On the Day of Atonement the priest would enter the Holy of Holies and approach the Ark. A rope was tied to his leg just in case He had unconfessed sin in his life. If he dropped dead he would be pulled out and the next priest would enter. It was very serious and life-threatening if you approached the Ark in a wrong way.

As the priest would drop the blood of sacrificed animals onto the Mercy Seat the blood became the atonement for the sins of the people for that year. Once the blood was deposited the priest would exit from behind the veil and declare the nation forgiven and the party would begin.

As God looks at the Church He views us through the lens of the blood of His Son, Jesus Christ. He views us under the mercy seat of heaven that is covered by Christ's blood. In the great Doxology of Jude we are told that someday we will be presented without fault and with joy before the Father. The Church, as the Bride of Christ, has already been made pure. Now she gets to live out that purity and make decisions to keep herself pure and reserved for the Lord.

There is great freedom in knowing that we have been made pure. The knowledge of our purity before God releases us to live in a realm of supernatural faith that is only exercised when we understand that all the barriers between God and us have been dismantled. This is where revival has its greatest chance of being birthed. With this knowledge we can act like children in His presence and take risks that only come from knowing we are pure and free, and the Father is accessible.

The writer of Hebrews spoke about what Jesus did when He entered heavens Holy of Holies,

“So Christ has now become the High Priest over all the good things that have come. He has entered that greater, more perfect Tabernacle in heaven, which was not made by human hands and is not part of this created world. With his own blood—not the blood of goats and calves—he entered the Most Holy Place once for all time and secured our redemption forever.” (Hebrews 9:11-12)

This once and for all deposit of His blood upon the Mercy Seat of heaven covered us with God's mercy - forever. We have a forever redemption. Because of that deposit we can begin to live out a destiny that we have already been given. Our eternal destiny then invades time through the portal of mercy and begins to redefine us.

Hebrews 9:24 “For Christ did not enter into a holy place made with human hands, which was only a copy of the true one in heaven. He entered into heaven itself to appear now before God on our behalf.”

When Jesus entered heaven's Holy of Holies to deposit His blood upon the Mercy Seat of heaven, He made this deposit above the created realm and above all rule and authority and all human failure. The blood of Christ is in a place that provides a complete covering for all who would come under its power and protection.

Ephesians tells us that the Church is seated with Christ in heaven at the right hand of the Father. Who we are is defined by that position. As we look down from this heavenly position, we are afforded a new vision of who we really are in God's sight.
When we understand the immense scope of the blood covering of Christ we will begin to move in a higher dimension of faith. We can seek God in prayer without the fear of rejection or shame. We can ask for things that the natural and impure mind would mock as presumptuous. In other words, we can be bold.

“And so, dear brothers and sisters, we can boldly enter heaven’s Most Holy Place because of the blood of Jesus.” Hebrews 10:19.

This bold approach to God is not based on our personal strengths and self-confidence, it is based on the blood of Jesus Christ who has paved a way into God's very presence and declared us pure. When this boldness is met by God's supernatural empowerment, we call that intersection revival.