Saturday, July 31, 2010

"Defeating Despair" by Garris Elkins

Recently, I read an article from Central Oregon about the unusually high number of suicides within the business community over the financial losses and subsequent despair that has occurred in this economic downturn. As I meet with pastors and leaders I am finding that many ministries are facing some of the most trying times in memory. Some families are now faced with hard and painful decisions about the homes they once thought they would live in forever. There is a spirit of despair prowling our land.

The definition of “despair” is formed from two words. One part of despair means “the point that something begins” - in other words, a trigger event. The other part of the word means, “to feel like you have no way out.” Despair is not just a general malaise. Despair originates with certain events and begins to tell a person that there is no way out. The person afflicted by despair begins to feel hopeless.

In II Corinthians 4 Paul addresses despair and the circumstances that surround it:

7 “We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves. 8 We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. 9 We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed. 10 Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies.”

Paul described us as “fragile clay jars.” Alone we could easily collapse under the pressure, but because God's Spirit lives within us, external pressure, no matter how intense, cannot crush our lives. Paul said in verse 7 this picture of a fragile clay jar filled with God's presence is a very clear witness to the world that the power to remain uncrushed is from God, not from ourselves. This is one of our most powerful testimonies.

Paul provides a way to defeat the spirit of despair in II Corinthians 4: 13-18:

13 “But we continue to preach because we have the same kind of faith the psalmist had when he said, “I believed in God, so I spoke.” 14 We know that God, who raised the Lord Jesus, will also raise us with Jesus and present us to himself together with you. 15 All of this is for your benefit. And as God’s grace reaches more and more people, there will be great thanksgiving, and God will receive more and more glory. 16 That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. 17 For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! 18 So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.”

Verse 13 says, “I believed in God, so I spoke.” This means that words of faith can be spoken no matter what the pain or pressure of my despair feels like. This instruction to speak words of belief came after words like, “pressed”, “perplexed”, “crushed”, “hunted down” and “knocked down” were used to describe conditions in the Early Church. Words of belief will always trump our feelings of despair. We are able to speak these words of life because we are linked to the Resurrected One.

Paul went on to say that our reason for not giving up (vs. 16) is the provision of God's grace that reaches more and more people. When this grace comes to us it does battle against our despair. For example, when we were trapped in the despair of our sin, Christ came and redeemed us in the greatest act of grace ever demonstrated – the Cross. Grace has always destroyed despair and will continue to do so until Christ returns.

The children of Israel failed to enter the Promise Land because they complained in the privacy of their tents as recorded in Deuteronomy 1:27. They said God hated them and that He brought them to this place to die. The roadmap for the next 40 years of Israel's wilderness wanderings were charted behind the closed doors of their homes with the ink and pen of faithless words spoken in despair.

This is a season for words of grace, not despair, to begin falling from the lips of God's Church. Unconfessed words of death are like a spiritual Pit Bull on drugs. Unless repented of these words will return to bite us. If you have found yourself yielding to despair and speaking death to your future, confess it as sin and let God's grace re-craft a new response to your circumstances.

How is the spirit of despair defeated? Paul gave us the solution in verse 18, “We fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen.” We aren't supposed to fixate on the despair producing events that surround us, but on an imagery this world cannot produce. If what we speak about each day are the events that produced the despair in the first place then the controlling environment in our lives will be despair. We have a choice of what we fix our eyes upon. Spirt-empowered sight produces Spirit-empowered words.

One of the missing elements in the Church today is an eternal perspective. Someday you and I will live between a new heaven and a new earth. We will walk upon an earth that no longer groans in sorrow for what it once was. We will experience the beauty of Eden. We will also worship around God's throne in the beauty of holiness. Gaining an eternal perspective is the greatest equalizer to the inequities of this life.

When we fix our eyes on the unseen world of eternity we see what we will become. Our calling, as God's Spirit-empowered Church, is to capture a vision of eternity and bring it back into this world and speak it out. This kind of eternal language, the language of the prophet, is many times mocked because it sounds other-worldly. It is!

Last week, I hiked up on top of a mountain near my home to pray in the dawn. I arrived about 10 minutes before the sun actually crested the horizon. As the sun climbed up the other side of the mountain the day began to get brighter and brighter until the full dawn exploded into my view.

I had the beginnings of this word about despair in my heart as I watched the new dawn emerge. Prior to the actual dawn I recalled the unresolved issues I went to bed with the night before and the coming issues I needed to face in the new day. As I remembered all these things that needed my attention I found that my vision was beginning to focus on the new day in an ever-increasing way. I was living for the new dawn. Somehow the issues of life that were facing me were diminishing in their urgency.

If you are living in despair I would suggest you do something that will destroy the power despair might have in your life. Grab hold of the trigger event of despair in your life. Maybe your ministry is facing a financial drain – take hold of it. Maybe your family is about to lose your home – take hold of it. Maybe the one you loved left you and you are now alone – take hold it.

Now, fix your eyes on the horizon of eternity that is beyond your despair. As you hold despair in your grip look into the unseen realm of eternity and allow God's Spirit to download your eternal destination to you. Speak about what you see and the person you are destined to become. Begin to speak words of life over your feelings of despair. As you speak these new words of life you will sense the controlling power of despair begin to diminish. Each time despair wants to raise its head take hold of it and deal with it from an eternal perspective and soon it will flee from you.

Friday, July 16, 2010

"Roof Duty" by Garris Elkins

This morning, after I spent some time with God, I fired up my computer to check my email and stroll through my social-networking sites. As I read down through my Twitter home page I noticed something CNN had posted about some soon- coming remarks from President Barack Obama that he would be making about the Gulf oil leak.

I went to CNN's site and there was one of those live video feed frames of the White House from a somewhat elevated view showing the flag waving on the roof. It was one of those, "we will give you this shot to ponder while the press corps and the President get ready to go live - watch the waving flag", dull videos. I usually minimize that kind of screen and enter the world of multi-tasking until the press conference gets under way.

To most people viewing the roof of the Whitehouse is a non-event. For me, I look intently for the security personnel on the roof. Today, they were visible in this distant live shot since their dark uniforms were in stark contrast to the white paint on the White House. They looked like little black ants on the roof barely visible from such a distance unless you knew what to look for. These are the security personnel - the Secret Service, military Special Forces or whomever is assigned to man the look out and the weapons that are out of sight on the roof. These are the guys that when the stuff hits the fan go into action to protect the President. I have pulled this kind of duty.

In a time long, long ago I was a young man who was also a cop. I was on one of the early SWAT teams that were beginning to dot the landscape of the law enforcement community across America. We trained with the FBI SWAT teams to learn their tactics. We trained within our own team to become a functional and cohesive unit. We trained on our our time to remain in top physical shape.

As I pondered the live feed of the Whitehouse on my computer screen, I remembered working similar duty on the roof at Stanford University while assigned to outer perimeter roof duty for President Gerald Ford. I remember when the SLA (Symbionese Liberation Army) terrorist trial was taking place in San Jose, California, I worked the roof again. During the seven weeks of county-wide strikes in Santa Clara County, California I worked the roof of the courthouse because the threat level was so high. Roof duty is obscure and unnoticed to most people, yet it is vital to preserve life.

A lot of life is "roof duty." You are on the "roof" of your family, your business or your ministry. You are there looking for threats. Most people don't know you are there - but you are. You are not living in fear, you are living in a state of prepared anticipation of what could go wrong. You do this kind of duty because those living in the rooms underneath your post count on you to be there when things go bad.

A parent does a lot of roof duty when they wait up at night for a newly-minted teenager to return home from a later than normal evening out. A business person works the roof when everyone else gets to go home at the end of the day. A servant-leader in the Church works the roof in prayer at night or very early in the morning when no one else would notice. Most roof duty is simply watching. In the Old Testament the watchmen on the wall of the city watched to see where the enemy might be coming from. This is the essence of roof duty. It hasn't changed much.

The roof of life and ministry is an obscure place, not a place that draws a great deal of attention. If you have been assigned to spiritual roof duty it will not be the place where you will get noticed, but it is a place where you will be providing security for the important things in life like family, home and Church. Whenever you find yourself alone in the obscure place of roof duty realize that what you are doing is never solo duty. God is up on the roof with you. God likes roof duty and He loves to empower those on the roof with supernatural sight and wisdom so those in the house below can rest in security through the night.