Tuesday, August 17, 2010

"The Spiritual Farm" by Garris Elkins

For the last several weeks I have been going through a deep pressing of my soul. God is wanting to get to the foundation of who I am and that will always stir a life. Discovery is never a comfortable process. This morning I read the following verses from Mark, chapter 4:

3 “Listen! A farmer went out to plant some seed. 4 As he scattered it across his field, some of the seed fell on a footpath, and the birds came and ate it. 5 Other seed fell on shallow soil with underlying rock. The seed sprouted quickly because the soil was shallow. 6 But the plant soon wilted under the hot sun, and since it didn’t have deep roots, it died. 7 Other seed fell among thorns that grew up and choked out the tender plants so they produced no grain. 8 Still other seeds fell on fertile soil, and they sprouted, grew, and produced a crop that was thirty, sixty, and even a hundred times as much as had been planted!” 9 Then he said, “Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand.”

I used to look at this text of scripture and try to pick out which soil I represented. My hope was that I would be the fertile soil. Then something happened today as I read this parable – I realized that I had all four soil types on my spiritual farm.

In the last 60 years I have accumulated a lot of spiritual acreage. Like a farmer in the natural realm, we work different parts of a large land holding based on the needs of each particular soil type. For those of you thinking I am copping out to having sin in my life, I am not. I love God, love my wife and don't want anyone to die because they crossed me. I repent daily and make heart adjustments. But maybe at age 60 I am finally realizing that I don't have it all together all the time and I need to understand what that means. This is the pressing that comes in times of intense spiritual formation.

As I look at my life I see places that used to be fertile ground where I have allowed other things access to and they have beaten a hard path across my once fertile field. I look at another section of my life where I have allowed myself to become shallow by seeking the dim and lesser things of this world. Nothing lasts long in that patch. The third parcel of my spiritual life is overgrown with thorns and I feel their choking influence as I become consumed with the “what ifs” of life. And finally, and thank God for this, there still remains patches of fertile soil from which I can compare all the others and demand that they yield to the fertility of His presence.

For the places I have allowed hardened footpaths to develop I need to limit access to who and what crosses my field. For the shallow places where I failed to go deeper, I need to allow God to take me into that ground and deal with any fear or shame that might arise on the way to freedom. For the thorn-infested places I need to pull these things up by their roots and not settle for a weed-whacker form of Christianity. And for those places of fertile soil I need to ask God how it became fertile in the first place and do more of that kind of work in all the other areas of my spiritual farm.

If you are like me, and going through a time of intense spiritual formation, God is wanting to do a work of fertility within you. To prepare the field of our lives for the supernatural seeds of His Kingdom, God needs to show us the condition of our soil and those images are not always pretty. From the parable of the sower we see that God is secure enough to throw some of His precious seed into the fields of my life that are not yet ready, and through the painful process of death and resurrection of that seed, He will create in us a heart that is fertile and inviting to His presence.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

"Critics and Crisis" by Garris Elkins

It seems that in each season of breakthrough two things show up - critics and crisis. At our best we will never be able to please all the people all the time. It can be a rude awakening for some to realize that not all people agree with them.

The critics, for the most part, do their critique behind closed doors. This kind of criticism is fueled in private without you being present. This criticism will grow and remain unchallenged until it is discovered. Once discovered it must be challenged in love. Unless dealt with it will spread like a cancer without the “medicine” of truth to confront it. Small groups of “friends” can gather around this kind of criticism and require of each other an alignment with their point of view. An emerging crisis of relationship begins to develop because it is being fueled by this cancerous criticism. This kind of battle is based on rules of engagement from the kingdom of this earth, not the Kingdom of Christ.

In the book of Judges there is a re-occurring theme. Israel walks in sin and God sends judges to expose their sin and call them to repentance. After these confrontations with their national sin Israel would repent and begin to live in peace. Before long Israel would return to their sin and the process would start all over again.

A man named Jephthah emerged as a judge over Israel. In one instance he was dealing with the king of the Ammonites over a land dispute. When Jephthah delivered the word of the Lord to this king the king paid no attention to what was said. As a result, Israel went to battle with the Ammonites and destroyed them.

Jephthah spoke to the Ammonite king before the battle and said, “Let the Lord, who is judge, decide today which of us is right – Israel or Ammon.” Judges 11:27.

This word delivered by Jephthah to the Ammonite king would not be confirmed in its delivery – it would be confirmed in battle. Every word of the Lord has a battle where it will be confirmed. Where and how we choose to do battle has a huge effect on the outcome and confirmation of God's word in our lives.

God is the only one who can righteously decide and define true victory. Even in a time of criticism those being criticized have something to learn from their critics. If you find yourself in the midst of a season of critics and crisis it is time to look again at the battle armor of a New Covenant believer and to make sure those protective coverings are in place.

We are called to stand fully armored and let God fight for us. This battle is fought from a stationary posture. Paul described this battle armor in Ephesians 6 as the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shoes of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation and the sword of God's Word.

Taking a stationary posture in battle does not mean that we don't speak the truth in love and confront sin. This means that we speak from a place of truth, righteousness, peace, faith, salvation and God's Word. We don't let the battle draw us into the battle. In this kind of warfare we evaluate our words and our response to our critics through the filter of our Spirit-empowered armament.

The weapons of our warfare are not drawn from the armory of this earth. These weapons are imported across the border between heaven and earth. These weapons look powerless to the natural mind, but they are what God will use to bring down the spirit of criticism and turn the crisis into victory.

Critics bring to their acts of criticism all of their unresolved sin, brokenness and limited observations. These unresolved issues create a lens through which they view you. We all do this. Sometimes these critics can even bring an element of truth hidden within their criticism.

What you and I can do is to step into a supernatural level of trust that hands the outcome of our crisis, and the critics themselves, over to God. None of this is personal even though it feels deeply personal. He loves your critics as much as He loves you. God's victory will always look different than what we have planned because our plan has personal vindication at its core. God's plan it different - it brings Him glory.

When we allow God to decide “who is right” a sense of rest comes because we are not expending our thoughts and energy on the preservation of our self-image. This kind of rest is deep inside our soul where the criticism and crisis cannot do battle once we close the door to their entry. This kind of rest is a spiritual resistance that confounds the real enemy (the enemy is not people) and puts him to flight.

A prayer for those under the weight of criticism in the midst of crisis might be-

"Lord, this criticism hurts. My wounds feel overwhelming. I don't understand why this is taking place. I want to run to the battle and scorch my critics with words of self-vindication. Forgive me. I ask you to first examine me before I examine others. See if there be any hurtful way in me. In this crisis I want you to do another battle within me in those private places of my own pride and fear that this crisis has brought to light. I choose to rest in knowing you will decide who is 'right.'”