Thursday, December 22, 2011

“A ‘Bass-Ackwards' Approach to Ministry” by Garris Elkins

As a young boy during the summer break from school my dad used to take me along to help out on his construction sites. Dad built houses and he also owned a house moving company. I was always working each summer.

Dad would assign a project to me and then go elsewhere on the job site. Upon his return there would be times dad would say, “Son, you got that one ‘bass-ackwards’.” That famous line meant I was doing something in the reverse order of how it should be done. He would show me my mistake and then share the remedy. He wouldn’t do the work, he simply showed me how to undo the “bass-ackwards” nature of my first attempt.

If dad were here today he would look at how some of us pastors do the ministry and he would say we are turned around. He would say to return to Ephesians and read chapter four again and recognize that our job is to “equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church…”

In fact, dad would go on to say that the growth of the Church is never the pastors responsibility. God grows things that really last. The people you have equipped and built up are the ones who will share their faith and help lead others into a living relationship with God. They will be the ones who invite people to a community of faith to experience spiritual growth and maturity.

I think dad’s view about the “bass-ackwardness” of a young boy’s construction jobs applies to church leadership today. Do your best to equip and build up God’s people. When we make this decision to reorder how we see the ministry, our levels of stress and performance will diminish greatly. The things of life and ministry will then naturally reposition themselves in a healthy God-order that won’t be so “bass-ackward.”

Thursday, December 15, 2011

“The Desires and Dreams of the Heart” by Garris Elkins

When God created us in His image He did not create us to look like Him physically. The Genesis account was the creation of a people crafted from the very nature and attributes of God. God’s “DNA pool” became our source of life.

When the image of that original work of creation was deformed through sin, the Father sent His Son, Jesus, to birth again His nature and attributes in a people who would eventually become the Church.

God is fully sufficient in Himself.  When God created humanity, He did not create us because He needed us - we were created because He desired us.  Need is a lesser reality than desire because need is defined from a perceived lack.  God created His children with no need or lack in mind.  He created us from His sufficiency.  His creation flowed from His perfect and pure desire.

For us to be truly human and to have a healthy relationship with God and others, we will have to walk in the higher virtue of humility.  In this humility we acknowledge that our sufficiency can only be found in Jesus, the only One who is complete and self-sustaining.  With this understanding our identity begins to take shape around the Person of Jesus Christ.

As a child of God, our greatest discovery will be our true identity in Jesus.  We will always need the companionship and friendship of Jesus who sticks closer than a brother.  This relationship with Christ is the only need of the Church. The Holy Spirit comes alongside this relationship and mentors us and brings us the love and comfort we so desperately need.  Having been made complete in Jesus, we begin to reflect God’s nature by having our needs met only in Him.

Jesus said in Matthew 6 to not worry about our everyday needs like food, drink or clothing. Jesus said in verses 31-33,

31 “So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ 32 These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. 33 Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.”

When our focus is on meeting our needs, or the demand that others meet our needs, we will build a vocabulary and a life of worry in response to our perceived lack.  Jesus said that if we lived this way we would appear like unbelievers.
Belief cannot be limited to a set of doctrines and theologies about God.  There is a deeper form of belief.  This deeper understanding of belief will reveal what we understand or don’t understand about God’s love. Belief can be translated to mean, “entrust”. When we believe in God we are entrusting ourselves to Him. 

What makes focusing on our needs so devastating is that it kills our potential to dream. If we continually worry about the provision of our basic needs, we will never move our focus beyond need into the realm of dreaming with God about those things that seem impossible in the natural. Dreams die when our lives are consumed with the worry that comes from trying to live only within our human potential, instead of God’s supernatural provision.

When we were made one with God, through Jesus Christ, the very desires of our heart had the potential to reflect the same desires that reside in God’s heart. This is possible because the Holy Spirit – God – lives within us.

Psalm 37:4 says, “Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you your heart’s desires.”

Psalm 37:4 says that once our focus is on the Lord – delighting in Him – then our heart is in a place to actually desire the same things God desires. We must “take” our delight and deposit it in God.  If our delight is placed elsewhere, then our desires will be birthed from the limitations of our own self-provision or from a kingdom that stands in direct opposition to God.  In the end, we will begin to worry like an unbeliever because we have disconnected ourselves from a place of trust.

Matthew wrote in 6:21, “Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be.”

Verse 21, speaks of a heavenly storehouse that is not vulnerable to what is taking place on earth. Recessions and Depressions cannot touch God’s goods. I used to think this only meant we are making deposits that will be withdrawn in eternity. In the last few years I have come to realize that when Jesus asked us to pray that His will be done “on earth as it is in heaven,” He was saying that what is stored up in heaven will also begin to rain down upon us in this life when we pray in faith. Heaven will come to earth.

This kind of prayer draws upon the desires of God’s heart. The only things that will fall to earth from heaven when we pray are the desires of God’s heart, because the only things resident in heaven are His desires. This is what a miracle is – a desire of God’s heart falling from heaven to earth. When we delight in the Lord and His goodness, God will give us the desires of His heart.

Our goal is that each of us would begin to hunger for the very desires within God’s heart. This kind of life is surrounded by a peace that is beyond our ability to fully comprehend because it finds its delight and dreams in the heart of God.

Monday, November 28, 2011

"2012 - Carrying Promise into the New Year" by Garris Elkins

Recently, in a public worship service the Lord revealed an image to me for the coming year. I saw the Church represented as a single person, walking forward and carrying a large bucket in each hand. As we, the Church, approached the line that marked the passing of 2011 and the entrance into 2012, the Lord spoke and said, “Pour out the contents of 2011 and refill your buckets with promise for the coming year.”

Turning the buckets upside down, we proceeded to pour out the contents of the passing year upon the ground. When empty, we began refilling the buckets with words of hope and promise for the coming season.

Then the Lord said, “These are the kind of promises that my servant Paul wrote about to the Church in Ephesus – these are promises beyond your ability to imagine. These are promises birthed from My imagination. My imagination for you has no boundary or restriction.”

We continued to walk forward with buckets now filled with promises for 2012 and beyond. The contents in our buckets started sloshing around and even spilling on the ground. We then crossed the line marking the entrance in to the New Year. As we walked into this new dimension of time, the Lord spoke again and said, “Now pour out these promises upon the soil of your family, your church and your city. I have planted supernatural seeds in the ground for this New Year that are not visible to natural sight. My seeds are thirsty for the water of My Word. 2012 will be a year of germination for things you thought were long dead. My seeds of promise are waiting and groaning for the word of faith you now carry. Pour out your buckets upon the New Year.”

As we began to pour out words of promise upon the bare ground, seeds not seen in the natural began to burst through the earth and reveal themselves. The water level in these buckets remained full even though the contents of the buckets were being poured out. It was like the feeding of the 5,000. A small child’s lunch became a feast through supernatural multiplication. The more the buckets were poured out the more they were refilled.

It is time to empty our buckets of fear and doubt from our past. What we carry without faith and hope are stagnant buckets that do not reflect God’s heart for us. New promises are being revealed. God is also asking many of us to review the promises He has made to us in past seasons. Some of these promises are so distant and buried in so much pain that they will be hard to retrieve or even reimagine. Go after these promises. Find them and fill your buckets with His words of hope once again. God will also begin to pour into your bucket those things of His heart, those Ephesians 3:20 promises, that are beyond your ability to ask or think. These promises, once watered, will sprout and fill your field with works beyond your imagination in the coming year.

2012 will be a year of supernatural surprise. You will say, “I don’t remember this promise. I don’t remember planting that crop.” God is about to show us the depth of His love in ways not yet realized in our imagination.

Today, empty your buckets of all fear, doubt and sorrow from past years. Don’t wait for New Year’s Eve to do this. Enter a time of worship today and allow the Spirit to speak through you and proclaim His Word and heart of promise into your bucket. Walk confidently into 2012 – pouring out your filled buckets into your field of promise.

Monday, November 21, 2011

"The Fire Department Came Tonight" by Garris Elkins

I enjoy Thanksgiving. As a young man growing up in Campbell, California, Thanksgiving Day meant two things - the annual Thanksgiving Day football game between my high school, Campbell, and our rivals, Los Gatos High and our family Thanksgiving dinner. What made the game really enjoyable was the thought that after the game mom's great turkey dinner was waiting for us. Besides wonderful dinners with family, I also love the thankfulness people explore during this time of year. Thanksgiving is a great set-up for the Christmas season.

Thanksgiving Day is still four days off. It is Monday morning and my computer clock is reading 3:01 a.m. About 1:15 a.m. this morning I was awakened from a deep sleep by a strange and unusual noise in the house. The ex-cop in me went into action. I was up and on the search. When I opened the bathroom door in our bedroom, thick smoke billowed out. I hit the lights and saw smoke coming from our electric water heater. I yelled to Jan to call 911 and get the Fire Department rolling.

When the Fire Department arrived and made sure all was well, we found out that our old water heater had been leaking for some time and this leakage had caused a short in the electrical unit and started the fire. Evidence of the burn marks from this small fire traveled up the outer shell of our water heater. What is interesting is that earlier this week we had actually called our plumber to replace this very water heater because it was no longer putting out enough heat to take a really nice hot bath.

When the Fire Department made sure the fire would not re-ignite, they departed. Our bedroom still has that lingering electrical fire smell that will take a few days to leave. We are alive. There is no structural damage and the house is still here.

After the fire personnel left Jan and I stopped and thanked the Lord. We were glad - glad we were not away at work. Glad we were not on vacation when this happened. Glad for the small, isolated nature of the fire. Just plain glad.

Then our "gladness" became thankfulness. We were thankful to be alive and still have a home. This year our thanksgiving preceded our Thanksgiving Day festivities.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

"The Badge of Honor" by Garris Elkins

We’ve all had experiences that change us forever. A life-changing experience for me was spending almost ten years behind a badge as a police officer. For the last 30 years I have worked in various ministry roles, both here and abroad, and these years have been profound, but I have never forgotten the deep impact of those early years in my 20’s when I worked as a police officer.

I remember the day I raised my hand and was sworn in to uphold the laws of the State of California and to honor the badge that would be handed to me as soon as the ceremony was over. The badge of my department had a physical weight, but it also carried a heavier weight of honor and duty.

The moment my swearing in ceremony was over my perception of the world around me changed. I was now a police officer. This shift in perception changed how I looked at a crowd of people or a man standing on a street corner or whether a person’s hands were in their pockets or out – everything changed because surviving in police work required what is called, “Situational Awareness.” I was now aware of things I had not seen before because my safety, and the safety of the community I served, depended upon my ability to see life through the lens of a protector.

It took several years after leaving law enforcement before I could sit in a restaurant with my back to the front door. Each person who entered the restaurant would be assessed to determine his or her threat level. This is the nature of survival. Survival tactics were drilled into each new police officer. If you didn’t live in this awareness, your life and the lives of those around you could be in jeopardy.

I have been asked a question many times over the years since I left police work, “Isn’t the ministry a lot different than police work – how were you able to make the transition?” My response has sometimes produced confused expressions on people’s faces when I say, “No, it hasn’t been difficult - they are a lot alike.” They are similar because of shared issues like authority, power, service, protection, etc.

Police officers are like any other group of people in many ways, but vastly different in others. Soldiers in battle have a sense of camaraderie and brotherhood that is shared with police work. When your life depends on another person to do their job, you want to make sure you honor their life by doing your job to the best of your ability. I have told people the thing I miss seeing in the church world today is that unity that was expressed when, as police officers, we faced a life and death situation. When a cop or a soldier is fired upon, all the other cops or soldiers risk their lives to save their friend who is under attack. Disunity and a lack of honor in our church ranks can force us to retreat from the very conflict God has asked us to engage.

Honor for a believer means that we choose to look past the failures and insecurities of the people in our lives and choose to look at them as God sees them. As believers we share a dual-citizenship - both here on earth and in heaven. We are living here on earth, but we are also living in Christ at the right hand of our Heavenly Father. Honor invests in words and actions that express an understanding of the heavenly citizenship people have in Christ. Honor creates a people who will fight to not let another person settle for a lesser image of themselves than the one God has.

As my years in law enforcement went on, I found myself given the assignment of an FTO (Field Training Officer). I loved this job. As an FTO, I would be given an absolutely green rookie and asked to train them to become a fully functioning police officer that other cops could depend on.

My ability to train others was many times sourced in my own failures as a young cop. With each training subject I taught, the transfer of knowledge was released through open and honest conversations about my own failings. As a young rookie cop would look to me for direction, I wanted him to know that in order for him to become the officer his department and community expected, he would need to understand a functional definition of honor. Honor must move beyond theory to become action.

I tried to instill many things into the rookies under my care. The three issues that seemed to be at the top of my training list were Covering, Communication and Conditioning.

The Honor of Covering

During my first week of my own training as a rookie cop I felt completely lost. My FTO was my lifeline to reality and survival. I wasn’t sure what to do in each and every circumstance. One night during my first week of training, as we worked the late swing shift, we pulled into a closed gas station after hours and two guys took off running from behind the building. My FTO was out of the car in a flash and I just sat there. After a couple of minutes he came back.

As my FTO approached the car I could see he was upset. He sat back down in the driver’s seat next to his completely confused rookie and began speaking in a very loud and strong voice, behind a shaking index finger pointed right in the middle of my face. “You never sit in a patrol car when your partner bails out to chase a suspect. You never leave me uncovered again like that – you got it!” I did get it and for the rest of my police career I stuck like glue to anyone I worked with and demanded the same from my trainees.

Honor covers people. One of the most striking examples of this in the Word is found in Genesis 9 when Ham went in to his father’s tent and saw Noah drunk and passed out from drinking too much and then went outside and “uncovered” his father’s condition before his brothers. The brothers, instead of walking in to look at their father’s nakedness, walked into the tent backwards and covered their father’s moment of shame.

When we cover another believer we are not called to defend their words or actions – those words and actions are to be defended by the one who spoke them. We are called to stand before broken brothers and sisters in Christ in a posture of covering honor and give them the time they need to become whole once again. This kind of honor could mean that you and I may step into harm’s way and put our reputation at risk to cover someone’s brokenness. This honor of covering each other may even shift our circles of fellowship because a false honor requires an alignment with dishonor that a person of honor cannot agree with.

Police officers have a phrase about covering each other in dangerous situations where multiple threats surround them, they say, “I have your back.” Our “back” is that place where we are the most vulnerable and defenseless. One of most powerful experiences we can have in our journey through life is to have other believers move in and cover our backside in times of personal weakness.

The Honor of Communication

Right after I was trained, I was released to be a beat cop all on my own. I loved the freedom of this new assignment. I enjoyed getting ready for duty each day and stepping into my patrol car and going on the hunt.

There is a lot of information to remember as a beat cop. You have it drilled into you to know exactly where you are at any given moment in case something takes place that requires a response to a specific location. After awhile it becomes second nature, but in the beginning you can forget some things.

One day, as a newly minted cop, early in the shift I stopped a car for a traffic violation. As was procedure, we were trained to activate our outside speaker so that our radio dispatchers could relay vital information to us during the car stop.

On this particular day I forgot to re-activate the inside speaker when I returned to my patrol car and left the outside speaker on. I went about my duties oblivious to my mistake. It must have seemed strange to members of the community to have a police car driving through their neighborhood with the outside speaker blaring. I sounded more like an ice cream truck than a police car.

After about 30 minutes, I began to realize how quiet the radio traffic had become. The stillness was nice since I was still trying to get my head around this new position as a beat cop and the quiet allowed me some time to gather my thoughts. As I drove through the city, I turned in front of a building and heard the echo of the outside speaker bounce the voice of the radio dispatcher off the wall. Then I got sick to my stomach as I looked down at my radio console and saw my mistake and realized I had broken communication.

As the radio now came back to life inside my patrol car, I heard, in horror, the dispatcher coordinating a multi-agency police search for a lost patrol officer – me. Car stops are some of the most dangerous things a cop can do. When you can’t find an officer who was just out on a car stop a worst-case scenario is imagined. I heard concerned officers letting dispatch know that they had just finished searching their assigned grid and found no officer.

After a few moments of similar radio transmissions from baffled cops, I knew I had to fess up. I picked up the radio microphone and told the dispatcher what had happened. Every other cop for miles around, inside my department and outside in the other assisting agencies, heard me acknowledge my dumb rookie mistake. One after another, I heard officers let the dispatcher know they were going back to their regular duties. I was completely humiliated, but I learned something that day and it never happened again to me. To lose communication cuts us off from those we are connected with and will cause us to also lose the benefit of their support.

Honor means that you and I best serve our own lives, and the lives of others, by remaining open to hearing the voice of God. We can never allow ourselves to be put in a place where we switch off the voice of God – we owe it to each other, in honor, to stay in communication no matter what we think God is saying. Whenever we shut ourselves off from the voice of God we end up driving around uninformed and someone will have to leave his or her normal duties to come and search for us.

The Honor of Conditioning

I used to stay in top physical condition when I worked as a street cop because if I didn’t I might not return home alive at the end of my shift. Without on-going physical conditioning two things happen to a police officer – someone else has to do your job for you and you become a liability to those around you.

Many times I would see out-of-shape cops escalate a situation to a higher level simply because they were not able physically to handle what was happening to them. Instead of being able to take care of someone with their bare hands through simple grappling techniques, they would escalate the situation to a higher level than was inappropriate for the threat. Some of the strife in the Church today is because we are out of shape spiritually and escalate minor events into major ones.

The issue of conditioning was connected to my desire to honor my fellow officers. We had a gym and weight room in our department locker room. Many of us tried to stay in shape for reasons other than the obvious health benefits. I stayed in shape to honor the wives and kids of other cops who would have to visit a hospital or attend a funeral if I allowed myself to become a weak link in the survival chain.

We owe it to others in God’s Kingdom to stay in shape spiritually. If we start eating spiritual junk food and fail to live in the daily exercise of faith, we will become a liability because we are no longer doing what we should faithfully be doing as an act of honor and love. Some of this sounds harsh, but in the real world of failing marriages and ministries, we can’t afford to let our guard down and get sloppy and try to live without immediate acts of forgiveness, repentance and humility. Otherwise people will get injured, or worse, they can die spiritually.

The Kingdom of God is not a social event – it is a tactical operation. The strategy of God is already in place. God gave us the Great Commission as His strategy for transforming the kingdoms of this world. Strategies are executed through proper tactics. Each of us needs to seek God for how He wants us to tactically implement His Kingdom strategy in our particular setting. Our contribution to this deployment is to be a reliable and functioning member of the Body of Christ walking daily behind a badge of honor.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

"The Challenge of Identity" by Garris Elkins

When I lived in Berlin, Germany an appointment was arranged for me to meet an elderly man at a café in Potsdamer Platz. Potsdamer Platz is an iconic area in the city of Berlin that was devastated during World War II and was then occupied by Communist East Germany throughout the Cold War. Today, it has been rebuilt and is one of the most urbane and architecturally beautiful areas in the world.

The man I was to meet was unique. Prior to World War II he was a child growing up in the nation of Germany before the Nazism of Hitler had fully arrived. When Hitler took power he became one of the Hitler Youth that were the paramilitary corps of young boys and girls from which Hitler would source his Nazi war machine. When the war was over this man lived behind the Berlin Wall in East Berlin where he came under the strong hand of Communist rule in the gray and drab colors of godless Communism. As we sat at our café table he was now living in a free and democratic Germany in a wall-less Berlin. He had lived within four very different identities as a German citizen.

As the two of us sat there in Potsdamer Platz we sipped our espresso and exchanged small talk. A mutual friend who was one of the correspondence secretaries for the first President Bush arranged our meeting. After about an hour of conversation this dear man made a comment I will never forget. He said, “At this age I am not sure who I am. I began my life as a German. Then I became part of the Nazi Youth Movement. Then I was forced to become a Communist and now I live in a unified and democratic Germany. Who am I?”

In the years that have transpired since that meeting in Berlin, I have come to understand this man’s confusion over his identity. The reason I understand his confusion about identity is this - not a week goes by when I don’t struggle with mine. I also see others in this same struggle.

Each of us needs to possess an identity that will move with us through all the changes we experience in this life. That identity cannot come from this world – it must come from the greater and more stable reality of eternity. The identity of a follower of Christ is not gained by an education, professional accomplishments or by doing a lot of right things. This is what Peter wrote in I Peter 2:9 when he said, “You are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people.” God had to make his people into what Peter wrote about. God chose our identity for us.

When Paul wrote his letter to the church in Ephesus he said that we are seated with Christ in heaven. This is not some future position, it is current and now. It is not something we gain by our own efforts. This position, and its resulting identity, is a gift from God to us the moment we came into relationship with God through Jesus Christ.

For a believer in Christ we are new creations of God. The “new” is so radical that the new person God created in Christ has never been seen before. Our identity appeared for the first time on earth the day we said “yes” to the offer of salvation in Christ.

We have been reborn as saints, no longer “sinners saved by grace.” This new identity is in us and before us, not behind us. God had to make us saints. We couldn’t do enough right things to gain this label. It is a gift of God’s grace. We are also realistic saints who have come to understand that we can still sin. But something has profoundly changed. Our default setting is no longer set on sin, but rather, upon a new identity in Christ that is free from sin. We take captive every thought that raises itself up in an attempt to rob us of who God has declared us to be.

Our new nature is far more powerful and transforming than the old one that still lies to us and tries to motivate us through shame. Our new identity is eternally secure and not diminished by whatever we go through on this side of heaven. That knowledge gives us the peace to endure the labels placed upon us by changing culture, politics or the personal failures that cross our paths in the journey of life.

Over the years I lost contact with the old German man I met in Berlin. I am guessing he has passed away. He provided me with a real desire to know who I am independent from the capricious circumstances of this life. Once we know who we are in Christ we can endure the upheaval and change that so often visits each life. We can also endure those foolish moments where we are tempted to believe the lie that says if we can just get it all right that God will love us more.