Saturday, January 29, 2011

"Who Do You Say I Am?" by Garris Elkins

We are at the beginning of an outpouring of God's presence that insightful voices are defining as the Third Great Awakening. This is an outpouring that will require us to be specific in our faith if we are to move in concert with the Holy Spirit. Heaven is waiting for the Church to profess our specific desire for Jesus' appearing in very clear and defined terms. Faith that is not specific has no testimony because it is a faith without risk.

When Jesus asked Peter the question, “But who do you say I am?”, Jesus was not asking Peter this question in the comfort of a living room or in the lobby of a church building. This question was asked in Caesarea Philippi, an area at the extreme northern end of Israel, almost at the border of Lebanon. Jesus had a reason to trek to this location to ask this profound question.

Caesarea Philippi had been a center of worship of false gods for thousands of years. The road leading to Caesarea Philippi was lined with shrines and idols of all the known false gods of the day. Roman, Greek and pagan gods stared at the disciples as Jesus led them into this region. In this area are the headwaters of the Jordan River. Mount Hermon rises nine thousand feet in the distance. Caesarea Philippi was a significant place.

In Caesarea Philippi there is a huge rock grotto that was dedicated to the worship of a false-god named Pan. Into the mouth of this grotto, Israelites sacrificed their children as they worshipped Baal. A huge rock wall rose above the opening of this cave-like natural space. Chiseled into this rock face were the nooks and openings where statues were placed representing every false god and political leader of that time. It was in this backdrop of religious and political powers that Jesus asked Peter, “But who do you say I am?”

Matthew 16: 13-17 reveals the conversation that took place that day between Jesus and Peter.

“When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” “Well,” they replied, “some say John the Baptist, some say Elijah, and others say Jeremiah or one of the other prophets.” Then he asked them, “But who do you say I am? 16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah,the Son of the living God.”17 Jesus replied, “You are blessed, Simon son of John, because my Father in heaven has revealed this to you. You did not learn this from any human being.”

With all the world powers and false gods looking down upon Peter from the rock wall above, Jesus asked Peter this question. Jesus was pressing Peter to define the image of Who He was to Peter in a very personal way.

Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” This was an accurate answer and one that still applies today, but this answer was also very specific as it related to Christ's ministry in that moment of history. Jesus was talking to a Jewish man and the word “Messiah” had a significant meaning to Peter and to the Jewish nation.

Years ago I remember a very popular Christian wall poster titled, “I AM”. This poster was multi-colored and contained some of the descriptive names of Jesus. These names appeared on the poster in descending order revealing Jesus as, “Prince of Peace, Mighty God, Wonderful Counselor, Holy One”, etc. The poster contained over 30 names for the Lord drawn from the scriptures. This poster is a collectors item today.

The name of Jesus is supernaturally powerful all by itself. When Peter was taken before the Council in Acts 4 to answer for the healing of the lame man at the Beautiful Gate he commented on this powerful name;

Do you want to know how he was healed? Let me clearly state to all of you and to all the people of Israel that he was healed by the powerful name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene.” Acts 4: 9-10. In Acts 4 Jesus was depicted as, Jesus the Healer. His acts define His name.

When Jesus took the disciples to the northern most region of Israel I wonder if they might have asked each other along the way, “Why are we walking all the way up here?” This hike took several days to complete over dusty and difficult terrain. This question required that its answer be given in the unique context of Caesarea Philippi. Peter was asked this question with all the systems of darkness surrounding him and looking down upon him. His answer would declare that no matter what he faced in the coming days as he returned to Jerusalem that nothing, even his personal failures, would have power over his life. Death itself would soon succumb to the name of Jesus – Jesus, The Death Overcomer.

God has recently taken many believers to the farthest regions of their faith. This trek has been long and challenging. This has been a time of testing and, in some cases, doubt and discouragement. Could it be that God has brought you to this place and positioned you in the midst of all the world has to offer, so you can make a declaration about Jesus?

God brings us to these unfamiliar places to ask us a similar question, “Who do you say that I am?” How we answer is critical. If answered correctly, our answer will have a God-purpose attached to it that we will carry us into the future with expectancy. Our answer can literally change our entire perspective on life.

Who do you need Jesus to be at this time in your life? Do you need Him as your physical healer, then define Him as Jesus, My Healer. Do you need Him to be your provider, then call Him Jesus, My Provider. If you need Him to restore a relationship then call Him, Jesus, My Restorer. Invite a well-defined Jesus into your circumstance and your circumstance will begin to yield to His presence.

Recently, my wife Jan had a lot of things on her plate. Her to-do list was larger than normal. As I was writing this article, Jan said to me, “I was feeling overwhelmed early this morning at all the little things I had to do. I did not want to begin anything and just felt too tired. I thought about what you had just spoken concerning the words of Jesus, 'Who do you say that I am?' In my heart I heard 'The bright, Morning Star' and 'The Faithful One.' I responded, 'Jesus, You are the bright, Morning Star and the Faithful One.' Immediately the heaviness lifted, the tiredness was gone.”

Our lives are waiting for our profession of a clearly-defined Jesus. Life can feel like the formless void on the day of Creation. On that day all the elements were waiting for the Word of the Lord to come and bring order and assemble each of them around what God had spoken.

Jesus told Peter that the revelation of Who He was did not come from human intellect or speculation. Jesus was defined for Peter by the Father, “You are blessed, Simon son of John, because my Father in heaven has revealed this to you. You did not learn this from any human being.” Peter heard this revelation from the Father and repeated it to Jesus in response to His question.

This kind of revelation is available to every Christ-follower because our Father has done everything in His power to insure that we hear His heart for our lives. The revelation of Jesus is waiting in heaven to be downloaded upon the earth and it is available for each of us in this unique time in human history. We will not receive this truth from the false gods and political agendas that surround us, rather, we will receive it from God, our Father. This revelation is ready to be released into our lives by the confession of our mouth. Our words, birthed from the very heart of God and empowered by His Spirit, will transform how we our see our future and how we respond to the present.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

"Don't Be Caught Using 'That Word' in Public" by Garris Elkins

I've noticed that some people get upset over certain words. I'm not talking about coarse vocabulary or cuss words, but words that trigger an emotional kind of anger. These words can be political, religious or cultural. Recently, a radio talk show host told people to leave churches where leaders were using the words, “Social Justice.” Jesus would have been in trouble in that kind of church.

This morning I was reading in Acts where the Apostle Paul had returned to the city of Jerusalem and went into the Temple. Some Jews from Asia were in Jerusalem and saw Paul in the Temple. They got upset and wanted to run him out of town. As a result of this incident the entire city was up in arms. Paul was dragged before the local authorities and questioned about his activities. Paul began to explain himself to his accusers. Everything was fine while Paul described how he helped in the prosecution and murder of Christians. In the text the following words were uttered by Paul and then the entire atmosphere of the city changed:

21 “But the Lord said to me, ‘Go, for I will send you far away to the Gentiles!’” 22 The crowd listened until Paul said that word. Then they all began to shout, “Away with such a fellow! He isn’t fit to live!” 23 They yelled, threw off their coats, and tossed handfuls of dust into the air.”

In verse 22 the phrase, “The crowd listened until Paul said that word”, jumped out at me. The word that started all the problems was the word, “Gentiles.” The Jews did not like Gentiles and for them to think the Gentiles would be included in the plan of God was unthinkable and anyone who thought Gentiles were loved by God should be run out of town. It seems a lot hasn't changed in 2,000 years.

We all have a “that word” in our vocabulary. These are the words that send us into religious orbit. When we hear “that word” we distance ourselves from the people who either use “that word” or hang around people associated with “that word.”

In Paul's day, some of the Jews weren't getting the message that God was out to save the world. He loved Jews and all the other races called Gentiles. When Paul used the word “Gentile” they lost it and said this would be their beachhead on truth. These Jews from Asia sat down on their theological haunches and refused to move beyond “that word.” In the meantime, God was expanding the Gospel into the Gentile world and these people were going miss it.

Our culture, and sometimes the Church, is filled with a “that word” mentality and this can cripple what God wants to do in His people. Here are some words that might fall under a “that word” definition; Democrat, Republican, Gay, Straight, Pentecostal, Evangelical, Reformed, Feminist, Southern, Left-Coast and anything else you could imagine.

One has to be careful that this “that word” issue doesn't do to us what it did to those Jews who freaked out over the word “Gentile.” Our point of resistance can become a barrier that keeps us from seeing that God is working in the very people you and I would distance ourselves from because they fall under a group heading defined by “that word.”

Friday, January 21, 2011

"The Open Heavens Above Us" by Garris Elkins

In some circles of the Church-world people talk about open heavens. These open heavens are where God is visiting earth in a visible way and the things of heaven are falling in their midst, like healing, deliverance and supernatural encounters. I like to hear stories of heaven invading earth. Testimonies of God's supernatural work in our lives are powerful and release faith.

Lately, I have come to feel that we don't need to pray for the heavens to open up because, at the resurrection of Jesus 2,000 years ago, He literally pierced the heavens above us as He ascended. Those heavens are still open today. One reason why Jesus rose from the dead was to give us access to the heavenly realm.

If I believe the heavens are open over my life, I will step out in faith in response to that open heaven and actually pray for someone to be healed or for my neighbor down the street to know God. Where people believe God has made everything available for them now, those same people will take the risk of faith and begin praying bold prayers, because there is no ceiling of hindrance above them that needs to open.

If heaven is really open above the Church, and if we really believe this, then something will have changed in our thinking and we will no longer pray for something that has already been done. It's like praying for our daily needs - Jesus said to not pray for our daily needs.  Our needs have already been met. Maybe a similar understanding applies to how we see the heavens over our heads. God wants us to see the heavens as open and to stop praying for what has already been done.

The heavens are truly open above us. God is looking for people to walk under those heavens in faith, downloading His healing word through the open access we have with eternity.  

Monday, January 17, 2011

"Something is Missing in Missional" by Garris Elkins

I recently posted the following on my Facebook wall:

"Missional" is a buzz word in church leadership circles. According to the Book of Acts, is it possible to be 'missional' without a visible demonstration of God's supernatural signs and wonders?”

I asked this rhetorical question with an answer in mind – No, it is not possible to be fully missional without the inclusion of signs, wonders and miracles in our definition.

Some people who read my Facebook posting understood the word “missional” and others were left scratching their heads. I don't blame them for scratching their heads. I still scratch mine from time to time. Church leadership likes new words that describe ancient functions of the Church. The word “missional” most likely migrated out of a seminary setting and has been a topic of discussion and refocus for the church in recent years. It is a good and needed conversation.

A missional definition can end up being rather large depending on where you come from to arrive at your definition. For me, I need something simple.

Missional contains, at its root definition, the word “mission.” This mission, to live out the message of the Kingdom of God upon the earth, is carried by the missionaries of the message - the followers of Christ. The Church is designed to live and function as the incarnated presence of Christ upon the earth. This is the Great Commission.

This kind of ministry is bi-lingual – it speaks the language of God's Kingdom in words that are hopefully understood by the hearers. Missional speech is not wrapped with religious language. Being missional is learning how to contextualize the message of Jesus Christ in a way that the people you want to reach can understand and interact.

Missional language becomes all things to all men. This language is intended to take place outside the walls of the institutional church where it has been held captive and made ineffective. Truly missional Christianity doesn't require people to peel back layers of religious-speak in order to get to the core message of biblical Christianity.

The following excerpts are not exhaustive, but provide elements of a missional definition from some notable teachers in this discussion.

Ed Stetzer said, “I think perhaps the common thread through all the variations “missional” would be the concern that churches have become inward focused and self-concerned and have given up the missionary nature of the Christian and the Church. “Mission” isn’t just a program or something some of us do, but something we are and something we’re all called to do as it reflects the characteristic mission of God.”

Alan Hirsch, another strong voice in this conversation, rightly relates that the Church is incarnational, rather than solely attractional. Attractional models build an event or program and invite the community to come – people are attracted to the Gospel by the event. Incarnational models, on the other hand, go out into the community and become God's ministry in flesh among the people.

Hirsch tells us that we do not have to come to some “sacred space” to see what the incarnated Gospel looks like. The Gospel can be seen at the local supermarket because a believer is standing in the check out line sharing the love of God with someone. Hirsch also teaches that the Church is messianic. Like Christ, we walk into the world without walls of separation. Christ walked right into culture and brought the love and power of God center stage.

Hirsch defines the function of the Church as apostolic, rather than hierarchal. In this apostolic community the ministry structures are not vertical – they are lateral across the board releasing the function of the five equipping gifts listed by Paul in his letter to the Ephesians.

I appreciate these men and what they bring to the table. Their study and passion makes me want more. There are many others saying the same thing with the same passion. In this missional conversation I have found places where I have been dulled into insensitivity to the world around me. I have been challenged as a believer by listening to others.

These are not new conversations. I have been leading in the Church for three decades. Missional conversations, with other descriptive labels attached, have surfaced throughout Church history. These needed conversations of our mission are simply rediscovered from time to time to keep us focused on the pure and undiluted essence of the Gospel.

During my growing up years I was part of Presbyterian, Methodist and Baptist churches. I am now part of a church movement (Foursquare) that some would describe with words like, Pentecostal, Spirit-filled or Charismatic. In many ways these defining terms are themselves, outdated. The Kingdom is always expanding and with that expansion our definitions will need to expand. Denominations and ministry affiliations no longer fully define any of us.

My Pentecostal, Spirit-filled or Charismatic orientation is an element I bring to this discussion. All definitions contain elements from our various backgrounds that make up the whole of who we are as human beings.

I write today to those in the missional conversation to say we are missing a critical element in the definition. We are missing the supernatural works of God. If we are truly going to walk in the incarnational ministry of Christ upon the earth, we will need to express His life in its fullness to the world around us. Without the supernatural element demonstrated by Jesus in all four Gospels, that includes signs, wonders and miracles, our missional definition will become incomplete and not fully incarnated.

As we build a missional mindset, create a sense of community, touch those in need and reach out beyond the restrictive walls of our church buildings, we will come into contact with frontiers of darkness. Our ministry models are the vehicles that take us to people in need. Once we arrive at dark frontiers of human and cultural brokenness, these frontiers are only breached by a supernatural demonstration of God's power. Demons and disease don't give way because we have developed a kind and sensitive community in touch with our history. To continue our conversation about what is missional without an expanded definition that is drawn from the purity and fullness of what we read in the Gospels or the Book of Acts, we will be left ministering in a partial definition of what it means to be truly missional.

Missional is doing what Jesus did. He forgave. He restored. He cast out demons. He experienced supernatural encounters. He healed the sick. He fed the hungry. He confronted religious systems. He ate in people homes. He forgave people caught in sin and pointed them towards their destiny. This is what it means to be fully missional.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

"Words That Gather Life" by Garris Elkins

When a believer prays with the authority and power of Jesus Christ, our prayers have the ability to change the environment into which we are praying. Because we are God's children we carry a creative familial voice that can replicate the sound of our Father's voice.

On the day of Creation God spoke into the void, His voice was the assembly point for the elements to come and form the earth we walk upon. His Word gathers and gives form to what was previously formless.

For example, when we speak a prayer into the life of a child whose life is in disarray, our prayers provide an assembly point for God's Truth to begin to work against the embedded lies of hell. Many parents fail to recognize that none of their prayers for their children pass through the child. Our prayers take up residence in a child's life and begin to work in concert with the Holy Spirit.

Proverbs 18:21 says, “The tongue can bring death or life.” What we say or pray will gather the elements of a life or situation around it for either life or death. There are huge consequences to our words and prayers.

In one season of my life I was under tremendous pressure. This pressure was the kind that comes just before supernatural breakthrough. In these times our lives can feel extremely fragmented. Into this fragmentation God whispers truth that we have an opportunity to respond to.

In this particular time of testing I had began to speak words that contained no faith. I was speaking out of my pain and sorrow. I would have been embarrassed for anyone, other than my wife, to hear what I was saying. As this season went on I knew I needed to stand against the words that were coming out of my heart and finding expression through my mouth. I confessed my sin and my lack of faith then the Lord gave me a picture of what He was doing.

In this image I saw the Lord standing behind me. As I began to speak those lifeless words I saw Him swing a large shield around in front of me while He still stood behind me. The shield was placed between my mouth and my circumstance. The words coming out of my mouth struck the back of the Lord's shield and could not go any farther.

While looking at this image I realized what was taking place. The Lord, by an act of great mercy and grace, was shielding my life from the words of death I had spoken. I learned that day that the shield of the Lord has two functions. He was protecting me until I understood fully what I was doing and He was also protecting my future. I realized that God would not do this forever. He was giving me a chance to go to the root of my pain and put it to death through confession and repentance. I thanked Him for His patience with me and began immediately to filter my words to resemble God's heart, not my pain. My words had now become assembly points for the blessing of God instead of a self-created destiny of fear and death.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

"Walking, Talking and Praying Temples" by Garris Elkins

In Matthew 21: 13 Jesus said, "My Temple will be called a house of prayer." In this scripture Jesus is dealing with people who had turned the physical Temple into a merchandising center that cheated and demeaned people and misrepresented the heart of God. This upset Jesus so much that He knocked over tables and threw money around to clear the facility of the sin that was talking place.

Over the years I have heard pastors use this scripture to appeal to their people to increase the level of prayer in a church. I have done this. I have heard this text used to define the ministry of a church. Again, I have done the same. None of this is wrong, but I think we have missed a deeper point.

The physical Temple no longer exists as the center of God's activity. People used to come into the Temple to do the things God commanded. The Temple was a location people entered to interact with God. The residue of that thinking still exists within the Church. I love sacred space, but if Jesus were to step into our pulpits today He would correct something we have missed about real sacred space.

After Jesus rose for the dead, and the Spirit took up residence in a people now defined as "the Church", we became the temple of God upon the earth. Paul referred to this new temple when he wrote to the Church in Corinth, "Don't you realize that all of you together are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God lives in you?" I Corinthians 3:16

To answer Paul's question, I am not sure we fully understand this reality of being God's temple on earth. God is not impressed with the temples we build here on earth called "church buildings." What moves God are the human beings He created in His image that now walk upon the earth carrying His presence. We are the new temple structures. We are mobile houses of prayer, not the brick and mortar facilities that keeps up warm in the winter and cool in the summer heat and sit atop immovable foundations.

I believe in prayer inside church buildings. We do this in our church here in Medford, Oregon and I believe it is powerful, but there is something more. On this side of Pentecost, each of us is now that "house of prayer" Jesus talked about. We don't have to wait for the pastor to call us to pray under a roof. We are the walking, talking and praying temples of God upon the earth and sometimes all of God's temples come together in a building and we pray and that is something good and we call it a prayer meeting.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

"Jump-Starting Life and Ministry" by Garris Elkins

Several years ago I was in Indianapolis for a training event and had the pleasure of having lunch with Bob Logan. Bob is well-known in church circles for developing leadership training and church planting materials that are considered some of the best around.

During one of the lunch breaks I sat at a table with Bob and several others. As the lunch conversation continued I asked him a question. “Bob, what advice do you give to individuals or organizations who are in decline – how do you help them get moving once again?” I asked this question knowing that Bob is very gifted in evaluating the effectiveness of corporations and his advice is utilized with great confidence.

Bob's answer was interesting. He said, “The first thing I ask is this, 'What was your original vision.'” He went on to say that most leaders can recite their vision in great detail. Bob would then ask a set of questions to determine if the leaders were still functioning in their original vision. Within plateaued or declining corporations or ministries there was a common reality - each one had stopped doing the very thing that brought them life in the first place. They had ceased doing their original vision.

Bob then shared a deep nugget of truth with me, “Each time a leader rediscovered their original vision, and began to do it once again, in each case, without exception, they began to move forward and grow.”

When those words of wisdom were shared I sat there wonderfully stunned by what I just heard. The lunch conversation continued to move around the table, but I was still processing the words, “in each case, without exception”.

When God does an original work in our lives there is more going on than something new and refreshing. In these times foundations are being built and vision is being realized. The first workings of God in our lives and ministries is the fleshing out of a DNA structure that will carry us into the future of our calling.

My wife and I had a recent discussion about our 30 years of ministry. We realized that during the first few years the foundational truth of what we had been called to do was formed within us. Times of personal renewal and redirection that have taken place over the last 30 years have always centered around the rediscovery of that original DNA and reengaging it. At this point in our lives we are living out those basic truths in deeper and wider applications that many years of service can bring. Our vision for life and ministry may be deeper and wider now in its application, but it is all based on the original truth revealed to us in the early years of our calling.

What did God give you as a vision or direction when you first began whatever it is God asked you to do? Are you doing that now? If not, chances are some of your life has either plateaued or is in decline. You might be scrambling for a new word or some fresh concept to grasp. Maybe your answer for a jump-start to your life and ministry is already in your life and simply needs to be revisited, redefined and reengaged. Go back to the beginning and take a new look at an old word and then new life will begin to flow.