Friday, December 28, 2012

“Crossing Thresholds” by Garris Elkins

One of the most stress-filled things I have ever done was being an entry man on a SWAT team.  Entry men were the first members of the team to breach a door and cross the threshold of a house to gain entrance. We never knew what was waiting for us on the other side of the door.

Before making entry the team would gather around the doorstep of the house and then kick in the door.  My fellow entry man was taller than me so he went high and I went low.  If there was going to be any altercation it would be in those moments right after the splintered doorframe flew across the room and five heavily armed SWAT team members entered the house to make an arrest.

How you crossed the threshold would determine if you lived or died.  It was serious business and is literally a science in the world of police tactics. Our goal was never to get to the other side and bring death.  Our desire was that through superior tactics whatever we encountered on the other side would yield to our presence and life would be spared.

It has been many years since I was a member of a SWAT team.  At this age, I would get myself in trouble if I tried to do what my youthful strength allowed back then.  Over the years I have come to realize that all of life is filled with thresholds that can produce life and death depending on how we prepare to make the crossing.

As I process the coming New Year, I want to share some of the daily thresholds I cross and what I do to make sure that in the crossing I bring life and not death to those I greet on the other side. I have not been perfect in what I am sharing, but it has been a life goal of mine to try to do this well.

Here are several of my daily thresholds:

As each of us awake in the morning our first conscience thoughts are powerful and can direct the course of our day unless they are captured.  It is too easy to wake up and let a stressful calendar or a scheduled meeting with a difficult person set our initial tone. I want the first thought in my mind to simply be the words, “Thank you, Jesus.” I am not thanking God out of fear that I lived through the night.  I thank him simply because I am alive in him - again. This first threshold is crossed with thankfulness.

I am usually up first.  As I exit the bathroom in the darkness sometimes I will hear Jan rustle in bed.  I let her choose to respond first so as not to awaken her.  When she hears me and the dog walking towards the bedroom door she will usually say, “Good morning.”  My first words to my wife in the darkness are, “Good morning – I love you.” This threshold is crossed with tender recognition.

I set the coffee maker up before I go to bed. I like this arrangement because in the morning all I have to do is hit the brew button on my way through the kitchen in route to my chair where I will have my morning devotions. When I arrive in the living room, I kneel at my chair and say the same thing each day, “This is the day the Lord has made and I will rejoice and be glad in it.” I add a few more lines to this prayer, but these first words from my mouth link my day with rejoicing. I cross this threshold by choosing to have an attitude of joy.

A few years ago Jan and I began taking communion together each day.  It has been the most profound devotional time for us as a couple. It only takes a few minutes.  We use unleavened bread and pour some port wine into a special chalice and remember him together.  Our time of communion is many times filled with confession and repentance. At other times we cross over praying for our kids or the church. This threshold is crossed as we choose to remember him.

Each day, as I turn onto Roberts Road and see our church facility a few blocks away, I ask God to pour out his Spirit upon me and our staff so that we can accomplish his plan for the day. What God wants to do each day can only be accomplished in his power. This threshold is crossed when I remain dependent on God.

A block or two before I arrive home I do a quick review of my day and see what I need to unload on God before I get home and unload on Jan.  Sometimes this is a prayer of repentance and other times it is simply choosing to be thankful for the person and home to which I am returning. The threshold is crossed by not forgetting that I have been given the gift of returning.

The Bible says to not let the sun go down on our anger.  For most of the year there are several hours between the setting of the sun and when we finally go to bed.  Hours of unresolved anger and bitterness can ruin an evening with our family. Crossing this threshold means engaging how we really feel and choosing to turn off the TV and computers and getting things right so that joy, not sorrow, is the atmosphere of our home.

Crossing this threshold is where we discover if we have been honest with each other throughout the day.  Years ago I made a commitment that each night, when the lights went out and we entered our bed, I would say, “Good night – I love you.”  If I have any difficulty saying those words to Jan the light comes back on and we deal with whatever it is that is robbing us of peace.  Crossing this threshold each night requires uttering my commitment and being willing to deal with my pride.

Crossing thresholds is something each of us does multiple times every day.  Many times we find ourselves allowing our emotions or the painful events from our day to direct these crossings.  We have the power of choice.  We can choose to do these crossings differently and arrive on the other side healthy, alive and more in love with each other. 

For the coming New Year make a resolution to investigate how to better cross the daily thresholds of your life. It will make the threshold of the coming New Year something to anticipate.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

“Turning Cheeks” by Garris Elkins

For years, I have heard some of my brothers and sisters in Christ appealing for a totally non-violent approach to life.  I like the idea and wish somehow this could be our reality in every circumstance.  I dislike the thought of having violence as an option in life.

One of the most beautiful and challenging sections of scripture is the Sermon on the Mount.  Jesus nails all of us in this discourse.  He dismantles all the religious games we play with each other trying to make everyone think we have our act together.  In that message Jesus was telling his followers to stop trying to fake everyone out with their attempts at self-righteousness.  

No one gets a pass with Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus said if we look at a woman with lust we have committed adultery. If we get angry with someone we are a murderer. If we curse someone we are guilty of hell. Nailed. Everyone. You and me, included.

In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus also said if our offending eye causes us to sin, gouge it out.  If our hand causes us to sin, cut it off.  This is radical stuff.  Jesus also said, “If someone slaps you on one cheek, offer them the other side.”

I have noticed there are a lot of Christians out there with two good eyes and two good hands.  It seems they might not be taking Jesus too literally.  There appears to be in all of us the ability to be selectively obedient.  We have the amazing ability to select how we choose to obey God’s Word and then make sure everyone else does it our way.

Recently, I heard someone say that a Christian should always turn the other cheek if attacked.  As they spoke I noticed they were looking through two good eyes.  I am guessing they had lived a perfect life and never looked at a member of the opposite sex with lust.  I am also guessing that neither of their hands ever did anything harmful to another person.  They seemed very intact as they lectured the other person.

As this conversation went on this person demanded the other Christian lay down their right to self-defense in any form. I found it ironic how talented we have become in telling each other how to live. We can even find scripture to back up our point of view.

In the Sermon on the Mount, when Jesus made all these bizarre comparisons, I think he was really saying, “Would you be willing to live this way? For the sake of my kingdom, would you be willing to dislike the way you looked at that woman in lust so much that you would pluck out your eyes?  Would you be so repelled by the way you touched another person you would be willing to cut off your hand?”

Jesus wasn’t asking us to pluck out our eyes or cut off our hands.  He was asking if our love for him were so passionate that it would appear this radical.  Thankfully, we have no evidence of Jesus’ first followers plucking or cutting anything. If that were the requirement to follow Jesus I would have lost both my hands at age two and both eyes during the early stages of puberty.

Regarding the turning of our cheeks to a violent act, I think the Lord was asking this question in the same vain as the questions he raised about offending eyes and hands.  Would I be this willing for the sake of his kingdom?

I get nervous when we make a One-Size-Fits-All-Jesus and apply him to a One-Response-Fits-All-Circumstances. This lesser image of Jesus has been used to validate things Jesus never intended.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

"The New Killing Fields" by Garris Elkins

It doesn't take long to explore our social media sites and realize in some areas of the Internet you can find conversations that resemble "The New Killing Fields." These are places where we conveniently destroy another person by accusation and narrow personal perspectives.

Letting blood on the Internet has become a "clean" form of interpersonal murder.  What makes this form of death so easy is that from a distance we don't feel the victim squirming under the blade of our accusations and we don't feel the warmth of their lifeblood as it flows out of our relationship. A computerized distance from our victims can give us an ungodly freedom to slash.

The term “Killing Fields” was made infamous by the massacre of hundreds of thousands of people in Cambodia by the Khmer Rouge in the 1970's. Under this brutal regime if you did not agree with the dictates of the government you were warned. On your second warning you were sent to “Re-Education” camps where you were put to death. The dead were buried in mass graves. It was brutal. People visiting this region today continue to discover bones of the original victims.

Anyone with a computer can go on the Internet and find scores of people willing to speak death to fellow-Christians and even to entire movements within the Church. We have to ask ourselves a question, “In the future, will the words I speak today create a legacy of death that someone will discover in the future or will my words create a legacy of honor and restoration giving people life and freedom?”

Paul warned us in Galatians 5: 13-15:

“Use your freedom to serve one another in love. 14 For the whole law can be summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 But if you are always biting and devouring one another, watch out! Beware of destroying one another.”

Our freedom was never given to us to destroy another believer. Our freedom was given to us to love the Body of Christ into wholeness with our words and actions.

Today, some are washing their hands in public of those within the Church with whom they disagree. In some instances this hand washing is an attempt to distance themselves from what they disagree with in hope they will not be aligned with "the other side" of an issue. It is actually too late. We were all once broken and separated from God, but now we are one in Christ and covered by the same blood. When I try to kill you with my words I am actually killing myself.

This is not a day for words of death that distance me from other believers – this is a day for defining what real love is all about and engaging people with words of hope and postures of honor.  Honor declares words of destiny while standing between broken believers and the ones who are bringing accusation. We are not called to defend the words or actions of another person.  People who say and do foolish things can defend themselves.  We are called as the Church to stand in unity speaking the words of Christ to each other so the world will see that what we profess is real.  This may be the revival the world is waiting to see.

Friday, December 14, 2012

The Killing in Connecticut

As I think of the killings in Connecticut my soul has been sickened hearing the cries of mothers and fathers. This has reminded me of a time recorded in scripture at the birth of Jesus when hundreds of little boys were senselessly murdered in Bethlehem by Herod who was trying to destroy Jesus. Matthew repeated a prophecy from Jeremiah which was written 600 years earlier describing the emotion of those killings, “A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.” Love cannot be killed by bullets. Fear is not the victor over Hope. Today, speak wisely and patiently. Trust that Love will find a way in all of this sadness.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

“Partial Plans” by Garris Elkins

In the early 1990’s I was trained as a church-planting coach.  I was also trained to interview prospective church-planters, conduct assessment interviews, coach pastors and help existing churches set up regional church planting strategies.  Much of what I learned during that season has served me well over the years in the different assignments the Lord has given me.

At that time I was into the techniques and procedures of planting churches and had fully adopted those systems into my ministry.  Much of what I learned was good, but after awhile I began to get stale. 

In the midst of this staleness my wife and I were sent to Europe to work with churches and leaders helping them fulfill God’s call in their lives and ministries.  In retrospect, we realize now that God was rescuing us from ourselves.  While in Europe, God reconnected us with some of the elements of our Spirit-breathed history.  This reconnection happened because in Europe we had none of the familiar support systems we had back home.  In order to do what God had called us to do it would require from us a new and fresh dependence upon the Holy Spirit.

Jan and I had allowed ourselves to fall into the predictable rut of doing this wonderful thing called “church” without a dependence upon the Holy Spirit.  We had learned how “to do” church well – the American version. Our church planting vocabulary at the time did not include words like, “miracles, signs and wonders” even though this is the history of the church movement to which we belong.  We were executing a church-planting plan, but it was only a partial plan.

The turning point for me came when I heard a testimony about Leslie Keegel, the national leader of the Foursquare Church in the nation of Sri Lanka. Over the years, Leslie and his national team have planted hundreds of churches.

Leslie said that a pastor from the United States was visiting him. They were walking through a city together when a miracle and a church plant happened all at once.

On this particular day the Lord prompted Leslie to pray for a crippled man on a street corner. The man had been there for a long time. Everyone in the city knew of his very visible condition.  Leslie turned to the pastor and said, “The Lord just told me to heal that man and plant a church here.”

The pastor watched in amazement as Leslie walked over to the crippled man and commanded his healing.  The man was instantly healed and rose to his feet. A crowd numbering in the hundreds gathered around the healed man in great excitement.  Leslie began to preach to the crowd and then gave an altar call.  People were saved and then he announced latter that evening – on that very street corner – a church would be planted. That night a pastor arrived and a local church was birthed.

When I recall the testimony of Leslie Keegal I am reminded of Jesus sending out his first disciples giving them authority over the powers of hell.  He sent them out empowered by the Spirit to accomplish God’s will in the cities they would visit.  They would heal the sick, raise the dead and cast out demons. There was no other model provided.

It amazed me that twenty years ago, I was part of a process where we would train and equip church planters without the mention of a supernatural component. We focused primarily on human skill sets. Today, as one surveys the earth where the growth of the Church falls under the heading of “Revival”, there exists in these locations a prominent place given to the supernatural component of signs and wonders in their church planting effort.

My own church movement – the Foursquare Church - prophesied in the late 1980’s a church-planting goal in the United States of “2,000 by 2,000”. We have never reached that goal. Checking our website today, I find that we now have 1,700 churches in the United States– less than we had when we first prophesied our goals 25 years ago. I had to ask myself, “Is anything missing from the mix?” We have had excellent speakers.  We have educated ourselves. We have studied new methods, but still we continue to decline.

Just this year our national leadership took a courageous step to ask some hard questions and review our apostolic heritage under the ministry of Aimee Semple McPherson. These leaders are making a statement by their choices that during their watch they are not willing to let us continue sailing into decline. I am proud of these leaders for not kicking the proverbial stone down the road into another generation.

I think it is a mistake to attempt to plant churches without including the biblical component of signs and wonders in the development of our strategies.  I think, instead of planting churches, our first planting goal should be the planting of God’s Presence.  Leslie Keegel planted the Presence through a miracle of physical healing and as a result of that supernatural manifestation of God’s Presence a church was birthed.

It is too easy to throw away either side of this issue.  We can camp in our procedures and church planting techniques and not include the supernatural component or we can throw away all the elements of wise church planting and camp only on the supernatural side.  It’s not an either/or issue.  Leslie Keegel modeled both and so should we.

At the time of the miraculous healing in Sri Lanka, Leslie had a cadre of pastors already trained and ready to go and simply brought one of them to the place where the Presence was at work and released him to plant a church. This is how an apostolic ministry of “sent ones" functions.

Our cities lay crippled at the feet of the Church. They are crippled by disease, by demonic powers and by the lies of hell.  These kinds of things don’t come out by our finely tuned Sunday services or because we gathered once again to study the Bible in a local coffee shop.   Powers of darkness that hold cities captive only come out when the Church moves in the power of the Holy Spirit.

A few years ago, I had the privilege of having an email conversation with Jack Hayford about the working of God’s Spirit within our Foursquare Churches.  Like a father helping a son see the bigger picture, Jack shared with me that he did not understand why some pastors do not make room for the Spirit to move in their public gatherings.  He went on to say these same pastors were raising up a generation of young leaders who were also not moving in the things of the Spirit, not because they don’t want to, but simply because they have not seen it modeled.

Today, I was processing all of this during a time of prayer.  In my prayer time some questions came to mind.  I wondered what would happen in churches across America if in our next national gathering we put aside our plans and simply started all over again?  What if we decided that for our time together we would linger in long sessions of worship while we prayed for the sick in our aging ranks? What would it be like to set captive pastors free? What would it be like to actually see the Book of Acts work itself out in our current context?  Do we really need another good sermon?

2,000 years ago Pentecost broke out in the midst of a group of believers locked away in fear in an upper room. God wants to do the same thing today. Maybe the next generation of leaders, the ones to whom we will someday give the reigns of our current leadership role, would have seen something new. Maybe the next generation of church planters would begin to include in their future church planting plans the component of a supernatural work of God along with all the other skills of church planting we have practiced.  That would be a wonderful heritage to leave behind.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

“Seeing Jesus in a Different Form” by Garris Elkins

When I was in Bible College in early 1970’s, I attended a very conservative institution that has changed for the better over the years.  I can still remember buying a plastic covered scripture reference note sheet that had one section titled, “Problem Scriptures.”  These problematic scriptures were ones the author felt were not intended for the Church today. These  “not for today” scriptures had to do with God healing people, miracles and the gifts of the Spirit.

Ten years after Bible College, after walking away from all things church, my wife and I had birthed two children and felt it was time to reconnect.  We began our search where we were living in the southern Willamette Valley of Oregon. 

As a then committed “not for today” person, I found it odd that I felt myself reacting in a negative way to church after church we visited who were preaching this same “not for today” message.  The first three churches we visited went into great detail affirming that what happened in the Bible was somehow locked in the history of the Church and unattainable today because some professor in their Bible College said so.

I was fed up and disappointed with our search and I told Jan, “I am done looking for a church.”  In great wisdom Jan said, “Can we try just one more?”  I agreed and much to my horror she mentioned a church in Eugene, Oregon called Faith Center.  I heard some wild stories about that place.

On our arrival at Faith Center I was immediately drawn to the honest passion these people had for God.  I loved how they focused on Jesus and not all the foolish arguments about secondary issues I had been hearing for the past few weeks.  We stayed, got touched by God and were eventually sent out from Faith Center to plant our first church in Montana.

As the years have gone by I have come to realize that Jesus appears in many different forms.  Some of the ways He appears will actually violate our current understanding of Him.  Most of our concepts of God are formed by our personal history and preferences and have little to do with a realistic picture of his life.

In Mark 16:12, Mark is describing the incident where the disciples were walking along the Road to Emmaus sorrowfully discussing what had happened with Jesus.  Verse 12 says, “Afterward he appeared in a different form…” These disciples were only seeing Jesus in the past tense so Jesus revealed himself in the present moment and joy filled the disciples hearts.

In verse 14 another scene is described where some disciples are locked away behind closed doors in fear. To them, Jesus is dead and gone. Jesus then appears to them in another form - in his resurrected body - and rebukes their unbelief.  This time they were filled with joy and wonder as Jesus revealed himself in a different form.

In both cases, on the Road to Emmaus and behind locked doors hiding in fear, Jesus had to appear in a different form in order to get the disciple’s attention and confront their disbelief. Jesus did this when he appeared to me in a different form at Faith Center and healed my broken life.

This issue has been a challenge in the Church for the last 2,000 years.  Whenever Jesus comes in a form different from what is familiar to us we can start talking like the new form can’t be from God.  We label it, “not for today” or “this is not of God.”  In the end, these ways of thinking can cause us to hunker down in our religious foxholes and focus our theological gun sights on anything that approaches our lives challenging the status quo.

The Early Church father Augustine said something profound about 1,600 years ago that still makes sense today. He said, “In the essentials unity; in the non-essentials liberty and in all things love.”

A danger in the people of God today is that anyone can appear like they know what they are talking about if they have Internet access and begin to parrot someone else’s opinion. It must be true if it’s on the Internet – right?

Most of these Internet and YouTube sparring matches are over what Augustine called the non-essentials.  The non-essentials are things you don’t go to hell over. These non-essentials are made up of our preferences and opinions and they end up defining our closed circles of fellowship.

I remember the first pastor’s conference I ever attended.  I had been pastoring for a grand total of three weeks when I left my sweet wife and two kids in a new and unfamiliar town in Montana and drove by myself all the way to Portland, Oregon for the conference.  I walked around the conference in an innocent and wide-eyed amazement at simply getting to be present and have someone call me “Pastor.”

During one afternoon session a very well known pastor got up and shared a great word.  As I took notes, I hoped that someday I could have about 1/10th of this man’s wisdom.  The next speaker got up and I could tell he was not happy.

This second speaker went on to publicly disagree with the first pastor’s position on the Second Coming of Christ – even before he began to preach on his given subject.  I think the first man was a mid-Tribber and the correcting pastor was a staunch pre-Tribber.  That was a hot-button issue in those days.  I felt uncomfortable and wondered why this man was acting the way he did at this wonderful pastor-party. He was manifesting the “not for today” way of thinking that can attach itself to anything we disagree with.

That day at the pastor’s conference I learned a valuable lesson.

          The same truth can be seen from two different angles.

My angle is not better than yours – it is simply different.  We are both looking at the same beautiful object and yet we are viewing it from different positions.

Years ago a pastor, who was new to our area and was going to take the leadership of a local church, wanted to meet.  My secretary made an appointment for us for the following week. 

A week later, after we introduced ourselves, our conversation progressed along in a wonderful way.  We talked about our families, the beautiful Rogue Valley and God.  We talked for about an hour when, for some reason, the subject of women in ministry came up.  I voiced how excited I was to see women released to do whatever God asked of them and how I enjoyed their perspective as they taught the Word of God.

It was like someone had changed the atmospheric pressure in the room.  This smiling-faced pastor went stern.  From his leaning-back-on-the-couch posture he leaned forward and said, “Having a woman teach a man is in the same league as saying that salvation can be had apart from Jesus.”

I was stunned.  I had to ask him to repeat what he said.  He repeated it, but this time around he provided even more emphasis. I felt gut-punched.  Our conversation stumbled on for a few more minutes and then we parted ways.  I never saw him again. He is no longer pastoring the church he came to lead. I wish him well wherever his is and hope he is seeing life and ministry from a different perspective.

That day in my office I learned another valuable lesson.

          What we think we know absolutely is not always absolute. 

That dear brother had narrowed God down to such a small field of focus that if Jesus ever dared to show up expressing anything feminine that he would have been labeled as “of the devil.”

When Jesus gave us the Great Commission he wasn’t giving us the fine points of our personally interpreted views of theology.  He was giving us the essentials of the faith that need to remain intact in order for us to be considered the Church. These essentials are found most clearly in the simple and profound creeds of the Church. There are not as many of these essentials as some people think.  

In all the years I have been following Jesus I have come to realize there are a lot of non-essentials.  We need to give each other some slack with these or they can kill our agape love and show the world that the Church is not really worth investigating.  Jesus didn’t get into the non-essentials. He left those with us to struggle together in love in order to find some common ground. This is where humility plays such a huge role in the health and vitality of the Church.

Jesus has always been in the business of showing up in another form than we are familiar with and in his arrival confronting our unbelief. As I mentally scrolled through the scriptures I saw Jesus do this a lot.

He appeared…
-       As the Creator at the creation
-       As the great I AM who spoke to Moses from a burning bush
-       As the Rock that gushed forth living water in the wilderness
-       As a baby in a manger
-       As a 12 year old boy in the Temple going about his Father’s business
-       As a carpenter’s son in his unbelieving hometown of Nazareth
-       As the first prophet of a New Covenant
-       As a drunk and demon-possessed cult-leader to the Pharisees
-       As a teacher to those who wanted to learn
As a problematic revolutionary to the Roman Government
-       As a healer to the diseased
-       As an impotent false prophet hanging on a criminal’s cross
-       As a brother to his brothers
-       As a son to his father
-       As a miracle baby to his mother
-        As the resurrected Lord to those who arrived at the tomb

How Jesus appears to us will depend on the condition of our hearts.  How we perceive those who come in his name will also depend on the condition of our hearts. Jesus may look very different in each of his manifestations, but he will always be the same yesterday, today and forever. He is both the same and different. This is why we have to be careful if we ever find ourselves saying “not for today” or “this can’t be of God” because the lesser images of God we have created by our non-essential ways thinking may be the very thing he is coming to heal.

"Predictions of Hope" by Garris Elkins

With the Mayan Calendar promising an end to life as we know it on December 21, and with the current condition of the world going through its normal cycles of life and death, it is easy for some to allow their hope in Christ to be hijacked by the doom-forecasters.  

I would like to assure you that God is the One directing the events of our world.  During this Christmas season make a choice to reaffirm your hope and trust in God while others continue to craft their response to life around hopeless and fearful predictions.  

I do have a prediction to make. I predict that on December 22 you and I will realize, once again, that Jesus is still Lord and He remains worthy of our praise and trust.

Monday, December 3, 2012

“2013 – The Joseph Anointing” by Garris Elkins

2013 will be a year the Church begins to experience the release of a Joseph Anointing. This Joseph Anointing will be like the story recorded in Genesis when God called Joseph from a pit to a palace to help Israel and the surrounding nations survive a coming season of famine. God is releasing this anointing upon his people so we can become a supernatural blessing of wisdom and resource for the nations of the world.

Joseph was a pivotal figure in the history of Israel.  God called Joseph to stand in the gap for Israel between desolation and their future destiny. Joseph came to this position bringing nothing with him.  He was thrown into a pit and left for dead. He was then taken out of the pit and sold into slavery by the very people who should have loved him – his brothers. After being falsely accused of a sexual assault, he was put in prison and stayed there until God raised him up to a place of prominence and authority as second in command to Pharaoh.  Through all the heartache and hardship he experienced, God never abandoned Joseph.

In the Book of Genesis, where the events of Joseph’s life are recorded, I noticed three components of his anointing – Dream Interpretation, Apostolic Administration and Reconciliation. These components can function through a single person or they can be released through a group of believers functioning with a common vision. 

The Strategic Placement of Dream Interpreters

Dream interpreters will rise in prominence in this anointing.  Both in prison and in the courts of Pharaoh, it was Joseph’s ability to interpret dreams that gave him audience with those in authority. Some of the people who will have these dreams hold positions of governmental authority and others work in the highest levels of the corporate world where normal routes of access to them are restricted.   The dreams of these individuals, and their need to understand them, will become the bridge that connects these dreamers with those gifted with God’s interpretation of dreams.

The Rise of Apostolic Administration

There will be a release and recognition of the supernatural aspect of the administrative gift.  Some see the gift of administration in a lesser light than God intends it to be seen. There will be a rising up of Administrative Apostles.

In Potiphar’s house, in prison, and before Pharaoh, the administrative gift in Joseph was the gift God used to release his blessing to the nations.  The detailed administrative plan Joseph shared with Pharaoh became God’s supernatural provision and solution to Pharaoh’s dream.  It provided the structure that the nation of Egypt and the surrounding nations needed to survive during a famine. 

Reconciliation of Nations through Families

After experiencing deep personal pain and rejection, Joseph was willing to make a way for his family to survive the famine. He did not allow his painful personal history to be a roadblock to what God desired to do in his family and as a result the nation of Israel was spared from starvation. 

The provision of physical needs was a vehicle God used to bring restoration and reconciliation to Joseph’s family and to Israel.  Joseph’s anointing was able to flow because he was willing to reconcile with those who had wronged him.

One of the greatest hindrances to the moving of God’s Spirit in the midst of God’s people is the unwillingness to release an offense.  Reconcilers take practical and tangible steps towards reconciliation no matter what the cost. Reconcilers initiate plans for healing and restoration.

Joseph wept as he reconciled with his family - this is the heart of a reconciler. Behind each act of familial reconciliation there stands a city or a nation waiting to be set free.  Israel and the surrounding nations endured a severe famine because one man was willing to reconcile with those who had wronged him.

As the Lord processed this word and the coming year with me, he went on to reveal how this anointing would function:

As I chose to record the works of my servant Joseph in a book about new beginnings, so my Presence in you will become a place to birth a new beginning. This anointing will bring a Genesis experience to my Church.

I am forming in you a place of supernatural provision.  I have put my Presence in you to become a silo of abundance resembling a farmer’s silo that stores grain for a future planting.  Like Joseph, you will come to this place of provision bringing nothing with you, except my Presence. It will be from the depths of my Presence in you that I will draw out this blessing for the nations.

This anointing will not be a work of addition, but of supernatural multiplication. I will birth this in you like I did when I multiplied the loaves and fish that fed thousands. My provision will flow from what appears to the natural eye to be a place of nothingness. It will become a miraculous provision that will surprise not only those who receive it, but it will surprise my people. You will say, ‘Where did this come from? How did abundance come from nothing?’

I will draw the nations to you as I did to Joseph when I repositioned him in Egypt. They will come for a survival provision, but I have more planned than just their survival.  I will use you to bring them into their destiny. 

The Joseph Anointing will turn a famine into a feast; a lack into a gain and a set back into a leap forward.  The nations will see that I am in your midst.  Set the tables – a feast of provision is coming.”

Finally, the trials and issues you have faced in your life have been used by God to position you for the greatest impact.  As Joseph spoke to his brothers, the Lord will also speak through you to those who have stood against you in the past.  As you are anointed and released you will be able to say, like Joseph,  “God has sent me ahead of you to keep you and your families alive and to preserve many survivors. So it was God who sent me here, not you!” Genesis 45: 7-8

“Creating Apostolic Community” by Garris Elkins

Creating an apostolic community requires more than just reading good books on the subject or having discussion groups at the local Starbucks.  Creating this kind of community requires providing traction points that will actually initiate change. This kind of cultural shift will eventually touch every area of our lives and ministry, and if initiated and facilitated properly, will provide the traction needed to move us up the hill into the high ground of our preferred future.

Recently, in the church movement I call home – the Foursquare Church – our leadership took the bold step to revisit who we are historically as an apostolic movement birthed under the ministry of Aimee Semple McPherson. I am proud of our leadership for taking these first steps.  This decision required courage and vulnerability.

As church movements experience the passing of strong, apostolic leadership, like an Aimee Semple McPherson, those who follow and assume the role of leadership may or may not be apostles themselves.  Organizationally, this change of gifting is not a hindrance to developing an apostolic church structure. As long as an apostolic environment is affirmed and honored, and apostolic leaders are allowed to rise, God can accomplish his will in any group, association or denomination.

Initiating an apostolic community will test our existing thinking and challenge our current systems. There are typically three directions one can take at this juncture:

1.  We can PROTECT the past at the expense of the future.

Historically, movements have gathered around a common theology or shared experience.  This gathering has created ways of thinking and ministry that focus on protecting our theology and our experience against any future threat that challenges our historic reality. 

This mindset gathers people to its way of thinking and then builds defensive systems to protect against a challenge of the historic status quo.  Living inside this protective box begins to lock-up the potential and vision of an individual, a church or an organization.  An apostolic leader will push people and organizations beyond their current zone of comfort to experience what God has planned for each generation. All of this is done under apostolic leadership without violating the essential truth and doctrines of the faith. Apostles help the Church differentiate between the essentials and non-essentials of our calling.

2. We can IGNORE the issue and carry on with business-as-usual

What can make this organizational shift towards an apostolic environment so difficult is when we define how we “do church” as sacred and see any challenge to our self-defined sacredness as a threat.  These perceived threats are either marginalized or eliminated.  In some cases, the very message God wants to deliver was within a person or idea we considered threatening.   

Apostolic thinking gathers around mission instead of preferences.  They gather around the mission of bringing heaven to earth that is expressed in the fullness of the Gospel of the Kingdom.  This Gospel of the Kingdom is multi-faceted – it is a body, soul and spirit Gospel that ministers to all dimensions of the human experience.

Just as the natural body is constantly in a process of change and flux in order to stay alive, so it is with the Church.  Ignoring the signs of decline in any area of the health of our natural body will lead to sickness and disease and even death.  In the Church, ignoring the signs of sickness in any area of our spiritual Body will lead to dysfunction and disease. Apostolic leadership requires frequent Body-physicals to ensure that what we are doing is producing life and not assuming that continuing to do the same thing unexamined will bring the promise of life in our future.

3. We can ENGAGE a process of adjustment that aligns us with our future

The change required to align us with authentic apostolic community will hinge on how we choose to see ourselves.  This personal reassessment will require an adjustment in our thinking before we can see correctly.  Correct thinking will change the lens through which we see our assignment and calling. 

In my Foursquare church family we have functioned under the Godly influence of many strong pastoral gifts.  Some of these pastoral models have also been apostolic as they functioned within the Foursquare Church.  Names like Jack Hayford, Roy Hicks, Jr., Ralph Moore and Wayne Cordiero would fit this definition. These men saw something beyond a single view of the Church.  They saw a larger Kingdom image and some of what they saw has brought us to the very conversations we are having today.

In the Foursquare Church, where we are revisiting this conversation, I am not sure re-titling our pastors is necessarily the answer.  Maybe the answer is simply revisiting our history and validating it once again. Once that validation is made we can then take steps to make sure we have an environment that continues to release apostolic leaders to do what God has called them to do. Our investment in these leaders will be seen most clearly in how willing we are to remove any organizational barriers that would stand in their way.

One night almost 25 years ago, I was flying in a small plane with my pastor, Roy Hicks, Jr.  As I said before, Roy was an apostle in our midst.  It was about 2:00 a.m. and Roy and I were flying all night to get back to Los Angeles. 

We were somewhere over southern Mississippi when I asked Roy a question.  “Roy, if tomorrow you were leading the Foursquare church – what would you do?”  Roy answered as we both continued to peer straight ahead into the ink-black night sky.  He said, “I would do away with a lot of our structure, take our money and give it to 50 lighthouse churches in 50 states and let them do what God had called them to do.”  The phrase, “lighthouse church”, was Roy-speak for a church led by an apostolic leader. I think today, 25 years after that late night flight, we are in a better place to have this conversation. 

When I was a kid growing up in the 1950’s and 60’s California, the term, “A Planned Community”, was coined.  A planned community is created on a plot of undeveloped land. It is designed and built from scratch. Some of these communities were out in the desert where only jackrabbits and sagebrush grew.  The planners laid out the city streets.  Individual house plots were assigned. City office footprints were penciled in along with each individual house and their assigned address.  Everything was under the plan.

As some of us revisit the concept of an apostolic community, we will need to go back to the original God-planned community of faith Paul addressed in Ephesians 4.  In this original plan each of the five equipping gifts are in place and doing what God intended for them to do in a planned community.  Living in community is the healthiest when we know our own street address and how to find our way home again. It is the job of apostolic leadership to make sure each generation understands God’s original blueprint for our community of faith.

Monday, November 26, 2012

“Roy’s Three Questions” by Garris Elkins

Many years ago, when I was a student at Ministries Institute at Faith Center in Eugene, Oregon, I learned a valuable lesson about sermon preparation from my pastor, Roy Hicks, Jr.

Roy was a profound teacher of God’s Word.  He taught about God’s Kingdom. His focus on Kingdom preaching wrecked me for desiring anything less in my own ministry.

One day in one of our classes Roy said, “There are three questions you need to ask yourself as you prepare to teach God’s Word.  ‘What is God’s heart in the passage? What is the human response? What is the personal application?’”

I will never forget Roy’s words.  Over the years I have studied the disciplines of sermon preparation, like Hermeneutics and Homiletics, and have benefited from these studies, yet those three questions from Roy have had the strongest influence on my life.

Once, Roy gave each of us a copy of his sermon notes.  It was only one page in length.  I thought there would have been more. Embedded in that single page of notes where the answers to his three questions.  I still have those notes.

Today, almost 35 years later, I still teach those same three questions to the young men and women who attend our school of ministry in Medford, Oregon. Roy’s questions have been so impacting because they have caused me to dig deeper into the Word beyond just a commentary level of study. Roy’s questions made me press into the heart of God.  The questions have also made me apply the Word to my own life as I prepare a message each week.  This has been painful at times. I think this kind of sermon preparation is part of the continuing process of incarnation where the Word becomes flesh in the people of God.