Friday, January 27, 2012

“A Return to Awe and Amazement” by Garris Elkins

Recently, in a time of corporate prayer, I sensed the Holy Spirit ask me a question, “Am I awed by God or impressed by man?" While this question was asked within the quiet confines of my heart, I knew it was for all who were present that day.  A few minutes later I asked the question out loud for all to hear.

I think the question surfaced, in part, because for the last few years the second chapter of Acts has been unpacked for me in new ways.  I am seeing things in the text that I had missed on many past readings.

What I began to notice in Acts 2 was the repeated experience of people being amazed by God or awed by His presence. Whenever the Word repeats something I take special notice.

The entire city of Jerusalem was affected by the supernatural uproar caused on the Day of Pentecost. Acts 2:6 reads, “When they heard the loud noise, everyone came running, and they were bewildered to hear their own languages being spoken by the believers.”

Verse 7 goes on to say about those who came running, “They were completely amazed.” This was not a partial amazement, but a total and complete amazement at what God was doing. Today, we might say, “They were blown away!”

After declaring how awesome it was to hear the wonderful things God had done in their native tongue, the text continues in verse 12, “They stood there amazed and perplexed. ‘What can this mean?’, they asked each other.” They were stopped in their tracks by the experience – they just stood there – amazed.

Peter went on to preach his famous Day of Pentecost message.  After the message these amazed listeners asked, “Brothers, what should we do?” Peter told them to repent of their sins, turn to God and get baptized, and then they would receive the amazing Spirit of God. After Peter finished speaking, 3,000 amazed and awestruck people were added to the Church.

This amazing work of God did not stop on the Day of Pentecost.  God’s work birthed a community of faith who were ruined for anything that wasn’t amazing or awe inspiring. A normal and predictable Christianity would not hold the attention of this group.

Later on in Acts 2 the believers formed a community and devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, fellowship, common meals and prayer.  Verse 43 says, “A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders.” Pentecost was not a terminal event locked in history.  The events of Pentecost began unfolding forward into the developing history of the Church and has gone on for the last 2,000 years.

I used to think the signs and wonders produced the awe within this first community of faith (vs.43), but the text says the miracles followed the awe that had come over them. The awe of God first fell in their midst much like the Spirit fell just days before on the Day of Pentecost.  Once the awe arrived the miracles soon followed. This awe of God falls into our midst because if comes from Heaven, not from what we do on earth. Our works can be impressive at best.  God’s works are awe-inspiring and leaves people standing in amazement

In some ways I think our greatest need in the Church today is to have the awe of God fall upon us.  It has been too easy to get impressed with all the Church does with our latest leadership strategies, stage lighting, good music and all the other stuff of ministry. These elements are not evil and might be needed in certain assignments, but at their best, they can only impress.

Peter told the crowd assembled on the Day of Pentecost that God had publicly endorsed the ministry of Jesus by doing powerful miracles, wonders and signs through Him.  Today, God wants to endorse the ministry of His Church in the same way.

I watched a NASCAR driver win a race and he held up an energy drink from one of the paying sponsors who had endorsed him for the race.  I am wondering if we might rediscover a sense of awe in the Church if we held up things before the world that would endorse the supernatural ministry of Jesus in our midst. I think this would create the kind of awe and amazement that would have our communities come running to see what was happening. That would be truly impressive.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

"Spiritual Environmentalists" by Garris Elkins

The word “environmentalist” can make you happy or angry depending on how you view politics and culture.  Actually, it is a very good word when used in conjunction with God and His Kingdom. An environmentalist is concerned with the long-term health of the place where they live. The same is true for a spiritual environmentalist within the Church.

Some have asked me how to create an environment where the Spirit of God is free to dwell among us. This question was not asked regarding the personal possession of the Spirit that all believers enjoy. This question refers to that corporate experience with Jesus that takes places when two or more gather in His Name, whether in a corporate church gathering or over coffee at Starbucks.  

In Matthew 18 Jesus said, “For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.” This kind of revelation of God’s presence, when more than one person is present, is what we mean when we say, “the manifest presence of God.” We carry Him within each of us all the time, but when we come together His presence is “manifest” between us in a different way– in the midst of us.  Here is where the pollution can take place, between people, in the midst of our relationships.  This “in the midst” place is where we are supposed to go work as spiritual environmentalists to clean up the junk and sludge of our own brokenness that is not only polluting our lives, but the lives of others as well.

When I talk with leaders within the Church-at-large, I tell them that they are responsible to create an environment where the Holy Spirit is free to make Jesus known. This environment becomes a reality when the priority of the local church is not growth, miracles or even salvations.  Are three of these are wonderful by-products of a healthy environment and are very important, but they are not our first priority.  Our first priority as a church is to host the Presence.  Anything that hinders this hosting of His presence will hinder the work that God wants to do in our midst.

This healthy environment becomes a reality when we personally choose to pull the weeds of self and striving and give God back a garden of life where He is free to walk and minister among us. This environment becomes a reality when we follow the toxic streams of personal runoff to their source and deal with our wrong heart attitudes that breed death, not life.

The Second Adam – Jesus – did not redeem us back to the events and curses that immediately followed the sin of Eden.  Our Second Adam redeemed us back to the realities of Eden, before the Fall, where He could walk with us unhindered through a beautiful and unpolluted place.   This is the ministry of a Spiritual Environmentalist.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

"Be Careful With First Reads" by Garris Elkins

Recently, I read a blog article written by a very respected young leader.  He is well read and well educated.  He does things with excellence.  He has become noticed for all of these attributes and rightfully so.

Because we are all in a hurry from time to time, I did a quick read on something he wrote.  I missed what he was saying and began to carry an offense based on my quick, narrow and judgmental read. I found myself wanting to correct him in a public forum.

For an entire day I carried a burr in my saddle.  I was thinking about how to correct this young man. Maybe I would Tweet a reference to what he wrote or write something on Facebook.  This went on all day until later that evening when the Lord had me reread the article.  I could hardly believe it – on the second read I realized that I was terribly wrong and misinformed. This young author was saying something that was not only accurate, but much appreciated by me for it’s content.  My hurried read was blind. I am so thankful I did not respond out of  my blindness.

I came away from this embarrassing revelation learning a few things about myself. I also came away with some things we all need to be reminded of from time to time:

1. A first read is just that – a first read.  Rarely do we ever capture a writer’s true content the first time around.  We owe it to the author, and to the Church at large, to read things again to make sure we are actually correct in our observations. And even then, we should not forget that we only see things partially.

2.  We all carry reactive baggage.  This author was touching on something dear to my heart.  I was defensive about this truth and had anointed myself as its protector. Our reactive baggage is usually packed with items from our broken history and unresolved personal issues.  Reactive baggage cannot be trusted to speak the truth – it needs to be laundered.

3.  Believe the best.  When we read what someone else has written we owe them the honor of believing the best about them and not making snap judgments. Our judgments put people in a place where we don’t have to engage them.  This results in separation.  God is not happy with separation because it breaks fellowship.

4.  My response revealed that God has more work to do inside my heart. We never arrive at a place where we can’t be corrected. I had to tell the Lord how sorry I was regarding my response and admit to Him that I needed His help.

5.  Wait before you pounce.  It only takes a little more investment of time to do something right.  A wrong response, and the resulting hurt, may never be retrievable if you let ill informed judgments lead the way in your response to what you do not understand.

6.  Let the author know how much you enjoyed their article.  You don’t have to dump all the facts about your personal struggle.  A simple affirmation about the article does two things.  First, if just feels good. And second, maybe God can open up a relational bridge with this person that would never have existed had you not walked through this correction of your wrong attitude.

Years ago, Jerry Cook wrote a book titled, “A Few Things I’ve Learned Since I Knew It All.” Jerry was transparent about how life can teach you new things when you think you know it all.  I don’t like the feeling that comes when I think I know it all and find out I didn’t know as much as I thought.  A good “God-correction” is like taking a spiritual bath.  You come out clean all over. It feels good.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

"The Sound of Heaven" by Garris Elkins

On the Day of Pentecost God released the sound of heaven into the Upper Room to empower the Church to release the sound of heaven into the world.  

Many supernatural things took place on the Day of Pentecost, like a sudden sound coming to earth from heaven, a roaring wind that blew through the room, flames resting on each person and those present speaking in languages they had never learned. This is what took place at the birth of the Church. It was a very supernatural experience.

As we read the account of that day, the real message of Pentecost can be obscured behind all the supernatural things that took place. In Acts 2:11 the people said, "And we all hear these people speaking in our own languages about the wonderful things of God has done." The sound of heaven, spoken through the Church, was be heard as "the wonderful things God has done."

It seems to me the message of the Church today should still be this wonderful message of the great things God has done.  These "wonderful things" is the sound of heaven.  When the voice of heaven speaks through the Church of the wonderful things God has done, the culture's response will be the same today as it was on the Day of Pentecost.

The sound of heaven is a message filled with a wonder at the love of God.  This sound of heaven is our message to the world and this is truly the evidence that we are Spirit-filled believers.