Tuesday, March 27, 2012

"Experiencing the Word" by Garris Elkins

Recently, I heard someone say how sad it was that some Christians were seeking an experience from God instead of focusing solely on Scripture.  When I heard those words something didn’t set right with me.  

This morning, as I read through 2 Peter, I came across that section of chapter one where Peter said in 16, “We saw his majestic splendor with our own eyes.” Peter was describing his experience on the Mount of Transfiguration. Peter went on to say, “The voice from the majestic glory of God said to him, ‘This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy.’ We ourselves heard that voice from heaven when we were with him on the holy mountain.”

Many times we stop reading a sentence at the end of a paragraph, like the one above, but Peter’s thought continues on into the next paragraph with verse 19, “Because of that experience, we have even greater confidence in the message proclaimed by the prophets.”  In other words, the experience Peter had with a supernatural God on the Mount of Transfiguration released a greater confidence in the message of God.

I have taught the Word a lot over the last 31 years.  Just doing some simple math, I have taught in public church services a minimum of two times a week for those 31 years – that works out to be well over 3,000 messages.  This does not include all the extra times between the weekly church services where I taught in other venues, like training seminars or conferences.  The final number could easily be over 4,000.  That’s a lot of speaking.

All the public teaching that takes place in the ministry schedule of an average pastor may be part of what has created a suspicion in some people’s minds about “experiences”. At times I think we forget what Paul said in Ephesians 4 about equipping the saints to “do” the work of the ministry.  Doing is always experiential.

A friend of mine, who spent years ministering in Africa, described to me what is called, “The God-Line.” In Western culture, where we place a high value on our intellect and on our ability to understand and define all that takes place around us, the God-Line is just below our head.  If we can’t understand it with our mind it is suspect and must remain below the line.  In the African culture, and most of the world not dominated by a Greek way of thinking, the God-Line is above their heads.  In other words, all of life is spiritual.  There is no separation between teaching and experience.

When Jesus sent out The Seventy in Luke 10, He empowered them to do the experiential part of life with Jesus.  He said to them, Heal the sick, and tell them, ‘The Kingdom of God is near you now.’”  These first disciples not only shared God’s Word, but they expected some kind of experience with God to follow their sharing.  An experience with God is where people would see God’s Word come alive in their lives.

On the Day of Pentecost the Church was empowered to do supernatural works that would end up being processed as an experience with God. The early disciples got into a lot of trouble when they released these supernatural experiences in the cities across the Middle East.  If what they believed had not become such culturally disturbing experiences most of them would have died as old men and women without experiencing the pain of martyrdom. An experience with God that flows from the Word of God is both powerful and dangerous.

In the western world we have become really good in our presentation of God’s Word.  We have become skilled presenters. I am happy for that, but I think that in some cases we might have driven our religious car out onto the theological highway and simply parked it in the fast lane short of the destination called, “Experience.”  The Word without experience or encounter is only a lecture.

When God created the heavens and the earth the elements had an experience with God’s Word and became terra firma.  The formless, empty and dark places were joined together and became something tangible, emerging as physical by-products of God’s voice. When God uttered the words, “Let there be light”, some very powerful interactions took place – and this was just with natural elements. Imagine what happens when the Word of God is released into a human being?

Whether God’s Word is preached from a pulpit, or spoken prophetically on a street corner, the very evidence that we are alive and human is our response – we should have an experience when the Word enters our life.

Over the years, I have realized that God will expose some of us to experiences that we might find uncomfortable  – experiences that are outside our comfort zone or tradition.  Have you ever wondered why this happens?  I think I have part of the answer.  God allows this to take place so He can work on the gate of our heart.

The heart-gate is that place within us that can hinder or release our ability to experience more of God.  Gates can swing open or shut. As the writer of Proverbs said in 4:23, “Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life.”

It is so easy to shut ourselves off from experiences because we saw someone do something that put us off.  We close the gate to our heart and then retreat into only what we can manage with our intellect – above the God-Line.  In the end, we begin to lessen in our impact in the world around us because the experience of the Word is absent from the presentation of the Word.

When Peter was describing what he saw and experienced on the Mount of Transfiguration that experience deepened his confidence in the message that Jesus, and all who went before Him, had proclaimed.

As we study God’s Word, it is good to walk in the kind of faith and obedience that will release those supernatural experiences that affirm what we have studied. In the end, we will begin to walk in a balanced confidence in His Word and with those experiences that confirm His Word.

Peter said something about “experiences” at the start of his ministry, 30 years before he wrote his two epistles.  In Acts 2:22, as Peter was trying to explain what had just happened on the Day of Pentecost, he said, “People of Israel, listen! God publicly endorsed Jesus the Nazarene by doing powerful miracles, wonders and signs through him, as you well know.”   Peter was saying that, Jesus, the Word incarnate, was endorsed by God through the release of supernatural experiences. I am thinking He wants to do the same thing today.

Friday, March 16, 2012

"Receiving New Sight" a word from Jan Elkins

My wife, Jan, received the following word during a recent worship service at Living Waters Church in Medford, Oregon.  I wanted to post this for that person(s) who needed to hear the hope these words contain. 

"During the worship, I saw myself swimming in the ocean of His love, (representative of us and and the church) and He had given us new capabilities to live in this place.  The Lord reminded me of how in nature He has put specific DNA into his creatures so that micro-evolution is possible.  There are fish who live in complete darkness and therefore have no eyes...there is no need.    But if brought into waters where there is light, they can develop eyes because imbedded in their DNA, they can evolve.

Imbedded in your spiritual DNA, created in My image, is the great capacity to see where you have never seen before. I am giving you altogether new eyes when you have need of clarity, either in wisdom or discernment and also in your spirit, soul, and body, God is giving us new capacities of sight...for Himself, for our situations, for our life, for whatever we are deciding about right now.  We could not see before...we did not need to.  Now, we have need of this new sight. "

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

“Landing On Solid Ground” by Garris Elkins

When we moved to Newport, Oregon in the 1980’s we were impressed with the beauty of the Oregon coastline.  For 363 miles this coastline exposes a raw beauty that resembles Big Sur without the crowds.  Thanks to the 1967 Oregon Beach Bill the entire length of the Oregon coast is open to the public and free for all to enjoy.

Our home on San Bay-O Circle was only a few blocks away from the beach. Each morning I would go down to the beach to walk and pray.  If my walk coincided with a low tide, I could walk all the way to the Newport bay front, past Mo’s chowder shop, and then up the hill and back through town to our home.  I loved walking on the beach early in the morning. Most of the locals and tourists were still rising and many times I would have the beach all to myself.  

When we arrived in Newport, I heard a word used that I had not heard before - slough.  It is pronounced in the same way as the words “rough” or “tough”, it means a geological slippage. As a kid growing up I would hear older people describe a lazy person as someone who “sloughed off their responsibilities.”  Frankly, until I came to the Oregon coast, I thought it only meant lazy people. 

One night after a very violent and wet coastal storm, the local newscaster said, “Be careful walking along the cliffs today – because of the storm and rain we anticipate some cliffs will slough.”  My newfound use of this word meant that when a cliff became super-saturated with moisture it could give way and cause an unsuspecting person to fall, along with the slipping soil, to the rocks below.  After that news cast, I was suspicious of a cliff that was made of soil – especially after the passage of a storm.

Driving up and down the Oregon coast you will notice beautiful lighthouses. Names like Cape Meares, Heceta, Yaquina and Cape Blanco have become famous for their structure and surrounding geography.  These lighthouses are not built upon soil, but upon solid rock outcroppings that emerged over time.  These outcroppings have become known as “headlands” because they stick out from the surrounding coastline like a head sticks out from a human body. 

After thousands of years of sloughing cliffs, what is now revealed are the headlands of solid rock once hidden beneath the soft coastal topsoil. It would be upon these exposed rock headlands that lighthouses and other structures would be built without the fear of their being washed away in some future storm.

In the lives of many people, these last few years have been a time of sloughing. In some cases personal finances have sloughed. So have some relationships and ministries. Things that were once thought to be solid and immovable have fallen away under people’s feet. When things began to give way, insecurity crept in making some feel that God had turned His back on them.  The opposite is true. Some have stood and rebuked the storms, but I am thinking God gave the storms permission to come.  Lately, I have seen Him use these cultural and spiritual storms, and their subsequent sloughing effect, to reveal the true foundation upon which He could build our future.

When these storms visit our lives, the soil we stand upon is tested. When a life-cliff gives way, and a believer seems to be falling, they fall, not to their death on the rocks below, but down upon the solid and everlasting presence of God – upon the Rock Himself.  It is from this place that we begin to rebuild those things that will endure into eternity.