Wednesday, May 23, 2012

"The Issues Are Not The Issue" by Garris Elkins


Recently, I sent a private Facebook message to a friend of mine who leads an international ministry. My message was prophetic in nature and would seem somewhat cryptic to the casual reader. I trust this leader and knew he would be able to move past the nature of the word and understand its substance.

This leader and others like him are called upon to deal with issues that have a very wide and diverse audience.  What I felt the Lord was saying to this leader, and to the rest of us, was this – “the issues are not the issue.” The human-issues we face each day are not always the God-issue we need to discover. These God-issues are buried deep beneath our history, our preferences and our current culture. It is in the discovery of these God-issues that we find peace and resolution amidst the surface turmoil of cultural opinion.

Most of the headlines printed today are in response to diverse people groups responding to even more diverse opinions they each hold about how this life should be lived. The clash of these opinions produces the headlines. Behind these visible and reactionary headlines is always a deeper God-issue waiting to be discovered. The truth of the deeper God-issues must be discovered and understood if the Church is going fulfill her mission on planet earth.

A danger the Church faces in our current cultural context is the demand to provide a quick and shallow response for complex issues.  We must have a response, but it cannot be reactive, it must be the result of God revealing truth to us.  Revelation is not nervous about timing.  Revelation is sourced from eternity without the pressure of time.

Whenever I have made quick and visceral responses I have found that my first answer was generally to the issues I was facing on the surface instead of the deeper God-issue He wanted to process with me. Many times I had the right answer, but the wrong response. There is always something deeper when we are relating to God and it is in the process of this relationship that He invites us to journey with Him towards the discovery of His deeper truth.

Today, give God some time to develop a deeper understanding within you about His heart for each subject that requires a response from you.  In the end, the deeper God-issue you discover will always reflect His heart, not a human response.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

"Crossing Spiritual Frontiers" by Garris Elkins


Many people are crossing spiritual frontiers.  People are leaving old seasons of life and entering new ones. It is important to understand what is taking place in these passages.
One of the most profound crossings ever made was when the nation of Israel walked across the dry riverbed of the Jordan River under the leadership of Joshua.  More than one million people camped at the waters edge waiting for the word of the Lord to part the water.  First, God would need to speak to Joshua and let him know what this passage would entail. 
Joshua 1:1 “After the death of Moses the Lord’s servant, the Lord spoke to Joshua son of Nun, Moses’ assistant. He said, 2 “Moses my servant is dead. Therefore, the time has come for you to lead these people, the Israelites, across the Jordan River into the land I am giving them. 3 I promise you what I promised Moses: ‘Wherever you set foot, you will be on land I have given you— 4 from the Negev wilderness in the south to the Lebanon mountains in the north, from the Euphrates River in the east to the Mediterranean Sea in the west, including all the land of the Hittites.’ 5 No one will be able to stand against you as long as you live. For I will be with you as I was with Moses. I will not fail you or abandon you.
“Be strong and courageous, for you are the one who will lead these people to possess all the land I swore to their ancestors I would give them. 7 Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the instructions Moses gave you. Do not deviate from them, turning either to the right or to the left. Then you will be successful in everything you do. 8 Study this Book of Instruction continually. Meditate on it day and night so you will be sure to obey everything written in it. Only then will you prosper and succeed in all you do. 9 This is my command—be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

Joshua would come to understand several realities as he prepared to lead Israel across the Jordan and into the land of promise.  Israel had been in a similar place before, but because of their disbelief had spent many years wandering in the wilderness until the generation of disbelief died off. Joshua and the nation of Israel wanted to get it right this time.  Joshua would realize several important truths about crossing spiritual frontiers.

EACH CROSSING WILL BE DIRECTED BY A WORD FROM GOD
“The Lord spoke to Joshua.”

Joshua was told to walk anywhere within the land God had defined.  Wherever Joshua chose to step would be his, within the boundary of the promise.  He was a man living under the direction of God’s revelation.

Each area of our lives has a word from God assigned to it.  Each of our families has a word. Each financial decision we make has a word assigned to it. Each relationship we enter into has a word from God assigned to it that will direct how that relationship will develop. It is wisdom to discover these words before we begin the journey.

Joshua obeyed the word of the Lord.  He didn’t deviate to the right or to the left. He stayed true to the word of the Lord and the Lord stayed true to the promise He made to Joshua and the nation of Israel.

EACH CROSSING WILL REDEFINE THE NATURE OF OUR CALLING
“The time has come for you to lead these people.”

Moses was dead. A transition in national leadership had taken place. Joshua was now the leader of Israel. The steps of the nation would now follow the steps of their new leader. Obedience to the call transformed Joshua, revealing more of what God saw in him, had planned for him and wanted to do through him. 

Each time we take a step of faith our life manifests more clearly who we already are in Christ.  Like a chisel in the hand of a master sculptor, God fashions us with each step we take. Under the hand of the Master we begin to resemble the person who we already are in Christ.

EACH CROSSING WILL CARRY A PROMISE INTO A NEW GENERATION
“I promise you what I promised Moses.”

We each carry a promise.  When we die that promise does not die with us – it lives on.  The promises of God survive through the pain of divorce or the fears associated with financial collapse.  Promise lives on through all kinds of personal failure. A promise from God is birthed in eternity high above the powers of death and the finality of time.

When Joshua was about to lead Israel through the visible frontier of the Jordan River flowing at flood stage, he was carrying the promise of a past generation – “I promise you what I promised Moses.”Joshua carried that promise forward past the failed first attempt to enter the Promise Land.

Each of us can step in faith into the promise of God, despite the failures of our past or the failures of others.  While we must be faithful and step forward into the Promise, God is the One Who will be faithful to ensure its final delivery.

EACH CROSSING WILL BRING A REMINDER OF GOD’S FAITHFULNESS
“For I will be with you as I was with Moses. I will not fail you or abandon you.”

We never do what God calls us to do alone. He is always present with us in each moment of the passage. As Joshua called the people forward to cross the Jordan, that move could appear to be, at the very least na├»ve, if not foolish.   The decision to cross the Jordon River at this season of the year, would ride on the shoulders of this new leader. It was a fearful and stressful moment.  In that moment God assured Joshua that He would not fail or abandon him.

As a leader, a father, a brother, and a friend, at times, I have lived under fear and isolation, wondering and hoping that God would be there for me. We all struggle with this from time-to-time.  Fear in the present is tied to our assumption of future rejection and abandonment. 

Fear of abandonment is experienced everywhere. Spouses have abandoned their vows of marriage and left their mate for someone else.  Children have abandoned their parents and parents have abandoned their children.  Employers have abandoned faithful employees for greater profit.  In these times God reminds us, as He reminded Joshua, of His covenant of unfailing love that promises He will never leave us alone in the journey.

There is a way out of the prison of abandonment - we forgive and bless our way across this spiritual frontier.  Jesus chose to forgive His tormentors amidst the pain of His crucifixion.  He told us to bless our enemies even as they wage war against us. When we do this, our future will be defined by the heart of God, not the fear of what can happen to us as the result of human brokenness.   

EACH CROSSING WILL TEST OUR CURRENT LEVEL OF STRENGTH AND COURAGE  “Be strong and courageous.”

Three times in the first verses of Joshua 1 the Lord tells Joshua,  “Be strong and courageous.” Why would God say this to Joshua three times? Because Joshua, the great warrior-leader, would experience both fear and weakness as he faced the prospect of crossing the swollen Jordan River and the enemies beyond.

This fear and discouragement has faced the people of God in the past and it will have to be addressed by each of us now and in our emerging future.  A repeated theme in Paul’s ministry was his strengthening and encouraging of the churches.  He strengthened and encouraged these churches because they were feeling weak and discouraged when he arrived in their midst.

Today, believe that God is taking you into a new future amidst all the pain and obstacles that are now standing between you and what God has promised.  God is your passage-maker and He will never leave you alone in the crossing you are about to make. 

Monday, May 7, 2012

"Half Moon, Whole Heart" guest article by Anna Elkins


Last summer, I camped by the Salmon River for the first time. The riverbanks spread wide their stony shores, the August waters low. I drove shuttle for kayakers and practiced the art of waiting by water.  After a few hours, the water begins to speak.


Beneath a spring half moon, I’m back. Now the bars of rock are thin, rushed by water that flexes its green and fast muscles. Like men at a gym, this constant roil—noisy and strong. Yet gentle too, like mothers humming lullabies.

How do we hear the river?

When God speaks, we are often the crowd that hears thunder or angels—everything but his words.

I thought I heard the river telling of men and women. But I think it was also speaking of “other.” Of whatever it is I haven’t learned to listen to.

Perhaps the weight-lifting—wait-lifting—water is the sound of women building muscle beneath the frothy soft of their surface. Perhaps it is the song men sing when no one is listening.  Perhaps it is every word we open our hearts to.

When we see an other approaching and we hear nothing but the rush of water, we pretend that’s the only sound a river makes. Oh the strength and sweetness we will miss.

And now I am off to listen to distant seas. Here's to hearing.

Open my ears.  

Saturday, May 5, 2012

"Older Preachers" by Garris Elkins


Older preachers like me
see the treadmills of passing ministry 
as foisted rides in some clergy amusement park.
To roller coaster rides of success we were drawn
the rising then the falling,
stars on the upward climb
the ticking, clacking sounds of approval, rising
taking us up to the crest for release
towards the bigger, the better, the more,
becoming models dressed for ascent
soon to be clothed in mid-life therapy.
New books now written on the healing ride down
filled with sage advice to not,
to not board the ride in the first place.
Remaining earth-bound now
reconnecting with deeper things discovered under foot
than the high ride can promise,
things missed the first time around.
At this age these rides make me dizzy.
Ride if you must,
youth may require it of you.
But here's my ticket-to-ride, its yours.
I say cash it in,
buy some cotton candy.
Then take a long stroll, look up and pray
for those on the roller coaster ride,
each one a cotton candy candidate.