Wednesday, June 27, 2012

"A Choice with in a Choice

"A Choice within a Choice"  is a short video excerpt from a message I shared during the Sunday morning service at New Hope in Salem, Oregon.  It is about making personal decisions within the larger decisions God has already made.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

“Label-Makers” by Garris Elkins

Most of us walk around with labels attached to our lives.  Some of these labels were attached to us by our parents others were attached in seasons of personal failure or by unresolved fears that currently inhabit our lives.  We will live out the false identity of these labels unless they are removed and new ones are attached.

When I was a little boy I can still remember some of the labels that were put on me by the kids at school. Some of these labels were hurtful.  Most had to do with my appearance or my inability to perform in some athletic event.  These labels have an ability to cling to our lives well into adulthood unless we let God remove them and replace them with a label that reveals how He sees us.

One day Jesus called a man named Levi to get up from his tax collector’s booth and follow Him.  The story is revealed in Mark 2: 13-17.

13 “Then Jesus went out to the lakeshore again and taught the crowds that were coming to him. 14 As he walked along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at his tax collector’s booth. “Follow me and be my disciple,” Jesus said to him. So Levi got up and followed him. 15 Later, Levi invited Jesus and his disciples to his home as dinner guests, along with many tax collectors and other disreputable sinners. (There were many people of this kind among Jesus’ followers.) 16 But when the teachers of religious law who were Pharisees saw him eating with tax collectors and other sinners, they asked his disciples, “Why does he eat with such scum? 17 When Jesus heard this, he told them, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.”
Jesus liked to hang out with what some people called “scum.” His love was radical.  He purposefully positioned His life to be near those whom the culture might reject.
According to Jesus, spiritually “sick” people, like the Pharisees, didn’t see their illness.  People like the tax collectors and disreputable sinners saw their need and were drawn to the Great Physician for healing.
The sickness of the Pharisees was thinking they had it all together. They felt they had arrived and had nothing more to learn. They perceived their mission in life was to label people so they could distance themselves from the “scum” and live out their warped sense of self-righteousness.
Those who gathered at Levi’s home realized Jesus had something to offer beyond the imprisoning labels placed on them by the Pharisees. They would soon be re-labeled by Jesus.
When Jesus told Levi to follow Him, Jesus was inviting Levi into an undiscovered destiny. Following Jesus would move Levi away from old labels towards something new that he would discover by simply being with Jesus.
In some ways, I think our understanding of discipleship today is too process-oriented.  Our current models of discipleship are many times more about gaining knowledge and accumulating ministry skills at the expense of having an encounter with Jesus. 
The discipleship process of Jesus gave people permission to peel off old labels of sin and dishonor and then paste on God’s label of a new identity.  God’s label reveals newness and invites us to something we never thought possible while living under the influence of an unrighteous label.
When Jesus asked Levi to follow Him He was asking Levi to come and watch.  Watch how Jesus dealt with the identity of the woman at the well.  Watch how Jesus talked to Zaccheus.  Watch how Jesus dialogued with legalists. Watch how the woman caught in adultery would be told, “Go your way (into a new destiny) and sin no more.”  Watching Jesus offered the disciples another way to live.
As we follow Jesus, we will come across places in our lives that need re-labeling.  We can continue to live under the “scum” label or choose to peel it off, even in the middle of circumstances where we have yielded to our personal brokenness. Once the old label is peeled off through confession and repentance, we can then attach the new God-label to our lives and begin living forward into the personal destiny God has planned.
I am going to preach this text on Sunday.  This morning, I called Mary, our Office Coordinator, and asked if the church had a label-maker.  She said we did and I asked her to set it aside for me. On Sunday, I want to walk through our sanctuary and re-label people.  I’m going to create some new labels like, “Beloved”, “Hopeful” and “Joyful”, and hand them out to people as a sermon illustration.
I am also hoping that some of you reading this today will reevaluate the labels you are living under and make sure they are from God.  If a label is not from God, peel it off and throw it away and ask the Holy Spirit to give you a new one.  

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

“Installing the Signs of God” by Garris Elkins

In the center of the valley where I live is a midsize city – Medford, Oregon.  We have a large shopping mall anchored by several national chain stores.  Sprinkled across the valley are other malls where you can get most anything you would desire. The Rogue Valley is a wonderful place to live.

A few years ago a Facebook page was created asking Trader Joe’s to come and establish a store in the Medford area.  I was one of thousands who “liked” that Facebook page.  Trader Joe’s has filled our pantry for many years with unusual and delicious foods.  In the past we would have to go to Redding, California or to Eugene, Oregon to make our Trader Joe’s purchases – both of these cities are a long drive from Medford. About a year ago we began to hear early rumors that our request for a Trader Joe’s would become a reality.  Foodies all across Southern Oregon felt a rush of culinary bliss.

A few months ago construction began on a new mall in the heart of our city that would house the new Trader Joe’s.  Along with the Trader Joes would be a Fives Guys Burgers and an REI store.  REI is an upscale sporting and outdoor store that is known for quality goods.

For the last few months, I have passed the construction site each morning on my way to our church.  This morning as I drove by the job site, I saw something interesting.  A large flatbed truck was carrying a sign with the words on it “REI.”  The sign was huge, maybe 10 feet by 10 feet.  The sign was being carried to the job site for installation announcing that REI was present in Medford, Oregon.  Behind the truck carrying the sign was a procession of contractor vehicles that would obviously be needed to help erect such a large sign.

As the truck carrying the sign crossed in front of me, I heard the words of Mark 16:17, “These miraculous signs will accompany those who believe.” All the trucks following the lead truck carrying the sign were accompanying it to its new home.  This reminded me so much of Church history when God would send some supernatural sign into a region to establish His presence and then a great move of God would follow.

I grew up reading older translations of the Bible that used the word “follow” instead of “accompany” to describe Mark 16:17. Today, I went back to some of my language study aids and found that the word “follow” or “accompany” both work linguistically, but there is a more distinct definition for these words.

The miraculous signs that  “follow” or “accompany” those who believe actually means, “to always be present, to attend one wherever he goes” (Thayer). In other words when God’s Spirit begins to move our belief positions us to be present with whatever God is doing in that particular location.  Our belief also puts us in a place to attend to the requests of the Lord wherever He goes. Our belief makes a way for us to be part of what God is doing.

There is a divine balance between belief and following.  While we initiate acts of faith that can release something supernatural into our world, these acts of faith are only in response to something the Father is already doing.  Jesus did what He saw the Father doing.  He spoke the words that His Father spoke.  Jesus walked out the revelation He received from the Father, and as a result, supernatural events took place because heaven became a reality on earth.

The life Jesus lived provides for us a model of how to live our lives in response to God. Our ability to “see” what God is doing allows us to capture those points of revelation and import them back into our lives and communities. These responsive acts of faith, bringing heaven’s revelation to earth, are where the miracles, signs and wonders happen.

This morning I had the urge to pull my car in behind the procession of contractors who would be erecting the REI sign and then accompany them to the job site.  The urge I experienced in the natural is what I want to take place in my spirit when I see God moving into some new area of my life or community.

In the natural, I would have been late to work had I followed the procession of trucks carrying the sign.  Speaking in a spiritual sense, we will never be late for anything eternally important if we choose to change our life-plans and accompany the signs of the One Who makes them happen.  The signs were, after all, what He did to get the attention of His culture and He has plans to do the same in our world today.

Friday, June 1, 2012

“The Jesus Miracle-Model of Evangelism” by Garris Elkins

Our primary model for how to do anything is Jesus.  He is our example for how to love. He is our model for leadership.  And He is our method of evangelism.  Whenever you need to find a way to do anything – go to Jesus first and find out how He did it.

I enjoy reading Mark’s gospel account. The Gospel of Mark is a short and compressed revelation of how Jesus ministered.  Mark is to the point.  When I need a quick infusion of the bare essentials of Jesus life and ministry, I find myself reading Mark.  His writing is like a refreshing swim on a hot day.

In the first chapter of Mark, the people of Capernaum were listening to Jesus teach in the synagogue on the Sabbath.  Verse 22 says, “The people were amazed at his teaching, for he taught with real authority – quite unlike the teachers of religious law.”

The people of Capernaum came to this conclusion because they saw the difference between a teacher who simply shares facts (the Pharisees) and Jesus who shared revelatory truth from the Father.  The difference between these two forms of teaching is vast. Jesus revealed to His listeners what the Father had just revealed to Him in the moment – it was fresh revelation that brought freedom.  The Pharisees, on the other hand, shared facts about the past and placed impossible burdens on people.

In verse 23 a demon-possessed man suddenly appeared in the synagogue and began shouting.  Jesus cut the demon short and said, “Be quiet! Come out of the man.” With those words the evil spirit screamed, threw the man into a convulsion, and came out.  You can almost sense the quiet and stillness in the synagogue in those moments immediately following this man’s deliverance as people were asking themselves the question, “What just happened?”

The break in the silence came in verse 27 with the people excitingly asking this question, “What sort of new teaching is this? – It has such authority!” The news of this event launched out from the synagogue and began to spread throughout the entire region of Galilee.

What caught my attention was verse 22 where we are told the people were amazed at His teaching.  This amazement of the people could be interpreted through the lens of our Western concept of academic authority.  In our culture good teaching is seen as the result of diligent study and preparation of factual data presented within a logical development and delivered in an engaging form of communication.  You could come to that conclusion if verse 22 was pulled out of context.

However, moments after the demon-possessed man was set free by the command of Jesus, we are given the fuller understanding of how the people that day understood “teaching with authority”. The question in verse 27 reveals the answer for us, “What sort of new teaching is this? they asked excitedly. It has such authority. Even evil spirits obey his orders!”

For the people in the synagogue, real authority in teaching was linked to the demonstration of what was being taught.  To these people, teaching without demonstration lacked authority.  It was in the demonstration of God’s truth that the authority of Christ was released to do what would be impossible to accomplish without God’s power.  

As soon as the deliverance of the demon-possessed man took place the news about Jesus “spread quickly throughout the entire region of Galilee.” (Mark 1:28) As this news circulated throughout the region of Galilee the testimony functioned like a net gathering the sick and demon-possessed of that region and bringing them to Jesus.

Mark 1:32 states, “That evening after sunset, many sick and demon-possessed people were brought to Jesus. The whole town gathered at the door to watch.”

Embedded in this verse is a concept for evangelism that applies to the Church today. The only way that entire cities – “the whole town” - will show up is when Jesus is allowed to teach and demonstrate His truth through us. The Gospel message includes the release of supernatural activity in the form of signs, wonders and miracles.  Our cities will not show up at our doorstep if we are teaching well-crafted messages alone without the actual demonstration of what we just taught. 

People have always come to see what God was doing. On the Day of Pentecost the people of the city of Jerusalem came to that outpouring to see what was taking place. Acts 2:6 tells us, “When they heard the loud noise, everyone came running…”

I think the Church today is rediscovering how to love and serve their cities.  We need to get out of our church buildings and engage our communities with God’s love. This is good, but people don’t usually come running to see something we are doing that a service club can accomplish without God’s help.  These acts of kindness are wonderful, but they are not what happened in the Gospel accounts. The people in the book of Mark came running to see something that could never be accomplished by the best of our good works.  They came running because they heard that Jesus was healing the sick and setting the demon-possessed free. They came running to see the Kingdom of God taking place on earth.

Right after the events of Mark1, chapter 2 opens up with four men tearing open the roof of a house and lowering a paralyzed friend through the opening into a crowded living room where Jesus was waiting. The first words out of Jesus’ mouth were, “My child, your sins are forgiven.” The teachers of religious law got upset with Jesus and questioned His authority to forgive sins. Jesus went on to say in verse 10, “’So, I will prove to you that the Son of Man has the authority on earth to forgive sins.’ Then Jesus turned to the paralyzed man and said, ‘Stand up, pick up your mat, and go home.’” It was a dramatic miracle in front of stunned onlookers.

As I read this account, the linkage between healing and evangelism is obvious.   The forgiving of the paralyzed man’s sins, and his subsequent healing, would dramatically change the environment of the entire region.

Healing linked to evangelism was a reoccurring theme in the ministry of Jesus.  The majority of the people in our communities will only be reached when something supernatural begins to interrupt the flow of their naturally limited lives. Good works alone can never do this.

The room that day was crowded, not because a good teacher was conducting a Bible Study.  The room was crowded because as soon as the demon-possessed man from Mark 1 was set free, “The man went and spread the word, proclaiming to everyone what had happened. As a result, large crowds soon surrounded Jesus, and he couldn’t publicly enter a town anywhere. He had to stay out in the secluded places, but people from everywhere kept coming to him.” The healed man, and the testimony about his miracle, spread throughout the area announcing that Jesus was in town.

When Jesus told us in the Great Commission of Matthew 28 to go and make disciples, He said those words right after the sentence in verse 18 where He declared, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth.”

The authority Jesus was given was for purposes beyond teaching a memorable message.  This is the same authority that demanded a demon to come out of a possessed man and it is the same authority that healed a paralyzed man allowing him to jump up, pick up his mat and walk back home through the stunned crowd who had gathered to see the demonstration of Christ’s authority.

While the Church rediscovers the joy of going out and doing acts of love in our communities, it is important to not forget that people will only come running to see what’s happening when something supernatural is taking place in their midst. Our acts of service are only intended to be vehicles that bring us into contact with broken people who need a miracle. Miracles are what Jesus used to evangelize the world in His day and they are what God wants to use to expand His Kingdom in our world today.