Monday, July 30, 2012

“A Supernatural Staging Ground” by Garris Elkins

When Jan and I lived in Berlin, Germany our ministry assignment during that time was to strengthen and encourage churches and leaders in Europe. As we traveled each week we were constantly crossing national borders.  More importantly, we were also crossing ancient spiritual frontiers not defined by modern maps.  The personal attack from the guardians of these spiritual frontiers was intense, bringing us face-to-face with spiritual strongholds embedded deep within the European continent.

One night I was awakened at 3:00 a.m. I got up and walked into the entryway of our apartment. Standing in the entry way was a group of angels. I had never seen an angel prior to that night.

The color of the angels was stunning.  They resembled neon signs that emitted all the colors of the rainbow. As I stood looking at them, it was like I was seeing light passing through a glass prism.  The colors were not reflective, but came from some deep place. I felt that if I tried to touch them my hand would continue to reach through them without making contact with the source of the color. What was unique about this situation was only one of the angels paid any attention to me.  The other angels were busy with some kind of preparation. This all seemed strangely familiar to me. Then, I realized what this was – it was a tactical staging area. 

As some of you know, prior to my last 30-plus years of serving within the Church, I was a police officer.  As a young police officer I was assigned to what was then a new and developing concept within police work, a specialized police unit called SWAT. SWAT stands for “Special Weapons And Tactics.”

As a SWAT officer, I would train every day to get my body in the best physical condition possible.  I became familiar with a variety of weapons and martial arts. Each month our team would train in daylong intensives led by FBI instructors who had just returned from combat duty in the jungles of Southeast Asia.  These ex-Green Berets and Navy Seals drilled us in the procedures that would keep us alive and give us a tactical advantage in dangerous high-stress assignments. 

Whenever my phone would ring with a SWAT “call up”, I would grab my duffel bag of equipment and my weapon and meet our unit commander and the rest of my team at a predetermined location called a “staging area.”  A staging area is a command post where communication systems are set up to handle a developing situation and where SWAT team members could gear up and receive their briefing.  From the staging area we would then be deployed to engage the threat.  The intelligence gathered from our scouts and the readiness of the team all flowed from what we did as preparation in the staging area. To this day, I still view the operation of the Church from a similar tactical perspective.

That angelic encounter changed forever how I see spiritual conflict.  I have come to realize that before God moves visibly in our world He “stages” His forces for battle. This staging first takes place beyond the veil of our natural sight in the spiritual realm. Too many times we become consumed with the emotion and struggle we experience on this side of the veil and miss the reality that is developing on the other side.

We are in a staging season.  God is assembling His angelic forces over our homes, our cities and our nations. He is releasing new levels of faith to be acted upon at His command. We must be careful not to base the strategy and tactics of our engagement only on what is seen through our natural eyes.  We must be like the servant of Elisha when the King of Aram was sending a mighty army to fight against Israel. Elisha asked that his servant’s eyes be opened to see the army God was staging against the King of Aram behind the veil of natural sight.

When the servant of the man of God got up early the next morning and went outside, there were troops, horses, and chariots everywhere. “Oh, sir, what will we do now?” the young man cried to Elisha. 16 “Don’t be afraid!” Elisha told him. “For there are more on our side than on theirs!” 17 Then Elisha prayed, “O Lord, open his eyes and let him see!” The Lord opened the young man’s eyes, and when he looked up, he saw that the hillside around Elisha was filled with horses and chariots of fire”. II Kings 6: 15-17
To this day, when I meet with someone in tune with the working of God’s Spirit, I notice the point when our conversation begins to make a shift. That shift happens when we move from just casual conversation towards something that sounds more like a spiritual SWAT briefing taking place in a tactical staging area.  When I talk with people who have seen beyond the veil our conversation becomes visionary and strategic.

Recently, Jan and I met with Ivan and Erica Roman who are planting a church in the area where we live in Southern Oregon.  After saying our hellos, we moved into a visionary and strategic kind of discussion.  I have had these kinds of conversations many times with leaders in various cities and nations.  As Ivan and Erica build their team to plant a church they will be inviting others to see behind the veil with them into what God is preparing to do through their ministry. This is called vision.  A heavenly vision precedes an earthly strategy.

The vision we attach to our lives and ministries must have its birthing place from behind the veil. Our calling as the Church is to import the reality of what God is preparing in the Spirit behind the veil and then make it known in this world.  Heaven becoming a reality on earth is the strategy of God that redeems the cultures of this world to become the Kingdom of our Lord.

We are in a time of Kingdom history when God will be making His plans known in vivid forms of revelation. Some will see angels making battle preparations. Others will receive strategic downloads from heaven that will contradict the highest forms of human logic and reasoning.  Prophetic artisans will have released upon them a new level of creativity to usher in a deeper reformation within the arts, cinema and music.

The Chariots of Fire, along with all of God’s supernatural resources, have been staged and are now standing ready to be released upon the earth in greater measure. At God’s command, and in response to our faith, a supernatural wave of God’s presence is about to be released. His presence will fall in unexpected places not yet imagined.

We are being invited to exchange an earthly vision for a heavenly one and begin stepping forward in confident faith towards what is not yet visible to natural sight.  God has been staging His resources for this time in human history.  As we step forward in faith we will never take that step of faith alone.   God made a promise that He plans to keep, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.”

Sunday, July 29, 2012

“The 50 Year Letter” by Garris Elkins

About 20 years ago I changed how I counsel couples who come to me wanting to get married.  I used to struggle with why I didn’t like the more academic approach of having couples read books and take tests to direct their new relationship. There is really nothing wrong with this approach – it just didn’t fit with me.

The change that came 20 years ago arrived as a word from the Lord to me, “Have them write a letter of what they want this relationship to become in 50 years and I will give them the desires of their hearts.”

Right after that word came, I had a couple come in for marriage counseling and I shared with them how the Lord had changed my approach to our time together.  At the end of our first meeting, I asked the couple to craft a single page letter to share with me what they desired to take place in their marriage in the coming 50 years.  For our next meeting I asked them to bring their completed 50 Year Letter. 

At our next meeting, I asked for my copy of their letter and quietly read it to myself as the couple watched.  Like all couples in love, they were holding hands and making eyes at each other. After reading the letter I thanked them and asked them to schedule three more appointments with me.

When this young couple left my office, I reread the letter and highlighted the areas they wrote about – love, communication, family, finances, dreams, ministry and so on.  For the next few months as we met together, I unpacked each of their desires and added personal and biblical insight.  They eventually got married and began to live out what was written in their 50 Year Letter.

The assignment I gave to this couple, and to many more like them over the years, was to keep this letter in a safe place and bring it out each anniversary and read it aloud together.  When they finish reading it each year, I asked them to then ask each other where they were in comparison to the desires expressed in their 50 Year Letter. My hope was that each year the letter would become a yearly marriage tune up or, if needed, it could become a call for a major overhaul. 

God enjoys giving us the desires of our hearts.  There is a condition in His giving us our desires – we must first delight ourselves in Him.  Delighting in the Lord means that His values become our values and what makes Him happy makes us happy.  

Psalm 37:4 says, “Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart.”  Our delighting in God precedes His giving us the desires of our heart.

Now, when I meet a young couple to counsel them for the first time, before I give them their writing assignment, I share how God feels about marriage and how much He wants their marriage to succeed.  It is from the desire of God’s heart towards them that a delight in Him emerges.  A God-directed passion and a delighting in God together is where growth as a couple takes place. This is why I believe God changed how I counsel couples wanting to get married.

In my office file cabinet is a section filled with 50 Year Letters written by many couples over the last 20 years.  From time-to-time I take out some of the letters and pray for the couples. I pray that the passion they had for each other in the beginning, and the delight they shared together in the Lord, would be burning stronger than ever with each passing anniversary as they read their 50 Year Letter.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

"Exchanging the Now for the New" by Garris Elkins

As I drove to my office this morning I turned on the CD player and a worship song began to declare these words, “Take me where I’ve never been.  Take me where I’m scared to go.”  Those words began to touch me and I found myself pressing the replay button letting the words sink deeper into my heart.

The “never been” places in our lives are those new places where we might be afraid to go because they are unfamiliar, untested and unknown. The fear that can surround our future is the very place into which God invites us to step as we learn to trust Him at new and deeper levels.

Today, I am sharing with our pastoral staff the long-term ministry-transition plan the Lord has revealed for Jan and I.  The plan was actually given to us before we arrived in Medford, Oregon in 1999.  We have been walking out that plan for the last 13 years. Making the plan visible and verbal today is causing a whole host of emotions to rise up within me. 

Our transition will take a few years to fully accomplish, but will take a visible step forward today. This is the beginning of the closure of three decades of doing ministry in this known and familiar pastoral assignment.  With every closure there is always an opening if we are willing to look by faith into our future.  Moving into the new requires that we let go of the now. We need faith to do this. If we are willing to let go we will have the empty hands required to receive the new season God has been preparing for us. 

Today, as we reach out in faith and begin walking towards our new future, Jan and I will be taking hold of something that will feel as new as it did to us 30 years ago when we took hold of our first ministry assignment. With God, each season is new.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

"God's Opinion About Us" by Garris Elkins

This week, I am preparing to teach out of Mark 3 where two groups of people have expressed personal opinions about Jesus.  His family thought He had lost His mind and they wanted to "rescue" Him from His ministry.  The teachers of religious law declared that Jesus was possessed by the devil.  If people had opinions about Jesus they will also have opinions about us.
We all live with the labels people have pasted upon our lives.  What we do with those labels will determine how we live our lives.  We can live in bondage to what others think about us or begin to peel off those manmade labels, formed from a limited human perspective, and invite God to re-label us with His opinion.  
As I prepared this week's message, I felt the anointing of the Holy Spirit to craft a paragraph that I feel was dictated from the very heart of God stating His opinion about us.  Take a moment and read these words out loud over your life - especially those places where you have labored under the opinions other people may have about you that do not reflect God's heart for you. 
“You are special to Me. I have chosen to not see you in your brokenness, though I know it is there.  I see you as My Masterpiece, framed within the life of My Son, Jesus Christ. You are a completed work in My eyes, the finished product of My love. You are beautiful to Me.  My opinion about you has been crafted from of the storehouse of My love. I did not go outside My love to find the words to form My opinion about you. When others fail to see you as I do, turn to Me and let My words of affirmation wash away those hurtful labels and opinions that have been placed upon your life.  My opinion is all that matters. My opinion about you is My will for you.”