Tuesday, August 21, 2012

“When We Used To Wear Suits” by Garris Elkins

When I started in full-time ministry over 30 years ago most of us wore jackets and ties to preach on Sunday morning.  Recently, I looked at some old pictures of me back in the early 1980’s and according to the fashion standards of the day we looked just fine. Today, those pictures can be embarrassing.

A change took place somewhere in the late 80’s when the brave among us decided to ditch the coat and tie and replace it with an open collar, sweater and slacks. This went on for a few years until someone decided to wear jeans.  We all wanted to wear jeans, but needed someone to grant us “permission” to do it. 

I remember the first time I wore jeans.  It was for a Wednesday evening service.  I felt both naked and free. I got some comments.  I was surprised that most of the people thought it was cool.  We began to discover that jeans actually worked and in a few more years they began to show up behind many Sunday morning pulpits.  Today, I can only remember a few Sundays in the last ten years when I have not worn a pair of jeans.

The nice thing about jeans is that you can dress up or dress down around them.  Most Sundays I wear a nice shirt with my jeans. On those occasions where I want to dress it up a bit a dark sport coat over an un-tucked shirt with my jeans looks good.

I still have what I call a “marrying and burying” suit hanging in my closet.  This nice black suit comes out a few times each year to help a young couple begin their journey of life together or when someone passes into the presence of the Lord.  I wore my black suit just last week to conduct a marriage ceremony.  It actually felt good and brought back some memories.

I mention all of this about attire to process a simple point. The packaging of ministry has changed over the years and will continue to do so for many years to come. It’s OK to change things – in fact I think it’s a sign of health. The Church is one group that can actually get stuck in time and call it righteous.

If Jesus were to show up today, and manifest in a physical body, He would not be wearing a robe or sandals.  He would be dressed like the rest of us. Sometimes we make Jesus too mysterious.  The Incarnation – Jesus taking on a physical body like ours – was His idea.  He wanted to first fit in so He could then stand out.  Jesus was good at removing barriers to communication.

When Jesus went to His hometown of Nazareth He dressed like the audience to whom He spoke.  When He finished speaking they decided that He was just too familiar to them to be the real Messiah so they tried to murder Him by attempting to throw Him over a cliff. Looking contemporary has a downside.

While I think Jesus’ attire would change over time, I know His message would never change.  The unchangeable message of Jesus has migrated along the developing timeline of the Church for the last 2,000 years.  While culture will change, the message remains the same.

When Jesus stood in the synagogue in Nazareth and was handed the scroll, He read from Isaiah 61. As He read these words He was dressed in the garb of His day.

“The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is upon me, for the Lord has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to comfort the brokenhearted
and to proclaim that captives will be released
and prisoners will be freed. He has sent me to tell those who mourn
that the time of the Lord’s favor has come, and with it, the day of God’s anger against their enemies. To all who mourn in Israel, he will give a crown of beauty for ashes, a joyous blessing instead of mourning, festive praise instead of despair.”

Over all the years that I have done the stuff of ministry, I have tried to keep the message of the Gospel intact while cultural change was taking place all around me. The way we dress and what we drive will adjust as new products are marketed our way and we agree with those changes by exercising our choice as consumers. What will hopefully not change is the message of Jesus found in Isaiah 61. You can speak these words dressed in anything and deliver them at anytime and they will always bring life.

Friday, August 10, 2012

"This Good News" by Garris Elkins

And God chose me to be a preacher, an apostle, and a teacher of this Good News.” II Timothy 1:11 

When Paul wrote these words to his spiritual son, Timothy, it was the second letter Paul had written bearing Timothy’s name.  There is a sense of urgency in Paul’s instructions to Timothy in both letters. Paul speaks as a concerned father wanting his son to stir up the deposit God had placed in his life.

Among the many things Paul would remind Timothy of in his two epistles, preaching the Word seemed to be very important. Verse eleven is couched between two subjects - Paul telling Timothy to not be ashamed of the Gospel and Paul stating that the reason for his imprisonment was for preaching the Gospel.

Paul's preaching about Christ was a life-priority to him and it should be to each believer, not limited to those who stand behind a pulpit each week. Preaching the message of the Good News is what got Paul in trouble in many of the places he traveled. His jeopardy did not come from teaching on the structure of the Church or how to deliver a prophetic word.  The Good News Paul preached was a volatile subject about salvation in Christ alone that turned his contemporary world upside down.

Maybe it’s where I am in my life that compels me to seek a simpler order for the priorities of my calling as a follower of Jesus Christ.  I want a simple order of priorities that will keep me from over-complicating what God wants to do in and through me.  It has become too easy for me to seek a gift-based definition for what I do at the expense of simply declaring the message of Christ on a daily basis.

I am too willing to retreat into my equipping gifts at the expense of simply preaching and declaring Jesus.  What some of us may have overlooked is that the five-fold equipping ministry could simply be the recognition of how each of us preaches the Good News.  Some are apostolic preachers of the Good News.  Others are evangelist preachers of the Good News.  And still others can be either a prophet or a teacher or a pastor, all of whom preach the Good News while they function in their unique and defined calling to equip the Church for service.  Stephen, a waiter of tables for hunger widows, did this when his newly minted gift as an evangelist got him killed for preaching the Good News.

Some of this can be true in other fields of endeavor, like the academic world.  A professor can teach about something so long they might become out of touch with the very subject they are teaching.  In the Church, many of us have wanted our ministry to become so defined that we may have moved beyond the simple and pure devotion to Jesus to which we were originally called. A simple and pure devotion to Jesus is birthed out of His Good News.

Paul defined what he did in his personal ministry and listed them in this order – preacher, apostle and a teacher.  All three of these definitions had added to them these words, “…of this Good News.”  Paul was a preacher of this Good News, an apostle of this Good News and a teacher of this Good News – all that he was found its source in proclaiming “this Good News.”

We all could learn from Paul's instruction to Timothy.  Paul had to remind Timothy what the order of his ministry was – preacher, apostle, teacher. No matter which of the ministry descriptions Timothy would function within at any given time, Paul desired this tagline to describe what Timothy did in his ministry  - “this Good News.”  

Every follower of Christ is called to be a preacher of “this Good News". What is exciting to realize is that in all these preachers who make up the Church around the world there will emerge bands of apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers who will begin to equip the Church to do the work of the ministry, which is to share “this Good News” no matter what other ministry description they carry.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

“Preparing A Spiritual Go Bag” by Garris Elkins

A couple of months ago Jan and I flew to Phoenix, Arizona.  My flight was in the month of May so Phoenix was already getting hot.  I decided to wear shorts, flip flops and a tee shirt for the flight anticipating a very warm arrival.

The flight from Medford, Oregon took us over some really desolate countryside in Nevada and Arizona.  As I began to daydream, I wondered what I would do if the airplane went down and I somehow survived the crash.  We were flying over utter desolation. I realized I had no supplies and I was not dressed to survive.  I was wearing flip flops, shorts and a tee shirt.  Basically, I would be toast in an emergency.

As I thought about this imaginary scenario, I realized how foolish we have become in our Western culture to not be prepared to survive in the various landscapes through which we travel. We assume the environment inside our little insulated aluminum tubes called airplanes, flying high above unfriendly terrain, is our reality. We assume that the deserts we cross will never come inside our vehicles until we have car trouble and realize we forgot to bring water.

Just last week I watched a TV show about “Preppers.”  These are the people who have taken doomsday preparation to a new neurotic level. I found myself mocking some of what they were doing.  In my pride, I failed to realize that if the proverbial stuff ever did hit the fan they would appear a whole lot smarter than I was giving them credit for.

I began to ask myself some questions like, “Am I prepared to walk away from a spiritual crash site and navigate the emotionally challenging terrain ahead?”  “Have I worn spiritual flip flops for my life-trip instead of hiking boots with Vibram soles that can endure the hike back to reality?

As ridiculous as it would appear for any of us to think we could walk away from a real-life wilderness crash site in a pair of flip flops, it seems equally ridiculous to think that we could move through the coming seasons of life with weak spiritual footwear and a lack of survival equipment.

As I write this, I think of the Church in the first century being able to walk away from the spiritual crash sites of persecution, or the Reformers who climbed out alive from the wreckage of the Reformation, or the church in Uganda who walked away from the brutalizing presence of Idi Amin. In each of these examples, amidst great pain and sorrow, they made it out of the wilderness because they were spiritually prepared.

Recently, I learned a new phrase – “Go Bag.”  A Go Bag is a small backpack filled with enough supplies to get a person through the first three days of a catastrophe like a hurricane, earthquake or flood, where you are cut off from normal supply lines.  In the Go Bag is packed your food, water and survival supplies.  The Go Bag is placed in a known location and remains available to grab and go in case of an emergency. 

While is sounds like a smart idea to actually prepare one of these Go Bags for what can occur naturally, it seems even wiser to have our spiritual Go Bags ready for times of unexpected life-crisis.

As I began to think about what one might need in a spiritual Go Bag I came up with the following list:

-       A practiced trust in God developed before a crash happens.
-       Scripture intentionally hidden in our hearts.
-       A daily reliance on the supernatural power of God’s Spirit to deliver.
-       A realization that no matter what happens, God has a plan to save us.

This list for a spiritual Go Bag is short and simple.  I have developed this list from a lifetime of a trial and error faith in times of crisis.  If our spiritual Go Bags are packed and ready at all times, we will be able to walk away from any relational or emotional crash site with the ability to overcome the surrounding wilderness and survive the trek out to live another day for the glory of God.