Tuesday, September 18, 2012

"Getting Stung" by Garris Elkins

Most of us have been stung - by bees and by people.  Both experiences hurt.

Just the other day, I was riding my scooter home from the church office. I came to a tricky intersection where I would need both hands on the handlebars to safely make the turn.  Just as I began to accelerate out into the intersection, a bee flew up the back of my helmet and stung me.  In thousands of miles on various two-wheel vehicles this was a first.  

As the bee began to auger his sharp stinger into the back of my head, I so wanted to reach around and swat him.  If I had tried to swat the bee I would have lost control and put myself in greater jeopardy. I held onto to the controls with both hands and endured the trauma.

The next day, I thought of the various times people have stung me.  It happens to all of us.  A hurtful word or an unkind action can sting. Our first impulse reaction to a sting can get us in more trouble than the sting itself.  

Maybe you have someone who has really stung you and your response was less than perfect.  Try this - the next time you get stung by someone, keep both hands on your spiritual handlebars (Wisdom) and allow God (Trust) to download a better response. In the end, the venom of the sting will have less impact because the healing presence of God was allowed to counteract the poison and bring healing.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

“The Big Shot Pastor” by Garris Elkins

When our kids were in grade school we pastored a wonderful church on the coast of Oregon.  The coast culture is a great place to live. We still look back on those years with great warmth and affection.

Shortly after we arrived, we sensed that God was beginning to do something new in the church. The newness was not because Jan and I were now leading the church. The new thing happening was because God had decided to do something new and we just happened to be leading the church when God began revealing Himself in a special way.

After one Sunday service the sanctuary was filled to overflowing and the worship team had just led us into a wonderful experience with the presence of the Lord. After I preached the Word a woman ran up to me and said the words every pastor loves to hear – “Pastor, this is a revival!”  I was elated to say the least.

On the way home my then 8 year-old-son, David, asked to ride shotgun with dad up in the front seat.  Jan smiled and sat in the back with our daughter, Anna. As soon as we pulled out of the church parking lot, I began to talk about how powerful the Sunday morning service had been.  I talked about everything in great detail. I was on fire. 

After I had gone on and on about the morning service my son, with his sweet freckled 8 year-old-face beaming up at me, tried to ask a question.  I cut him off like he was an interruption to The Big Shot Pastor who was now talking about all the wonderful things God had done that day.

After we traveled a block or two I looked over to make sure my son heard my correction and I saw the tears in his eyes.  The once joyful face of my little buddy was now broken and downcast.  His eyes brimmed with tears that soon released and began to roll down his face.

I glanced back at the road to get my bearings and then looked back at my son and realized I had done something terribly wrong.   Then David spoke.  As he looked into my eyes he said, “Dad, I think you need to go away somewhere and find out why each time I try to talk to you, you get mad at me.” Then he turned away from me.

In that moment, I felt like the largest lineman in the NFL had just gut-punched me. I felt shame and sorrow come over me like an intense blanket of heat.  I felt I had destroyed this precious little guy who had brought me such joy in his eight short years.

It was like time went into slow motion.  My foot came off the accelerator and I slowly steered the car to the curb and turned off the motor. As I looked over at David he still had his face turned away from me pressed against the rain-soaked windshield.  I began talking to the back of his head.

“David, you are more important to me that any church service.  I love you and realize that I just hurt you.  I am so sorry, son.  Please forgive me and give me a chance to never do that again.”

David is a man of mercy and wisdom – he has always carried those two gifts.  Even from his childhood, and now as a full-grown man, he has extended mercy to those around him.  As parents, when we thought we had a situation all figured out, David would add that one piece of wisdom that would give us a deeper Kingdom-understanding.  David is a man after God’s own heart.

When I finished speaking my four sentences of repentance, David turned towards me with a gentle smile and said, “I forgive you, dad.”  Those words still ring in my heart to this day and are some of the most impacting words anyone has ever spoken to me.  We hugged each other.  I started the car and we continued our ride home for Sunday lunch. Jan and Anna wisely remained silent in the backseat throughout the entire incident and listened to God at work between a father and his son.

I learned something that day. As wonderful as what God would do in any circumstance, those wonderful works never take priority over people.  Jesus came and died for people, not great church services or great life accomplishments.

Twenty-five years ago, the day I failed miserably as a father, is a day I will always cherish.  When I think of my failure, I can still see my son’s smiling face looking up at me and I can still hear his tender words, “I forgive you, Dad.”  One of the most impacting church services I have ever experienced took place in the sanctuary of parked car on the streets of Newport, Oregon twenty-five years ago.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

“A Hundred Dollar Cry” by Garris Elkins

Thirty-one years ago I was a struggling young pastor.  Jan and I, along with our two little children, left all that was known and familiar to us and journeyed north to Montana to plant a church.  This was our first attempt at starting a church and our first time living in Montana.  We had no idea how it was to be done.  We simply had a word from God and were acting upon that word in faith.

After a few months went by my parents came for a visit.  Mom and dad grew up in the rough and scrabble life of working class America living through the Great Depression. They knew what tough times felt like. 

It’s strange how we can be “all grown up” as adults and find ourselves responding to our parents like we are still a twelve year-old kid.  While most of this child-in-an-adult-body-response is held inside, sometimes it can come out. During my parents visit my inner twelve year old spoke out a few times in frustration.

When mom and dad visited, we had less than 10 people including our family, attending our church. I felt like I was on display as a pastoral failure.  During this visit the mere presence of my parents allowed me to emotionally let down and explore some of my feelings.  I felt afraid, alone and scared of what was happening in my first attempt at public ministry.

The day mom and dad departed, Jan and I stood on our porch and waved goodbye as their Oldsmobile pulled out from our driveway and disappeared down our dusty Montana road.  I was feeling the sorrow of saying goodbye to two people who brought me such a sense of security by simply being in their presence for a few days.

I went back into the house and sat at my desk located in the corner of our bedroom.  When I picked up my Bible I found a $100.00 bill lying underneath.  I knew my parents had left the money for us.  We were living from one meager offering plate to the next.  As I held that bill in my hand, I broke down and began to cry like a baby. All the emotions I had carried for months began to puddle on my desktop.

As I scroll back over the years, I realize how powerful a single act of unsolicited love can be.  That $100.00 bill had no note or condition attached to it.  The bill just sat there, but it spoke deeply to me.  It said, “Son, God is in this.” “We love you.” “It is not over until it’s over.” 

I have come to see these acts of love, acts of love without words or notes attached to them, as some of the most powerful. They are powerful because they allow the recipient to attach their personal emotion and experience to them. 

That day, as I looked out from my desk across the Montana landscape, I felt a deeper love and appreciation for my parents.  I was given a gift of love that helped me continue to walk deeper on my journey of faith and not give up. I knew that through my parent’s act of unsolicited love, God was saying to me, “I love you, Garris. I am with you in this.  Don’t give up.”

Friday, September 7, 2012

“What Marks Us” by Garris Elkins

From my earliest memories, I can remember my father’s tattoos. He had one on each arm.  On his right arm was a beautiful old style tattoo where he had inked my mother’s name, “Lavert.”  On his left arm was another tattoo with the word, “Mother”. My father really loved his mom.  The color of these tattoos was in blue and red ink – colors that deepened in intensity over the years.

The tattoo with my mom’s name was installed shortly after mom and dad started dating in 1939.  Dad was so sure mom was the girl for him that he had her name inked into his flesh within the first month of their first date.  Mom told me that dad started asking her to marry him on their first date.  That question was posed weekly for almost two years until mom finally gave in. Even in her later years of life, my mom smiled like a young girl whenever she told me that story.

As a boy, each time I was picked up in my father’s arms I saw his tattoos.  When he worked as a contractor swinging a hammer I would either see the word, “Lavert” or “Mother”, come into view depending on which side of my dad I found myself working. Each time my father’s tattoos became visible a message was sent my way that spoke of love and respect.

The longer I walk with God the more I ask myself, “What marks my life.”  I am a husband, father and a pastor. I also go about living life in the community where I reside buying groceries, paying bills and getting cut off in traffic. It is in this daily grunt and grind of life that the sleeves of my personality occasionally ride up and people see who I really am – they see what really marks me.

I could get poetic, and maybe even theological here, with a well-crafted answer about what marks a true believer like, love, joy, peace, hope and so on.  All of these are powerful and true, but I know a lot of people who don’t confess the name of Jesus who do a pretty good job of being loving, joyful, peaceful, hopeful and so on.  There has to be more than just doing the right things.

What marked the nation of Israel and made them different from the surrounding nations was not primarily how they lived life.  The enemy nations that surrounded Israel had similar rites, ceremonies and worshipped their own gods.  What made Israel different from every other nation was the presence of God.  God was with them.  Immanuel was present among them. 

Even today, it is the presence of God that defines a believer beyond any label. God has asked us to carry His presence as the primary mark upon our lives. When we yield to His presence we call that obedience. What follows these acts of obedience is where love, joy, peace and hope find their definition.

Being in the presence of my father allowed me to see what marked His life.  I saw how he loved my mom and how he spoke tenderly about his mother.  I saw how he worked hard each day to put food on our table. I only saw those things because I was in my father’s presence.  It is being with someone – in their presence each day– where you get to see what truly marks their lives.

I don’t think Jesus had any tattoos, but His presence was so marked by His Father's presence that anyone who took the time to be with Him picked up the same markings.  These markings are not physically visible like a tattoo. They are markings that are placed upon our lives after we trade the fake for the real and the temporary for the eternal.

In the early 1990’s, Jan and I were in London, England on vacation.  As we toured London we visited the hip West End.  There were many funky shops and restaurants lining the streets. 

As we walked along we noticed a tattoo shop. The owner was a unique-looking man with many tats up and down his arms. It is said that after hours he had been invited into Buckingham Palace to ink some of the Royal Family.

As we stood inside the tattoo shop, I looked at Jan and she looked at me and smiled. Yes, it stung just a little installing a small rose and the name, “Jan”, on my right shoulder. To this day, I am still proud of that little tat.     

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

“Shadow Land” by Garris Elkins

“The old system under the law of Moses was only a shadow, a dim preview of the good things to come, not the good things themselves.” Hebrews 10:1

Jesus cast His shadow from eternity into the history of the Old Testament.  The festivals, feasts and observances were all shadows, dim previews, of something that would come in the future and be revealed in the person of Jesus Christ.

The revelation of Jesus is never a call to return to a dim and expired covenant from the past, but a call forward into something new that is filled with all the good things God has prepared for us. When Jesus arrived on our planet all the old covenant imagery that foreshadowed His coming, and the regulations of law that accompanied that imagery, vanished. The very appearance of Jesus changed everything. 

In Mark 7:19 Jesus said to His Jewish friends,

Food doesn’t go into your heart, but only passes through the stomach and then goes into the sewer.” (By saying this, he declared that every kind of food is acceptable in God’s eyes.)”

These were shocking words to the Jewish listeners.  The shadow images of the old covenant dietary rules went out the window as Jesus spoke.  The religious leaders who were in control of the shadow images of the old covenant wanted to kill Jesus for suggesting such a thing.

It is too easy to think that Peter’s rooftop instructions found in Acts 10, “Rise, Peter; kill and eat”, were the original source of our new covenant dietary freedoms.  It wasn’t.  Jesus, not Peter, is the one who sets us free from living in the shadows of something that has passed its expiration date. Whenever the presence of Jesus is made known, like it was in Mark 7, all the shadows pointing to Him are consumed in His current revelation.

Jesus has called us to experience a Kingdom that is unfolding before us. This revelation is making known the good things never seen before because they did not exist in their fullness in the shadows of the past. These are the things of substance seen only with the eyes of faith. These good things will be revealed in the brilliance of our unfolding future, not in the shadows of our past.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

"The Next Big Thing" by Garris Elkins

As a pastor, I receive some of the latest information about what is taking place within the church world.  A lot of what I read is the search for "The Next Big Thing" coming to the Church.   
Over the years I have seen this search take people on a quest for larger churches, the latest in staff structures, new ways to preach to disinterested people, and the list goes on and on.  This never-ending search for "The Next Big Thing" is a journey that can lead to frustration, performance and compromise.   
I have come to realize the only "The Next Big Thing" I care to invest my life in is a new and fresh move of God's Spirit where the unexplainable and immeasurable works of God take place.   
Many times a life given to the pursuit of "The Next Big Thing" leaves in its wake a disconnect from the only thing that really matters - His presence. Out of His presence flows all that is valuable and worthy. The early disciples sought His presence in worship in Acts 13 and from that gathering the ministry to the entire Gentile world was birthed and that experience with His presence is still being felt today.
In this season of life and ministry, I am giving God permission to recalibrate the direction of my life and all that I pursue in His name.  I believe that many of us with this similar passion will see God begin to do "The Next Big Thing" in our midst which has always been the only thing.