Thursday, February 28, 2013

“My Humiliation” by Garris Elkins

I was afraid to go into Junior High School.  Horror stories filled my young head about the “big kids” who really didn’t like little guys like me. We heard stories about getting our pants pulled down in front of girls. Much of what I lived in fear of never took place.  Normal stuff happened like kids sticking out their foot and trying to trip you or someone saying something dumb to make you feel even dumber.

The first month of Junior High seemed to go by without much of a problem so I began to think I might have successfully made it through the dreaded season of Junior High initiation. 

Each morning all the kids who were bused to school would have to meet in the cafeteria and wait until class started.  I was never really sure why we were not allowed to play on the playground, but I was just a kid – what did I know?

There were rules for all of us held captive in the cafeteria each morning.  No talking and no eating were allowed.  Our lives were reduced to a very abnormal activity for someone our age - motionlessness.

One morning on the school bus a kid gave me a stick of gum.  I chewed the life out of that gum on the way to school and honestly forgot it was in my mouth. I was oblivious to the fact that I was breaking one of the cafeteria commandments.

Each morning a teacher would be assigned to monitor our pre-class holding cell of non-activity.  On this particular morning Mr. Jones (I have changed his name just in case he might still be alive) was the teacher assigned to cafeteria duty.  He was a very handsome man.  All the girls liked him and surrounded him like an admiring human necklace.  To the guys it was kind of sickening since we were no competition for Mr. Jones. At this stage in our development we were only skinny/fat/tall/short little nerds who had yet to come into our own.

About ten minutes into our cafeteria time, I was minding my own business when the really deep and manly voice of Mr. Jones boomed out and echoed off the walls and linoleum floors of the cafeteria.  Whenever Mr. Jones spoke like this we knew he was about to emotionally filet some poor kid. All of us sucked in our collective breath and wondered who would get it this morning.

“You, over there - chewing the gum – look at me!”  I was so glad it wasn’t me until I realized I was actually chewing the gum given to me on the bus forty-five minutes earlier.  He had to be talking about someone else so I didn’t look up.
Mr. Jones bellowed again, “You, Elkins, look at me!”

At that moment the most frightful thing that could ever happen to a Junior High kid was taking place, I was being noticed.  A couple of things began to happen.  I wanted to go to the bathroom really bad but held it.  My bowels were doing those funny things that happen when you are home sick with the flu and need to find a toilet really fast.  On the other end of my physiological reaction was the desire to heave up the oatmeal mom made for me earlier that morning, along with the toast, the glass of milk and the cookie I snuck out of the cookie jar. I played the man, pinched both ends shut and looked up.

As my eyes met the gaze of Mr. Jones he said, “Yeah, you, Elkins, stand up.”  As I slowly rose the entire cafeteria went silent.  Junior High kids were about to witness a public execution so being quiet and obedient in times like this was essential for their personal survival.

My life, all 12 years of it, was now flashing before my eyes.  Grown ups said this is what happens just before a person is about to die and they were right.  Then the snickers started coming from all across the cafeteria.  I was being abandoned and left alone in the greatest moment of shame I had ever experienced.  It was about to get much worse.

Mr. Jones then issued a command, “Elkins, I want you to get down on all fours and crawl over to me like a dog.”  What? I wanted to protest, but only knew I needed obey the teacher.  Slowly I got down on the dirty, un-mopped cafeteria floor, and began to crawl on all fours towards Mr. Jones.  The kid’s snickers had now become outright laughter. Mr. Jones seemed to be feeding off his audience like a comedian working a room. As I shuffled across the floor my knees and hands became black with the dirt, grease and food crumbs that litter a school cafeteria floor.

I started my long, crawling journey towards Mr. Jones.  It took a couple of minutes to make the journey.  It felt like a lifetime. I wanted to hide.  I wanted to be gone.  I wanted to die.

As I finally came to a stop at the feet of Mr. Jones he had one final command.  “Elkins, crawl over to that garbage can and spit out your gum.”  In a numbed response of obedience, I crawled over to the garbage can and spit out my gum.  At least this torture and humiliation was over, I thought, but Mr. Jones was not done with me. 

“Now, get back down on the floor and crawl back to your seat.” Again, a crawl of humiliation was assigned to me and back across the dirty floor and through the mocking laughter of my classmates I went.  As I reached my seat, I sat down emotionally destroyed.  As a 12 year-old kid, I felt my life was over.  I had no idea how to get out of the hole that Mr. Jones dug for me.  The rest of the day I lived in an emotional state of numbness.  I heard people speaking and felt my feet on the ground, but I was fully disconnected from reality.  I was still that way when I got home later that afternoon.

As a family, we always ate dinner together. I was usually the noisy one at the table. On this particular night, I carried my numbness and silence to the table.  About half way through dinner my dad asked me what was wrong. The last thing I wanted to do was recall the events of the day.  When I hesitated dad pressed me to answer because he could see something was terribly wrong.

I spent the next few moments sharing with my family what happened to me. That night I didn’t finish my dinner and went off to bed early.  The stress of the day had taken a physical toll on my young body, along with the emotional toll on my developing self-image.

Fifty years have passed since that humiliating incident in the cafeteria.  I had parked the pain of that day deep within my heart.  Over the years, God had me pray for Mr. Jones.  I did not know what to feel about him.  As a kid, I was told to respect and trust my elders, yet here was a man who had deeply violated another human being.  Today, he would be fired and possibly brought up on charges of child abuse.  As the years went by I began to add blessings to my prayers for Mr. Jones. 

Somewhere near the forty-year anniversary of this event my wife and I were praying and this incident came to the surface.  As Jan and I returned to that day in prayer, Jan prayed “Jesus, come and reveal your truth.”

As I relived that painful crawl on the dirty floor, I was shocked to actually see the Lord.  He was there that day.   He was down on all fours with me – crawling on the dirty floor beside me.  He wasn’t looking at Mr. Jones or the laughing kids.  His eyes were fixed on me.

At first I did not know what to think of the image I was seeing.  Jesus had crawled with me all the way over to Mr. Jones.  His robe was getting dirty. His hands slide through the same grease and dirt as my hands.  He listened to the hurtful and demeaning words of Mr. Jones.  Jesus was there at the garbage can as I spit out my gum “like a dog” and he was there crawling with me all the way back to my seat. I was never alone in my humiliation. 

What came next was even more amazing.  Jan asked, “Is the Lord saying anything to you?”  Again, I paused, and waited to hear.  The Lord spoke and said, “Garris, what you experienced that day was very painful, but I always provide purpose in the midst of your pain.  For the last fifty years Mr. Jones had no one to pray for him.  You have prayed for him and I have used those prayers in his life.  My purpose was fulfilled in the midst of your pain.”

As those words sunk deep into my spirit I began to see my suffering that day, and all the other times of personal suffering, in a completely different light.  I began to realize no suffering we experience is ever lost in a purposeless place.  God is always working somewhere in our suffering for a higher good.

Suffering links us to Christ in a unique way.  Many of us look at suffering and try to remove it from our memory by turning our back on its presence.  That never works.  Suffering not yielded to God can fester and become a place of sickness instead of freedom.  

The suffering of Jesus was so real that when he saw the Cross approaching he asked the Father if there was another way possible.  Thankfully, Jesus embraced his suffering so we could be free in the midst of ours.  The humanity of Christ spoke out that day in the Garden of Gethsemane and brought us a real and honest look at personal pain.

Some people fight suffering.  Jesus embraced it.  If we can embrace our suffering, and find Jesus in that experience, we will begin see the hope of resurrection hidden somewhere in the pain. A life focused only on the pain of suffering – without Jesus in the picture - will become a life absent of the songs of worship and deliverance that are birthed in the bowels of suffering.

Paul said in Romans 8:17, “And since we are his children, we are his heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory. But if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering.”  In other words, we can’t escape the reality of suffering if we are in route to the inheritance God has planned for us. 

Somewhere in each season of suffering there exists the comfort of God.  In 2 Corinthians 1:7 Paul writes,  “We are confident that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in the comfort God gives us.” Many miss this comfort because they look for the removal of the pain or seek punishment of the offender. 

That day on the cafeteria floor I was not suffering alone.  Jesus was crawling with me through the shame, the dirt and the mockery.  The first time around, I missed this fact and carried the burden of suffering alone.  Years later, Jesus showed me he was always there with me. I was never alone. That knowledge has changed how I now live in the midst of suffering. His promise to us is that he will never leave us or forsake us – ever.

Today, I thank God for Mr. Jones.  My experience with a dysfunctional teacher has turned out to be a great blessing in my life.  I have learned so much about the heart of God from the pain I experienced that day.  This is the desired goal for any follower of Christ - that we would find Jesus in the midst of our most painful experiences.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

“Rescued by God” by Garris Elkins

As a kid growing up we had one of those large, rubber-walled above ground swimming pools in our back yard. The pool stood three feet tall and was about twenty feet across.  My brother and I would spend hours each summer swimming and playing in the water under the warm California sun.

One of our favorite games was to play Sea Hunt. Sea Hunt was the weekly black and white television series starring Lloyd Bridges.  Lloyd had a business of underwater work using SCUBA gear.  He was always fighting bad guys and even had underwater knife fights.  For hours my brother and I would pretend we had SCUBA tanks on as we fought each other underwater with pretend knives.

Long after my childhood underwater adventures ended, I still loved the thought of actually learning to SCUBA dive.  At age twenty-two a friend of mine wanted to go to the Caribbean on a dive trip and asked if I wanted to join him.  He was an accomplished diver.  His only requirement was that I become a certified SCUBA diver before the trip. I agreed and signed up for the next available class. After weeks of intense training, I passed the course just days before our flight departed for the dive vacation.

Diving with tanks was an entirely new experience for me.  I loved it. I could stay underwater for long periods of time exploring the beauty of this new liquid universe.  On our dive vacation we dove for two weeks in the Bahamas, the Grand Cayman Islands and Jamaica.  Our longest stay was in Montego Bay, Jamaica where we dove with the British Sub-Aqua Club. 

After a week of our daily dives, I was becoming more and more comfortable.  My friend asked our dive master if he would take us on a bounce dive.  A bounce dive is where a diver goes down deeper than normal by bouncing down to a predetermined depth and then staging their ascent back to the surface by decompressing at various levels. This kind of dive is dangerous. We were told the week before two people had died trying a similar bounce dive in the same location, but without a dive master.   I began to wonder about the wisdom of our decision. 

Our dive master went through all the procedures we would need to know in order to make this kind of dive.  We would carefully step our way down, keeping contact with each other.  Just above our target depth we would gather and then make the bounce.

When I was trained to SCUBA dive I was instructed about something called nitrogen narcosis. It is referred to as the “rapture of the deep”. The deeper a diver goes the more they are overcome with a buzz similar to the effects of alcohol. In fact, one of the names for nitrogen narcosis is “The Martini Effect”. The narcosis takes place from breathing compressed gases while under increasing pressure. When under the influence of narcosis a diver loses his concentration and ability to focus. Unrestrained, nitrogen narcosis can kill.

At the edge of Montego Bay is a deep underwater shelf.  It descends over 3,000 feet down to the ocean floor.  The wall of this underwater shelf is an excellent reference point for this kind of dive.

Our instruction that day was to descend in stages to 180 feet and then hold up. From there we would bounce down together to our 200-foot goal and then come back up to the first of our decompression depths.   At about 130 feet I began to feel really relaxed. I began to free fall in a state of bliss.  I looked like a skydiver with arms and legs spread apart floating towards earth.

At 150 feet I was in full-blown narcosis. I was floating deeper and deeper into the abyss not caring one bit that I was heading towards the demise of the two divers who died the week before under a similar circumstance.  What saved me was my dive master.

The dive master saw what was taking place and removed his knife and began to hit it against his air tank as he began to swim to my rescue.  I thought, “What an annoying thing to do – he is disturbing my tranquility.” After a few moments of hearing this invasive metallic noise, I realized what was taking place and stopped just as the dive master grabbed my tank to halt my descent.  Had I been alone I would have died. The rescue saved my life.

The apostle Paul talked of being rescued. He described to the Corinthian Church the trouble he experienced in the province of Asia.  This trouble was so severe that Paul thought he was going to die. He recorded his thoughts in II Corinthians 2.

8 “We think you ought to know, dear brothers and sisters, about the trouble we went through in the province of Asia. We were crushed and overwhelmed beyond our ability to endure, and we thought we would never live through it. 9 In fact, we expected to die. But as a result, we stopped relying on ourselves and learned to rely only on God, who raises the dead. 10 And he did rescue us from mortal danger, and he will rescue us again. We have placed our confidence in him, and he will continue to rescue us. 11 And you are helping us by praying for us. Then many people will give thanks because God has graciously answered so many prayers for our safety.”

Paul was in a situation where he needed a rescue.  Statements like, “we thought we would never live through it” and “we expected to die”, are statements made by someone facing death.

In our lives this “end” is not always a physical death.  It can be the death of a marriage; the death of a financial dream; the death of a friendship or the death of a ministry.  As painful as these experiences can be, with God,  it's never over until a resurrection takes place. God is our Eternal Dive-Master who always has a rescue plan to go into the depths of our experience to retrieve us.

As we struggle in a difficult place we begin to discover something positive is being offered to us. Paul said it so well in verse 9, “We stopped relying on ourselves and learned to rely only on God, who raises the dead.”  As we move from self-reliance to relying only on God, a shift takes place.  The shift is the repositioning of our trust from self to God. When this shift takes place a door is opened for something supernatural to enter our circumstance because natural systems of self-rescue are no longer able to save us.

The most impacting words Paul spoke in this discourse is the fragment of a sentence at the end of verse 9 – “who raises the dead”.  Paul lived with the realization that no matter what would take place in Asia – even his physical death – he would experience a resurrection.  Paul was a living billboard announcing the reality that with God it’s never over until a resurrection takes place. Paul had deposited all his hope in the resurrecting power of God.  This fueled Paul’s faith and shaped his vision for life.

Two things happen to us when we begin to think like Paul:

We begin to see our future differently.

Paul said in verse 10, “And he will rescue us again”. Even in Paul’s darkest moment when he faced imminent death he was able to see ahead because the end was never what happened to him while he lived on earth. Paul knew God would be there like a rescuing dive master. If he met his “end” in Asia, it would never truly be his end.

We reposition our confidence.

Paul said, “We have placed our confidence in him”.  Confidence is something we take hold of and place somewhere. Our ability to trust God is a deposit we make into him. This is a choice of our will.  I must pick up my confidence and actually move it from me to God. Hope flows from where we have made the deposit of our trust.  We can only walk in confidence if our trust is placed in God who is ultimately responsible for the outcome.

I often ask myself this question – “What is left of your abilities and resources to come to your rescue?”  I ask myself this question because all too often I find myself holding back just enough of my abilities and resources to feel comfortable and still remain in control.  This is a delusion much like a diver floating down into the depths under the influence of nitrogen narcosis.  It may feel good, but you will eventually die under its influence.

One of the problems we have in Western culture is that we have so many layers of options that can insulate us from the real issues of life.  We have so much that can come to our rescue. A full bank account, social rescue systems or a history of wise past decisions can all be part of the illusion.  These can work for a while until we come face-to-face with the death of something.  None of these layers contain resurrection power. The finality of death in a marriage or a life-dream is like a knife that penetrates these layers of false security. They are like the metallic sound of my dive masters knife penetrating the tranquility of my descent of death down the sea wall in Montego Bay.

God is a rescuer.  He came to seek and save the lost.  God will also ask us to work with him to come to the rescue of other people.  Paul said in verse 11, “You are helping us by praying for us”. I can only imagine what Paul was going through in the province of Asia.  In those dark moments of impending death it is reassuring to know that people are praying for you for the only hope you have left – that somehow God has a rescue plan.  Knowing that we are not alone can make the journey less fearful.

Jan and I were invited to the home of a couple in our church.  The dinner and conversation was wonderful. Towards the end of the evening this couple began to share how they prayed for our family and especially our children.  Each family goes through challenging seasons and ours is no exception. 

When this couple shared with us they were praying for our kids we were going through a particularly difficult time as parents. We were crying out to God. In the circumstance that concerned us the only resolution would take place if God showed up. He was our only remaining option. We had exhausted all other avenues. We left that evening filled with a renewed hope. 

If you see someone caught in a free-falling death descent – how do you pray?  Over the years I have come to pray for two things.  First, I pray that Jesus would reveal himself to the person.  The presence of the risen Christ in a place of death is supernaturally powerful and will silence the lies that death speaks.  I also pray that there would be a resurrection.  I ask God to raise dead ways of thinking. I ask him to raise hopeless people to a place of hope where they begin to rely on God for the outcome and not their own ability or resources.  I also pray that they would begin to trust in the God, “who raises the dead”.  For a believer there is always the hope of a resurrection coming to our rescue and that is where we should place our hope.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

“A Revival of Oneness” by Garris Elkins

Some of us wait for the miracles to fall before we think a revival can begin.  Others are waiting for a cultural icon to come to Christ to set off a line of spiritual dominos falling towards a massive move of God’s Spirit. Jesus had another plan – he said the world would believe his message when the Church lived as one and walked in unity.

During the Last Supper recorded in John’s Gospel, Jesus began to pray right in the middle of dinner.  It would be like one of us having dinner at a friend’s house and we simply began praying at the table.  Everyone watched and listened as Jesus prayed to the Father.

“I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message. I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me.” John 17: 20-21
Jesus was laying before the disciples a truth about spiritual relationships. Spiritual relationships in God’s Kingdom are never more than one.  A single, unmarried person is one.  Two single people become one when married. There is only one Church on planet earth. Jesus said that he and the Father were one.  In his prayer 2,000 years ago, Jesus was describing the Church of today, “for all that would ever believe”, the reality of a spiritual union with him.
There was a driving reason behind Jesus praying for our oneness.  He said, “so that the world will believe you sent me.”  I have become so familiar with this text over the years that I missed what Jesus was really saying.  He knew the moving of the Spirit upon the earth to release a great harvest of souls would take place when the world could see our oneness instead of our division. This oneness would validate the message we would preach in his name.
Jesus continued his prayer in verse 22:
“I have given them the glory you gave me, so they may be one as we are one. I am in them and you are in me. May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me. Father, I want these whom you have given me to be with me where I am. Then they can see all the glory you gave me because you loved me even before the world began!”
Jesus gave the first disciples his glory to accomplish the task of oneness.  The glory is where the miracles take place.  Signs, wonders and miracles fall into this world surrounded by the glory of God.  Glory is the substance of God’s presence. The word for glory in the original language is a word that describes weight. There is a substance and weight to God’s glory.  The early disciples would carry this glory in their oneness with each other as they walked the streets of the cities in the Middle East. This glory surrounded their lives and released the supernatural works of God while they continued to walk in oneness with each other.
We are waiting for revival to come. Some are looking for the next move of God to fall so they can join in.  I find nothing wrong with any of those desires, but the greater reality is we already possess the key for revival and that key is oneness.  I believe where groups of believers make the hard choice to live in oneness with each other, those places will become ground zero for a move of God ushering in the immense harvest of souls God has planned.
When I was a police officer, I was assigned to a detail that dealt with what we today call domestic terrorists. Some of these terrorist groups fabricated emergency 911 calls to lure unsuspecting police officers into the trap of an ambush where members of these groups would open fire on the responding police officers.
When the police officers came under fire, some made the fatal mistake of stopping their vehicle and attempting to fight their way out of the ambush.  Other officers were killed when they tried to back up and flee the firefight in reverse.  During that time our police tactics were reviewed and we found the only real chance for survival was to accelerate our police vehicle and drive through the ambush.   Some officers followed this new tactic and lived.  Others tried to stand and fight in the ambush and they died.
One of the greatest hindrances to God moving in revival power is when we take up an offense against another person. When we pick up an offense and hold on to it, we become a divided and weakened Church.
The forces of hell are masters at laying an ambush in our path. These spiritual terrorists know just what buttons to push in us that will cause the greatest pain and reaction. They want us to try to fight our way through the ambush by making a personal defense or by backing up into our past and justifying ourselves or trying to get someone to respond to us differently. 
An offense is something we have to actually pick up. It is like picking up a box.  We must grasp it to carry it.  You and I will experience an offense somewhere along the way.  Someone will say something or do something to us that will hurt us.  These painful experiences are never personal even though they feel very personal.  The person offending us is simply responding to us from a broken place in their life and we end up taking a hit.
If you have taken up an offense against another person you are carrying something that will actually hurt your development as a follower of Jesus.  Even more important, the unresolved offense you willfully carry will inhibit belief in the lives of those who do not yet know Christ.  It is time to make an exchange.
When we said yes to the invitation of salvation from Jesus we exchanged our unrighteousness for his righteousness.  Our relationship with Jesus began with an exchange. For the rest of our lives, following that initial exchange, we will be invited to future exchanges of unrighteous thoughts and actions.  We will be asked to exchange our mourning for dancing.  We will be asked to exchange our weeping for joy.  We will be asked to exchange lies for truth. Without a life that includes exchanging death for life we will become victims to the ambush plans of hell whose desire it is to create an ineffective witness in the Church to the unbelieving world.
This exchanging of an offense is not an easy thing to do.  We want those who caused us pain to feel our pain.  We have been trained by broken families and friends that we need to wait for the other person to make things right. Oneness doesn’t wait.  Jesus didn’t wait for us. He came to us.  Oneness goes to the other person, no matter who is at fault, and tries to correct the wrong.  The salvation of the world is at stake.
When we go to someone who has offended us we don’t go trying to fix them.  We go to simply say, “When you said that about me, I was deeply hurt.  I have been carrying an offense against you.  Please forgive me.  I want to restore the oneness between us that Jesus desired for us to have.”  Those words are spoken when we make the exchange.  We lay down our offense and we pick up freedom.
The act of laying down our offenses and restoring oneness to the Body of Christ is one of the highest forms of spiritual warfare. When we choose to lay down an offense we are dismantling the ambush plans of darkness.  We survive these ambushes by accelerating through them in humility. This is a war against some of the most powerful demons in the devil’s terrorist force. 
Ask yourself, “Am I carrying an offense against another person?”  If you are, identity the offense and own the fact that you have picked up something Jesus never intended you to carry.  Confess your offense to the Lord, exchange the bitterness, unforgiveness and resentment for mercy and love, and accelerate through the waiting ambush into a season of revival.