Saturday, May 25, 2013

“Preaching to the Trees” by Garris Elkins

In the late 1970’s, I was a student at Ministries Institute at Faith Center in Eugene, Oregon.  I had the privilege of listening to profound teachers each week.  Names like Roy Hicks, Jr., Ron Mehl, Jack Hayford and Jerry Cook graced our pulpit.  It was a preaching garden and each week we enjoyed it’s fruit.

In Ministries Institute we were required to prepare sermons to preach to the other students in our study group.  There is something special about a group of young men and women trying their best to honor the Word of God and at the same time not be boring to the other students. Most of our sermons sounded the same, but I think God loved it.

At the time, I was also working as a police officer in Springfield, Oregon.  I was working swing shift  – from mid-afternoon until about midnight.  Somewhere in our shift we would take Code 7 – police radio code for our dinner break.  We got thirty minutes to order and eat our meal.  Trying to order, eat and watch your back made eating in a restaurant not such a great experience.  Most of the time I grabbed something from a drive-through or brought a bag lunch and simply ate in my patrol car.

Whenever it was my turn to preach in our class I would skip eating during my meal break and would drive up into the foothills on the south side of Springfield and park my patrol car.  The area where I parked was accessed by a dirt road that ended in a wooded area surrounded by pine trees.

When I parked my patrol car, I let dispatch know that I was “Code 7” and then I pulled out my sermon notes.  I spread the notes out on the hood of the patrol car and began to preach through my sermon, out loud. Since I only had 30 minutes, I began to learn how to manage my preaching time. It’s funny to this day every Saturday morning I do the same thing with my message.  I have been doing this each week for 32 years.  I still work through a message out loud to catch the flow of what I am trying to say.

As I preached across the hood of my patrol car towards the forest my voice would echo through the trees.  I would stop from time-to-time to correct my notes and maybe add something new.  At the end of each message I would always give an invitation for people to come to Jesus.  All of this was done in my best preaching voice – out loud in full uniform, gun and all.

This morning, I was sharing this memory with my daughter and I started to chuckle.  I asked Anna, "I wonder how many stoned hippies were hiding in the trees above Springfield, Oregon in the 1970’s and possibly got saved listening to this cop, student-preacher preach the Word to the trees and then give an invitation."  I can’t wait to get to heaven and find out.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

“The Line of Trust” by Garris Elkins

A couple of years ago, Jerry Cook came and spoke at our church.  Jerry is one of my ministry heroes. For the last 30-plus years he has been a mentoring presence in my life through his writing and teaching.  He has also functioned in this mentoring role to many others throughout the Body of Christ.

When Jerry was with us he also ministered to the pastors and leaders in our region of Southern Oregon.  This was a full and abundant time sitting under Jerry’s teaching gift.  In between our meetings Jerry had lunch with Jan and me. 

At some point in our lunch, I began to process leadership with Jerry.  In our conversation, Jerry made a statement that caused me to stop and re-process how I lead and represent God’s Kingdom.  Jerry said, “I never took a position that had me representing an organization to pastors.  I always wanted to remain on the other side of that line so I could represent pastors to the organization.”

Our lunchtime conversation continued on to other subjects, but part of my mind set up camp around Jerry’s comment about the line.  I wanted to personally process Jerry’s comment later so I could glean all the wisdom available from such profound insight.

As I began to think about what Jerry shared, I realized he was not saying that a religious organization is somehow wrong or that those who serve in any official capacity are suspect.  What I came away with was the realization that whether we serve in some official capacity or serve in the deepest and distant trenches of ministry, we all serve a higher reality – we serve the King of a Kingdom and His purposes.

Personally, I am honored to serve in an official capacity in the Foursquare Church.  I have always danced with the line Jerry described.  As I brought Jerry’s comment into my own role, I began to realize this line must be moved beyond all of us and positioned at the feet of Jesus. 

The moving of the representational line - beyond all our serving and leading roles - is critical, if trust is going to be experienced in our ranks.  If pastors realize that those who serve in leadership positions over them will yield to the higher good of God’s Kingdom – even at the expense of organizational survival – they can begin to trust that leadership at a deeper level.  If those who lead understand those in the ranks of ministry also want the higher good of God’s Kingdom, they will not have to be protective of organizational survival at the expense of Kingdom advancement.

The line Jerry talked about was a line about trust. Each of us must discover where that line of trust exists in our own lives and ministry and ask ourselves why it occupies that position.  The position of the line of trust can move back and forth throughout the different seasons of Church life depending on the level of our corporate health at a given moment.

Our conversations and relationships can be inhibited based on where our line of trust exists. The farther the line of trust moves away from the feet of Jesus - toward us and between us - the more we will discover our relational dysfunction. As each of us desire to become more relationally healthy, the most noticeable evidence of that health will be the direction in which our line of trust is moving.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

“Can’t I Bless You In Your Suffering?” by Garris Elkins

Each family will go through seasons of challenge and suffering in the course of a lifetime.  As a family, we recently experienced one of those times.  In the end, God showed up and pointed the situation in a new direction, but at the start we felt overwhelmed.

As I began to navigate the early moments of our challenging situation, I felt a need to put all my normal activities on hold until the crisis was over.  I began to cancel certain events and was about to cancel one final appointment on my list, something I really like to do under normal circumstances. As I began to cancel the appointment, the Lord asked me a question, “Can’t I bless you in your suffering?”

The question actually startled me.  I had become focused on the painful event we were experiencing and had assumed a waiting posture until it could be resolved.  Any thought of personal blessing or gain in the middle of the suffering felt like it would have been out of the question.

Somewhere in my mind, I had allowed a false way of thinking to enter my thoughts.  This false thinking said the blessings of God are reserved only for those times outside our times of suffering.  I felt I had to endure this painful situation until the end before it would be appropriate for a blessing to come my way.  As the Lord’s question rang in my ears, I realized I had been living with a limited image of God’s goodness in times of suffering.

We are in a moment of Church history where God is planning to arrive in our places of suffering with blessings in His hand and drop those blessings into our lives in unexpected ways.  As He releases these gifts, He is blessing us as a father would bless a child who is experiencing sadness or sorrow. But there is something more He is going after.  God is going after our limited belief in His goodness.  He is going after pious sounding misconceptions that blind us to His heart.  He is going after terminal thought patterns that releases sorrow instead of joy.

When the Lord asked me the question – “Can’t I bless you in your suffering?” – my response was, “Yes, Lord you can, but don’t I need to get through this first?”

My question to His question revealed a second point of healing God wanted me to experience.  Many of us think we must endure the full length of suffering before God is willing show up with His goodness and provision.  This misunderstanding comes from a mindset that says God teaches us more in seasons of suffering than in times of blessing. God is free to teach us in any way He desires.  Suffering can get our attention and so can a blessing in a painful and dry season.  What matters most is whether through suffering or blessing our focus turns to Him.  

That day I kept the appointment I was about to cancel. When I arrived, I received a tremendous blessing.  The blessing was beyond what I would dare to ask or think in a time of suffering.  I came away a changed person.  God’s goodness changed me.

From the blessing I received from my kept appointment and what I learned of the Father’s heart in the process, came a new vocabulary to use in times of suffering.  That new vocabulary contained words of hope and blessing - the very words I would use later in the day to turn several conversations regarding our personal crisis from despair to hope.

If you are walking through a valley shadowed by death and despair, listen with new ears to the voice of the Spirit.  God is about to bless you in your suffering.  He has things planned for you that are similar to what Paul wrote about in Ephesians 3:20, “Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think.”