Tuesday, September 24, 2013

“Processed Prophecy” by Garris Elkins

This week, I recorded a thought on my Twitter feed: “A healthy prophetic word will include an element of self-indictment.”

The day after I shared that sentence, I was reading in Ezekiel and came across verse ten in chapter three, Son of man, let all my words sink deep into your own heart first. Listen to them carefully for yourself.”

Some people will use the phrase, “I am carrying a prophetic word.”  Prophetic words are carried, but they also need to be personally processed by the one carrying the word before they deliver it.

Prophetic words are first captured in our hearts, as Ezekiel mentioned. These prophetic words then migrate outward from our innermost being passing through our soul and finally they are expressed through the physical delivery systems of voice, writing or creative imagery.

The word of prophecy God deposits in our heart will many times strike an obstacle still embedded in our lives on its way out towards expression. These obstacles can be our pride, our limited understanding of a complex situation, immaturity or unconfessed personal sin. The personal processing of these prophetic words provides the deliverer of the word with an opportunity to be healed. Long-term effectiveness in prophetic ministry requires the prophetically inspired person to first examine their personal obstacles before they deliver the word God has given them. This keeps prophetic ministry healthy and balanced.

It is in this outward passage of a word, from our heart to the hearer, that we have an opportunity to experience humility.  In the act of personal examination we are tenderized and humbled.  This process adjusts our attitude to not think of ourselves as living on a higher plane than those to whom we have something to say.

In this process of humility the word we deliver becomes encased in the love of God and its delivery will express His heart and motives more than it will expresses our will or our need to share the word.  All true prophetic ministry should reflect the heart of a loving Father.  We can’t do this if we are puffed up with pride and unwilling to deal with our own personal issues.

This personal integrity check before we give a prophetic word is what God was referring to when he said to Ezekiel, “Son of man, let all my words sink deep into your own heart first. Listen to them carefully for yourself.”  This is also what I think Paul was referring to when he told the Corinthian Church how a prophetic gift should function, “But one who prophesies strengthens others, encourages them, and comforts them.”  (I Cor. 14:3)

True prophetic ministry is not exclusively for the recipients of the word; it is also for those of us who deliver prophetic words.  As we process what we are about to speak, we use the processing of the word as an opportunity for us to take a closer look at our own lives and become a more humble and compassionate delivery system for the word of the Lord.

Monday, September 23, 2013

“The Missing Language of Encounter” by Garris Elkins

I have lived long enough to see a few trends develop in the Church.  Some of the trends were healthy and others have caused me a bit of concern.

As a young boy my religious heritage included time in the Methodist, Presbyterian and Baptist traditions.  I got saved in a wonderful Baptist Church at the age of eight.  While my name was written on the roll of heaven at that time, it was not until I was 29 years old that I had what I would call an encounter with God. Encounters are those undeniable moments when God breaks into our lives in a notable and tangible way and changes everything.

The Book of Acts could be accurately called, The Book of Encounters.  It was at the frontier of these God-encounters in Acts that the direction of the Church changed and new passion was instilled. Most of the early pioneers had very little figured out.  They lived in the moment and yet they changed the world. What they did have in their midst and in their daily language, was an encounter vocabulary about God. Their language included the anticipation of those wonderful in-your-face-messy-beautiful works of God that disrupted the best-laid plans of man.

Without these God-encounters the Church has a tendency to lose her way and begin to do a lot of good things and eventually begins to think the good things give us life.  That is a trend that will lead us to a dry and empty form of life contrary to what I think God intended for His people to experience.

The trend I am noticing – at least in some of our historic Pentecostal and Charismatic movements – is the lack of the word “encounter” when we talk of God and the gatherings we do in His name.  I am not saying God is not present in our gatherings.  He is always present when we gather, but it seems the pursuit of His presence and the resulting God-encounter language is becoming less and less present in the conversations I hear.

Some pastors are afraid their meetings will get high jacked.  The managers in our midst worry about getting the corporate agenda items completed on schedule. Others are afraid they might be aligned with some of those wonderfully wild and crazy people of God they disagree with.  These fears are leadership, gifting and faith problems that if allowed to rule in our midst can rob us of the supernatural encounters God has planned that will lead us into His preferred future for the Church.

I have been in leadership meetings where the only prayer offered was at the end of our packed agenda where we asked God to take our decisions and do something with them and then protect us on the drive home. We got some good things decided, but there was no encounter.  Without the encounter, a lot of what we do will require a do-over because our decisions were breathed by the wisdom of man, not by an encounter with the Spirit of God.

Trends take us somewhere.  Trends not evaluated and redirected can have us speaking a language foreign to our original calling and have us docking at ports of call not listed on our original Spirit-filled itinerary.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

“A Flight To Freedom” by Garris Elkins

Recently, I experienced something that became a prophetic picture of hope I believe many in the Church need to see and believe.  

At the end of this summer, Jan and I made a trip to Montana where I officiated at a wedding and taught in a church.  Afterwards, we stayed several extra days in a beautiful condominium overlooking the Swan River in Bigfork, Montana.  The setting was near Flathead Lake in view of the Rocky Mountains. It was stunning. Each morning I would sit listening to the river and let God’s peace flow over me.

The condo had tall windows that extended upwards two full stories allowing us to take in the beauty of the river and the mountains with an unobstructed view.  On our first day my wife pointed out a beautiful butterfly sitting on the ledge of the upper window.  Somehow, it had gotten into the condo and could not find its way out.  The butterfly would flap its wings and attempt to fly through the large upper window that was a fixed pane of glass. 

It was sad to watch the butterfly trying to escape through the windowpane knowing it could never fly once again in the light and freedom that existed on the other side.  We watched the butterfly for the next few days. It would flap it wings and then lay over on its side in exhaustion. Finally, I tried to get the butterfly off the ledge, but it was simply too high for me to safely reach.

The final morning of our stay, I arose early. I went downstairs and started a fire.  I turned a chair towards the fireplace and enjoyed the flames as they flickered across the walls in the darkness. I wanted to read the Word as I normally would do each morning, but couldn’t because my bible was packed away in preparation for our early departure. Trying to retrieve it would awaken my wife. So I just sat there.

In the darkness, with the flames of the fireplace flickering before my eyes, I began to recite scripture I had in my memory.  As I spoke out verse after verse, I felt the presence and peace of God fill the room. Then something very strange happened. I heard the whir of something fly past my ear, strike my leg and land on the floor in front of the fireplace.  It was the butterfly.  After an entire week on the window ledge he now had flown down towards the fire, hitting me in route and landing on the floor.

I reached down and cupped the butterfly in my hands and walked through the door leading to the deck outside.  I placed the butterfly on a damp seat cushion.  As soon as the butterfly was on the cushion he began to gently pump his wings taking in the moisture that had eluded him for the last week on the dry window ledge. The butterfly was now resting and regaining his strength.

For the rest of the day, I knew this experience with the butterfly was a prophetic image. I was now carrying a word-picture for the Church.  As the morning went on, the Lord began to wrap words around the illustration of the butterfly.  A word of hope and invitation began to develop.

As the event with the butterfly was taking place, I had been reading through the Book of Lamentations. Lamentations is one of the most depressing and dark books in the entire Bible.  Jeremiah did not write Lamentations from a lot of joy-filled imagery.  Lamentations describes the pain and devastation brought on by disobedience to God and the resulting Babylonian conquest of God’s people.

Yet, in the midst of so much pain and suffering are several verses providing hope. This is a hope found in the Person of God Himself.  It is a hope in His nature that can give people enough faith to jump from the ledges of despair into the hope-filled presence of God.

            Jeremiah wrote, “I will never forget this awful time, as I grieve over my loss.” Lam. 3:19. 

Jeremiah was honest about the ledge upon which he and the nation found themselves. Jeremiah said these words because everything familiar was gone. All he had left was God.  All physical assurances of a future hope had vanished.

In each death and resurrection we experience, there will a moment between the death and resurrection that will feel void, empty and lifeless – a place of loss.  But this is not our reality – this is only a circumstance in a moment of time. While it is healthy to grieve over loss, it can never be at the expense of hope. In those moments of loss God is calling us to step from ledges of despair with the expectation that God is about to do something new.

In the next verse, Jeremiah gives us a key to understanding what he is communicating. Yet I will dare to hope when I remember this:” vs. 20 The word “this” is followed by a colon revealing a list of four truths about God’s nature that gave Jeremiah hope in the midst of his despair. These four descriptions of God are what give us the faith required to step from our personal ledge of despair.


            “The faithful love of the Lord never ends.” vs. 22

We have the unhealthy ability to attach the word “end” to the description of our current suffering. We use phrases like, “This is the end of our marriage - This is the end of my career. - This is the end of a dream.”  Natural endings are never strong enough to stop the flow of God’s love unless we believe a lie and not allow the truth about God’s heart to transform our thinking. God’s love is a perpetual and never ending source of new beginnings. That is why we can confidently jump from a ledge of death into the loving hands of God our Father.

GOD’S MERCY NEVER ENDS                                        

            “His mercies never cease.” vs. 22

Mercy is best defined when the recipient does not deserve the mercy being extended.  This means no matter how bad a situation gets – even those situations where we are the ones who caused the pain - God’s mercy is still present, unceasing and always available.  God’s mercy is there for us if we will humble ourselves before Him and confess our sins and do as much as we can to restore what our words or actions may have stolen from others. Maybe our sin put us on a ledge, but it will be the knowledge of God’s mercy that will call us to jump into His merciful arms.

GOD CAN ONLY BE FAITHFUL- HE HAS NO OTHER OPTION                                                                    

            “Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning.” vs. 23

This verse is where the great hymn, Great is Thy Faithfulness, was born.

            Great is Thy faithfulness. Great is Thy faithfulness.
            Morning by morning new mercies I see;
            All I have needed Thy hand hath provided -
            Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me.

God’s faithfulness is great because each day He faithfully extends a new form of mercy toward us from His infinite supply of goodness.  He has a new and fresh supply of mercy waiting for each manifestation of human brokenness. Part of the hope we are promised is that each morning we can wake up and know His mercy has been freshly brewed and waiting for us to take and drink. When God invites us to jump towards the fire of His presence we are leaping toward His nature of faithfulness and that faithfulness contains the creative newness that can make old things new and dead things live again.

BECAUSE GOD IS OUR INHERITANCE, WE ALWAYS HAVE HOPE IN TIMES OF LOSS                                                           
         “The Lord is my inheritance; therefore, I will hope in him.” Vs. 24

The reality of this statement by Jeremiah can alter the perception we have about what is waiting for us on the other side of our leap of faith from a ledge of despair. If we understand this truth we will never have to process life from a place of loss.  We always have an inheritance in God and His inheritance is the only safe place to position our hope. Inheritance always awaits the children of God.  We are never in a place so dark that we are without the hope that He is our inheritance.

As I began to digest all that God had processed with me about the butterfly and the words of Jeremiah, the Lord spoke these words:

You have found yourself in a place that looks like life, but it is not. You have become exhausted trying to press through to freedom. If you remain in this place you will consume all your energy trying to press through what cannot be pressed through by natural strength or wisdom.  I have not called you to live on this ledge where your life and strength is being drained away.  I have called you to fly towards My presence. I am about to make My fire visible to you. Fly towards the flame and live.

Today, I ask you to use the last of your strength to step towards Me.  I will meet you in your flight and take you back to a place of freedom.  I have created a habitat for you not found on limiting ledges of religious activity and predictability. I have called you to the freedom and beauty of My presence. 

I cannot make this leap for you.  You must gather your desperation and your remaining measure of faith and use it to empower your leap. I promise you - you will land in a safe place because I am waiting for you.  I am the destination of your leap. Take the step. Don’t be afraid. I will be faithful to pick you up and deliver you into a safe place of life and freedom.  My habitat awaits you.

In the minutes that followed my experience with the butterfly, I kept checking to see if it was still all right.  The butterfly seemed to be gaining more and more strength.  His stance widened.  His color seemed to brighten. In this new place of rest and freedom, I knew he would be able to find his way back into the habitat God had originally created for him to live his life.

This is a time for the Church to experience a fresh encounter with God - a fresh encounter in the fire of His presence. At some point in our journey of life, we can end up on a ledge of despair. We move from these places of death to places of life by learning again the heart of the One towards whom we leap in faith.

The call of God for His Church in this time in our history is to jump with a reckless abandon towards the purifying fire of God’s presence and trust Him that He will be there to pick us up and set us free once again.

Friday, September 6, 2013

“Fatigued Leaders - Fatigued Systems” by Garris Elkins

The more I connect with pastors and leaders across the United States the more I am seeing a group fatigue in the ranks.  This fatigue is not from busy schedules or stress-filled encounters with difficult people. This fatigue comes from a subtle resignation that says, “Is this all there is?”

This fatigue can deepen when the only leadership event on the horizon is the promise of another conference where the latest popular speaker is on tap or another training module is offered where we can learn a new skill. There is nothing wrong with good speakers and new skills sets, but they can’t make tired and fatigued leaders feel alive again.

After three decades of leading within the Church, I find a lot of what is promoted on the leadership landscape to be quite boring.  As I talk with pastors and leaders in the Church about what is being offered, I hear their exhausted exhale that says, “Not again”.

What would happen in the next season if our goal were simply to experience an encounter with God? The Bible is filled with these encounter stories.  All biblical turning points had a God-encounter.  

Many of the people, who have left some of our churches in this last season, if asked, would say, “Where was the encounter?”  Years ago a wise leader named Roger Whitlow said to a group of us young pastors-in-training, “You are just a lead sheep.”  My translation of Roger’s words would read, “You might consider yourself a leader, but you should never forget you are also one of the sheep.” What is boring you as a leader is also boring the people you serve. We all need a fresh encounter with God before we can make plans for a new season. The encounter must precede the plan.

What would happen if our churches and leaders got passionate for a fresh encounter with God and that pursuit became their sole reason for existence?  We have become so purpose-principle-product driven that a sense of passion has left some of our spiritual communities. What would happen in this coming new season if our conferences and gatherings could be weighted on the side of an encounter with God where the Spirit is free to speak to us like He did in Acts 13 where the modern missions movement was birthed? 

Many people in the Church feel like they are standing on a spinning compass rose wondering which way to go.  It’s never about direction – it’s always about Presence.  Direction has to follow an experience with Presence or we will end up with another stale promise.

To lead the Church into the next season will require people who seek His presence above all else. This quest may violate corporate protocol and existing systems and could even make the managers in our midst uncomfortable, but the price must be paid if the Church and its current leadership are to feel fresh once again.

What would happen if in our next large conference gathering we politely canceled our speakers and simply paid them their honorariums and had them sit down among us and enjoy some rest in the Presence? What would happen if we canceled our skill-producing workshops and learned again how to rest and simply receive? What would happen if we told our worship teams to take us into His presence with liberty and continue to worship until the Lord spoke? What would happen if we could publicly declare we simply need a fresh encounter with the living God?

I think I know part of that answer.  There would be a new freshness of heart and spirit that would turn our exhale of fatigue into a song of praise and hope. That would not be boring or predictable.