Monday, January 27, 2014

“The Peace Equation” by Garris Elkins

People are standing at a crossroads.  They are standing at the intersections of life needing to make a decision about their future direction. In these significant moments we need to know God is directing our steps.

When I have faced these kinds of intersections, I learned something many years ago that has never failed me. I began looking for the doorway of peace.  The doorway of peace is opened when the peace of God settles on a particular direction and invites us forward.  This doorway opens for no apparent natural reason. The doorway of peace has come into view when I faced multiple options and when no options were yet visible. It was not easy to wait for this doorway to appear, but it has always proved to be the right direction once I stepped across its threshold.

Jesus said to his disciples in John 14: 27 “I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.”

The peace Jesus described to his disciples is not a peace that comes because we can control our moods, feelings or circumstances. This is a gift from God that comes to help us make decisions about which path to take or what option to choose. Nothing in this world can give us this kind of peace because it comes from another realm - another Kingdom. This peace comes from eternity to form and inform our decision-making process in the here and now.

How do we receive the gift of this kind of peace?  Paul gives us insight into obtaining this peace in Philippians 4:6-7:

Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.”

Paul said three things – praying, telling, and thanking – would precede the release of this peace. 

Paul first instruction was for us to pray. As we begin to pray worry is displaced. His second instruction infers that as a child of God we have been given permission to tell our Father what we want. “Delight yourselves in God and he will give you the desires of your heart.” (Psalm 37:4) Paul’s third instruction was to turn around and look at our history and thank God for all he has done.

Once we have done these three things something supernatural happens - “Then you will experience God’s peace”. Not before, but after we pray, tell and thank God – then the peace comes.

This is the math of heaven - an equation for peace.  Praying plus telling plus thanking equals the release of peace. I think this equation works because once we start doing the math we get our focus back on God and his goodness and not on the fork in the road before us that seems so intimidating.

Paul also wrote that, “His peace will guard your hearts and mind.” The peace of God, once it comes, acts as a sentry on the doorway of our heart and mind. Once his peace is in place the disturbing presence of darkness cannot enter and create internal turmoil and despair.

As we work this equation, and wait in faith for the peace of God to come, we are also protected in the wait. Waiting in a life-altering decision-making process protects us from making unhealthy snap decisions in a moment of fear or fatigue.  These kinds of fear and fatigue-based decisions can cause us to make our own way and end up in places void of destiny and calling.

As you stand before your personal crossroads speak the following verses into that spiritual intersection.  Announce your arrival and declare your faith in God who is about to show you the way forward when he opens the doorway of his peace.

The Lord directs the steps of the godly. He delights in every detail of their lives, though they stumble they will never fall, for the Lord holds them by the hand.”  Psalm 37:23-24 

“Guide my steps by your words so I will not be overcome by evil.”  Ps. 119:133

We can make our plans, but the Lord determines our steps.”  Proverbs 16:

Saturday, January 18, 2014

"Choosing the Right Road" by Garris Elkins

     As a young pastor, I listened a lot. I listened to the many voices of leaders who went before me. There were times in those early years when I would ask a simple question and receive a profound answer. In my first year of pastoring, I asked Jerry Cook one of those simple questions, and his profound answer changed my understanding of leadership. More importantly, his answer radically changed how I viewed God.
       For many years, Jerry Cook was the Senior Pastor of East Hill Church in Gresham, Oregon.  The church grew to become a large and influential ministry under Jerry’s leadership. East Hill’s influence wasn’t due to its size but to the voice released through its leadership to the greater Church body.  Jerry gave us the ability to see a model of leadership in operation that was unique on the Spirit-filled landscape. He taught us to become thinking Pentecostals and not to live in the fear that our thinking would somehow chase the Holy Spirit away. 
       While sitting in a gathering of pastors, I asked Jerry: “How do you make decisions?” He replied, “When we have a decision to make, we look at all our options. We then choose the one we think sounds the most like God. Then we begin walking down that road.” 
       I asked another question, “What if you made the wrong decision?” 
       Jerry answered, “God has always been faithful to pick us up from the wrong road and put us on the right road, if our hearts were right.”
       As Jerry’s answers to my questions circled within my mind, I realized I had been given one of those life-truths I would be unpacking for years to come.  Jerry not only gave me insight into his leadership style but also into the heart of God.
       Jerry’s answer deposited several insights into my life:

Decision-Making Should be Collegial 

       Jerry used the word “we” five times to describe how he made decisions that affected the ministry of East Hill.  He did not lead from a solitary position.  Jerry invited his team to make decisions with him. The “we” word was an invitation that said decision-making can be a shared experience.

Decision-Making Involves Risk 

       There is an element of risk when we try our best to choose the God-route from among many options. This is what faith is all about. Faith is risky.  You risk your reputation. You risk your pride. You risk your self-image.  You risk your money and the money of those who entrusted their money to your leadership. Without risk we will never take those first steps of obedience. If there is no risk in our decision-making, faith will be absent from the process.

Decision-Making Repositions our Trust 

       Many times, we leaders try to project self-confidence in our decision-making ability when our confidence is better sourced in the Lord.  His decision-making is infallible, ours is not. Paul told the church in Corinth, “We have placed our confidence in Him, and he will continue to rescue us” (II Corinthians 1:10). The repositioning of our trust births a confidence that God will be there for us if things go wrong on the journey.

Decision-making is a Process that Reveals our Image of God 

       Of all the things I learned that day with Jerry Cook, this one was the most significant.  I learned that God is not afraid of my wrong decisions.  God was big enough to pick me up off the wrong road and put me down on the right road if my heart was right. If, along the journey, I discovered personal sin, I always had the option of confession and repentance and that made my heart right once again.
       This revelation taught me something new and different. I had always thought God let us ride out our innocent wrong decisions to a catastrophic end as some form of punishment or discipline and that was how we learned about his heart.  I was wrong.
       I could now trust God to always be there for me even when I picked the wrong road—and got a few miles down that wrong road—before realizing my mistake. 
       These insights from Jerry Cook have allowed me to grow in the most important element in decision–making: learning about and trusting in the heart of God.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

“The Four Questions” by Garris Elkins

About 20 years ago, I began asking myself four questions. I also asked the same questions of our church staff during our quarterly planning sessions. The questions helped us engage a process of evaluation where we could leave behind what needed to be left behind and keep what we would need for the coming journey into a new season.  Asking these four questions is not just a good exercise for an individual or a church staff, it is a wise practice for a business, a family or a group of friends who share life together.

Here are the four questions:

                  1.) What do I like about what I am doing?
                  2.) What do I not like about what I am doing?
                  3.) What do I want to keep?
                  4.) What do I want to get rid of?

Asking these four questions caused me to stop, think and evaluate my life and how I was expending my energy and resources. It was not always easy.  The questions confronted me. As I adjusted my life and efforts around the answers to these questions I found my life becoming more simplified and focused.

One reason it is important to ask these questions is because our lives can become cluttered.  Just because we do something for a time does not mean we should keep doing it.  If there is no flushing mechanism in our life and calendar we will end up bogging down trying to carry too many things.  We can become overwhelmed and immovable when we should be light and unencumbered.

As I examine the last 33 years of ministry I realize there were times when I did not ask these questions.  Those times did not carry with them the focus, energy and joy needed to live and lead well.

Here is my suggestion - find some time this week and ask these four questions about your personal and professional life.  If you are married, ask your spouse to answer these questions with you.  At the end of your question and answer time, do something with the answers you discovered.  Make the needed changes and trust God to walk you forward.

Once you write down your answers also write a date on your calendar to ask the same questions again a few months down the road. This will help you stay accountable to the adjustments you made.  Asking ourselves challenging questions is one way we can steward our lives to have a greater impact for God by offering him a life not encumbered with things he doesn’t want us to carry.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

A New Book Coming Soon

In just a few weeks my new book, A Good Place, will be released.  A Good Place is about walking with hope through the transitions of life and ministry.  The book is not about building a transition plan - it is about the journey of our hearts and how we can move through transition and change with hope.

We are looking at a release date somewhere around the first of March.  Shortly after we publish the print version A Good Place will be available in the Kindle format.