Friday, March 31, 2017

The Last Kiss

My mother lived 91 years. Mom was the product of a challenging life. Her father left for work one day in the depths of the Depression and never returned. Her mother had to make ends meet as a divorced woman in the South. She opened a boarding house in Alexandria, Louisiana. My mom had one pair of shoes she wore to school and to church on Sundays. The rest of the time she went barefoot. It was a tough life and one where needs were never fully met.  The possibility of having her desires fulfilled lived only in my mother’s imagination.

My mother was a dancer and stage actress at her high school. One day, my grandmother and mom picked up their lives and moved to Los Angeles where they hoped my mom could break into motion pictures. The Hollywood adventure did not work out like it had not for thousands of other starlet hopefuls. From Los Angeles, they moved north to San Francisco where my mother performed in stage productions at the Mark Hopkins Hotel. I still have a pair of her dancing shoes and copies of the stage flyers that announced the actors and performers of the various productions where she performed.

When my mother met and married my father in 1940 they waited 10 years to have their first child. I was that first child. From my earliest recollection, mom always made sure our family got to church on Sunday. She was the spiritual pillar of our family. It was at Calvary Baptist Church in Los Gatos, California where I first expressed my faith in Jesus on Easter Sunday in 1958. In the years that followed, mom was always my encourager helping me to continue stepping forward in faith no matter what challenges I faced. Many times, I wanted to quit and run away from my calling as a young man, but a note written in my Bible or a word of encouragement during a long distance phone call helped me press through.

When my mother passed away our family gathered in Kalispell, Montana for her memorial. Only a handful of people beyond her immediate family were present. Like mom used to say, “I have gotten so old all my friends are gone.”

I remember the afternoon of her memorial when I walked into the funeral home. There she was lying in her casket. She had picked out her favorite dress for the occasion. As it is with most people I have seen in a casket, they don’t always look like a perfect representation of real life, but it was close. I knew that in just a few short hours mom’s physical remains would be lowered into a grave alongside my father. This would be the last time this side of eternity that I would see her.

I walked up to mom’s casket and bent over and gave her one last kiss. I kissed her cold lips and wept at the goodness of life I had experienced because she was my mother. From the casket, I walked over to a side room to let go of the rest of my emotions.

I was able to give my mother one last kiss because I had spent my life kissing that faithful and loving face. It was just part of life in the Elkins’ home. I shared this part of my life to encourage you to do something. Don’t make the last contact with your loved ones the only time love is expressed. Today, approach someone in your life who has loved you well. Embrace them. Give them a kiss of gratitude. Your approach may be a shock to them especially if this has not been part of your lives, but don’t let that uncomfortableness hinder your expression of love. It will do something deep inside your heart. It will put love in your soul where regret wants to take up residence. When the day of your loved one's final departure comes there will be no regrets, only thankfulness that you were loved and were free to love in return.

Thursday, March 30, 2017


Imagine the beauty and wonder of your spiritual reality. You have been raised with Christ and sit with Him – in this very moment - at the Father’s right hand in the middle of the Trinity. This was the goal of the finished work of Jesus – to make you one with the Godhead. 

Today, contemplate the beauty of that position when you face the temporary and painful challenges of life.  It will give you a perspective that only comes when you realize Jesus did for you what you could not do for yourself. That is your place of victory.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Our Favorite-Free God

Years ago, a man approached me after a Sunday morning service. He was concerned with something I had preached. He was a veteran pastor so his words carried extra weight. In the sermon, I said, “God has no favorites.” He was truly concerned because I think he felt he was one of God’s favorites and my words disrupted his reality. I shared what I knew from Scripture and lovingly sent him away to conduct a personal bible study on the subject.

God has no favorites among His children. He doesn’t play that game – we do. We play the favorite game because our pride feeds of the delicacies of that subtle deception. Several times in the New Testament this favorite-free reality about God is mentioned:

Galatians 2:6: “for God has no favorites”.
Ephesians 6:9: “he has no favorites”.
Colossians 3:25: “for God has no favorites”.
I Peter 1:17” “the heavenly Father to whom you pray has no favorites”.

Why would God say this? He says this because He loves all His children equally – the obedient and disobedient alike.  Some are at home with the Father and prospering and others are still lingering in seasons of unbelief eating the pig slop of their rebellious decisions. These disconnected ones are all potential prodigals each one loved with the same affection as the ones who stayed home and faithfully served.

When we try to paint ourselves as one of God’s “favorites” we create unhealthy distinctions and barriers to the love of God. That kind of thinking releases a spirit of favoritism where our pride fuels a whole host of unrighteous thinking and activity. Favoritism creates a stratification of God’s love where certain people are always on the top of God’s love ladder and everyone else lives on a lower rung.

In one sense, you are God’s favorite and so is everyone else.  Each one of us is a favorite in His eyes and worthy of His love and attention. Today, you will meet a lot of God’s favorites. They are all over the place living under the single banner of His unbiased and unprejudiced love. Step under that shared banner and choose to see your brothers and sisters like God sees them. It will change how you view and value other people and it will radically change how you express God’s love.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Discerning Progress

Not all progress is positive. Take time to confirm the final destination of what you currently believe or what you choose to no longer believe about Jesus Christ before you begin any new journey of faith. John wrote II John like he had just time-traveled forward to the year 2017 and was giving a trip report on some segments of the Western Church. His words of wise caution hold as true today as they did when he first penned these words 2,000 years ago, “Anyone who gets so progressive in his thinking that he walks out on the teaching of Christ, walks out on God.” II John 9 (The Message)

Religious Ponds

Yesterday, I returned home after a two-state, five-day road trip where I taught in several venues and reconnected with some wonderful churches. It was a solo trip. Jan had to stay behind this time. Traveling alone is not my favorite way of ministering but God is always good and provides the kind of encounters with His presence that makes all the travel worth it.

The churches where I spoke put me up in nice hotels. It is amazing how refreshing your own private digs can be when you are ministering in a variety of settings. One of my rooms was on the third floor of a hotel complex overlooking a beautiful courtyard with a large pond. In the pond were swimming large fish. Some looked to be over 2 feet in length.  I am guessing they were some version of Koi fish. Many were gold in color and some were white. I stood at my window and watched them swim in circles. This went on hour after hour. Every time I went to my window there they were still swimming in circles. I felt for these fish because this was the only reality they knew - a pond-bound life. I wondered what life would have been like had they been able to swim in a river where they were no longer living such a confined life of repetition.

Those pond-bound fish remind me of how some of us live our life of faith. We find ourselves trapped in theological ponds in a narrow understanding of a much larger truth. We swim in circles of our current level of understanding. In these ponds, a larger God-reality seems impossible – defined as impossible only because it is not yet within our sphere of experience. Everything begins to change when Jesus shows up and talks of a larger river where He wants us to swim. The thought of being transplanted into a larger river of revelation can cause fear in some people because it means traveling in an unexplored uncertainty outside a known pond.

This is not only true for issues like our theology and our resulting worldview but it also pertains to the circles of fellowship these ponds create. Jesus is coming to our small ponds and He is beginning to move people into the larger river of His presence where freedom, wonder, and newness are the norm. Let God complete this transplanting process with your life. You were destined for a freedom in Christ that a religious pond of narrow thinking and restricted living cannot provide.

“And I ask him that with both feet planted firmly on love, you’ll be able to take in with all followers of Jesus the extravagant dimensions of Christ’s love. Reach out and experience the breadth! Test its length! Plumb the depths! Rise to the heights! Live full lives, full in the fullness of God.”  Ephesians 3:18-19 (The Message)

Monday, March 27, 2017

Reestablishing Lost Connections

Long lost connections are about to be reestablished. Lines of communication that were cut off through no fault of your own will reconnect once again. God is bringing things back together. Trust Him.

I love to hear the stories of pioneer missionaries. Their stories of sacrifice make me appreciate what I have. Years ago, I listened to an old veteran missionary share the stories of his early years of missions work. He and his family were called to an island nation in Asia. This was back in the early 1960’s. The island had no phone service. For two years their only contact with home was via mail service. The mail took several weeks to make the trip home and several weeks to receive a letter in response. It was a lonely calling.

Finally, the island got a very limited and primitive form of phone service. The missionaries were able to make a call home using the single phone located in the village near where they worked.  In a letter sent home, they informed their family back in the United States to be waiting by the family phone on Christmas to receive their first call from overseas. When the phone connection finally went through, the call lasted only long enough for the missionary to say hello to his family and for his family to return their greeting and then the phone connection was lost – the line went silent. It was an entire year before phone service could be reestablished in the village and another phone call was made. After three years and thousands of miles of separation, the missionary told me he was finally able to have a conversation with his family back home. It was a joyous day.

With God, nothing is ever lost. The loss of communication you experienced in a prematurely disconnected relationship, one you think is lost forever, is not lost to God. God knows this has been a challenging time of silence and a sorrowful season of waiting. Don’t give up. God is working for you to establish a reconnection. When that reconnection is finally made it will express the desire of your heart and His.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Spiritual Scaffolding

It feels like you are surrounded by a restricting presence. What you perceive as a negative form of restraint is actually being misinterpreted. This encompassing presence is spiritual scaffolding put in place by God. He is trying to rebuild and retrofit your life like a contractor would do to a building in need of repair and upgrade.  Up to this point, some parts of your life were not safe for visitors because collapse was a real possibility. That unstable season is coming to an end. God has been shoring up what was weak and restoring what was in decay. 

God is in the supernatural restoration business and you are His project. Be patient. Let God have His way in this rebuilding process. Soon, the scaffolding will be removed and the new you will be revealed.  When God is finished with your project you will be amazed at the results.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Passing the Test

In real life, paper targets don’t shoot back and martial arts mannequins don’t fight back. This is true in spiritual matters. The only place we will ever understand the gritty realities of a life of faith is in the trenches of actual spiritual combat. Make sure to move your faith out into the open away from an isolated devotional life and from behind the walls of a church building. Step onto the mean streets of life. In these mean streets is where you will have the opportunity to forgive when you don’t want to forgive and prophesy hope when you feel hopeless.

In this place of reality is where the target of your love may actually fire back rounds of hatred and your mental mannequin will become a hopeless and angry human being who rejects your words of hope by spewing the venom of disbelief and mockery in response. This is where the true battles of faith await your arrival. Unlike paper target and lifeless mannequins, these encounters will confront your understanding of reality and challenge your faith. Once you pass this test God will be able to use you in places of spiritual warfare you never thought possible.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Unrecognized Theologians

Some of the most profound theologians are not theologians by definition. They are men and women who work outside the walls of churches and seminaries in ordinary jobs. These unrecognized theologians walk daily in an intimate relationship with God and in that intimacy they have discovered the heart of God. The heart of God is the greatest interpretive asset we have. It helps us discover the deepest meaning of Scripture and unravel the most tightly wound mysteries.  Seek to understand God’s heart above all things and all things will come into proper alignment and understanding.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Walk - Don't Run Toward the Sound Danger

I never allowed the rookie cops I trained to run toward danger. Until we knew what was actually taking place, I wanted them to move forward with caution under cover and concealment taking the time to assess what was happening.  Some of these so-called emergencies were actually set-ups for an ambush.

Make sure you do the same for the heated conversations that are currently taking place around the hot-topic issues of faith and culture. Trolls, both natural and spiritual, lurk in the shadows of social media waiting for you to start running in human emotion toward some of these discussions without first seeking the wisdom of the Spirit.  You may find yourself running into an ambush where your credibility will take fatal fire.  Be careful out there. All is not as it seems at first glance.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Divine Reconnections

Unexpected greetings from the past will arrive to build your faith and reconnect you to old relationships you had long forgotten. God has a purpose in these reconnections and that purpose will be revealed in the coming season of your life.

A few minutes ago, I reached for an old Hebrew language reference book to research a word. There in the middle of the pages was a note typed on a typewriter. The paper was beginning to brown with age. It was written by one of my college roommates from my freshman year at Multnomah School of the Bible, now known as Multnomah University in Portland, Oregon. Three of us shared a cold, damp basement without a bathroom. The single bathroom available to us was upstairs and available if our landlords were home. If the house was locked the campus was a 5-minute jog away.

In the birthday card were typed the words, “"I pray that you will have many more birthdays and that the Lord will make you the most happy man that has ever lived on the face of this earth." After reading those words, I searched and found my old roommate on Facebook. I sent him a message and released his blessing back to him for his life. I hope he has lived the kind of life he prophesied over me. His words have become my life. I am truly a happy man.

Divine reconnections are being released. Some of these will be from relationships you have not considered for many years. These divine reconnections will have hidden purposes that will be revealed at this time in your life. God will make these reconnections through situations as simple as a forgotten note written 47 years ago and kept safe between the pages of a dusty book for this moment in time.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Look At My Life

One of the things that will come and visit my life from time-to-time are the memories of my youth. The young Garris will come and talk with the older me. Some of these experiences are a blend of the bitter and the sweet. One such visit took place this morning when I heard a familiar song from my youth.

I listened to the Neil Young song from 1972 titled, “Old Man.” Young’s way of ballad singing has always stirred my memories. He did it again this morning.

The song begins with the words –

Old man, look at my life,
I’m a lot like you were.
Old man, look at my life,
I’m a lot like you were.

Neil Young wrote this song at age 24 when his music success allowed him to purchase a large cattle ranch in Northern California called The Broken Arrow. An old man, Louis Avila, was the ranch caretaker. When Young visited his property for the first time, Avila gave Young a tour of the property from the seat of an old blue Jeep. Out of that interaction with Avila, Young wrote “Old Man” realizing both of their lives were similar. The old man had the same desires as the young singer and vice versa. The only difference was the age of the bodies in which those similar desires were carried – “I’m a lot like you were.” Neil Young wrote the song for the old caretaker.

As you look at your life the lyrics of Neil Young’s song could apply to your life as they did to mine. If you removed some of the pain and trauma that visits each of us, our basic desires remain familiar and unchanged in every human being. Age does not erase those desires we simply carry them forward into new seasons of life.

I have found it is important to revisit the young man I once was and invite him forward in time to walk with the older man I have become. These two meet in a place called “Memory” where they tell stories of each other’s experience. It is in that place of memory that exchanges are made - foolishness for wisdom and forgiveness for failure.

Today, invite the younger you to come and walk with the person you have become. Invite God to come and walk with the two of you to bring healing where healing is needed and hope where hope is not yet realized. This is the beauty of our lives as people created in the image of God. I’m a lot like you and you are a lot like me.