Sunday, September 24, 2017

Re-Crafting the Sound of Our Voice

The Church must constantly learn how to communicate its message more effectively or the sound of our voice will be dismissed as irrelevant by the culture.  Motion pictures went through a migration of style and presentation to become what we watch today. That migration began on stage then moved to silent films and then become the first speaking films.  It was in this last part of the migration that some of the silent screen actors failed to make the transition to what was called the “Talkies” because the first talking movies exposed a weakness in their voice.

If you watch some of those old movies today they sound somewhat corny because of the lingering style of an over-effusive stage presence. While I occasionally like the old classics, the best movie experience for me is something produced in a language and style that is more in line with the real world in which I live.

Those who will have the greatest impact in this moment of history will be those who have successfully migrated through the changing styles of language and presentation to speak and demonstrate with cultural clarity the reforming message of the Kingdom. These reformers are change agents who have allowed God to re-craft the sound and style of their voice. They never parked. They kept moving forward. In that forward motion, they allowed reinvention.

These changes are most difficult for an established ministry to make because it will shake the core of support that pays the bills for a predictable style and sound. It will also shake those in positions of power who want the status quo to remain in place to safeguard their authority. It will cost something because in order to move forward and not just continue preaching to the choir these reformers will invite a Spirit-led makeover to come and bring needed adjustments. The same thing applies to our individual lives.

A growing faith is an evolving faith. The core message of Jesus Christ never changes but its presentation must be accompanied by a courageous wisdom that allows for self-examination and adjustment. Ask God to help you re-craft the sound your voice and the presentation of your message. If you can successfully make the migration this change requires, God will be able to use your voice in unusual ways in the reformation that is already taking place.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Challenged Assumptions

When our assumptions are challenged it is not always a heresy, a deception or a false doctrine that brings the challenge. It can actually be a revelation from God. It’s important to know the difference.

Friday, September 22, 2017

If Tomorrow Never Comes

I was listening to music via my Pandora account when the Garth Brooks song, If Tomorrow Never Comes, began to play. I listened intently to the beautiful lyrics.

“Sometimes late at night I lie awake and watch her sleeping. She's lost in peaceful dreams. So I turn out the lights and lay there in the dark and the thought crosses my mind, ‘If I never wake up in the morning would she ever doubt the way I feel about her in my heart?’ If tomorrow never comes will she know how much I loved her.”

About 30 years ago, I made a commitment to tell my wife and children how much I love them every day, multiple times. You would think I thought my family was hard of hearing based on how many times I tell my wife and children I love them each day. I want them to hear the words coming from my lips and see the love in my eyes when I speak the words, “I love you.”

Love never lives in silence. It makes a sound. When God created the world, He spoke. The sound of love expressed to those we love will echo in their hearts long after we are gone creating cherished memories of our presence in our lives.

The lyrics of Garth’s song went on say, “I’ve lost love ones in my life who never knew how much I loved them, now I live with that regret that my true feelings for them were never revealed. So I made a promise to myself to say each day how much she means to me and avoid that circumstance where there’s no second chance to tell her how I feel.”

Live and express love daily. Never give regret a place in your life. Tell them how much you love them.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Wait for Wisdom to Speak

I was invited to meet with a group of leaders who were engaging in a challenging conversation regarding a tough decision they had to make. The complexity and possible ramifications of their decision created a tense environment. It became increasingly difficult to find a resolution with both sides holding such strong and heartfelt positions.  In the middle of the conversation, I said, “I have heard the explanations provided by both sides. Now I want to wait to hear the Lord’s explanation.” We can get so preoccupied platforming our opinion that we can forget it is the Lord's opinion that matters most.

We all have the ability to form an opinion from “our side” of a conflict assuming we fully understand the subject at hand. We think what we, and those who agree with us, bring to the table is the entirety of an issue. Over the years, I have learned to wait and listen for wisdom to speak. Wisdom does not come from either side of an issue. It comes from Heaven.

Those who speak from a place of wisdom may do so at the expense of the opinion they held when they first entered the room. That is the heart of trusted leadership.

These revelations of wisdom can become the turning point and the way forward for the group. Wait for wisdom to speak. Wisdom will reveal outcomes that human emotion and entrenched personal opinions cannot see. It is worth the wait no matter how long it takes.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

It's Time To Listen

I have read through the Scriptures many times from Genesis to Revelation. Over the years, I have enjoyed the tactile nature of a genuine leather-bound Bible. For the last few months, I have not held a Bible. In fact, I am not reading the Scriptures, I am listening to them.

Each morning for the last few months, I have listened as a recorded voice read Scripture to me through my computer speaker. I had a purpose for making this change, at least through the end of the year. I wanted to hear what it was like to have these letters read to me without any of the modern helps we have available. The letters written by Paul and other New Testament writers were received and read in homes to small groups of gathered followers. Listening was the intended mode of reception for these early letters. No one had a Bible.

I can imagine as these letters were read aloud and the Spirit highlighted something to a listener there might have been an occasional interruption sounding something like, “I never thought of that before!”, “Read that again”, or “What?”  In our current model of presenting God’s Word, maybe we lost something of the original intent. I am not sure these original letters were meant to be overly parsed, dissected and reinterpreted as we do today.

Currently, I am on a journey to rediscover the simplest understanding of God’s Word and His Church. Simplicity is powerful, refreshing and it can be revolutionary. Simplicity will not encumber our lives with the excess baggage that can come with too much theory, an overly surgical inquiry of a text and in some cases, the division that comes when I think my opinion about a God-letter outweighs yours.

Another Chance at Life and Love

Each day opportunities walk by our lives. Opportunities for love walk by intently glancing our way hoping they will be seen. Breakthrough walks by trying to gain our attention in an attempt to draw us away from our lesser pursuits inspired by fear.  A fresh start offering a second chance after utter failure walks by unnoticed because we are preoccupied and blinded by our brokenness.

If we are not aware of the opportunities of God we can miss what is still available to us if we would only choose to see from Heaven's perspective. Imagine the sorrow one would feel when they finally realized they allowed an opportunity for love to walk by without reaching out. They would live in sorrow because they allowed a good thing to walk by without sharing the deepest intent of their heart. Some of you have felt the stab of the pain of regret that is produced when love and opportunity are lost because you were afraid of rejection. As you are impaled with a sense of regret over these decisions you need to realize something profound and beautiful is still possible. God never planned to leave you without another chance to experience His goodness.

Nothing is ever lost with God. He is able to call into being that which does not yet exist and resurrect what you have put to death in your disbelief and fear. Your assignment is to reestablish your trust in the God of Heaven. With Him all things are possible. He will let goodness pass by you once again. This time make your choice in faith, not in fear. Ultimately, nothing is ever lost when faith is present.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Trophy or Testimony?

We can turn the results of our obedience or the success of our ministry into either a trophy or a testimony. The final definition is determined by what we have allowed to enter our hearts to fuel our motives and empower our actions.

“Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life” (Psalm 139: 23-24).

Monday, September 18, 2017

Pressing On

Last night, Jan and I watched the new version of the classic movie, Ben-Hur. One scene touched me more than the others. It was when Jesus was carrying His cross while wearing a crown of thorns stumbling through the streets of Jerusalem toward His crucifixion. 

As I viewed that painful scene I thought, “What do I have to offer this God in the flesh if He were to walk by me like He did when He passed Ben-Hur?” Would I offer Him my books, my website, my blog? Would I offer Him how many times in the coming months I am speaking somewhere? Ben-Hur offered Jesus a cup of cold water to ease His suffering. I thought, “Where is my cup of cold water?

When Paul wrote to the Philippians about what truly matters in life he said, “ I once thought these things were valuable, but now I consider them worthless because of what Christ has done.  Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For His sake, I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ and become one with Him” (Philippians 3:7-9). The things we do for and in the name of God are not worthless, they are simply worth less than we realize compared to knowing Jesus.

Jan and I are in the process of downsizing. I am not talking about our house. It is 1047 square feet. I am not talking about our lifestyle. It is already simple. What I am talking about are those things we are doing in the name of God. We are reeling some of them back in to take a second look. We want to make sure they are not things that get in the way of a simpler expression of our faith and our calling. We are “pressing on” as Paul said to something more that is really something less – something simple yet as profound as offering a cup of cold water to a thirsty soul. It is not easy to press on when so many things compete for our time and our energy at the expense of offering a cup of cold water.

“If you give even a cup of cold water to one of the least of my followers, you will surely be rewarded” (Matthew 10:42).

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Moving In Supernatural Timing

I saw a person moving in slow motion through a scene of their life that was running at full speed. People, cars, and buildings sped past the person like a blurred special effect created by a photographer. Something supernatural was taking place. An interruption of natural time was happening.
As the person moved through what seemed like spiritual molasses, revelation began to come that was previously hidden in a hectic pace of their life. Sounds began to emerge from the deafening noise of everyday life. These were sounds were heard for the first time in understandable tones giving the person the time and ability required to discern the message they contained. 

Once the person received the fresh revelation and heard the new sound, God returned them to real-time. As soon as the person reentered the normal pace of their life, a decision stood awaiting their return. What was gained in the slow-motion moment of the Spirit contained the answer that had eluded them in real-time.

A Fresh Wind of God's Spirit

You will make it through this challenging season of life. A fresh wind of God's Spirit is beginning to blow and the effect of that wind will change everything.

When I was a teenager living near Santa Cruz, California, I spend a lot of my time surfing up and down the central California coast. One of my favorite days was to surf when a strong offshore wind was blowing. These winds would flow from land out to sea. When the offshore wind hit an incoming wave it would hold up the face of the wave longer than normal allowing us to shoot through sections of the wave that under normal conditions would close out ending our ride. The wind allowed us to ride through sections of a wave not available on a windless day.

Yesterday, I saw a photo of a surfer riding a wave. A strong offshore wind was blowing. The photo captured a wind blowing so strong it was blowing off the top of the waves.  Under the influence of the wind, the rider was able to ride across the suspended face of the wave just before the wave collapsed behind him.

As I viewed the image, I felt it was a visual metaphor for some of you who have entered a season where some sections of your life feel like they are in danger of immediate collapse. Just like a surfer longs for an offshore wind to hold up the face of a wave, you are about to receive a fresh wind of God’s Spirit. This wind will prevent a premature collapse of what lies before you in this particular section of your life-journey. What looks like a predictably short-lived ride will be transformed into an extended ride by the wind of the Spirit. God will hold up your wave long enough for you to transit its challenges. 

Stay on your board and press through this section of the wave. Don't pull out of the ride prematurely.  When you complete this ride you will flash the same kind of smile that appeared on my young face each time an offshore wind helped me make it through a challenging section of a fast-moving wave. The wind of God's Spirit is beginning to blow. Move forward with that expectation!

Friday, September 15, 2017

The Two Sides of the Coin of Faith

There are times when our opinion on a matter of faith is found on the opposite side of the coin from the opinions held by fellow believers. Depending on the season in which we find ourselves, the coin of faith can land on either the head or the tail of an opinion. In these moments when it appears to us everything is so black and white, we can assume what we see from our limited point of view is the whole truth of the subject. How the coin lands can be determined by the dominant voices being heard at the moment or by a particular cultural environment in which the conversation is taking place. 

An opposing opinion about an essential matter of faith needs to be investigated in love. Even then, we need to remember the opposing opinions are held by people whom God loves. Our conversation and interaction with each other should be empowered by the love of God, not our need to correct before we listen. These challenging moments require maturity and discernment. None of us sees all of the truth all of the time. In a civil and healthy conversation, truth can prevail if we give it a chance.

The Word and the Spirit work together to provide us with an understanding larger than our own. These two are always in harmony and agreement while our opinions may not share that same sense of unity. Harmony is the place where God invites His Church to come and stand together when disagreements arise and when one side of the coin is promoted over the other. This is where our conversation can begin to gain its greatest traction - a traction empowered by love. Those who stand at the intersection of Word and Spirit get there by walking forward in humility and honor valuing the opinion of others and giving them a place at the table instead of prematurely discarding the person and the opinion they hold. 

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Living in the Eye of the Storm

You are about to make a life-altering decision. Be careful. Surrounding you is a hurricane of emotion spinning at a dizzying speed. The presence of this storm can affect the wisdom of your decision-making. God has put you in the eye of the storm for your safety. He is asking you to slow down and move only when He moves. If you rush ahead you will press through the eye wall of this protected place and enter the violence and destruction of the storm. Slow down and reset the pace of your life and your emotions to align with the direction of God's Spirit.  
This storm is about to hit spiritual landfall where it will begin to dissipate. When this happens the storm will dissolve around you. When the dust and debris finally settles, you will find yourself at a new destination - a place that was impossible to find on your own.  
This is a time for you to move forward in a patient faith - a faith that will keep you from making a hasty and unwise decision.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Your Emotional Zoo

Some of you feel like an animal that has been captured and trapped in a zoo. You have been taken against your will from a place where you were surrounded by loving relationships. You now live surrounded by restraining bars and fake scenery. People are peering in at your life. You are more isolated here than you ever were roaming in the most remote expanse of your original home. This zoo is not the life God intends for you to have. You long for the open space where you could run in freedom with family and friends. You have tried to adapt to this captured life. Don’t! This is not your real home. God has heard the cry of your heart – a cry you have stopped making because you assumed there is no way out. Get ready. The Lord is coming to open the gate and walk you out of this emotional zoo and bring you back home to set you free once again.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Called to Bless and Honor

This morning, because of a ministry assignment, I found myself in a motel room in a city several hours from my home. When I turned on CNN to see the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, the coverage broke away from that event to go to a memorial service honoring the 9/11 victims.

As the TV screen came to life, I saw President Trump and the First Lady standing in silence with their heads bowed honoring those who died that terrible day. Their images filled the screen with a close-up of their bowed heads. I felt impressed to stand from my chair and walk over to the television screen and place my hands on their heads. I began to bless them. I prayed for them with specific prayers and with prayers uttered from an unknown heavenly language. I asked God to help my life and my words reflect the substance of those blessings and the emotion I was feeling.

As I continued to watch the ceremony, I was reminded once again that as followers of Jesus Christ we have been called to be a people who leave behind blessing, not cursing, hope not despair. In times of national tragedy that take place in real time like Hurricane Irma or in a moment of remembrance for 9/11 and those who perished on that day, our politics, our heated opinions, and our unresolved personal frustrations should never be used as our emotional or spiritual navigational system.  God has offered us another option.

God bless you and may God bless America with an outpouring of love and honor for all her people.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

A High-Wire Act of Faith

In the Spirit, I saw a person walking across a high-wire stretched between two destinations. They looked like a circus performer midway between two supporting poles inside a large tent. There was no safety net below to catch them if they fell. People were gasping as they looked up to watch this high-wire act of faith.

Fear had risen in the wire walker to the point where they were completely paralyzed by its effect.  They were ready to let go and step off the wire and fall into the hopelessness of their situation.

In that moment, as they considered that spiritually fatal decision, God spoke. He said, “I have trained you for this moment. You will make it across to the other side if you keep walking in faith. You don’t need a net. You have Me. Fix your eyes on Me and take the next step.”

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Questions of Faith

Questions about issues of faith can never be answered by parlor tricks, clever one-liners or even the right answer. Faith deals with the reality of things not yet seen. The answer to these questions arrives from another realm and stands in the middle of each question and dismantles their need to be asked. What arrives and answers all our questions is an encounter with the living God. Only an encounter with God can still a questioning mind.

A Pioneering Spirit

The photo is the gravestone of my father and mother, Charlie and Lavert Elkins. Their gravestone is located in the Conrad Memorial Cemetery in Kalispell, Montana. I have visited my parent's grave site each time I traveled back to Kalispell in the last 30 years. My life-assignments in the intervening years have taken me far away from the Flathead Valley, but I always found a way to return to that special place to pray and reevaluate my life.

When Jan and I moved to Kalispell in 1981 to plant and pioneer a new church, we were alone. It was just Jan and me, two little kids and a cat. Soon my parents followed us to Montana as did my brother and his family. My parents lived out their remaining days in Montana. My brother and his wife and some of his children still reside there.

When you step out to pioneer something new people will follow in the wake of your journey. None of us ever know, both the pioneers and those who follow, the future history our pioneering decision will create. My parents never saw themselves living out their final days in Montana. My brother never imagined himself working for the City of Kalispell as a Building Inspector and eventually retiring from that position. 

If you are a pioneer, God will bring others behind you who will discover their own path. Their journey will make them pioneers. We are all pioneers in some way. Each time we take a step of faith we become a pioneer traveling into the unknown. This is the way of God’s Kingdom. Every good and wonderful thing in this life comes because we were willing to step forward and follow the pioneering Spirit of God.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Be Careful When Using The Word Divisive

There can be petty divisions from time-to-time in the Church. This needs to be confronted in love because it wounds and does great damage. Yet some of what gets labeled as divisive can actually be a fresh revelation from God. Martin Luther divided the Church with the truth he nailed to the church door in Wittenberg. Be sure you can discern the difference between the two before you throw someone under the theological bus. None of what we share or think is ever perfect, complete or without some form of human error. This is why we all need God’s mercy. Our faith does not work without it.

When It's Time To Say No

There are times when we have to say no to a bad idea. Some of these ill-conceived plans can bring unnecessary harm unless someone stands up and says, “No!”

In the early 70’s police departments across American were realizing the need for specialized units who could deal with barricaded subjects, hostage situations, and other high-risk situations. As a young 24-year-old cop, I was chosen to become a member of the SWAT team for a large law enforcement agency in the San Francisco Bay Area. It was a real honor to be chosen. Along with advanced weapons and tactics training offered locally, we were also trained each month by FBI SWAT units in locations throughout the Bay Area who were tasked with training police officers nationally for this new concept in police work.

One aspect of our training was rappelling. I learned to rappel down the face of buildings, elevator shafts in a high-rise building and just about every vertical surface possible. We did this exercise to build confidence. To this day, I don’t still don't like heights. Jan is the one who goes up on the roof of our home to blow off the leaves because she knows how I feel about heights.  So much for Mister Macho! 

One afternoon we got a call-up. We were told to gear up and meet in the commander’s office of the narcotics task force.  Intelligence was received from a credible informant that a large shipment of drugs was being transported in a U-Haul truck. The shipment was being guarded by armed criminals.

Standing around the briefing table were seasoned SWAT cops from my team and a few of us with less than a year on SWAT. One of the commanding officers, not an active SWAT member, was in charge of the tactical plan. He liked being close to the action but was not on our team. He hatched a plan before our arrival and began to share it with us with great enthusiasm and command presence. His plan was to obtain a helicopter and have our team rappel down and onto the roof of the moving U-Haul truck and attempt our assault from the roof. It was obvious he had spent too much time watching action movies.

As he was sharing his plan, the older SWAT cops began to slowly turn their heads looking at each other. I had already assessed this foolish plan and found it terribly wanting. A few objections were going through my mind. The armed criminals inside the moving truck once they heard us land on the thin aluminum roof would start firing up at us.  To rappel down on a moving truck from a helicopter had a very narrow margin for error. My final thought was, “Why not tail the truck to its destination and take them down then?” About the time I finished my personal list of objections, an older SWAT cop we all respected but held no formal rank said, “No. That will get us killed. Bad idea!” The commanding officer looked puzzled and finally awakened from his fantasy and said, “OK. What are your thoughts?” The mission then took a turn toward wisdom and no one got hurt in the takedown. Had someone not spoken up in just a few days the sound of bagpipes would have been heard at the funerals honoring our memory.

I shared this story because some of you need to find your voice when you are being asked to do something you know does not reflect the heart of God. If you go along with the plan being offered you will run a fool’s errand and be asked to call it God. There is a coming moment in your life when you have will speak to authority and say like Peter, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). 

A wave of courage is beginning to sweep across the Church. It will wash away the assumption of obedience just because someone holds a position of power and authority. The sound of your voice will awaken people from the slumber of their assumptions. Create and speak your objection with honor. Without honor, your words will lack the power needed to turn the tide from being a work of the flesh to become a work of the Spirit filled with wisdom and proper execution.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

The Smoke is Clearing - A New Clarity is Coming

For weeks, my community has been trying to survive under a suffocating blanket of smoke. Living in a perpetual smoke-filled world caused by raging wildfires can begin to affect the thinking of people. It is actually called the twilight effect. The heavy smoke covering much of the Pacific Northwest is causing people to see life in a perpetual twilight state. This happens when the familiar is no longer seen. The only constant is the surreal gray twilight caused by the smoke.

In this twilight-like time, I have been praying for when we finally emerge from the smoke and experience the clarity of clear air once again. I have also felt for a long time before the natural smoke arrived that there has been a spiritual twilight taking place for many believers across our nation. We have been surrounded by something increasingly unfamiliar and suffocating. People are desperate for clarity and a breath of fresh spiritual air. It has become glaringly obvious that political solutions will not blow away the smoke of our discontent. Neither will another war or a hyped-up speech filled with false hopes.

A clarity is coming – a fresh wind of God’s Spirit is about to arrive. This wind will clear away the smoke that has blinded our spiritual sight and suffocated our dreams. This move of God will not be what many have expected or even considered in prayer. It will be an Ephesians 3:20 moment of supernatural clarity – “beyond all that we ask or think.” God wants us to encounter a simple and less-complicated faith – one that is far more mobile and able to move at the speed of our faith. 

When I wrote my book, The Sound of Reformation, I added a subtitle, “rediscovering the simplicity of our mission.” Simplicity will be a primary by-product of this new season of clarity. God has set aflame the complexity of some expression of the Church. Many have fled these burning structures and are now living huddled with other evacuees in shelters of faith where they are discovering a new sense of community. 

If you are a leader in a church or a movement of churches, make sure you have done your homework while in the smoke. Do not think that what was given to the people before the fires of the Spirit began to burn will draw them back again when the smoke finally clears. Let the fire have its way. Your primary task will be to clear away the burned rubble so that you and those you serve can move forward in unhindered clarity.

A simple clarity of our faith is coming. When it arrives, take in a deep breath of its goodness. This will be your new reality.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Walls of Assumption

I saw a recent interchange on a social media account where people were condemning a nationally recognized pastor about the style and substance of his ministry. The condemning volleys were fired from the misinformed distance provided to the accusers by a Google search and YouTube videos. None of these people personally know the man they were condemning. What made the interchange so hard to read was the fact that I know people who actually have a personal relationship with the person under attack and they know a completely different person than the one being addressed in the social media exchange.

As I continued to read the interchange, I realized some of the worst offenders in this area are those of us who hold positions of leadership in the Church. Our opinions craft mindsets. People share what we teach and believe what we share assuming we are correct. It becomes really dangerous and damaging when our walls of assumption rise with our success, not our character. Our blinding assumptions are built on a sandy foundation that comes when in our pride we think we hear God rightly on all matters of faith and can judge the deepest motives and intention of another human being.

When I surfed on past the painful interchange, the Lord said, “I am bringing downs walls of assumption. These walls of assumptions have been erected in an isolation that has come because you see my Body in mutilated fragments, not as one. These isolated expressions of fellowship came about because you wrongly assumed your version of what you perceive as truth is perfect theology. None of my children are perfect.  These walls of assumption will come down because I will allow a wider audience to examine their faulty foundation. Your assumptions will be challenged by voices that were previously only distant and muffled sounds heard outside the perimeter of your religious compound. This is for your benefit that I am doing this and it is for the benefit of my Body and your witness in the Earth.”