Sunday, February 19, 2017

The Engraver.

When I learnt to write it was on a slate board with chalk. Today people have computers – with spell checks. At least I was one step ahead of those in ancient time who had to write. They virtually had to collect the ingredients, clay, then cut into it their words – hieroglyphics – then baked their tablet before posting it. It is from that background of the writer being initially an engraver we can appreciate certain facets of God’s word. A lot of our writing technology today is subject to decay at a faster rate than clay baked. Shards with inscriptions are still be found two thousand and more years later.

It is worthwhile to note that God is the original engraver. The 10 Commandments were chiselled into rock by the finger of God, Exodus 31:18. The originals were placed in the Ark of the Covenant as a testimony to the Nation. The trouble was that the people honoured the writings but were deaf to its message. There were, of course, notable exceptions who stand out in Biblical history. As the Lord wanted His people to know His commands, judgements and statutes He had the people wear them as a sign upon their hands and between their eyes. The New Testament described them as phylacteries. Householders were instructed to have the commandments on their doorposts and gates. In my youth I called upon people whose house had these words printed on their veranda.

The trouble was it was all outward, not inward.

God’s intention is for His people, you and me included, to have them engraved on our hearts. This is another of the implications behind the picture of God as the potter. If we are the clay, and we need to be, guess what He wants to do? Engrave His word into our heart. Hebrews 10:16 quotes Jeremiah who in turn expressed the Lord God’s intention. That was to write His laws into the hearts of His people. The wonder of this is summed up by the Psalmist “Your word have I hidden in my heart that I might not sin against you.’ (119:11) As with clay we too must experience the baking process. For us the 'furnace' comes when what we hear from God’s word and the flames of doubt, fear, opposition and self-interest flare up and blaze away. It is the testimony of our faith and conviction that God’s word is true which cause the flames to engrave God’s word on our heart and mind.

Job’s words in chapter 19:23-24 is a cry for people to properly understand his situation and hope in God. 'O that with an iron pen and with lead they (my words) were engraved on a rock forever.' The Almighty went better that that. He inscribed them into His Scriptures which endures forever. Job's story is unique but his cry is a challenge to us all. We each have a unique testimony, simple or complex, everyday stuff or strange. The Lord wants to use our testimony to witness to His power, grace and providence.  This is especially important within your family arena. Record, on any one of modern day devices (or like me, on old fashion paper) to tell the Lord's dealings in your life. This information can speak to your family and friends long after you are dead. Let your journey with the Lord’s be engraved deep within your being and yet available to be read by the inquisitive, the enquirers and even the cynics.

Job's hope, confidence and longing are poignantly expressed in  Job 19:25—29.

He knows his Redeemer lives. Job has been doing it tough and doesn't have 'cut and dried' simplistic answers to his sadness. We know not where, where or how this man and the Lord entered into a redeemed relationship, but it happened. His conviction was unshakable. Job also believed his Redeemer will stand upon this earth. That is pointing to two events. The first of course when Jesus entered our history at Bethlehem to become the Redeemer. The second time will be when He returns to establish His kingdom. This is the very kingdom  we pray for when we say the Lord’s Prayer!

Job knows he will die yet is convinced he will live and behold His Redeemer. Such a hope and reality points to belief in a personal resurrection. The very thought of this meeting seems to make him go 'weak at the knees'. This is the wonder of our relationship too. We shall see Jesus face to face even though death may stand between us at the moment. For those who know Jesus as Redeemer the fear of meeting Him is non existent. The same cannot be said for those who reject Him as Lord and Saviour.

Until that day we are to live out what the Spirit of God has engraved within. Then when life throws its cruel, callous and chaotic 'stones' at us we will say, even through tears “I know my Redeemer lives!”

File/Devotional seminar – tahlee.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

wisest king - saddest fool

The wisest of men became the saddest of fools.

His judgement in the case of a paternal dispute is legendary (1 Kings 3:16-28). His sword provided the ‘DNA’ evidence for who was the real mother. His wisdom exceeded that of the wise men of the East early in his reign and with it he compiled many proverbs. Given the honour of building the first Israelite temple and being blessed by a promise by God, Solomon had it all.

But he blew it!

How? By failing to remember God’s requirements for a king who sits on the throne of Israel. In Deuteronomy 17:14-20 Moses recorded the Lord God’s expectations for those who rule over His people. They needed to have their own copy of the Law, and read from it every day. The reason was to learn to fear the Lord. Nor were they to hoard excessive wealth and marry numerous wives, a custom prevalent in surrounding cultures. Because the Almighty had promised to be the Nation’s defender, kings were forbidden to rely upon the army of Egypt or the power of horses and chariots. Added to that the king must not consider himself as superior to his people.

In 1 Kings 11 is the sad list of this wisest of men sliding down the moral and spiritual slope into spiritual stupidity and ignominy. I would suggest he stood on the top of the slippery slope when he ignored reading and obeying God’s word. This is evident by the fact he took to himself wives (probably politically expedient) from nations Yahweh had specifically said “no” too! The result was they turned his heart to pander to their idols, and more than likely to their loose morals. Solomon appears to have been a collector of horses, chariots and gold. He also knew how to tax his people. All of this would destroy his reputation, his spiritual life and damage the character of his son Rehoboam.

In his book ‘Bible Characters’, Alexander Whyte says of this king the saddest of statements. ‘There is no repentance anywhere in Solomon’. His father messed up big time but recognised his error and Psalm 51 is a beautiful and humble expression of repentance. No such psalm or comment can be found from the pen or mouth of Solomon. What a warning this is for us all. When we begin the slide downhill from the Lord’s calling, the way to get off is for the Lord to yank you out. Trouble is, He will not, cannot do it until you call out as a sign of repentance, “Lord help! Lord forgive! Lord have mercy!”

Solomon didn’t practice what he wrote. Consider: ‘trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight’ (Proverbs 3:5). ‘The end of the matter; … Fear God, and keep his commandments; for that is the whole duty of everyone. For God will bring every deed into judgement, including every secret thing, whether good or bad.’ There is so much more that could be added here. Even that beautiful love poem ‘Song of Solomon’ is tainted. If he wrote it, did he have multiple copies made for his numerous wives? How terribly, terribly sad for the poem is so beautiful. Again there is a warning for us. What we write, what we say, may be lovely and true but its power and meaning will be lessened by personal insincerity and hypocrisy.

The apostle Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 it isn’t how you start the race God calls
you to enter, but how you finish. That’s the danger in senior years. We can know God’s word and will, yet think we’ve enough ‘merit points’.  When we imagine there isn’t more to discover from God’s word, more reasons to serve and worship, more awareness of our spiritual weakness, we are hitting the slippery slope. When we do not fear the seductive power of the World or recognise we have taken the wrong track and therefore no need for repentance, the promised winner’s garland is fading.

Solomon is a warning best expressed in his father’s lament about King Saul, ‘How the mighty have fallen.’ Saul died most noble in battle. Solomon withered into a most ignoble departure into the presence of the Lord he had disappointed.

Lord, kick us, me, off the slippery slope! Keep me focused on the race set before us, before me! Let me not be a stumbling block to other runners, or would be runners! Lord, hear our - my plea. Amen!

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Word abuse makes 'Love' suffer

In English it is a four letter word. However, those four letters embrace almost a catalogue of meanings. Today’s blog concludes the 5 imperatives of 1 Corinthians 16:13-14. The word in the Greek is agape and mostly translated love. In the Language of the New Testament love can come under four heading. Eros, Storge, Phileo and Agape express the range of emotional relationships which come under the umbrella of the English ‘love. ‘Let all that you do be done in love’ 1 Corinthians 16:14 NRSV

A man can love his wife and car in the same breath, we can love God or a pet frog or other things too numerous to mention. The English word for love suffers from 'word abuse'. In turn, it produces confusion of understanding.  How easier it would have been to have a range of words, as in Greek, to expound 'love'. So, when Paul expresses this final imperative what word was chosen from the Greek language? Agape! This expresses the highest and most noble insight into expressing love. Whilst it can embrace emotion the word defines love as independent to it. Such love causes the person to rise above personal preferences for the sake of another’s welfare, even as the inconvenience of the one showing agape.

When you read the epistle to the Corinthians it is evident that love was selective, lacking or misunderstood. That is why Paul went to lengths to compile that beautiful piece of love in chapter 13. Agape isn’t bounded by family, cultural or moral fences. It is an open expression of the agape shown to us through Christ and Calvary. This is why such love is costly, behind it and overshadowing it is the cross. It is so easy to get all enthusiastic about following Jesus, who doesn’t need what He offers. Trouble is the Lord puts a two letter word in from of our enthusiastic excitement. “If” is the word of choice and at the same time a sifter of the heart. For “if” points the individual to a cross, personalised and nonnegotiable! Any person who calls Jesus Lord and Saviour has shared in the crucifixion of Christ according to Romans 6. Then the holy Spirit takes that person to the ‘discipleship fitting room’ for the cross the person has been chosen to wear.

How does that relate to agape love in our lives? Primarily in subordinating personal comfort, preference and wisdom to the Master’s honour. This is more than bible reading and worship, important and essential though they be. Love for Christ confronts the personal cross in regards to relationships. In a sense there is often a wrestling match unseen by others except Heaven and the Devil’s realm, which is our Gethsemane. ‘Let all that you do be done in love’ sounds so spiritual and easy, that is until God calls upon you to do something distasteful.

Think about some of the scenarios possible. ‘Love your enemies,’ but they hate me! Pray for them, feed them, treat them with respect even though they are unrepentant. Justice they will face but we are not the judge, we are disciples. This applies to those with whom we disagree morally and with whom we may debate quite strongly. Fear of contagion may arouse disgust but Christ Jesus calls us to help them if they have needs we can meet. That isn’t condoning, it isn’t even liking the person. It is our obedience to Christ and the price expresses the cross placed upon us. It is allowing the Lord to call them to account at His time and place. It offers us an opportunity to witness to our Lord and Saviour.

Apply this principle of love and personal cross to your own scene and enjoyable relationships. Not always easy is it! Putting oneself ‘out’ for the sake of another can be costly and inconvenient. Why bother? It is the right thing. It is what the Lord delights in. It makes agape a reality (even though it may suffer a little from ungraciousness in the initial stages). It often metamorphoses into a blessing.

Paul concludes these five imperatives on the theme of love because without it the previous four won’t impress God. They will be without substance. They will be the sound of gongs and cymbals (Ch. 13).

In conclusion may I be permitted to rearrange just a little these five imperatives? 

‘Let all that you do be done in love.’ This will require you to ‘keep alert, stand firm in your faith, be courageous, and be strong!’

©Ray Hawkins29 Jan. 2017.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Be 'kratos' and don't crack-up'

Do you find it frustrating to be motivated to do or be something – but not told how to achieve it? I do! This can be a real pulpit type problem. When I read 1 Corinthians 16:13 emphasis on imperatives Paul seemed to fall into that trap. But then I realised the answer to ‘how’ is within other sections of the letter or books.

The fourth imperative calls upon us to be ‘strong.’ The Greek word is ‘kratos’ and means ‘mighty.’ This isn’t a word defining a theory. It is the expression of power in action. Other Greek words speak about strength and power with a different emphasis than ‘kratos.’ It seems, at least to me, that the word Paul says to the Corinthians is the source from which the other aspects are resourced and permeated. I came to this view when I checked out its 24 references [includes kratos, krataioo, krataios, pantokrator –the Almighty]. We know the Lord God is almighty because of His cross and resurrection. This triumph stripped the Devil of death’s keys (Hebrews 2:14. Revelation 1:18) and made our salvation possible.

When Paul wrote to the Ephesian church he included a specific prayer. He wanted them to know God’s kratos in their lives. What was that power? That which the Father had expressed by the resurrection of Christ. The reality of this indwelling experience of faith and commitment cannot be imprisoned in the soul. It has to be let loose in relationships, service and worship. Paul says we are strengthened to become mighty by the ministry of the Holy Spirit. Again, how is this made known? By knowing and loving Jesus as Lord and Saviour. From that relationship we are to walk in a manner honouring Him and blessing or challenging others. Now that really requires us allowing the grace and power of our Lord unrestricted access to our lives.

When we read about the possibility of having a wrestling match against the ungodly forces behind ‘flesh and blood’ opposition we can shudder and shake. Sure, the armour is supplied but no matter how good the armour is, when the person in it is weak, terrified, untrained, there’s un-pleasantries awaiting. What can make the nervous person, though properly clothed in armour, spiritually capable for the fight? The kratos of his Commander in Chief. This means being mentally, biblically, spiritually and devotedly confident in the indwelling presence of Christ. We can glibly say “the battle belongs to the Lord” but we are the one doing the fighting. Therefore, whether we live or die, succeed or seemingly fail, we are to face the battle, without liking it, to uphold the honour of the Lord. I think that is why we are encouraged by ‘having done all, to stand.’ This is depicted in Acts 19:20 where it says God’s word increased by the kratos of the Lord. That was in the face of much opposition and disturbances.  

One of the fascinating features associated with kratos is the response by believers and angels. It is summed up so beautifully in the words of the doxologies. These are expressions of praise and recognition we and angels have towards the Triune God. The word ‘mighty’ is used over and over again as Christians worship with adoration. “Holy, holy, holy, the Lord God Almighty (pantokrator), who was and is and is to come” (Revelation 4:8). ‘To the only God our Saviour, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, power (kratos) and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen’ (Jude 25).

The fourth imperative pushes us to realise that to be strong requires the indwelling and free rein of Christ Jesus within. The prayer of Paul for the believers’ in Colossae remains true for us: “May you be made strong with all the strength (kratos) that comes from His glorious power, and may you endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to the Father…’ (Colossians 1:11-12).
©Ray Hawkins Jan 29 2017.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Be a man- or woman role model.

Sport stars are often called upon to be role models to the young. Some measure up. Many do not. Even fewer celebrities could be looked to for such an important role. For those looking to the Church for guidance in this arena who would you choose?

The third imperative from 1 Corinthians 16:13-14 deals with this matter, perhaps in a round-about-way. The Greek word used is ‘andrizo’ and is variously translated as ‘quit you like men’ (KJV) ‘be courageous’ (NRSV)) and ‘act like men and be courageous’ (Amplified) or ‘play the man’ (Nestles Interlinear Greek-English). This word is used only once in the New Testament. It’s apparent that what Paul wrote is a challenge to translate and apply.

It is certain that the apostle was calling his readers to reach for the highest ideal of manhood their transformed minds could imagine. Would they relate it to noble warriors, Olympic champions, Biblical characters, even to missionaries? We will never know. Thinking about Biblical characters however, the one I’d look to as my role model would be Timothy. Why? Maybe because I see in him some of my personality and temperament. The way he utilised their strength, rose above their weakness and allowed the Holy Spirit to refine, mature and flavour them is encouraging. He is my role model for being courageous. He is my example as a faithful minister. He is a challenge to ‘play the man’ when it would be the self-preserving thing to run.

Timothy had a difficult family situation. Jewish mother and a Gentile father who is apparently absent. Then, when they hear the gospel he, his mother and grandmother become followers of Christ. I wonder about the reaction of the synagogue. It is apparent that Timothy took hold of the Lord’s grace and proved true in the eyes of the recently established local church. They had no hesitation in endorsing him to serve with Paul in up-coming missionary ventures.

From the book of Acts and various letters from Paul we see Timothy’s character and commitment. He was timid but conviction of and commitment to Christ gave him moral and spiritual backbone. As last week’s imperative put it, he stood his ground in the faith. Another thing which impresses is how he handled serving under the ‘shadow’ of Paul’s dynamic and restless missionary endeavours. In Philippians 2:19-24 Paul tells the Church he is sending Timothy to them. Then he adds: ‘I have no one like him who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare. All of them are seeking their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ.’

The two letters Paul wrote to this man from prison are revealing. Timothy was the minister at Ephesus, a very difficult assignment. He was called upon to deal with a number of issues which I imagine he would rather have let pass. However, being a faithful servant and a capable teacher he stood on the authority of Scripture (both the Old Testament and Paul’s letters). In the first letter and chapter 4 he is encouraged to maintain pri0rities in teaching and setting an example in ‘speech, conduct, love, faith and purity.’ He was not a pulpiteer. He was first and foremost a role-model.

In the second letter this man faces issues regarding the political correct issues of his day. Paul addressed him as a soldier of Christ and a worker approved by God. These and other matters required him to stand true to the ‘sacred writings’ and to proclaim the message of Christ and the cross. The same is true today for those who would be role models in spirit and in truth.

The five imperatives of 1 Corinthians 16:13-14 build-up similar to a musical crescendo. Each depends on the other and will culminate in the rhapsody of devotion. Next week be ‘be strong’ is the subject to consider.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

When life's blizzards blow.

Artic explorers impress me with their commitment as they face the harsh landscape with its
bleak weather. Watching videos of their trudging along and battling snow blizzards and possible dangerous ground conditions arouses respect and admiration.

In my mind they become metaphors for the Christian life. We are called upon by our Lord to be His adventurers in a spiritual and moral ‘artic region.’ We are not called to face the ‘blizzards or tread the dangerous countryside’ for fame and fortune. Rather, we are on a rescue mission under the supervision of our Commander. Our mission is to save those lost in the blizzards of life, to lift up those who have fallen into moral crevices plus establish a base camp for their welfare, nurture and resourcing.

To do that requires us to be properly trained, spiritually resourced, morally upright and confident in the leadership of the Lord Jesus. Aspects of these essentials are summed up in the motto for 2017 as written in 1 Corinthians 16:13-14. Last week we considered ‘be alert,’ today the key word is ‘stand!’ Over the next three weeks we will consider, ‘be courageous’ – ‘be strong’ – ‘love.’

It is interesting that the Christian life is expressed in words such as ‘sit – walk – run –stand!’  Watchman Nee in his classic book ‘Sit, Walk, Stand’ shows from the letter to the Ephesians the principles for a fulfilled Christian life and ministry. We need to ‘sit’ with Christ Jesus in His realm by faith. This equips us to walk in our calling and not become victims of adversaries, nor foul circumstances or moral crevices. As we walk in obedience to our Commander there will be times we have to ‘stand’ our ground as opposition to our message, values or endeavours rage around and upon us.

Within our life and service manual (Bible) we can find a number of passages emphasising our need to stand. They deal with all the issues with which we will need to deal as we undertake our commitment to mission. We are to have answers, found in our manual, for both inquirers and opponents. This means we must be convinced about what we believe and stand on the authority of Scripture. Our foundation on which we stand by faith is the Gospel (1 Corinthians 15:1). This great news of Christ’s coming, living amongst us, taking our sin and judgement at the cross, dying, being buried and rising again is matchless, priceless and eternal. It’s the message of being set free from our past and to know acceptance by the Lord God of Glory.

Why people fight against this liberating news defies logic. However, they do! That means we must combat their arguments. This is done through Biblical teaching of the promises about the coming of Jesus, the historical accuracy of the Bible and the required lifestyle found in Scripture. The book will unmask their errors, dismantle their arguments (2 Corinthians 1:3-5). It’s not much use having sound doctrine if it is undermined by a wayward and hypocritical lifestyle. It is our responsibility to stand faithful before the gaze and even the slander of opponents. That isn’t easy when the blizzards howling around you and the adversaries rage.

To be able to stand under such pressure demands your heart, mind and experiences to know the following: ‘I know the one [Jesus] in whom I have put my trust, and am sure that he is able to guard until that day what I have entrusted to him’ (2 Timothy 1:12). It also requires us to be part of a band of likeminded people roped together by God’s grace and calling. They may be close at hand or on the other side of the world yet ‘chained’ together through prayer. Epaphras is mentioned as an example of this. ‘[He] who is one of you, a servant of Christ Jesus,  …is always wrestling in his prayers on your behalf, so that you may stand mature and fully assured in everything God wills’ (Colossians 4:12).

As the year runs its course get to know your Lord more and more. Then take to heart the imperatives of His calling. Only then what confronts you, me, will not blow us over or cover us with shame. Therefore, stand and having done all we have been asked to do, stand!

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Keep your eyes focused.

As 2017 opened its hours to welcome me aboard it also challenged me to have a motto. As I was reading the letter to the Corinthians the following verses impressed itself upon me. ‘Keep alert, stand firm in your faith, be courageous, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love’ (1 Corinthians 16:13-14). There are 5 imperatives mentioned. Over the next five weeks I’d like to share some insights to each of these.

As this year unfolds Scripture urges us to keep an active lookout for our Christian life and witness. ‘Keep alert’ has both a negative and a positive aspect to it. We are warned to be on guard against the prowling, roaring and devouring intent of the Devil (1 Peter 5:8). To be honest, the ‘lion’ aspect doesn’t worry me so much. I can discern him. I can hear him. I can, by the grace of God and His word, run and hide. Where is my hiding place? In the company of the Lord Jesus and His word.

The danger which engulfs me is the enemy within. It is called the carnal or flesh nature. It is so cunning. It is so insidious. It is so hard to discern and resist. James 1:14 describes it as ‘one’s own desire.’ The KJV calls it ‘lust.’ Scripture goes into a lot of detail to spell out and warn us of this inner power. Check 1 John 2:16. Galatians 5:16-21.

As I live in a society addicted to ‘Lust’ it is so easy to be seduced. Standing within the shadows is the Devil casting a hypnotic power to hide the devastating and degrading consequences. How can I resist, especially when I don’t want too? By keeping alert and knowing the end of ‘Lust’ is moral, spiritual, relational death (romans 8:6).

The motivational aspect of ‘keep alert’ is to seize opportunities to honour the Lord and bless His people. So much of the New Testament is occupied with challenging us to be men and women with vision, vitality and virtuous. To do this requires an ever conscious commitment to our calling to walk worthy and to the fellowship of Communion. Sounds easy! Sounds noble! Trouble is the World, the Flesh and the Devil want to drown out that sound. Therefore ‘keep alert!’

In Revelation 31-6 is the story of the church in Sardis. It had a name for being alive – Jesus saw it as dead. He called upon it to ‘wake up and strengthen’ what was left but fading. Failure to respond would result in discipline which could build up to being severe. The Lord called upon the church to be a conqueror not conquered. One of the ways out of the mess of self-deception and the lethargy caused by self-confidence was to ‘remember!’ Remember what? Remember the things received, heard and obeyed at the beginning of their new life in Christ. When the Church did that the next word was ‘repent!’ That was the steps to becoming awake and back into a meaningful relationship with the Lord Jesus.

Sardis is an apt metaphor for many Christians. It has applied to me at times in my Christian life. I’m so glad the Lord didn’t leave me in that spiritually comatose state. He stepped in through various means to wake me up, some not too gentle either. Should He do it to you be thankful. The alternative is miserable.

So, as 2017 begins I want to take the words ‘Keep alert’ to heart. How about you?