Sunday, October 16, 2016

The Decay of the West.

Have you taken a look at those in charge of individual Nations and their Governments? The American Presidential elections is taking front and centre attention of moral, ethical and character values and we forget leaders elsewhere. Whoever wins the coming U.S.A Presidency the Nation will actually lose! On what assessment is that made? Proverbs 14:34: ‘Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people.’ The word for ‘sin’ points to the evil nature of a person which has no Godly restraints on it.

What is meant by Righteousness?

Being an Israelite the writer views it from a covenant relationship and the Pentateuch.  That meant amongst other things observing the Law, statutes and judgements given by God to and through Moses. This is beautifully summed in the Ten Commandments.  When the Western Nations turned to Christianity they wove these Commandments into their National psyche. The best summary of these is actually from the lips of Jesus. Love God and love your neighbour as yourself. Righteousness therefore isn’t a theory but an inner condition lived out in a social context.

What is being demonstrated today in many nations previously influenced by the Christian faith is a repudiation of the Ten Commandments. With that emerges a society without a cohesive framework of relationships. In fact, the best description of what is emerging is found in Judges 21:25: ‘In those days there was no King in Israel; everyone did what was right in their own eyes.’ The result as recorded was chaotic and depressive. May I be allowed to paraphrase that verse for our scene today. ‘In our day there was no Ten Commandments in operation in our Society. Governments and individuals did as they pleased.’

Another aspect of Righteousness which exalts according to the Bible is found in Genesis 12:2-3. ‘I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you; and in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.’  Nations bear testimony to this truth in their histories.  As Israel is being isolated more and more and that even by some Christian Denominations so too the downside of what God said to Abram is evident.

Proverbs 14:34 is stressing more than personal responsibility. It confronts corporations, National Governments and communities regarding true righteousness. Therefore this requires leadership from Governments founded on principles of Justice and Truth from a higher authority than pressure from lobby groups. The Nations who once held individual lives as sacred from the womb to the tomb have surrendered to abortion and euthanasia. Why? Evolution has usurped the mystery of Creation according to Genesis. The complex issue of refugees is compounded by terrorism and mass infiltration which changes national culture. However, the delays in processing claims and the neglect to provide for their basic needs is an indictment on the World. In saying that, it must be stressed that it is those nations influenced by the Christian faith who are in the forefront of caring. More could be said about marriage, family, morality, child abuse, corruption in high and low places and family violence. Whether we want to admit it or not these are symptoms arising out of a walking away from righteousness, truth and justice.

As Christians we live in a morally and spiritually decaying world. In facts, according to 1 John 5:19 it is a world under the dominance of the Devil. Can you wonder, therefore, why righteousness, justice, truth and Bible based morality are frowned upon and undermined! In such circumstances we have a choice. Capitulate or agitate! Silence is safe but is frowned upon by our Heavenly Father. Not all of us can articulate our convictions but we can live out those famous words in Joshua 24:15b “as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

©Ray Hawkins October 16 2016.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

The Power of 'Oneness.'

There are any number of ‘how to’ books on the market offering steps to success. This could be for personal lifestyle, business, church, sport or relationships. Each will have varying degree of usefulness. What they endeavour to do is emulate what the Bible has already outlined. Funny thing is, people would rather spend big sums for conferences, DVD’s etc. than read God’s word.
Whenwe embark upon any ministry adventure as a team of mixed personalities, backgrounds and strengths/weaknesses what principle do we need to grasp? The reading from Philippians offers us some clues. In this letter by Paul from prison he seeks to encourage the church in its mission. In chapter 1:27 he urges them to live their lives in a manner worthy of the Gospel. We may adapt that for our purposes and say ‘let us serve each other and the community in a worthy way for Christ’s honour. The way it begins is in the same verse. Stand in one spirit, strive with one mind.

One-ness is a Biblical principle for effective teamwork, ministry, worship and fellowship. This isn’t easy as we all have our histories, strengths, weakness, pride, prejudices, fears and dreams. Any such gathering is fraught with danger. How does the Holy Spirit take such a diverse group and make us an effective team? By dealing with each of us and drawing our lives into line with His will and our minds focused upon Him as Lord.

Throughout Philippians there is this ‘oneness’ stated and implied. Chapter 2:2 stresses it with ‘be of the same mind, having the same love being in full accord and of one mind.’ Oneness isn’t ‘blandness.’ It is actually refreshing, creative, therapeutic and evangelistic! Oneness gives direction but allows each the privilege of helping the other by endorsing their strengths and compensating for their weakness. Being focused on and obedient to Christ means we esteem the other team members more than we value our egos. Should there be a clash about anything it needs to be faced and remedied. As in the case of Syntyche and Euodia (Philippians 4:2) this may require the wisdom of a third party.

This principle is the outworking of the Lord’s High Priestly prayer in John 17:21 – 23. There He prays for this oneness to be known and shown for it reflects the oneness of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. One of the out-workings of this oneness is to make the world believe the Father sent the Son as Saviour.  What the anti-Christ forces aim to do it cause division and thereby hinder the testimony of the Gospel. Unfortunately the carnal nature of self- intoxicated believers unintentionally offers assistance to Satan's endeavours. That's judgement reserved for a future date unless repented of and restitution made.

In chapter 2:5 Paul puts the onus upon each person to be committed to this principle. How it comes about is reinforced by the word ‘let’. Each of us are accountable for giving the Holy Spirit permission to focus our minds on Christ. The cross should always humble us, thrill us and motivate us. Because of it we by faith proclaim Him Lord. One glorious day we will join with all the redeemed and holy angels and liberated creation and proclaim Jesus as Lord to the glory of God the Father.

Therefore, within ministry and cogreational worship we have the privilege and challenge to live out the oneness the Holy Spirit has worked in. Amen!

©Ray Hawkins Oct 9th 2016.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Aristarchus – the Un-phased

Aristarchus appears ‘out of the blue’ at a riot in Ephesus. He and Gaius were part of Paul’s team and were accused of defaming the local goddess, Artemis. The Gospel was having a serious affect upon the icon industry and Demetrius a silversmith planned the protest.

This could have been life threatening. Did it make Aristarchus rethink his faith, commitment or service with Paul? The other accounts mentioning this man indicate it made him more resolute to follow Jesus and assist the apostle Paul. We find him as a member bringing relief money from the Gentile churches to Christians in Judea. As such he and others preceded Paul to Troas, presumably to finalise arrangements in the city.

The next reference tells us he was travelling on the boat to Rome, with the team leader. Was Aristarchus a prisoner along with Paul, or a travelling assistant? The term used in Colossians implies the former. One thing is for certain, you never could foresee what may happen when you travel with a Paul in the Lord’s service. When the ship endured the storm and was run aground did he think “here we go again!”

Aristarchus, if a prisoner was he set free before Paul, we don’t know. He was however commissioned to travel with Tychicus and Onesimus to Colosse. He also was to bring Paul’s greetings to Philemon, and I would think, support Onesimus’s rehabilitation. When you consider the background of these men you appreciate the unifying power of the Lord Jesus. Aristarchus was from Thessalonica, Tychicus from Ephesus and Onesimus was a slave from Colosse. Others such as Timothy came from Lystra and of course the strong minded Jew, Paul. Then there was Silas and Dr. Luke the gentile from Troas. As Ephesians 2:13-14 puts it, ‘He (Christ) is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups [Jew and Gentile] into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us.’

This man’s name means ‘good prince’ ‘best ruler’. Is there a sense of an aristocratic heritage in his family? If there was, how did they respond to his becoming a Christian? What did they think of his experiences? One thing we do know it didn’t deter him from obedience to Christ. He probably wore the title ‘prisoner of Christ’ with a sense of honour. He is a fine example of a faithful person unconcerned by playing ‘second fiddle’ to the leadership of Paul. Aristarchus understood the reality undergirding team ministry and fulfilled that which he was called upon to do.

The description of the Church as the Body of Christ is very appropriate. It means we are all an essential part and need to be in good health and a sound relationship with other members of the Body. 1 Corinthians 10-14 goes into great detail on this matter. The eyes of the children and the ears of their parents, guardians and friends will be focused on how well we act as a team. They will also judge the Body of Christ by our service to Him and our care to each other.

Acts 19:29. 20:4. 27:2. Philemon 24.  Colossians 4:10.
Ray Hawkins Oct 2nd  2016

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Mark – the persistent

Mark is an interesting man in the Gospels and the early Church. His family appears to be wealthy and their home was a focal point for support of Christ and then the fledgling Church. Mark is considered the scribe for Peter and the Gospel which bears his name. He was Jewish with good connections and the use of his Roman name, Marcus, indicates certain connections with that authority.

When Paul and Barnabas went on their first missionary journey Mark was a member of the team. The term used to describe his role was ‘under rower.’ He was there in the capacity to serve and to learn. It is thought that he had a doctrinal clash with Paul over the acceptance of Gentiles by faith and baptism and omitting circumcision and Law keeping. He left the team. When another mission trip was planned Barnabas wanted his cousin to have another opportunity. Paul was adamant in refusing to take him. This resulted in a schism between friends. Was he in the right but with a wrong attitude?

Eleven years pass and Paul writes to the church in Colosse and to Philemon and Marks name is in them. How did they get back together? The reason is unknown. The wonderful thing is that both must have changed. Paul’s in attitude but not doctrine and Mark seems to have matured in the grace of God and ministry. In 1 Peter 5:13 he is mentioned by Peter as being with him in Babylon. Later Mark is credited with giving Peter’s recollection of his time with Jesus in the Gospel by Mark. There is much for us to appreciate here in dealing with others. One of the biggest lessons is the giving and the accepting of forgiveness. This will always precede reconciliation and acceptance.

To Philemon this reinstated man is listed as a fellow-worker with Paul. The word for ‘work’ implies hard labour. To the Colossian church Paul says of Mark in 4:11 along with  others  as  being  like good medicine which soothes irritation. Was Paul speaking from  personal experience?  It must have irritated the apostle immensely to be confined to house arrest. It didn’t stop him from witnessing to and leading many Roman soldiers to faith in Christ Jesus. Each of us may well have a journey similar to Mark’s. How good it is to know the Lord doesn’t give up on us because of mistakes or immaturity. It’s also a joy to know that instead of causing irritation to others, as once we may have done, the Lord makes us as ‘medicine’ to soothe and encourage others.

From Paul’s final letter written during his second and fatal imprisonment Mark is mentioned. He is in Ephesus with Timothy and Paul would like both of them to visit him. Two words flow from Paul’s pen which reveal how much a previously fractured relationship had healed. Mark is profitable especially within the ministry. The word in Greek for profitable points to being advantageous. It’s used in 2 Timothy 2:21 and describes Mark journey well.  The young man who made things difficult on his first endeavour had had a great make-over. The word for ministry describes a Deacon. He had progressed from an under-rower into leadership. We may well see in Mark the evidence of a man whose commitment to Christ made him persistent to serve.

Acts 12:12, 25. 13:5. 15:37-39.  Colossians 4:10. Philemon 24.

2 Timothy 4:11. 1Peter 5:13.

Ray Hawkins. Sept. 25th 2016.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Onesimus - Fulfilled his name

He was a runaway slave from Colosse. Was he a slave due to war or because of bad economic choices or behaviour? How did he end up in Rome we will never know! For certain, he was a man with the threat of death over him. Somehow Onesimus met Paul. Was this one of God’s coincidental meetings not first with the apostle but with Epaphras. He was from Colosse (Colossians 4:12 Philemon 23). Did this man introduce Onesimus to Paul? It was to change his life in time and for eternity. This man whose name means ‘profitable’ was far from that to himself and others. When he believed that Jesus Christ could save him, change him and fulfil the meaning of his name. Now he must address his past and correct it in so far as possible, especially to Philemon, his master. All of us have to deal with issues from our Christless past as opportunity allows. This is the fruit of repentance. It isn’t always easy or pleasant but it is essential as a testimony to Christ’s grace and transforming power.

So, Paul sends Onesimus back to Colosse accompanied by Tychicus. In Colossians 4:7-9 this 'fellow-slave' appears to be, or had been, in the fellowship there. He had also a message to share with them about the Apostle's situation. Tychicus was the encourager. How did the congregation respond/react when Onesimus entered? One thing is certain, Philemon was a believer in good fellowship at the church. How easy it would have been for Onesimus to back-out of going there. He needed someone to stand with him and say a word on his behalf. The term is ‘paraclete’ and Paul did it through Tychicus. Would we take a risk like that for someone with a dark past? He would be under intense scrutiny in the early days of his return. He and the Church, along with Philemon would need the love, understanding and grace of Christ to embrace each other. Jesus saves the most unlikely, even the unlovely persons. Then He places them in a community where all have rough edges. This is where we all become what Proverbs 27:17 describes: ‘iron sharpens iron, and one person sharpens the wits (face in Hebrew) of another.’

The terms used about this once unprofitable person are most instructive. They remind us of the power of the Gospel when let loose in a person’s life. Onesimus is now faithful, a beloved brother and to Philemon he is called Paul’s ‘son’. The apostle urges the master of Onesimus to see him no longer as a doulos – slave –but as a beloved brother. The once unprofitable had the opportunity to be profitable in the employ of Philemon and to the Church. His status in the eyes of the World would not have changed but for the Christians he was a new man, a ‘freeman’ in Christ.

Without knowing the stories of those in our sphere of witness it is certain there will be those similar to Onesimus. What we share with them about Jesus Christ could be transforming here and now. This has happened many times in many places. It may also mean burying the seeds of God’s grace in someone’s heart which will bring new life later. This is one of a number reasons why Christians such as you and I are involved in this and other ministries. When young or old who have had a dark history come to faith they need a ‘paraclete.’ As their spokesperson you help them to integrate into the community of faith. If they have offended certain people you, as did Paul and Tychicus, seek ways to rectify that which had been damaged. This isn’t easy or necessarily short term. However, what a joy it is when the fruits of repentance and renewal begin to blossom and mature. 
Colossians 4:8-9. Philemon 8-16.                
Onesimus – the (un)profitable becomes profitable.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Tychicus - the reliable.

The Apostle Paul was no ‘lone ranger’ in mission. Neither does he presume to take all or even most of the credit for things achieved. He was a team leader yet very dependent upon each member of the team. Tychicus is one such person Paul points out to us through his letters.

We meet Tychicus and others after the riot in Ephesus. This was over Demetrius’ accusation that Artemis’ name was defamed. We will catch up with another team member involved later. Paul decided it was opportune to go to Macedonia and sent an advance party to make the arrangements. Part of Paul’s reason for this return trip which took him to Jerusalem was to bring relief money from the Gentile Churches to the believers in Judea. Tychicus would have been one of those entrusted with guarding and delivering this substantial gift of the brethren for their famine relief.

In four letters this man is revealed as someone who was dependable. The success of any venture is due in a big way to such people. We can plan, pray and perform but without a faithful and reliable team things can fail to reach their potential. In Eph. 6:21 Paul describes him as a deacon. This is a term for a drinks waiter but elevated by the fact that Jesus wore that title (Rom 15:8). Read the qualifications for being appointed a deacon in 1 Tim 3 and you get a measure of the man. In Col. 4:7. A lovely warm term of beloved brother (in Christ) is used alongside of a word despised by the World, doulos (a slave without rights). The Christian faith turns the estimates of the World upside down. It is a mark of honour to be a doulos of and for Christ.

Once again we read of Tychicus on the move. This time to Ephesus with a rather delicate responsibility (Colossians 4:7-9.) He was to accompany a runaway slave of Philemon’s, an influential church and community member. Onesimus had been converted in Rome under Paul’s ministry and was returning to put things right. (See next devotional). What was required was a man of tact and wisdom to prepare the way for the runaway’s restoration and acceptance. You and I may be called upon to represent someone someday who had similar failures, morally, spiritually but had been found by Christ and transformed.

 The apostle Paul experienced two imprisonments in Rome. In the first he wrote the above letters and 1 Timothy and Titus. In this letter Tychicus is once again facing the prospect of an assignment to Crete. He would replace Titus who was being recalled to discuss things with Paul. What does that tell us about our man under consideration? He was rather multi-skilled to say the least, and dependable. The final mention of this man is in a letter from Paul’s second imprisonment. This would culminate in his death under Nero. Tychicus was on the move again, this time to Ephesus.  It is there we have to leave him.

This man’s name means ‘Fortunate.’ How appropriate. He was fortunate to know and serve Christ. Fortunate to be a reliable team member. Fortunate to take risks to help others. He becomes an example for each of us as team members here at camp. May it be said by each of us “it has been our good fortune to serve with you.”

Acts 20:4.  Eph. 6:21.  Col. 4:7.  2Tim. 4:12. Titus 3:12   

Ray Hawkins 11.9.2016.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Epaphroditus - risk taker.

Those in a Roman prison usually had to provide their own necessities. Paul was a stranger in Rome without family and few friends. He relied upon the Churches in the area and beyond to meet his need. In Romans 16 is a fasciating list of such people who probably stepped in to help this outstanding servant of Christ. Epaphroditus steps into this scene as he brought Paul invaluable help, both physical and spiritual from the fellowship at Philippi, (Philippians 4:18). This was to the prisoner in home detention a sweet smelling savour, a sacrifice well pleasing to God.

Individually and as a Church we probably don’t have a conscious appreciation of the benefits our actions have upon others. Nor do we necessarily see it is as a sacrifice well pleasing to God. In many ways that is how it should be. As we do our daily rounds in our workplace, community and homes we should be a fragrance to others. The Lord will use your perfume to influence friends and family plus others to appreciate the Body of Christ and our Lord.

This man from Asia risked his life to serve. Was his sickness a result of whatever happened on his journey?  Was it something which infected his wellbeing from the city of Rome? For his home church to have had news of his condition means he suffered for a considerable period of time. I wonder who cared for him. So much is unknown, tantalizing and yet exciting as we reflect upon it. I imagine it would be the Christians in Rome who took him under their wing. Whilst our culture is different there is still a need for us to care for each other, especially within a team ministry setting.

Paul had a sense of the worth of those who serve with him or ministered to him on behalf of the Lord and the Church. Epaphroditus is called ‘brother (in Christ)’, Fellow worker, (yet he was a delivery man) and a fellow soldier (each of us have enlisted in a moral and spiritual warfare). Two other terms are applied by Paul to this man. ‘Messenger’ is actually apostle. He is on a mission. He is a sent one. This term doesn’t denote power or authority over others. Rather it speaks of mission. The other term is minister and comes from the Greek ‘Leitourgos.’ This defined a man who discharged a public office at his own expense. It was also applied to service to a god. The Church used this word to highlight the work of Jesus (Hebrews 8:2) Paul (Romans 15:16) and service to God by His people (Acts 13:2).

 We may see Epaphroditus simply as a messenger, Paul, described what Epaphroditus did as a priestly function. Whatever we do in Christ’s name and for Him is a priestly act. In many ways it would have cost this man money, time, absence from family and employment to mention a few things. Ministry in any shape will cost you and me in someway. However, when you consider what you are doing and why as well as to whom recall this to mind, it is ‘leitourgos’ a priestly function.

Epaphroditus' name means 'agreeable, lovely' in Greek and handsome in Latin. It is rather fitting that Christ had filled out these meaning within his heart, relationship and service. When Epaphroditus returned to the Church at Philippi imagine the stories he could share.  The trip to and from Rome and God's safe keeping on the road, Paul's ministry to the Praetorium Guards, the care received with gratitude, Epaphroditus's own sense of being prayed for and looked after. Along with that, meeting other believers and fellow servants of Christ associated with Paul and the ministry in which they shared.
By the grace of God we have the privilege of being called 'Leitourgos' even though we might think our role is unremarkable. When we give thegift of a cup of water in the Lord's name we express the aroma of Christ. We are unconscious of it, but the recipient is alert to it!

Reading:  Philippians 2:25-30
Ray Hawkins Sept 6th 2016.