Sunday, November 27, 2016

Whose Prisoner are you

The apostle Paul stood as a prisoner before Festus and King Agrippa, in Caesarea  The record is in Acts 25-26. They heard the greatest offer the heart can hear. Paul’s news was that God was offering forgiveness for sins committed against Him. The cross was the price paid by Jesus, the One foretold in the Jewish Scriptures. The Roman Governor and the Idumean king, Agrippa seemed to have found this too much for their mind to handle. Festus said Paul was mad. Agrippa teased Paul by inferring he, Agrippa, was almost persuaded. This  sums up two of the three responses to the message of the cross. The cry of Festus still echoes through the lips of others to-day. "You're mad!" Agrippa also has many ‘spiritual’ descendants who, like him, are ‘almost’. In that state they die.

Paul, a shackled prisoner though he was he spoke as a liberated man. Paul knew he had a destiny with Jesus. Here was Paul a prisoners of faith  with an unshakeable hope in the risen Christ. Festus, Agrippa, Bernice and the others failed to realise they too were prisoners. Dressed in regal attire they were inwardly shackled by sin, guilt and fear. They wore the iron chains, not around their body, but around their souls. 

We all are prisoners of something or someone. In speaking to the assembled court Paul testified to the fact he was on trial as a prisoner of hope. Such hope was bound up in the promise God had given to Israel. Later on he repeated this truth to Jewish leaders in Rome: ‘It is because of the hope of Israel that I am bound with this chain.’ In effect Paul was a prisoner twice over. One definition is in the literal sense of being in chains for his faith. The other was in the spiritual sense. He was a prisoner of Christ Jesus. On both occasions his hearers were either prisoners of despair, unbelief or playthings of their unholy desires. Paul held on to a promise. They clung to wishful thinking.

Paul a prisoner of Faith spoke to prisoners of unbelief.  In Acts 25 and 26 are such words as ‘hope in what God has promised’: ‘God has raised the dead (referring to Jesus) to bring light into their darkness: to deliver from Satan’s power:’ ‘receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me (Christ.).’  Prisoners of unbelief throw out their taunts as they flaunt their unrestricted lifestyle. But in the silence  the fears of the future or the 'skeletons' of the past come to haunt. 

The Christian life is a paradox.
When Christ is our Saviour we are set free from condemnation by God's Word.
We are delivered from the kingdom of Darkness.
We are made clean within from the offending lifestyle of our past.
When Jesus is our Lord we discover the chains of gratitude, devotion and hope.
These become and expression of a relationship which leads to Heaven. They also say we are His ambassadors in chains of glory.
It sounds incongruous but it is real. True freedom is only found when we live in the environment for which we were created. For a brief moment a fish out of water might imagine it is free from its watery prison only to die disappointed. Those who reject the bonds of Christ Jesus live under the same disappointment. Their indifference to and rejection of Jesus and His invitation to life appears bold and carefree. Death without hope awaits.
As a prisoner of Christ, Paul found Humanity's true environment. 
This is true for all who are Christ's! 
It leads from this life, through death, into His presence.

Ray Hawkins November 27 2016.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Christ's return, not on the Horizon!

Earthquakes, wars and political upheaval beneath a (promoted) climate change has aroused prophesy gurus. Of late, my T.V. preachers are all warning that Jesus return to earth is imminent. Some of them conclude with a spiel to get their free book for more details.
Now, I’m deeply committed to the reality of Christ’s return to earth to set up His promised Kingdom. However, if the Bible is reliable (I believe it is), then as preachers, teachers and disciples we need to inform people according to what it says. This requires not avoiding the straight out Biblical timeline with its insights into characters, events and nations. 
To say Jesus might return tonight or this year or soon will get some agitated or switched on to ‘religion.’ When it doesn’t eventuate the band of scoffers grow. So, let’s be honest in our presentations. There are certain prophetic events and personnel which haven’t yet stepped onto the world stage. Who knows, they might be out there somewhere, but they haven’t stepped up and out.

What do I mean?
If the book of Revelation is taken seriously (and it should be) then the following (just a short list) have to be operational. In Revelation 11 there is mention of the Jewish temple being in existence. It is being desecrated by antichrist forces. Jesus in Matthew 24 defined this as the setting up of the ‘desolating sacrilege’ as foretold by Daniel. When and how is unknown. However, it will be built as Jesus foretold and 2 Thessalonians 2 supports. At the moment Islam is attempting to deny Israel any right to the former temple mount. This must and will fail. Rebuilding of the temple will take place sometime, date unknown.

Daniel 12 talks about a time of trouble never before experienced on earth. Its duration is in two sections of 3 1/2 years. Although worldwide, its epicentre will be the land of Israel. During this time there will be 144,000 specially prepared Israeli evangelists of impeccable character and faith. They will be speaking about Jesus the Messiah. No attempt to deny them their tribal heritage or have a false religious group claim them will succeed. Revelation is clear, uncomplicated and definite in explaining who they are.

Add to all the above, wars, rumours of wars, apostasy, earth and heavens in upheaval plus a rampant antichrist this is horrid time. Revelation, and other prophetic Scriptures point to events not yet appearing on the horizon. They might be just out of sight but when they appear those alive at that time will be in no doubt the countdown has begun.

Am I presenting a case for ignoring the Biblical teaching about Christ’s return? Certainly not! What I am trying to do is put His return into its rightful setting. That setting deals with Israel and not the Church. Therefore, as Christians we should be living with a more pressing and expectant hope. That hope is plainly set out in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 and 1 Corinthians 15. It is that wonderful time of meeting Jesus in the air. When that happens 2 Corinthians 5:10 and Romans 14:10 takes place. It is accounting time, not for salvation but for being awarded the garland for faithfulness. And remember this, the Lord Jesus could very well call anyone of us out of this life and into His presence at any moment. Therefore, we must be ready to meet Him, face to face!

The Bible is insistent concerning Christ’s return. Those of us committed to the author and His message are under a burden to rightly explain it. As James 3 plainly says, we who are teacher are under greater judgement for what we teach.

To any who read this let me say, “Check out what I’ve written!” Sit down and read the Scriptures for yourself and let their plain, straightforward words speak to your heart.

©Ray Hawkins Nov. 20th 2016.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Beware of playing with 'Straw!'

In my third year of college an Anglican Church was holding an evangelistic mission near the college. Many of the students went to support it. No one from the community or church membership turned up this particular evening so the speaker changed his message. He spoke without notes from John 15. When he elaborated on verse 5, ‘Apart from me (Jesus) you can do nothing’ it was the defining moment for my understanding of ministry. The preacher, who in my twenty plus eyes seemed very old, said that without Jesus Christ in our lives we had nothing and nowhere to go. He emphasised that in ministry we could actually do nothing which was of value to God and eternity. Until that time I had the impression that it was up to me. I did the work but called upon God to bless it. Now I sensed the reality that God was the one who did the work. His call to me was to co-operate with Him. The Bible defines it as being a co-labourer.

1 Corinthians 3:6 underscores the fact of God being the worker. We might be seed carriers or water spreaders but results depend upon Him. Paul’s letter to the Philippians 1:13: ‘it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good pleasure.’ Why does the Lord do it this way? He knows our sinful nature would twist the smallest indication of our importance into a grand parade in our honour. Our only boast is the grace of our Saviour who has called us unto Himself. From that relationship He appoints us into His ministry.

What Jesus said in John 15:5, goes against our human nature’s grain. Church or non-Church conferences on Leadership by successful entrepreneurs will give you formulas for reaching the top. The interesting fact is, they work. However from the Biblical perspective the success is a sandcastle built on the low tide mark. Over the years seemingly successful ministries collapsed when the power and cunning of ‘the flesh’ failed or the leader moved on. Constantly you will read in the New Testament the greatest threat to a God honouring ministry and spiritual life is the ‘flesh nature.’ In 1 Corinthians 3:3 the NIV defines it as being worldly. In Galatians 5:16–18 the ‘flesh’ is in constant warfare against the spiritual life of a born again man or woman. Perhaps a more significant comment on self-reliance comes from Romans 8:8, ‘Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God.’

We are told that everyone’s work will be tested by fire 1 Corinthians 3:13. Only the ‘gold, silver and precious gems’ will stand the heat. Each of those aspects can be related to the person and work of our Lord Jesus Christ. Only that which is of and from His nature will endure the fiery testing of His presence.  Hebrews 12:29 reminds us, ‘God is a consuming fire.’ Wood, hay and stubble don’t last long in the furnace of His presence. The precious gems and the silver and gold are featured in the Tabernacle and the High Priest’s breastplate. The Christian ministry must portray the spiritual equivalent. What could that be? Possibly gold for Christ’s glory, silver speaks of His redeeming grace and the gems highlight His prayers for His people.

The Lord desires to bless us in the ministry. This will be evident across time. He longs to reward us when He calls us home. Then it is accounting time! It isn’t how much we have done for Him that will carry any weight. Rather it will be to what extent has He, through the Holy Spirit within us, been able to accomplish His heart’s delight?  It is a cliché yet undeniably true. Our Master will not be concerned with our success rating in the eyes of the World. He will look to see how faithful we have been to His Word, His calling and His person!

However, if in the great mercy of God we should receive any reward I think we would, in all honesty, follow the example set in Revelation 4:10, ‘. . . the twenty-four elders fall down before him who sits on the throne, and worship him who lives forever and ever. They lay their crowns before the throne and say: “You are worthy, our Lord and God to receive glory and honour and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being.”’

Request: Lord I desire my efforts to be ‘fire resistant.’ May I be a co-labourer with you in which you express your ‘Gold, silver and precious gems’ and receive the glory due to your Name and ministry.  Amen!

Sunday, November 6, 2016

I was Swallowed by my wife's handbag.

I had seen it. Mouth open with zipper pulled right back. Here was a monster waiting a victim. Mary’s handbag had been placed on my favourite seat. As I moved towards it my eyes and mind became distracted by a television news item. Suffering short term memory loss, I decided to sit down. Then the nightmare began. 

As my rump squashed the handbag it came alive. It grabbed me. I resisted but the suction was too strong. Down, down, down I went past a forest of paper. I glimpsed such things as a car license, shopping list, an invitation to our grand-daughter’s children tea party and a shopper docket. Trying to cling onto of one was fruitless. In fact I cut my fingers on the sharp edges of the papers. At least my fall was softened by a moist tissue.

 There at the base of the bag I realised I was a captive in a fake leather, slightly faded voluminous and crowded bag. Cramped, confused and feeling claustrophobic, panic tried to ride roughshod over me. Being a man however I knew how to cope. I screamed! Unfortunately the soft sides of the bag muffled my cries. Taking a hold of myself I did what any self respecting, self controlled man would do. I lashed out and kicked the nearest item.

“Ouch!” That was silly; now I had a slight gash on my shin from a collection of keys lurking in the crevices like a metal spider.

Only one thing to do, climb! Light seemed to trickle down from above, casting shadows due to Mary’s wallet and credit card holder. Still I realised I had to escape. Loose change made my footing unstable as I searched for the comb I knew she carried. I fell. My face hit something hard yet sweet. A cough lolly. As I licked it I felt a renewed sense of vigour, found the comb under a piece of Lego. This was probably taken from our small grandson who had a habit of putting things in his mouth. I placed the comb, with much effort, against the bag’s side. Comb tooth, by comb tooth, I made my way upwards.

What the…? What was wrapping itself around my leg? What had fallen on my head? A sense of unease was only overcome when, in the dim light, I saw it was strands of grey hair. I never realised Mary’s hair was so strong. It was like Tarzan’s swinging vines. I kicked, shook and finally pulled my way clear.Who would have thought all those jokes about a woman’s handbag would prove so true? So much stuff closeted away in what I could now believe was similar to Dr. Who’s Tardis. Nervously I continued my climb. “Careful now,” I said to myself, “don’t fall over the edge into the secret compartment or you’ll never be found.”Drawing near to the top, I sighed with relief which soon gave way to despair. Fingers had hold of the zipper. Mary was home but danger lurked for me as she began to close the bag’s mouth. Was I about to be devoured? Would Mary ever wonder what had happened to me? And I hadn’t even kissed her that morning!
Tears of fear and frustration joined in a torrential outburst of anger. Too late! I was doomed to wander forever in Mary’s handbag. As I sank down in misery, a cry shattered my sorrow. My eyes flickered. Light penetrated. 
A voice spoke to me “Are you alright my darling? What’s happened to you? Why is the chair upside down? How did my bag become squashed and things scattered over the floor? Look at you, you’re a mess and that bruise on your head will need some ice.”

Uh oh! How could I ever tell her the truth?
Ray Hawkins 6.10.2016.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

The God who knits.

I’d been watching my wife do some clothing repairs for our grandchildren. Reminded me of those years, now long gone, when she was seamstress and tailor for me and our children. It may sound strange, but I don’t think it’s out of order when I tell you how her knitting and sewing reminded me of God. He is both the mender of lives and the one who knits. The Lord has the amazing ability to create garments of beauty out of the ashes of a person’s life. Isaiah wrote of how Yahweh would weave a garment of praise out of the ashes of a burnt out life (Isaiah 61:3). Jesus quoted the prophet in the Nazareth synagogue at the commencement of His ministry (Luke 4:17).

This was beautifully highlighted in the testimony of a man I once heard as well as many other testimony also. In his own words he was previously a hopeless case. Family, friends and community workers had written him off as beyond help, the burnt out wreck of an abused childhood and destructive choices. I have to confess I was in tears as he spoke. He gave the glory to the Lord and was thankful that Jesus had men and women at Christian Drop-In centres. They cared for him and shared the good news of Christ's love. It took time for him to realise how the Almighty could knit a new life out of the ashes of his old one. One day he came to desperation point and cried out unreservedly for Jesus to save him, and change him. It happened!  When he said that with the tears of gratitude in his eyes and words, I felt like standing up and cheering!  The change in him was proven over time.  It took a period of time for the knitting process of God takes place. He weaves the grey and black ashes of a person's life with the gold and rainbow colours of grace, mercy and praise.
It’s an unending delight to come across men and women who wear Christ Jesus' unique designer garments. He is certainly not into mass production of clones whose stories are all the same.  The Holy Spirit makes the clothes exclusively out of their own ashes and combines them with the glory of Christ Jesus. The only requirement for this is for a person to hand his or her life over to Jesus as Lord and Saviour. Friends and acquaintances understand God's knitting prowess when they see the wearer showing and declaring God's garment of praise. 

I find there is a tendency in my heart, and I hear the same from others, to compare the Lord's knitting. My ashes were not anywhere near as dramatic or complex as the man’s I heard talk, or others I've known. I’m glad about that by the way. We all have our own stories, dreams and nightmares mixed in with the ashes of sin, failures, and indifference to God. Our stories are each unique. However, the Holy Spirit has the power and skill through the Cross of Christ to make us beautiful before the Lord God. He give us the garment of praise, individually fitted, to wear on the ‘catwalks’ of life . It is there we each bear testimony to our Lord's saving grace. Of course there is more, much more woven into the garment He knitted and placed in and over our heart. Righteousness, Truth, Worship, Steadfastness and others are all threads of Christ's saving power.

The beauty of what the Lord knits is that it never fades or wears out. In fact, the more it is worn and shown in everyday living the more it glows. That garment of praise is designed to go with any other outfit you or I are called to wear. It means when I’m wearing my servant clothes, prayer shawl, hospital dress, sporting gear or being in the ‘witness box’ I will bring Him praise either vocally or by my bearing.

Ray Hawkins. Oct. 31st 2016.


Sunday, October 23, 2016

The Lingerie Hero

I blushed as I asked her the question. Her wide-eyed, innocent expression made it worse. For her a question asked many times before. But for me, a new experience.
“Where will I get a nightdress?”
Then, to cap my male embarrassment with stupidity, I added with an air of jocularity, “Not for myself of course. It’s for my wife.”

Mentally kicking myself, I took the escalator to the first floor. Each clickety click of the ride I was haunted by the salesgirl’s humourless look. “She must have thought I was some sort of nut” I mumbled to myself. In a sort of reflex action I looked around to see if anyone had heard my self-criticism. With a sigh of relief I saw that they hadn’t.

In that frame of mind I stood at the top of those moving stairs. All around were garments for the gentler sex to weaken the stronger sex. Women staff were everywhere. There wasn’t a male in sight. I began to feel like a mouse in a cat’s home. My male ego cringed before foundation garments, lace panties and other unmentionables. Glancing right, left, and to the rear I could see no-one I knew. So, collecting the shattered remnants of my confidence so carefully built up[ over the past few days, I propelled myself through the lingerie department. I came to a standstill at my destination amidst the nightdresses and pyjamas.

There I stood in my charcoal blue suit, brownish hat and flushed cheeks. With the background of multi-coloured nighties I felt even more self-conscious and conspicuous.
“O horrors,” I thought, “What if I meet somebody I know?” Just then, one of the saleswomen approached me. She was a tall, slim, dark haired woman in her early thirties. Her pleasant smile, plus her charming, friendly and business-like manner put me more at ease. Mentally I said “Thank goodness” for she did not have that slinky walk which I had associated with this department.
“Can I help you? Are you a salesman?”
“Well, no” I managed to smile. I wished I was one but added, “I’d like to look at some nightdresses. I want to buy a Christmas present for my wife.”

She asked me the amount I was willing to pay. I told her an amount. To be honest, I felt that the estimate was quite generous, especially as there didn’t seem to be anything to the garments. When the saleslady told me that the prices went up to fifty or sixty dollars (and dearer elsewhere) I nearly hiccupped. In one breath I was revealed as a skinflint. Still, necks can be stretched but dollars can’t. So my estimate stuck.
Then began a new phase in my ordeal. I was walked up and down aisles where these dainty items hung. There were long ones, short ones, lace ones and plain ones. The woman pulled them from out of draws, from under the counter and from behind curtains. I was shown specials, discontinued lines and the most up-to-date fashions. My mind reeled under the impact. Picturing my wife in some of them sent me from suppressed laughter to embarrassed delight.

Suddenly the saleslady was called away for a few moments. There I was left holding three or four different shapes, sizes and colours of night attire. Boy, was I feeling queer. If anyone had appeared who I knew I think I would have dropped the lot and run. Silliest thing of all was that I didn’t know my wife’s size. Wanting it to be a surprise I hadn’t asked her, and I sire wouldn’t ask anyone else. But I remembered hearing her say that she had lost weight. She boasted that now she could get into some S.W. dresses. So, when asked I had knowingly said, “S.W. please.”

Then the colour had to be chosen. From memory I began to recall the various colours of my wife’s nighties. For this I was acclaimed as a rare male. “My husband wouldn’t have a clue what I wore” the woman said. “Some husbands must be blind” I thought. “Still, that’s their business.” The more I lingered over the nighties, the more I was lost in the land of indecision. Short or long? Blue, red, green or what? Close the eyes and pick? Hardly. O well, a decision has to be reached. Here goes.
“I’ll take … that shorties one there. Yes, that’s right. The apricot coloured one with the white lace in front.” With bold decision my mind found peace. My shoulders straightened. My confidence came creeping back.

Swapping cash for the parcel I said as a parting shot, “Sure hope my wife likes it!” With a twinkle in her eyes the saleslady assured me that my wife would be overjoyed. I felt ten feet tall as I walked away.

Going down the stairs, as the escalator only went  up, I began seeing myself as one who had just conquered some untamed territory. I was the hero of the lingerie ‘jungle.’ I could hardly wait for Christmas. At our place this is always a time of delight. But as our children woke us up in the wee small hours of the morning I became torn between delight and despair. What would she say? Would she really like it? Would it fir? Did the colour suit her?
As she unwrapped the small parcel my questions were joined by her “What is it?” Her eyes widened with surprise and delight and perhaps a little unbelief as she took it out and unfolded it. Even before I received a big hug and a soft “Thank you” I knew the ordeal had been worth it.

Unfortunately, it was too small. So it had to be changed. Did I ride the escalator once more? Did I brave the stares of the women and mingle nonchalantly amongst the lingerie? Did I boldly say, “A bigger size please”? Not on your life! My wife did that. I stood on guard at the base of the stairs.

This was perhaps my earliest foray into writing many, many years ago.

©Ray Hawkins Oct. 22 2016.

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.