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?

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Clues defining Christmas.

Christmas is no standalone festival. It is tied with unbreakable cords to Calvary. Both of these testimonies to Jesus are bound within the Judeo-Christian Scriptures. Cynics glibly dismiss their historicity or speak simplistically of either or both.

Christmas has woven within the books from Genesis to Malachi ‘jigsaw’ clues to the future coming of a Kinsman-Redeemer through Israel. Some are easy to find, others well camouflaged. The possibility of them all merging into one person at one moment in time is astronomical, impossible! Yet Jesus issued the challenge to check Him out through the Jewish Bible and see whether or not the clues point to Him.

Similarly, with Calvary and the events leading up to the cross numerous clues are presented. The challenge of the Bible is for the sincere investigator to assemble the clues, compile a picture and measure it against the Gospel accounts about Jesus.

Truth awaits the seeker. Truth eludes the insincere, the lazy and those happy to be ignorant. The importance of knowing the Truth is always in its power to save from falsehood and living a lie. In regards to discovering the Truth about Jesus the fallout has implications for time and eternity.

Christmas and Calvary actually provide a beautiful unity in which each fulfils the other reason for existing. So, when I celebrate Christmas it is because of the Easter (Jewish Passover) event. When I participate in the resurrection remembrance of Jesus I’m conscious of why Christmas was necessary.

As I close and wish you the wonder, the joy and the promise of Christmas I do it in the certainty of the events of Calvary and the garden tomb. The following poem sums it up.

Christmas and Calvary linked

The cross, would over the manger hover,
Straw, freshly cut the babe did cover.
Yet portraying a tomb, new and unused
Jesus’ body, newly crucified laid inside
Until His resurrection cast death aside.

When angels sang at Jesus’ birth
They proclaimed the One beyond earth
Whose destiny pointed to Calvary!
There, His body would taste death’s savagery,
Leaving scars, His risen body’s testimony.

When the Heaven’s blazed with light
Satan’s kingdom shuddered with fright.
His plan, eradicate Jesus permanently
By crucifixion, on charges of blasphemy
All annulled, when Jesus rose triumphantly!

On the 3rd day the earth quaked, the stone rolled,
Now shown, the tomb empty, as was foretold.
Christmas’ mission fulfilled at Calvary
Our forgiveness offered through their unity,
Verified by Christ’s resurrection victory!
©Ray Hawkins Dec. 2016.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

A Beatutiful Beast - Storms

Awesome in power and beautiful with its lightning strikes when viewed on television. Fearsome in its savagery and destructive power when engulfed by it. Such is the paradox of the ‘beautiful beast’ called a storm.

The first recorded storm comes from the Biblical account of the worldwide flood in Noah’s day. The sign in the sign afterwards proclaimed a promise wrapped up in the first ever rainbow. In Scripture there are a number of rampaging ‘beautiful beasts’ mentioned. Most are associated with sailing. We recall Jonah but forget Jehoshaphat’s wrecked ships at Ezion-geber (1 Kings 21:48).

In the Gospels there are three specific references to storms. Each of them have an application to how our faith is tested and shaped by life’s storms. This is true whether we find ourselves in midst of a furious physical storm, an ethical, emotional or spiritual one.

Storm 1. Is mentioned in a parable by Jesus as He sums up the Beatitudes. We all build our lives on some foundation, which Jesus classed as Rock or Sand. Both lives, depicted as houses, suffer the assault of the ‘beautiful beast’. In both houses fear would have been felt but only one would be destroyed. The life built upon the ‘Rock’ which refers to the Word of God, prevails. That doesn’t mean to say that there wasn’t damage or pain or fear to the life. No! What is being stressed by Jesus is the life is not shattered even though it has been battered.

Storm 2. In the very next chapter 8 in Matthew’s account is a storm. These professional fishermen were unable to cope with its ferocity. A strange picture is presented by a sleeping Jesus in the midst of the boat being swamped. Many of us have found the storm of life smashing into us and our voice being raised “Jesus, wake up!” Why did Jesus ask them what appears to be a silly question? He said “Why are you afraid, of you of little faith?” The implied answer is, no vessel can sink when the Lord is on board, awake or seemingly asleep!

Storm 3. In Matthew 14 is the feeding of the 5,000 men. Afterwards Jesus went up into the mountains to pray. The disciples took to their boat and merrily sailed away with warm and exciting memories. Evening darkness enveloped them and an unexpected ‘beast of a storm’ pounced. But there wasn’t any sleeping Jesus. He was absent. Why didn’t the Lord rush to their aid, for He could see their plight from the heights? How often have we wondered where Jesus is in the midst of our personal dealings with our own ‘beast of a storm.’ Could one of His reasons be to teach us He is able to come to us ‘walking on the water’ for He is the master over the ‘beautiful, ferocious beast.’ As with the fishermen so to with us, our response is a deeper faith and gratitude in Him.

Storm 4. This happened to Paul in Acts 27. Dispatched to Rome to be tried by Caesar the authorities ignored the season’s changing weather situation. It was approaching the time for the Euroclydon (northeaster) to arise and blow. It did!  The account shows the magnitude of the storm. Why did they suffer the fear, the loss, the harrowing of those fourteen days? Because of a fateful and rash choice. Why were all on board not killed? Because God had promise years before to Paul he would bear testimony to Jesus before Caesar. Because of that promise all on board the doomed boat were under God’s protection.

The reason for these accounts to be in Scripture is to teach us, warn us and encourage us to cling by faith to Jesus, the Lord over the storm. We live in an unstable world which seems to breed these ‘storms’ of emotional, spiritual, ethical and relational categories. Jesus, through His word, wants us to be faithful in the storm, strong when the ‘beast snarls’ at us to cower us. He also wants us to be merciful when for no reason of our own we are caught up in the storm caused by others. Turn it into a testimony of grace in the name of Jesus.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Christmas mayhem shopping.

Christmas shopping in our Western World is mayhem and madness. Watching the stampedes as shoppers invade stores for so called bargains is frightening. I wonder how many sing the Christmas time blues throughout the new year as they either repay credit cards or enrich pharmacists for medication to ease battered and bruised bodies. A lot of serious commentary could be said about this mania.  But, we all know about it, a few are fortunate to escape it and others revel in the tussle, bustle and hustle  of competing for the bargains.
So, I resurrected a poem to share. It's light hearted without any moral, pious or hidden meaning. If any men read it, they might relate to it. Women, if they have time from their shopping to read this blog, may see me as a misogynist with a fear of shops and sale persons. Not completely correct - only half true. However, the greater worry for all should be over the commercialising of the beauty of Christmas.

There’s no stopping my wife
When she takes me shopping.
All is fair game.
No sense of shame
In the shopping mall jungle
Where she loves to trundle
With Christmas bundle
Of things marked down
From DVD's to dressing gowns.

Down one floor
Up another,
From basement buys
To roof-top highs.
Single file we tramp
To outfit me
For Christmas revelry,
Cost effectively.

Sale persons
Quake in fear
As we draw near.
They’ve seen it before.
Coming through the door
Woman towing man,
She with a gleam,
He fit to scream.
Fearing the worst,
Forbidden to curse,
They guard the racks,
Take children out the back
                                                                    Safe from a wife
Who takes husband shopping. 

Returning home,
Hearing moans,
Seeing tears,
Neighbours peer.
A husband, burdened with gear
From knees to ears.
Women cheer.
Men steer clear.

All seem to know
What I’m carrying
Is not for me,
But for she...
...Who took me shopping.

Then when Christmas comes we sing "Peace on earth, goodwill to men!"
Raymond N. & Mary E Hawkins (C) 4/12/2016

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.