Sunday, January 25, 2015

Destroyers of Romance

Romance is featured in the Bible. The story of Jacob and Rachel is a case in point. There is also a whole book, small yet precious, devoted to the Romance between a man and a woman. In the Song of Solomon the reader will enjoy all the elements which surround a good romance novel. There’s longing, intrigue, sadness, intimacy, separation and passion.

There is also insights, not greatly emphasised but present, which warn of dangers that erode Love’s romance. ‘Catch us the foxes, the little foxes, that ruin the vineyards – for our vineyards are in blossom’. (2:15 NRSV) This warning follows immediately after some very poetic and romantic words. The man likens their love to a vineyard in bloom meaning that the fruit will be appearing soon. However, don’t take love for granted. There are little foxes which can get into the vineyard of romance and damage, spoil and destroy the longed for fruit and its juice of joy.

The word for fox is also used for jackal, a very unclean scavenger. What do you imagine the writer is implying by using this term in regards to their love? It seems to be a warning to safeguard what they hold precious, their maturing love. He doesn’t spell out the dangers or give the ‘little foxes’ names. This allows us to reflect upon the comment and investigate what, if any, names we might give to ‘little foxes’ nibbling away at our special relationships.

I’d like to give them some names from the Scriptures emphasising the word ‘little’. Each of the following Biblical quotes have the power to steal the romance from love and simply leave a ‘shell’ of what was the substance of yesteryear. You might add to the litter’s list but I’ve limited mine to three. It is worth reminding ourselves however that little ‘foxes’ grow and have their offspring. Therefore, it is important to recognise and deal with such destroyers of romance, love and grace as soon as possible.

My first named fox/jackal is ‘sluggard’. This term is used 14 times in Proverbs for a person too lazy to attend to what is important and necessary. It is linked with the unkind definition of a fool. How easy it is to feel romantic. How easily it is to be aroused by sight, sound and scent. How hard it is to work at being romantic, making the loved one feel special and attractive. It is this ‘little fox’ of mental and spiritual ‘laziness’ which over time makes the relationship a wasteland.

My second named fox/jackal is ‘tongue’. James in his letter calls it ‘a little member’ but can cause catastrophic fires and instead of blessing it curses’. (chapter 3.) Our Lord says that the mouth speaks what the heart harbours. Romantic words are easily uttered in sweet surroundings. Unfortunately, relationships are not always living in such settings. In the rough and tumble of living we are often thrust together in situations which rub us up the wrong way. Oh, may our love for each other fight off the ‘foxes’ of selfishness and self–righteousness. They want to turn our speech into poison when what is needed is the wine of mercy and grace.

My third named fox/jackal is ‘Leaven’. Within Scripture leaven is a symbol for sin – always! In writing to the Galatians, the apostle Paul warns them against the power even of a little leaven. It swells. It corrupts. It is harmful to personal spirituality and the ability to honour and enjoy the Lord. We are told in the Galatian (5:9) context that it enslaves and thereby robs an infected person of their God designed freedom.

I’d define leaven by another term beginning with ‘L’. It is lust! How can two lovers be on their guard against this seemingly cute, attractive even emotionally arousing ‘little fox’? For once welcomed into the heart this jackal will prowl, pervert and pummel true romance and Love’s sanctity. The ‘leaven of Lust’ is so readily available and so easily digested we need a moral and spiritual sifting and protecting shield. Without Love's commitment to shield us from this little monster jackal otherwise lust will turn Romance into affairs and love into pornography.

What safeguards, what fences, what weapons have we to safeguard God given Romance and the sanctity of love? There is the grace of God who is holy and eternal Love. Dwelling in His light, possible by knowing and doing His word and will, offers a protective barrier. When ‘bitten’ by this or any other ‘little fox’ don’t deny the ‘teeth marks’. Rather admit and repent and remove yourself from their vicinity. Also, everyday in someway or other express gratitude to the person who captured your heart and has kept it ever since. Then you will continue to enjoy Love’s romance and its fruit and wine.

A 31 devotional to help keep the romance in marriage.
Available in Christian bookshops and as an e-book, or from author.
© Ray Hawkins 25/1/2015.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Free Speech - Free Expression

Freedom is such a precious privilege and craved for by many. However, freedom can be so easily abused. There is something perverse in the psyche of Humanity which often uses Freedom’s arena to justify vindictive actions.

We cry out for Freedom of speech yet have we asked what type of speech? Do we have the right to tell deliberate lies aimed at vilifying, harming or destroying someone? Do we have then the Freedom to take unilateral action in revenge even to the extent of murder? Does Freedom have boundaries and if so who decides what they are?

The Christian Faith has its teachings on Freedom and it covers numerous facets of life. On the matter of speech it places some boundaries. Christians are instructed to speak the truth and to do it in a special manner. That is in an attitude of love. That isn’t a sentimental sugary type of language. Rather, love is words spoken softly or strongly with a desire that the recipient of the words be helped rather than crushed.

Speech ultimately will flow from lips whose minds are dominated by one of two forces. Will it be Truth or will it be Lies? This then creates a problem for those who believe there is no such thing as absolute Truth. For them there can be no such thing as a lie. What wins out in a contest between people or ideologies? More than likely it will be some type of muscle power. Are we not witnessing this at the moment from supporters of terror? We may call them ignorant, cruel, depraved, and other terms but they justify the lie of their words with actions of brutal force. Their reaction to what they don’t like, or agree with, whether expressed by satire or statement, is to destroy. That applies to the source as well as the content.

Freedom of speech and expression is important within any society. This is extremely true to those who seek justice over injustices, revealing corruption and criminal activities, and exposing error as well as terror. We should esteem those who have risked their lives, reputation and careers to reveal the deeds of men done in the darkness of deceit or depravity. Such Freedom must be safeguarded. At the same time it must be held within the bounds of Truth.

 What can we expect from a debate on Freedom of speech and expression? A clash between the Truth of the matter and Lies masquerading behind clich├ęs and self–righteousness. It is ultimately a contest between light and darkness, between exposing and deceiving, between community welfare and vested interests. Sometimes it appears that the darkness has won the field of battle. It is an illusionary victory. Truth has resurrection qualities and will not remain captive to its consigned grave. Time and again this is demonstrated within any arena of human endeavour. The unfortunate aspect of a Lie’s temporary victory is much sorrow, pain and ultimate shame to the Lie’s promoters.

In Matthew 12:33-37 is a statement by Jesus on an aspect most don’t take into account. Each of us must give an account to Him on how we have used our words. Not so much what was said, though that is under review, but the condition of the heart that was verbalised.

Freedom of speech and expression as well as people’s reaction to it actually uncovers the inner morality and spirituality of a person. May Proverbs 8:6–7 be our heartbeat: ‘ will speak noble things, and from my lips will come what is right; for my mouth will utter truth; wickedness is an abomination to my lips’.

 ©Ray Hawkins Jan 2015

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Strange Fire

God, if there is such a Being (and I believe and know there is) must have His standards. We see His laws in creation so there will be laws to govern the life and relationships of Humankind. But how can an individual know them unless the Lord has revealed His requirements? Christians believe God has done this through certain people such as Moses, David and ultimately through Jesus. Their writings and statements have been preserved for our happiness and wellbeing in the Bible.
That means it is our responsibility to know and understand the Lord God’s laws for us. It means that those called to be preachers and teachers of the Bible must share God’s word and not their prejudices. To do so can lead to serious condemnation. This is borne out in many a dramatic and frightening way in both sections of the Bible.

Consider the incident in Numbers 16 and the attitude of Korah, Dathan and Abiram. They were in the privileged tribe of Levi. As such they had the care of the Tabernacle. But they wanted to be involved in the role set exclusively for Aaron and his descendants. The record tells us that the role of the priest involved animal sacrifices by fire. There was also a special incense set in motion byfire. Korah and company wanted to make a point that they were as good as any child of Aaron and could offer fire for the sacrifices and incense. Read the account and realise that God doesn’t tolerate for long those who think they know better than His laws. They experienced His severe judgement because they sought to offer ‘unlawful, thereby strange, fire.’ Jude 11 defined this as a rebellion.

Sad to say many within Christendom are following in Korah’s attitude of heart and mind. They seek to offer to God what He has either not ordained, or what He has forbidden. Then such people wonder why the Lord’s glory is not felt. They also are confused as to why there is no spiritual and moral stamina within the Church scene. The facts are simple. They are offering to the Holy and unchanging God ‘strange fire’ which He rejects.

What are such flames which arouse the indignation of God? What attitude of heart and mind underlies their actions which stores up wrath for them in future judgement. Let us consider just a sample. The Bible is explicit when it defines by word and symbol the meaning of Marriage. It is God ordained. It is between a man (Adam) and a woman (Eve). It portrays the future marriage of Christ and His Church. Many in Christendom are falling in line with the unbeliever’s World’s view that marriage can be entered into by same sex couples. That is trying to offer God ‘fire’ which His Word condemns.

Consider the ever increasing role of abortion in society. It is used for killing the unwanted, those with presumed abnormalities or for economic reasons etc. This is the modern day equivalent to the pagan worship of Molech. His devotees would sacrifice their firstborn children in the hope of better things to come. It destroyed the dignity of each individual and makes the abortionist and their followers ‘god’ over the unborn and his/her future worthwhileness. The God revealed in the Bible holds each as precious, loves them and Jesus Christ died on the cross because He loved them and rose again for them. Those aborted children will meet their saviour and friend in glory. It is highly unlikely their killers will unless they repent and cry out for mercy.

Finally, let us mention briefly the ‘strange fire’ many want to offer on an inter-faith level. Such proponents imagine all religions are the same. This is contrary to what God’s word says. Jesus is unique. Jesus is the crucified, risen ascended Son of God who is waiting the right time to return. (That time is set but not detailed in Scripture). There is no other Name to believe in for salvation and entrance into God the Father’s presence. How sad it is to see various Denominational leaders and members entering into unholy and unauthorised worship times with those who reject Jesus Christ as the Son of God and Saviour of the world. The effect upon people seeking and supporting Christ and His Church is devastating. One research shows that in Denmark alone last year ten percent of the remaining 2,000 churches closed their doors. You cannot offer God ‘strange and unauthorised fire’ and expect to be blessed or for people to take up their cross and follow Jesus.

We need to take seriously the warnings of Scripture about taking God and His word lightly. When we do we are in danger of offering Him in worship, ministry and relationships ‘Strange Fire’.  Why does He express anger at this? Because it profanes His Name. His laws are treated with contempt. His worship is taken for granted at best and dismissed as irrelevant at worst. Over and over again this phrase is repeated in Scripture: ‘you shall not profane (pollute) my holy Name’. Take heed!

©Ray Hawkins.



Sunday, January 4, 2015

2 Gates, 2 Destinies.

Life is a series of choices and their consequences. Some are simply fun such as the team you choose to support. Others can be deadly, as when a person chooses so called recreational drugs such as ‘speed’. It can lead to psychotic behaviour and death. In the religious realm to accept the Koran as your guide can make you a jihadist. Staying in the sun may give you more than a tan. Sex is promoted as fun without side effects. Yet there is shame, jealousy, infections to name a few.
In Matthew 7:13-14 regarding the Kingdom of God Jesus spoke about choices. He referred to two gates and their impact upon your destiny. These 2 gates do not meet us at birth. At a later time we are confronted by their claim and invitation. What then did He mean by The Wide Gate?
It offers an easy life. Self is the guiding principle. The attraction of being your own god is strong. At the beginning of the road there are many enjoyments and few restrictions. Jesus advises “Look further down the road”.

Now this road has many lanes: Moral, ‘I’m a nice person and I’m good enough for God, whoever or whatever he/she/it may be’. Spiritual, ‘All belief systems are okay by me’. Intellectual, ‘There isn’t any absolute truth’. Self-esteem/success, ‘When I’m rich, famous or successful I will be happy and life will be meaningful’. Unfortunately Jesus knows where such attitudes lead. He calls it ‘death’. Proverbs 16:25: ‘Sometimes there is a way that seems to be right, but in the end it is the way to death’.

Death comes in many forms: Relationships break-up and die, health breaks down, morality is degraded and disappears, spirituality is a masquerade, intellectual pursuits lead no-where because life has no absolutes, and ultimately all that comes to a rejection by God (who has been used or ignored) for all eternity.

What did Jesus say about The Narrow gate?
Jesus doesn’t soften the facts surrounding the ‘narrow gate’ simply to get people to enter it. It is ‘strait/narrow’ (stenos). In other words it has boundaries. It is restrictive, unlike the wide gate. This implies you must be prepared to ‘make some self-sacrifices’ to walk through it. Why would you pay such a high price to your ego? Jesus calls you to see where the road leads. It is to life! This is one of the purposes for Christ and Christmas, John 10:10b: ‘I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly’.

Luke uses a word about the ‘narrow door’ in 13:24 in another setting showing that the choice isn’t easy. It is often accompanied by ‘effort’ as the Greek word highlights. The word can be translated as ‘agony’. For some the agony is to be rejected by family/caste. Others lose careers/inheritances. It is a death sentence for some. Most of us agonise because it means we have to say, and over the years repeat it “Not my will but yours be done” (this can be symbolised by the words of Jesus about ‘taking up your cross and following Him’.) Therefore, it is important to look not at the entrances but at the consequences and destinies offered. 

This narrow road also has a number of lanes: There is the lane of Worship. What a privilege we have to call God ‘Father’ and to worship Him by faith and gratitude for who He is and what He has done in our lives. The lane of service offers us the opportunity to express our abilities for the honour of the Lord and the welfare of others.  The lane of Witness is more than words yet includes them as we explain to others why we walk the narrow way. The lane of stewardship expresses the fact that what we have and are is not Ego centric but Christ centred and is used wisely and with purpose.  Each lane requires being in step with Christ Jesus’ word, being faithful to the task in hand and aware that we have personal accountability (1 Corinthians 3:13-15. 9:24-27). The end of the road is to meet up with Jesus in His realm and be with Him forever. That makes the agony of the Narrow way more than worthwhile.

For any who made the Wide gate their choice is there any chance for them to leave it. Of course, but it is difficult. It requires humility to admit you made a bad choice and want to change. It takes courage to call out to the Lord Jesus you have ignored and ask Him to rescue you. It takes faith in His word to accept His offer to remove you from the Broadway, forgive and cleanse you for placement on the Narrow way. Then it takes gratitude to let loose His grace in you so that you can enjoy the life promised.

Is Jesus being unfair to ask this of anyone?
No! It was a similar choice He had to make. Remember Matthew 4:1-11 where He was put under a severe three way trial by the Devil. He could have chosen the ‘Broadway’ to being a celebrity, to proving His Sonship and to ruling the world. He rejected them because they were the way to failure and death. In Gethsemane Jesus revealed the price for Him of the Narrow way – accepting the ‘cup’ that led to Calvary. But Hebrews 12:2 reveals that He also looked towards the end of the narrow way. Some of that joy He would enter into would involve you putting your trust in Him. He would rejoice in the privilege you give Him to take you off the way to destruction. It would include you one day meeting Him face to face and sharing His realm for ever. The writer of Hebrews then invited the readers to walk with the Lord on that same victory road to life, in daily living and into eternity.

©Ray Hawkins 5.1.2015