Sunday, March 29, 2015

The Paradox of Prayer

Do you want a good prayer book? None better than the Bible. All other Christian books about prayer stem from this wonderful book. However, it says so much about prayer and praying most of us tend to lean upon those passages which suit our mindset.

Writers of the New Testament letters call our attention to certain aspects of prayer peculiar to their situations and audience. I admit at times to feeling some tension as I try and harmonise so much information. Perhaps this is why I’m motivated to putting the following thoughts into print about prayer and paradox.

Paradox is ‘a statement that may be true but seems to say two opposite things.’ As I read some parts of the Gospels and epistles the following quotes arise: ‘When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.’ Put that beside the parable of the Widow and the unjust judge in Luke 18. She nagged the judge until he gave her a hearing. Jesus summed it up with “will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? (Emphasis added) Will he delay long in helping them?’ In Revelation 6:9-11 is an illustration of further delays to long term pleading. ‘Under the altar the souls of those who had been slaughtered for the word of God and for the testimony they had given; … cried out with a loud voice, “Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long will it be before you judge and avenge our blood on the inhabitants of the earth?”’ The answer, not until the foreseen number of martyrs had been completed.

God has given us a wonderful privilege concerning our entering His presence in prayer. Some are called to be intercessors for specific ventures yet we are all called to be wrestlers in prayer on some issues. Epaphras in Colossians 4:12 is an example for us. He wrestled in prayer. Wrestling in this context infers a long and arduous contest. How different to Matthew 7:7-11. There we are invited to ‘ask, seek, knock’ with the conviction that the Father is keen to give good things to those who ask. Is this a contradiction? Is it a Paradox?

There are some things I’ve talked with the Lord about for a Long time. I don’t consider it ‘nagging’ but a son’s longing that his Heavenly Father will grant the request. I honestly don’t know whether He will grant it. This I do know, my Heavenly Father is good, gracious and generous. He also understands my heart and the issues involved. It is in the talking with Him that the paradox is held in proper tension and I do not become sour or fed up with prayer. How could I when God has answered so many other prayers, whether on a long term or short term basis.

I’ll accept Paul’s injunction in 1 Thessalonians 5:17 ‘Pray without ceasing.’ My God who sees the heart understands I’m not in the league of the Gentiles Jesus mentioned. Nor am I in the gang of those condemned by James. So, along with many other praise responses I’ll keep making my petitions known. I wonder though, when I see Him in glory will He explain the reasons for His delays or refusals? Personally I doubt it for I’ll (we’ll) be so caught up with the wonder of being in His presence it won’t really matter.

 

 

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Being at peace with the un-peaceable


our time in a village in Zambia. A relationship
with the Pastor and family which blessed us
Relationships are either a blessing or a curse. They will make or break one’s heart. The Bible is a relationship manual as well as many other things. It tells you about having a relationship with God (previous blog plus one) and being happy in yourself (previous blog). It also give good advice on how to relate to those I’ll call ‘the un-peaceable!’

Unless you are a hermit (even then you have to live with yourself) you will know various depths of relationships. We cannot escape from relationships with family, friends, workmates and acquaintances. Each one is detailed within Scripture. The one(s) I’m writing about deal more with friends and acquaintances. Family peace is for another blog.

We all have our histories, hurts and habits and unless we enjoy being at peace with God and ourselves they will infect our relationships. Herein is our difficulty. We might be at peace yet we will be mixing and mingling with many who are not. The results of these relationships will vary from the thankless to the traumatic, from frustration to failure and from exploited to exhilarating. Being a Christian also opens us up to being nice to the nasty which, without wisdom, can scar our own spiritual outlook.

Jesus took relationships seriously, easily seen as you read the Gospels. His manner with people sets us some guidelines which will safeguard our heart and faith. Jesus talked about wolves in sheep clothing who seek an intimacy for ulterior motives. It results in the sheep being devoured (Matthew 7:15). But then it seems strange to read in Matthew 10:16 that Jesus said to His disciples: “See, I’m sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves.” In effect Jesus was putting the ‘sheep’ in charge of the relationship. The aim, to convert wolves into sheep. But He added, be wise as serpents, harmless as doves and ‘beware of them’ (the wolves). Whilst the Bible highlights religious wolves there are many other wild dogs such as sexual and financial predators.

Notice, however, how Jesus treated His relationship with Judas. The betrayer was treated with genuine affection and was warned about what he was going to do. The same applied to Peter who also betrayed his Lord. What should they teach us when someone lets us down or breaks a trust? The prayer of Jesus on the cross covered them both. We know Peter repented with a broken heart. Judas? We can forgive. We can offer new beginnings. We will need to still be alert until they prove themselves to be trustworthy once again.

Romans 12:18: If it is possible, so far as it depends upon you, live peaceably with all.’ Did you notice the ‘rider’? What should you do when you do your best, pray a lot, be gracious only to be confronted by a ‘un-peaceable’ person? Steer clear. Keep out of the person’s way. Move under his/her ‘radar. Don’t stop praying for him/her but avoidance is wisdom as well as good for your spiritual sanity.

1 Corinthians 15:33: ‘Do not be deceived: Bad company ruins good morals.’ This may your story or mine. It isn’t the end, fortunately, for the Lord has the power to deliver and forgive. Many though take this warning lightly regarding relationships and end up in a moral, mental and miserable mess. Again, our responsibility is to share the knowledge of God’s grace with such ‘bad company.’ We are told to do it with a sober and right mind being right with God. That will have an effect upon the ‘bad company’ one way or another.

1 John 1:7 ‘if we walk in the light as he himself (Jesus) is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.’ Here is the secret, if one was needed, to being at peace with others. It comes from an ongoing relationship with Jesus which empowers us to be merciful, understanding, gracious and forbearing with one another. It is the foundation for accepting cultural diversity sanctified by commitment to Christ Jesus, Ephesians 2:13-21.

I’m always saddened when I read of Christians being ‘at war’ with one another, split apart or ‘rock-throwers.’ Being ‘un-peaceable’ is actually a testimony to one or both not walking in the fellowship of light with Jesus as their Lord. The One we call the Prince of Peace is unable to bless such individuals, groups or congregations. All that can change the moment any of us who are playing in the ‘fields of moral or spiritual greyness or blackness.’ It happens when we lift up our ‘eyes with faith and sincerity’ to Jesus and ask for mercy. The proof our genuineness will be seen in in how we then related to those with whom and to whom we have been ‘un-peaceable!’

 

©Ray Hawkins March 23 2015.

Next week: The Paradox of Prayer.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Peace comes when 'Skeletons' are smothered.


No one can see the ‘skeletons’ in a person’s soul. However, they are real and they haunt the memory. Peace cannot be known if they roam the heart land. Some try to drown these ‘bones’ by alcohol or other substances. It works, for a short time. Then the ‘rattling’ begins, louder and with greater torment.
Others imagine that being spiritual will vaporise the ‘skeletons’ of their past. Prayer, fasting and church attendances are dutifully applied but with limited effect. Our mind never forgets and our past only needs some ‘trigger’ to bring it into our present. “Is there any hope for peace within?” I was asked “how can I forgive myself?” My reply “you cannot forgive yourself! You created the ‘skeleton’ and you need someone outside and above yourself with authority to forgive.”

Who could that be? Only the Lord Jesus can deal with all your life’s experiences which created the ‘skeletons’ in your soul. He robbed them of their terror, haunting capacity and control by his death on the cross. A new beginning is His to offer to the troubled soul. The noise of rattling ‘bones’ can be silenced. However they are not removed. Written across such unsettling and haunting memories is forgiven. Every-time something brings them before the memory causing fear or shame to taunt there is only way to shut them down. It is taking the promise and authority of Christ Jesus and saying to your soul “I have been forgiven, cleansed and redeemed.” The ‘skeleton’ cannot overcome such a fact. It must retreat back into the recesses of your mind. Colossians 2:6-15

What good is that? How can I have peace knowing my soul has a ‘graveyard where the unsavoury past can rise up to haunt?’ Philippians 4:8 ‘Beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.’ In other words you smother the unsavoury past by such positive things that the ‘bones’ find difficulty in grabbing your consciousness. This takes time. It takes perseverance. It takes getting up after falling over. It takes devotion to the Lord and determination to meet the challenge. Peace isn’t being a pacifist. Peace means your heart and mind are in harmony with God’s word, active in doing what is right, and at rest in the grace of God.

Another threat to inner peace is what the future holds. As we age we realise that so many unpleasant things can happen to our body and our mind. Then there is concern for our family and friends. Sitting upon all that is a World in chaos morally, spiritually and many Nations with a bloodlust mentality.  As if that wasn’t enough to give us fear and depression there is the knowledge that at the end of life is an accounting time with God.

Unless we can find answers to these and be offered hope then the future will invade our today. Such intrusion will rob us not only of peace within but also sour our outlook. This in turn will have a repellent effect on our relationships further adding to our distress.

Into this cauldron of the soul comes a word of hope that has the power of an unwavering promise. “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” (John 14:1-3.) How can we count on that? Because Jesus Christ fulfilled the Old Testament promises about the Messiah. He came, He was tested and proved true. He was betrayed and crucified yet rose again. As we saw last week the Lord used that to make our peace with God the Father. Therefore, on the power of His risen life you can count on Him calming your heart and walking with you into your future.

In John 16:33 Jesus shared this with His disciples: “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” From the foundation of peace with God our Lord helps us build a refuge of peace within our soul. The material and instructions for this are found within the Christian Bible. A good place to start is the Gospel of John.

Next week: How to be at peace when others want strife.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Peace: Islam's verses Christ's



“Islam is a religion of peace” is almost a mantra when their representatives are interviewed. Usually it is a defensive smoke screen after some Islamic terror has been perpetrated somewhere around the world. What riles me however, is the failure of the reporter to ask a simple question: “What do you mean by ‘peace?”’

Islam's idea of peace is submission to Mohammed and the Koran as interpreted by their Imams. Trouble is, Islam’s various sects kill each other as they try to impose their style of peace. The religion of Allah will never bring peace simply because his adherents do not know how to be at peace with him. Muslims have no certainty of paradise because they can never determine if they have impressed Allah enough to merit an entrance ticket. Martyrdom is promoted as the sure fire way to get there. What a travesty and waste of a life. Also, from what is seen and promoted, Islam is a religion of externals. To become a Muslim is to repeat a set formula. There is no change of heart, no repentance, no acceptance of forgiveness and no change of lifestyle.

Christianity's promise of peace is commitment to Jesus Christ. Peace is a heart
matter dictated by a relationship of faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour. If there can be no peace between an individual and God it is virtually impossible for peace between people. How does the Christian faith define peace with God, especially as it reveals Him as holy and us as the exact opposite? How can the unholy have fellowship with the Holy Eternal God? Unless there is an answer a person will live in terror of fronting Him on judgement day.

Peace with our Creator requires some common ground. Can you or I construct such a meeting place by good works, promises and outward ritual? Impossible! Everything we would touch or endeavour would be smeared and tainted by un-holiness. If such a ground was to exist, only God could bring it into reality. Has He done it? YES! How? Where?

The ‘how’ was accomplished by sending His Son, Jesus. His mission, to deal with all that offended the Father within our heart, mind and behaviour. Jesus took our offences and judgement upon Himself and carried them into the tomb. They were left there when He rose again.

The ‘where’ is the cross of Christ at Calvary! Here is the common ground created by God the Father. We stand upon it when we hear the story of Jesus, believe it is real, recognise our desperate need and ask the Lord for mercy and forgiveness. Such a conviction about Jesus Christ providing the common ground allows Him to deal with our heart ‘disease’, our perverted mind and our vain behaviour. Jesus has the power and authority of His risen life and who He is to forgive, cleanse and recreate. He makes us acceptable to His Father. Then, and only then, will you and I or anyone else have peace with God. For He meets us at the cross. In a sense, the risen Lord Jesus takes our hand and the Father’s hand and joins us together. (Read Ephesians chapters one and two plus Colossians chapters one and two.) This is why we affirm the fact that Jesus is our peace.

What has taken place in the life of a convinced and committed believer is internal. He (or she) is at peace with God. That means he (or she) can be at peace with himself (herself). There will be adjustments. There will be new insights to life. There will be the sense of relief at being forgiven and having the conscience cleansed and liberated. There will be a new outlook on life, on eternity, and on relationships. Peace is the gift of God to us through the person and work of Jesus Christ on our behalf.

There are many wonderful and powerful acts of God’s grace to us who give our lives by faith to His Son, Jesus. One at the top, to my mind, as we live in uncertain days and experience unsettling circumstance, is peace. It is a promise He gave to the disciples on His way to Calvary. It is also the greeting He gave to them after the resurrection. It is also what Jesus offers to us. “Peace I leave; my peace I give you, I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” (John 14:27)

©Ray Hawkins 9:3.2015.

Next week. Living out the peace of God which dwells with.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

The Avenger


“Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long will it be before you judge and avenge our blood on the inhabitants of the earth?” This was the loud cry of believers recorded in Revelation 6:10. As we look around at the suffering Church I’m sure this cry will find an “amen!”

There is some reluctance, even by Christians, to call God ‘The Avenger!’ We are too accustomed to considering God solely in the terms of grace or love. However, whenever we fail to present the Bible’s complete revelation of God we do Him an injustice. At the same time we develop a warped view in our understanding which in turn infects our faith and Biblical perspectives. Also, we give unbelievers, especially those hostile to Christ, a sense of impunity from His wrath.

In this twenty – first century it is reported by Open Doors, 322 Christians are killed every month. Then there is the fact that 214 churches or property belonging to Christians are destroyed. Add to the above 722 acts of violence against Christ’s followers you gain an insight into the breadth and depth of the persecution.

What is God doing that He lingers long in exploding justice on such evil doers? He isn’t indifferent, nor is forgetful. As you read the Scriptures it is apparent the Lord has spelt out His plans to bring nations, religions and people to account. ‘(God) has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.’ (Acts 17:31)

Centuries ago Moses wrote a song. It was to be sung as a warning and as a comfort. In it he recorded: ‘Praise, O heavens, his people, worship him, all you gods. For he will avenge the blood of his children, and take vengeance on his adversaries; he will repay those who hate him, and cleanse the land for his people.’ The history of Israel validates what Moses wrote. The final book of the Bible, Revelation, underpins and highlights this fact.

The suffering Church and the oppressed people of Israel need to find hope and comfort in God keeping His word. Islam, especially I.S. should shudder. Jesus in the parable of Luke 18:1-8 said “Will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them?” The implication is clear. He will act to give them justice in accordance with His purpose and plan.

Lest people imagine the eternal God has a ‘persecution of his people’ complex He is the avenger on a number of other fronts. One of course is 1 John 5:10 where people call Him a liar by not believing His testimony about Christ and the cross. However, I want to close this article on the matter of God avenging (bringing justice to bear) on those who deliberately pervert Scripture.

In Deuteronomy 4:2 and 12:32 is the warning about adding too or taking away from God’s word. This is repeated in Revelation 22:18-19. In our day when the Homosexual and Lesbian lobby is endeavouring to make itself respectable in the ‘eyes of the church’ it is deliberately perverting Scripture. It has produced a ‘Queen James Bible’ which aims to legitimise what God, in His word, calls an abomination. A sad aspect of this attempt at being accepted by distorting the Bible is many na├»ve believers will be sympathetic to their cause. God will use His word as the instrument of His avenging. He is not fooled by selective quotations or perverted texts. Proverbs says it well: ‘Every word of God proves true; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him. Do not add to his words, or else he will rebuke you, and you will be found a liar.’ (Proverbs 30:5-6)

You cannot read the Bible and not realise God avenges His people. He instructs them not to
do it but rather to pray for those persecuting or perverting. The reason, some of those doing such things might be converted. However, the other reason is that our sense of justice is flawed. His is holy and His verdict flows from perfect understanding of all people have done.

2 Thessalonians1:6-9 holds a chilling warning to God’s opponents and at the same time a wonderful incentive for His people to live true to His calling. ‘It is indeed just of God to repay with affliction those who inflict you and to give relief to the afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. These will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, separated from the presence of the Lord and the glory of his might.’

 

©Ray Hawkins 2.3.2015.