Sunday, May 31, 2015

Wrongful-mess or Righteousness

Violence against women is headline news and there is much angst about it. However, who will be brave enough to confront some of the things which promote it? Many of the Television shows denigrate women.  The internet is also saturated with material designed to degrade a woman’s intrinsic worth. Add to those, certain religions which treat women as objects for men’s pleasure and second-rate citizens. But, why are such attitudes and actions wrong?

The same question can be asked about child-abuse, same-sex marriage and polygamy. What about abortion, euthanasia, drug dependence, Sharia law and corruption, are these wrong? If so, on what basis are they wrong? Are we beginning to experience the ‘fruit’ of the sowing the ‘seeds of no absolutes?’ Is society’s rejection of absolutes walking us into scary times? The forces which are turning off the lights of life’s absolutes cannot offer any flickering light in their place. This results in a creeping darkness infected by unbridled Wrongful-mess. A Proverb sums it up well: ‘There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.’ (Proverbs 16:25 

There are those in our society who claim it is freedom to be unfettered by moral and spiritual absolutes. Yet, without such unchanging sunlight a darkness envelops the soul and fear begins to roam, demons torment and grief explodes. Only in the Light of absolute righteousness and truth is true freedom able to exist. In the words of an old Proverb ‘Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people.’ (Proverbs 14:35) In the context ‘sin’ equals unrighteousness or as I’ve put it ‘wrongful-mess.’ Christian nations which once had a certain moral nobility and godly fervour are being dragged out of the light which exalts. The result, moral and spiritual disintegration and disgrace in the prison of darkness.

The question then arises, ‘where can such absolutes be found?’ If they exist they must proceed from someone who is unchanging, whose words can be trusted who also understands us and desires the best for us. In the face of all who clamour for this title only Jesus Christ and His Word rises above the pack. He practiced what He preached and didn’t back down when faced with crucifixion. If Jesus had remained in the tomb no one would be talking about Him. His resurrection exalted Him as Lord and Saviour. Therefore, His words have the power to light up our darkness and point us to a way out of the darkness.

Across the centuries it is recorded how forces aligned with Wrongful-mess have corrupted and condemned people and society to despair. What is also revealed is that men and women with faith in Christ Jesus took on the darkness. A high price was sometimes paid but slowly the lights of Righteousness, Truth and Hope were switched on. Believers in Jesus Christ as Lord, Saviour Almighty God may be called upon in coming days to pay a similar price. Are we up to it?

 ©Ray Hawkins 1st June 2015.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Don't mess with 'The Fire!'

  Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire. Hebrews 12:28–29.
God had a plan for the Nation of Israel. It included very specific worship and ministry requirements. When the Tabernacle and Priesthood were being instituted the family of Aaron was given the Priesthood. At the outset it was stressed such a venue and ministry was unique. It was set apart from the everyday and linked to the very character of Yahweh.  The ordination for the Priesthood begins in Leviticus 8 and 9 in a very impressive and symbolic manner. Aaron and his four sons had detailed instructions to follow.
The sons of Aaron, Nadab, Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar had the wonder of being ordained to ministry. This was the culmination of an encounter with God on Mount Horeb. Had it been too much for Nadab and Abihu’s egos? Something possessed Nadab and Abihu to imagine they knew better than that which Yahweh had outlined. Leviticus 10:1 says they offered unauthorised fire before the Lord. Their self will changed celebration into lamentations. God struck them down. Why? Because what they were offering did not measure up to the nature of God. He is described in Scripture as a 'consuming fire.' Therefore the fire of worship and ministry must be that which matches His character. How is that possible? Only by obeying His directions.

Leviticus 10:9 sees the Lord add to the ordination requirement, ‘you and your sons are not to drink wine or other fermented drink whenever you go into the tent of meeting, or you will die.’ Does this give us a clue to what caused Nadab and Abihu to act so irresponsibly? The Lord required those who worship Him and, more so those who minister before Him, to be clear headed and self controlled. It is interesting to note that the kings of Israel had similar obligations. (Proverbs31:4–5) If we consider ourselves as ‘kings and priests’ of the Lord God do such restrictions apply today? If not, why not?

It would appear as though they had chosen to enter into the precincts of the Tabernacle to do their own thing. They would worship or serve God as they thought best. Here was a serious breach of trust, an act of disrespect and a challenge to the authority of the Lord. They had been redeemed and commissioned for His purposes. Their death was to be a testimony to the danger of abusing the grace and glory of God. Why? ‘You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.’ Exodus 20:7. Are we in this era down playing God's word on morality, marriage and the uniqueness of salvation and acceptance with God through the cross? Are so many in church leadership possessed with a mindset similar to Nadad and Abihu?

Leviticus 10:10–11: ‘You must distinguish between the holy and the common, between the unclean and the clean, and you must teach the Israelites all the decrees the Lord has given them through Moses.’ The history of Israel details the conflict between His holiness and the tendency of the nation to drag it down. Leviticus 21:6.says, ‘They (priests) must be holy to their God and must not profane the name of their God. Because they present the offerings made to the Lord by fire, the food of their God, they are to be holy.’ Malachi’s account of the moral and religious attitude of the priests and people of his day makes depressing reading. ‘You profane it (God’s Name) by saying of the Lord’s table, ‘It is defiled’, and of its food, ‘it is contemptible.’ And you say,’ What a burden!’ and you sniff at it contemptuously.’ Malachi 1:12–13. God is patient but does not hold off forever intervening in such situations with severe and righteous discipline.

We are  living in  a period of time when the spirit of Nadad and Abihu is news headlines. Greed and sexual misconduct abound, child abuse and acceptance of relationships condemned in scripture is rampant to highlight but a few. Then we wonder why worship is unsatisfying and attendances declining.  
Ministers of the Gospel are to uphold the holiness of the Eternal God, the integrity of the Cross and the uniqueness of the person and work of Jesus Christ. All disciples of Christ are under the same calling. Familiarity, unfortunately, can breed contempt or coarseness with sacred things. Wanting to be popular within a culture can seduce  ministers and people to be silent about unpopular teachings. A healthy fear of our Lord is our only safeguard. In our presentations we have latitude of method but we have no room to move in regards to the message of the Cross, the morality He demands or the mission to which we are called. Culture has its challenges to making the Bible relevant. Regardless of the cultural environment Christ Jesus’ servants live in, the Gospel and the Glory of God must remain unchanged. Hebrews 12:10: ‘Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no-one will see the Lord.’

Reflection: What is the quality of the ‘fire’ that burns within my being? Is what I’m saying, doing and living acceptable to the Lord God I am called upon to honour and proclaim?

Request: I do not want my ministry and lifestyle to take your Name in vain.  May the fire that burns within be what you have started and maintained by your Holy Spirit. Amen.



Sunday, May 17, 2015

No Soft Option

Prior to entering Bible College I’d been a labourer in a small light steel, fabrication factory. I was part of a team that primarily erected railings, gates, balustrades, fences. We worked on houses, high rise apartments and office blocks. There was no need for me to join a health and fitness centre. On hearing my decision to enter the ministry my non-churched workmates chided me I was accused of taking the soft option to earn a living.

Soft Option! Compared to the demands of the ministry, it was easier to carry steel panels up flights of stairs. Physical muscle power is easily seen. Spiritual muscle is out of sight, especially to men and women similar to the ones with whom I’d worked. The New Testament writers didn’t use terms such as ‘soldier, bond-slave, wrestler and athlete’ lightly in regards to the ministry. Within each description there’s the demand for self-discipline and obedience. This may be as a Coach, General or Master who seek to prepare the disciple with the rules of engagement.

Consider the following quotes and try and work out where the ‘soft option’ is hiding. ‘Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air.’ 1 Corinthians 9:25–26.

‘Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realm.’ Ephesians 6:12

‘Timothy, my son…fight the good fight holding onto faith and a good conscience.’ 1 Timothy 1:18, 19.

‘Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to your care.’ 1Timothy 6:20.
This is a feature much required today. There are systematic attempts to pervert the teachings of God's Word. There are subtle undermining of Scripture's authority over the Church and the believer. Individual believers need to know and uphold its message and lifestyle. Those commissioned to positions of service need to guard the Truth once and for all time delivered.

In the short letter of Jude this servant of Jesus Christ called upon Christians to contend for the faith entrusted once and for all time to the saints. If the ordinary member of the Body of Christ is so called what is expected of the men and women called into ministry? Jude is a call to intolerance. There is a cut off point for patience and ‘being nice.’ What is that point? When the Name of the Lord Jesus is being used as a cover for greed and perversion; when the disciples of Christ are being corrupted; when worship and communion are being desecrated, that’s when!

This doesn’t allow the servant of Jesus to act ungraciously, viciously or intemperately. It means standing firm for the Truth and Holiness of Jesus. It means defending the integrity of His calling. It means unmasking those who have slithered into leadership positions whilst denying the Lordship of Jesus. History past and present reveals such a stand is costly. Such godless characters use their cunning, charisma and corruption to resist the Truth and cower the opposition.

Jude’s advice is simple and sublime. He informed the reader about protection from the infectious plague carried by the devil’s disciples. ‘Build yourselves up in your most holy faith and pray in the Holy Spirit. Keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life.’ Verses 20, 21. Only then can the true man and woman of God be equipped to confront the peddlers of lies, corruption and deceit.

Among Paul’s last recorded words to Timothy is a reminder that ministry is no soft option. There is also a triumphant declaration worthy of any tombstone inscription. ‘But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry. For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure. I have finished the race, I have fought the good fight, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness…’ 2 Timothy 4:5–8.



Sunday, May 10, 2015

Impossible Love.


1 Corinthians 13 is a wonderful testimony to Love. People use it in all types of situations and with varying degrees of sincerity. Little do they realise that what they are reading and hearing is a call to participate in the impossible. We have become so glib about the word Love that what the apostle Paul writes in this section of the Corinthian letter is not recognised for what it is… Impossible.
Impossible to express!
Impossible to keep!

To ponder this part of scripture with any seriousness should make us either depressed or desperate. We recognise our inability, no matter how earnest we are, in measuring up to what this Love demands and compels. Depression sets in when we try and try to meet its requirements and fail, fail, fail. To reach the desperate stage can be the beginning of living out, even tentatively, the wonder of the most excellent way. Desperation drives us to our knees and opens our hearts to trust in God’s grace. It moves us to live according to His Word. Maturity in spiritual disciplines and enjoying our Christian walk can be gauged from this moment.

Too many Christians live in spiritual denial. Unprepared to face their inconsistent spiritual life, unwilling to pay the price to change, they nod agreement to God’s commands yet walk contrary to them. 1 Corinthians 13 is for them worthwhile, yet unattainable, desirable but impractical, heavenly but not earthly reality. This attitude makes a mockery of a believer’s high calling in Christ Jesus to walk as He walked ( 1 John 2:6) However, to read the Gospels and witness Jesus in action makes us realise the most excellent way is, humanly speaking, an impossible Love.
The most excellent way is not a one off experience. It is not without slips, falls and wrong turns due to our personal weaknesses. Such an impossible Love is an ongoing discovery of knowing Jesus and living out that relationship in attitude and action.
To make that an excuse for low level Christian living is to accuse God of programming us for failure. That attitude in itself doesn’t inspire a person to want to know the Lord, or to have confidence in His word. Remember, God has no pleasure in hearing His people living as ‘gongs and clanging cymbals.’ There’s no gain to Him from His investment in us if our heart’s balance sheet adds up to ‘nothing.’  It’s not His desire at the end of the day to welcome into His presence a son or daughter to tell them their Christian life has been a failure. That would mean they also miss out on any commendation or reward.

We love the unlovely because Jesus does. His Spirit makes it possible in us.
We love the failed because Jesus does. Remember His love when we failed.
We love the antagonistic, indifferent, and difficult people because Jesus does.

In recent months we have witnessed or read of this impossible love being shown as Christ's people have loved the Lord and paid for it with their lives. The wonder that shines through their testimony is their forgiveness to their killers. That's the indwelling of Christ's powerful love overflowing to those who are about to murder them. Stories filter through about the impact this depth of love has had upon the lives of some of the oppressors.

We never know when we will be thrown into such a cauldron of opposition, oppression and hostility. How can we face such situations and at the same time offer love to those who hate? This means our responsibility is not to grit teeth and strive to be loving. That births disillusionment. We are to grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus (2 Peter 3:18) in our everyday living.  His Love, by the power of the Holy Spirit, will then begin to flow ever stronger in and through us to the glory of our Lord.

God is not in the business of commanding the impossible and leaving His people to their own resources. His resources accompany His call. This means we have to be on the same wavelength with God to avail ourselves of His enabling. There are sixteen facets of the most excellent way. Their purpose let’s us recognise that we can have fellowship in its deepest, most meaningful intent. They are stressed so that the Body of Christ on earth, the Church, may bear true testimony to the Love of God. The outcome of this is life changing and a challenge to others of the love God has for us.  

The most excellent way can only be known and travelled through an open, maturing, knowledgeable, devoted relationship with Jesus. What is called for in 1 Corinthians 13 is answered in 1 John 4:19. ‘We love because He first loved us.’

That’s the most excellent way!

Ray Hawkins 2015.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

When The LION Roars!

I wonder who gave the Lion the title ‘King of the Jungle?’ Did he take the word picture from the Judeo-Christian Bible, or did it commandeer it? The first mention of a lion is in Genesis 49:9. It is applied to the tribe of Judah, which was also the tribe considered to give Israel their king. In Revelation 5:5 we discover the full meaning of linking ‘Lion’ and ‘Judah’ together. It is a title for Jesus, the risen Lord!

There are some wonderful insights presented in the Scriptures about the lion. In Numbers 24:1-9 this term is applied to the God of Israel. What is interesting is that He is pictured as a lion on the hunt. A feature of the lion is his roar. Within the Old Testament we are told that the Lord God ‘roars.’  The prophets see Him in this metaphor as coming in judgement (Hosea 13:7 is upon Israel and Jeremiah 25:30-31 is upon the Nations.)

Another reason why Yahweh, the Lion of Heaven, is forecast as ‘Roaring’ is something God will do to Israel. ‘They shall go after the Lord, who roars like a lion; when he roars, his children shall come trembling from the west. They shall come trembling like birds from Egypt, and like doves from the land of Assyria; and I will return them to their homes, says the Lord.’ (Hosea 11:10-11) The prophet Joel tells us that the Lord God will roar from Zion and it will shake the heavens and the earth. His breath and its sound will engulf the multitude of Nations in the ‘Valley of decision.’ That will make a person’s hair stand on end. However Joel goes on to say that God, at that time, will be a refuge and a stronghold for Israel. (Joel 3:16.)

The thing I like about the Bible is its use of words with deliberate, specific and defining intent. This is especially true in regard to the character of God and His Son, Jesus Christ.  The mystery of the Godhead is always before our eyes as we read the Bible. It is once again before us when we consider the title of the Lion! Yahweh is the Lion of Israel. Jesus is the Lion of Judah, the future King of that Nation and indeed of the whole World.

The term ‘the Lion’ not only implies the Lord’s regal stature, it also upholds His warrior status. He is the Lord God of Hosts. When He returns it will be in that warrior capacity to bring His rule and reign to earth. People shy away from the image of Jesus as warrior and Judge. It means they are accountable to Him in some way or other. They prefer the babe of Bethlehem. In a manger Jesus isn’t so threatening. However, He is no longer in the manger. Nor the carpenter, or Rabbi. He is the crucified, entombed and risen Lord and Saviour. At this moment His offer is about the grace of salvation by obedient faith. That has a time limit, known only to him and also our own mortality. That is why the Bible says, ‘Now is the day of salvation’ don’t let it pass you by.

Proverbs has two quotes referring to earthly kings. I would like to apply them to Jesus Christ in His status as the Lion of Judah, King of Israel. ‘A king’s anger is like the growling of a lion, but his favour is like the dew on the grass’ (19:12). What would make Jesus angry? Our refusal to bend our knee in gratitude for His salvation! In 20:2 the author takes it further. ‘The dread anger of a king is like the growling of a lion; anyone who provokes him to anger forfeits his life.’

When the Lion of Judah roars from Heaven and prowls upon this earth He will not be laughing. HE comes to set up His kingdom. He comes to reign. He comes to Judge. Those who know Him as Lord and Saviour will rejoice at the sound of the roar. Others will be filled by terror.

©4.5.2015.  Ray Hawkins