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.

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.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

The Power of 'Oneness.'

There are any number of ‘how to’ books on the market offering steps to success. This could be for personal lifestyle, business, church, sport or relationships. Each will have varying degree of usefulness. What they endeavour to do is emulate what the Bible has already outlined. Funny thing is, people would rather spend big sums for conferences, DVD’s etc. than read God’s word.
Whenwe embark upon any ministry adventure as a team of mixed personalities, backgrounds and strengths/weaknesses what principle do we need to grasp? The reading from Philippians offers us some clues. In this letter by Paul from prison he seeks to encourage the church in its mission. In chapter 1:27 he urges them to live their lives in a manner worthy of the Gospel. We may adapt that for our purposes and say ‘let us serve each other and the community in a worthy way for Christ’s honour. The way it begins is in the same verse. Stand in one spirit, strive with one mind.

One-ness is a Biblical principle for effective teamwork, ministry, worship and fellowship. This isn’t easy as we all have our histories, strengths, weakness, pride, prejudices, fears and dreams. Any such gathering is fraught with danger. How does the Holy Spirit take such a diverse group and make us an effective team? By dealing with each of us and drawing our lives into line with His will and our minds focused upon Him as Lord.

Throughout Philippians there is this ‘oneness’ stated and implied. Chapter 2:2 stresses it with ‘be of the same mind, having the same love being in full accord and of one mind.’ Oneness isn’t ‘blandness.’ It is actually refreshing, creative, therapeutic and evangelistic! Oneness gives direction but allows each the privilege of helping the other by endorsing their strengths and compensating for their weakness. Being focused on and obedient to Christ means we esteem the other team members more than we value our egos. Should there be a clash about anything it needs to be faced and remedied. As in the case of Syntyche and Euodia (Philippians 4:2) this may require the wisdom of a third party.

This principle is the outworking of the Lord’s High Priestly prayer in John 17:21 – 23. There He prays for this oneness to be known and shown for it reflects the oneness of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. One of the out-workings of this oneness is to make the world believe the Father sent the Son as Saviour.  What the anti-Christ forces aim to do it cause division and thereby hinder the testimony of the Gospel. Unfortunately the carnal nature of self- intoxicated believers unintentionally offers assistance to Satan's endeavours. That's judgement reserved for a future date unless repented of and restitution made.

In chapter 2:5 Paul puts the onus upon each person to be committed to this principle. How it comes about is reinforced by the word ‘let’. Each of us are accountable for giving the Holy Spirit permission to focus our minds on Christ. The cross should always humble us, thrill us and motivate us. Because of it we by faith proclaim Him Lord. One glorious day we will join with all the redeemed and holy angels and liberated creation and proclaim Jesus as Lord to the glory of God the Father.

Therefore, within ministry and cogreational worship we have the privilege and challenge to live out the oneness the Holy Spirit has worked in. Amen!

©Ray Hawkins Oct 9th 2016.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Aristarchus – the Un-phased

Aristarchus appears ‘out of the blue’ at a riot in Ephesus. He and Gaius were part of Paul’s team and were accused of defaming the local goddess, Artemis. The Gospel was having a serious affect upon the icon industry and Demetrius a silversmith planned the protest.

This could have been life threatening. Did it make Aristarchus rethink his faith, commitment or service with Paul? The other accounts mentioning this man indicate it made him more resolute to follow Jesus and assist the apostle Paul. We find him as a member bringing relief money from the Gentile churches to Christians in Judea. As such he and others preceded Paul to Troas, presumably to finalise arrangements in the city.

The next reference tells us he was travelling on the boat to Rome, with the team leader. Was Aristarchus a prisoner along with Paul, or a travelling assistant? The term used in Colossians implies the former. One thing is for certain, you never could foresee what may happen when you travel with a Paul in the Lord’s service. When the ship endured the storm and was run aground did he think “here we go again!”

Aristarchus, if a prisoner was he set free before Paul, we don’t know. He was however commissioned to travel with Tychicus and Onesimus to Colosse. He also was to bring Paul’s greetings to Philemon, and I would think, support Onesimus’s rehabilitation. When you consider the background of these men you appreciate the unifying power of the Lord Jesus. Aristarchus was from Thessalonica, Tychicus from Ephesus and Onesimus was a slave from Colosse. Others such as Timothy came from Lystra and of course the strong minded Jew, Paul. Then there was Silas and Dr. Luke the gentile from Troas. As Ephesians 2:13-14 puts it, ‘He (Christ) is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups [Jew and Gentile] into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us.’

This man’s name means ‘good prince’ ‘best ruler’. Is there a sense of an aristocratic heritage in his family? If there was, how did they respond to his becoming a Christian? What did they think of his experiences? One thing we do know it didn’t deter him from obedience to Christ. He probably wore the title ‘prisoner of Christ’ with a sense of honour. He is a fine example of a faithful person unconcerned by playing ‘second fiddle’ to the leadership of Paul. Aristarchus understood the reality undergirding team ministry and fulfilled that which he was called upon to do.

The description of the Church as the Body of Christ is very appropriate. It means we are all an essential part and need to be in good health and a sound relationship with other members of the Body. 1 Corinthians 10-14 goes into great detail on this matter. The eyes of the children and the ears of their parents, guardians and friends will be focused on how well we act as a team. They will also judge the Body of Christ by our service to Him and our care to each other.

Acts 19:29. 20:4. 27:2. Philemon 24.  Colossians 4:10.
Ray Hawkins Oct 2nd  2016

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Mark – the persistent

Mark is an interesting man in the Gospels and the early Church. His family appears to be wealthy and their home was a focal point for support of Christ and then the fledgling Church. Mark is considered the scribe for Peter and the Gospel which bears his name. He was Jewish with good connections and the use of his Roman name, Marcus, indicates certain connections with that authority.

When Paul and Barnabas went on their first missionary journey Mark was a member of the team. The term used to describe his role was ‘under rower.’ He was there in the capacity to serve and to learn. It is thought that he had a doctrinal clash with Paul over the acceptance of Gentiles by faith and baptism and omitting circumcision and Law keeping. He left the team. When another mission trip was planned Barnabas wanted his cousin to have another opportunity. Paul was adamant in refusing to take him. This resulted in a schism between friends. Was he in the right but with a wrong attitude?

Eleven years pass and Paul writes to the church in Colosse and to Philemon and Marks name is in them. How did they get back together? The reason is unknown. The wonderful thing is that both must have changed. Paul’s in attitude but not doctrine and Mark seems to have matured in the grace of God and ministry. In 1 Peter 5:13 he is mentioned by Peter as being with him in Babylon. Later Mark is credited with giving Peter’s recollection of his time with Jesus in the Gospel by Mark. There is much for us to appreciate here in dealing with others. One of the biggest lessons is the giving and the accepting of forgiveness. This will always precede reconciliation and acceptance.

To Philemon this reinstated man is listed as a fellow-worker with Paul. The word for ‘work’ implies hard labour. To the Colossian church Paul says of Mark in 4:11 along with  others  as  being  like good medicine which soothes irritation. Was Paul speaking from  personal experience?  It must have irritated the apostle immensely to be confined to house arrest. It didn’t stop him from witnessing to and leading many Roman soldiers to faith in Christ Jesus. Each of us may well have a journey similar to Mark’s. How good it is to know the Lord doesn’t give up on us because of mistakes or immaturity. It’s also a joy to know that instead of causing irritation to others, as once we may have done, the Lord makes us as ‘medicine’ to soothe and encourage others.

From Paul’s final letter written during his second and fatal imprisonment Mark is mentioned. He is in Ephesus with Timothy and Paul would like both of them to visit him. Two words flow from Paul’s pen which reveal how much a previously fractured relationship had healed. Mark is profitable especially within the ministry. The word in Greek for profitable points to being advantageous. It’s used in 2 Timothy 2:21 and describes Mark journey well.  The young man who made things difficult on his first endeavour had had a great make-over. The word for ministry describes a Deacon. He had progressed from an under-rower into leadership. We may well see in Mark the evidence of a man whose commitment to Christ made him persistent to serve.

Acts 12:12, 25. 13:5. 15:37-39.  Colossians 4:10. Philemon 24.

2 Timothy 4:11. 1Peter 5:13.

Ray Hawkins. Sept. 25th 2016.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Onesimus - Fulfilled his name

He was a runaway slave from Colosse. Was he a slave due to war or because of bad economic choices or behaviour? How did he end up in Rome we will never know! For certain, he was a man with the threat of death over him. Somehow Onesimus met Paul. Was this one of God’s coincidental meetings not first with the apostle but with Epaphras. He was from Colosse (Colossians 4:12 Philemon 23). Did this man introduce Onesimus to Paul? It was to change his life in time and for eternity. This man whose name means ‘profitable’ was far from that to himself and others. When he believed that Jesus Christ could save him, change him and fulfil the meaning of his name. Now he must address his past and correct it in so far as possible, especially to Philemon, his master. All of us have to deal with issues from our Christless past as opportunity allows. This is the fruit of repentance. It isn’t always easy or pleasant but it is essential as a testimony to Christ’s grace and transforming power.

So, Paul sends Onesimus back to Colosse accompanied by Tychicus. In Colossians 4:7-9 this 'fellow-slave' appears to be, or had been, in the fellowship there. He had also a message to share with them about the Apostle's situation. Tychicus was the encourager. How did the congregation respond/react when Onesimus entered? One thing is certain, Philemon was a believer in good fellowship at the church. How easy it would have been for Onesimus to back-out of going there. He needed someone to stand with him and say a word on his behalf. The term is ‘paraclete’ and Paul did it through Tychicus. Would we take a risk like that for someone with a dark past? He would be under intense scrutiny in the early days of his return. He and the Church, along with Philemon would need the love, understanding and grace of Christ to embrace each other. Jesus saves the most unlikely, even the unlovely persons. Then He places them in a community where all have rough edges. This is where we all become what Proverbs 27:17 describes: ‘iron sharpens iron, and one person sharpens the wits (face in Hebrew) of another.’

The terms used about this once unprofitable person are most instructive. They remind us of the power of the Gospel when let loose in a person’s life. Onesimus is now faithful, a beloved brother and to Philemon he is called Paul’s ‘son’. The apostle urges the master of Onesimus to see him no longer as a doulos – slave –but as a beloved brother. The once unprofitable had the opportunity to be profitable in the employ of Philemon and to the Church. His status in the eyes of the World would not have changed but for the Christians he was a new man, a ‘freeman’ in Christ.

Without knowing the stories of those in our sphere of witness it is certain there will be those similar to Onesimus. What we share with them about Jesus Christ could be transforming here and now. This has happened many times in many places. It may also mean burying the seeds of God’s grace in someone’s heart which will bring new life later. This is one of a number reasons why Christians such as you and I are involved in this and other ministries. When young or old who have had a dark history come to faith they need a ‘paraclete.’ As their spokesperson you help them to integrate into the community of faith. If they have offended certain people you, as did Paul and Tychicus, seek ways to rectify that which had been damaged. This isn’t easy or necessarily short term. However, what a joy it is when the fruits of repentance and renewal begin to blossom and mature. 
Colossians 4:8-9. Philemon 8-16.                
Onesimus – the (un)profitable becomes profitable.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Tychicus - the reliable.

The Apostle Paul was no ‘lone ranger’ in mission. Neither does he presume to take all or even most of the credit for things achieved. He was a team leader yet very dependent upon each member of the team. Tychicus is one such person Paul points out to us through his letters.

We meet Tychicus and others after the riot in Ephesus. This was over Demetrius’ accusation that Artemis’ name was defamed. We will catch up with another team member involved later. Paul decided it was opportune to go to Macedonia and sent an advance party to make the arrangements. Part of Paul’s reason for this return trip which took him to Jerusalem was to bring relief money from the Gentile Churches to the believers in Judea. Tychicus would have been one of those entrusted with guarding and delivering this substantial gift of the brethren for their famine relief.

In four letters this man is revealed as someone who was dependable. The success of any venture is due in a big way to such people. We can plan, pray and perform but without a faithful and reliable team things can fail to reach their potential. In Eph. 6:21 Paul describes him as a deacon. This is a term for a drinks waiter but elevated by the fact that Jesus wore that title (Rom 15:8). Read the qualifications for being appointed a deacon in 1 Tim 3 and you get a measure of the man. In Col. 4:7. A lovely warm term of beloved brother (in Christ) is used alongside of a word despised by the World, doulos (a slave without rights). The Christian faith turns the estimates of the World upside down. It is a mark of honour to be a doulos of and for Christ.

Once again we read of Tychicus on the move. This time to Ephesus with a rather delicate responsibility (Colossians 4:7-9.) He was to accompany a runaway slave of Philemon’s, an influential church and community member. Onesimus had been converted in Rome under Paul’s ministry and was returning to put things right. (See next devotional). What was required was a man of tact and wisdom to prepare the way for the runaway’s restoration and acceptance. You and I may be called upon to represent someone someday who had similar failures, morally, spiritually but had been found by Christ and transformed.

 The apostle Paul experienced two imprisonments in Rome. In the first he wrote the above letters and 1 Timothy and Titus. In this letter Tychicus is once again facing the prospect of an assignment to Crete. He would replace Titus who was being recalled to discuss things with Paul. What does that tell us about our man under consideration? He was rather multi-skilled to say the least, and dependable. The final mention of this man is in a letter from Paul’s second imprisonment. This would culminate in his death under Nero. Tychicus was on the move again, this time to Ephesus.  It is there we have to leave him.

This man’s name means ‘Fortunate.’ How appropriate. He was fortunate to know and serve Christ. Fortunate to be a reliable team member. Fortunate to take risks to help others. He becomes an example for each of us as team members here at camp. May it be said by each of us “it has been our good fortune to serve with you.”

Acts 20:4.  Eph. 6:21.  Col. 4:7.  2Tim. 4:12. Titus 3:12   

Ray Hawkins 11.9.2016.