Sunday, January 31, 2016

Psalm 23 and 'Me'

The most popular of psalms made for all occasions is psalm 23. Books about it abound. Songs resonate through the airways. It is recited at weddings and funerals. This psalm continues to bless and amaze. Over the following blog times I’d like to share with you a type of devotional investigation into some of its verses. I’m sure there are insights you could share with me which I’d appreciate. May what follows be a joy to your heart.

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want’ verse 1.

‘The’ emphasises the uniqueness, the only-ness of the person addressed, admired, adored. He is not one of many. He isn’t ‘a’ lord. He is ‘THE Lord!’

David is highlighting for us in his testimony a relationship of trust. As a shepherd boy he understood the faith sheep have in their shepherd. He knew their name and peculiarities. It is unknown (at least to me) when and how David and his Shepherd met. This is without doubt, David saw himself a one of the flock. The testimony he gave to King Saul in 1 Samuel 17:31-37 of The Lord’s protection highlighted this. Goliath was about to be added to The Lord’s victories through David. It is our honour to live in a similar fellowship of trust. It is our privilege to bear testimony, be it ever so mundane, to The Lord!

‘Lord’ is the translation usually applied to Yahweh. Such a wonderful imagery is here presented. The Creator who sustains the universe is the one who takes David under His care. This is David psalm. Have we the right to claim it as ours or is it wishful thinking? By the grace of The Lord we have His invitation to make this psalm our own. To make that real and personal requires a relocation of our heart, mind and allegiance. We are not automatically in His fold. His invitation must be accepted and, as it were, we must join His sheepfold. In the Gospel of John 10:16 we have the confidence to claim we are of ‘the other sheep’ The Lord has. David knew His Lord’s name. We know Him as Jesus, the Christ, The Son of God! He is The Lord!

‘Is’ expresses the assurance David had in whom he believed, trusted, obeyed. There isn’t a maybe or ‘I wish’ about it. David would be a silly sheep on numerous occasions but the ‘is’ remained. For what this word highlights is a covenant commitment between The Lord and His sheep, David. Such a covenant relationship is ours also because of Calvary’s cross and the empty tomb. When you, when I realised the meaning of the cross and believed what Jesus did was for us personally, we gave our life and destiny into His keeping. That is why we can say with gratitude ‘The Lord is.’

‘My’ is the personal aspect which should always astound. Why would the Creator choose to associate with me, let alone claim me as His own? John Newton’s hymn ‘Amazing Grace’ sums it up so well. I was a worthless sheep, scabby, wasted and infected with sin, at the mercy of life’s brigands. The Lord rescued me. I had nothing of merit, nothing of appeal yet in mercy He claimed me, as He did you! I am still a silly sheep from time to time, but The Lord keeps me in His fold. Why? Because He keeps His covenant. He will discipline but He will not remove my name from His book.

‘Shepherd’ is for us a warm and meaningful term. As we work through the psalm we will realise some of the ways He cares. However, strange as it may sound, a shepherd was not always held in high regard. The Egyptians in the days of Joseph saw them as beneath their dignity. In the days of Jesus a shepherd was considered a ‘low-life’ whose word couldn’t be trusted. In the spiritual realm of today this animosity still exists. It may or may not be stated, but its atmosphere prevails. Therefore, when you and I say “Jesus, The Lord is my Shepherd” we could be given the cold shoulder. This is why we must know the reality, personally and unquestionably, that The Lord [Jesus] is my shepherd and I am a sheep in His fold. Can you say “Amen” to that?

To be continued.

Ray Hawkins Feb 1st 2016.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Is Tolerance a one way street?

To be tolerant is a current ‘buzz’ word being asked mainly of people from the Christianised western cultures. This is especially due to the avalanche of refugees storming into Europe. Tolerance is meant to be a two way street if it is to endure the pressure of clashing beliefs, morals and expectations. When only one side is expected to be tolerant such a one lane road ends in a precipice.

This is happening in Europe, especially Germany at the moment. Genuine refugees with desperate needs are being overshadowed by Islamic intolerant and arrogant infiltrators. Because of their views about women, culture, sharia law and infidels they have violated much of their hosting countries. The results of their belief system is to be intolerant while grasping all the benefits possible. Meanwhile, the desperately needy suffer. A strong backlash is surging within some of the host countries which can only bring more sorrow to all concerned.

What is the Christian response to a one-sided tolerance?

Are we to compromise our faith and heritage for some perceived niceness to the ungrateful? Is tolerance merely compromise leading to surrender? Our Christian faith calls on us to care for those in need. It requires us to try and understand and in a much abused word ‘to love’ them. This demand places us under strong pressure to be patient and make allowances. We are facing this in regard to Christmas, Australia Day, Anzac day, Easter, planning permission for mosques and halal certification. It is a big galling I must admit when this is demanded but not reciprocated in Islamic countries. Tony Abbot had his faults but he recognised a problem from a belief system which wanted our agreement to their demands. It was a one way street. They didn’t want to adopt or tolerate our way of life. What is brewing? Strife!

Some may ask how Jesus would handle this matter! We know He was tolerant but He had a cut-off point. He warned certain cities about future judgement because of their abuse and rejection of His grace (Matthew 11). Also there is the dramatic episode of Him overturning the table of the merchants in the Temple. Towards us the Lord has been patient over many years but we also know He will and has acted with discipline. What then is to be expected when His Name, His word and His people are violated and exploited? Judgement! The book of Revelation is a no compromise comment on that.

While we believe vengeance belongs to the Lord we are not excused from defending and declaring our faith and morality. Nor should we be silent in urging our Government to stand true to our Christian heritage, values and history. If the Government puts tolerance before truth and votes before virtue then our society is sold-out. The tyranny of the toughest will dominate and humiliate.

Grace is still to motivate tolerance with long-sufferance. This doesn’t mean silence or
surrender. I wonder what the Good Samaritan would have done if the robbers had jumped on him, using the wounded man as a trap? I think he would have defended the wounded and resisted the attackers. Surely that is where tolerance and justice meet.

 Ray Hawkins Jan 25 2016.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Comfort means more than a cuddly toy

Book launch more audience web small.JPGIt’s a command, not a suggestion. It’s personal as well. In Isaiah 40:1 “Comfort, yes, comfort my people!” says your God.” Those suffering, grieving, confused would sob “please!” Those, probably like you and I would want to know answers to two questions that verse raises. Who is defined as His people? How am I to express comfort, especially to those in far off places?
In the context ‘my people’ is referring to the Nation of Israel. God actually fulfilled His own command when Jesus was born into their Nation. Today, the Nation is in need of people and Governments offering ‘comfort’ and support. The attitude by some Denominational church leaders is to be thorns, not comforters, in the side of the Nation. That’s a sure way of getting into the Lord’s book of discipline
 ‘My people’ would also include Humanity in general for Yahweh is their Creator, according to Genesis. Therefore we have no reason for denying those in need because we have some racial dislike.

There’s another group (not extra-terrestrials) which come from out of both the classes above. It is called ‘the body’ or the Church. Over the centuries this people group have known the pain inflicted when they have withdrawn from one of the other groups. Why they withdrawal? They have joined up with Jesus Christ. They belong to an international and spiritual identity which, unfortunately often means they are given a hard time by former colleagues. 

When we consider the need of people for comfort the Lord is actually asking us to embrace one and all. Paul expressed it well in Galatians 6:10,”Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith.’ It doesn’t take much imagination to know how to do good to the hungry, homeless, sick, lonely and others. This can be done in a detached and impersonal manner.

The words translated ‘comfort’ however calls us to be more personally involved to those who are hurting.

Psalm 23:4 tells us that God’s staff and rod bring comfort. The word means ‘it gives forth sighs.’ What does? The word is used in Psalm 119:50 and points us to God’s word. We are not peddling in pious and unthinking sentences. We are using the scriptures to offers hope and strength mixed with wisdom for the circumstances. Romans 15:4, ‘whatever things were written before [in the Old Testament] were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope.’ As we read the Bible there is a realisation that God is sharing our scene and feeling for us. He sighs with us. We know we are not alone.

2 Corinthians 7:6, ‘God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus.’ In this instant the word means that when Titus met up with Paul and company his presence was a blessing. What this young man had to share boosted the morale of the group. You may not have magical solutions to share with those who are downcast, but, coming alongside of them is a comfort. Giving them a hug as you shed a tear is therapeutic to their soul, and a joy to their heart. In Philippians 2:19 Paul says how he will be refreshed when Timothy comes with a report on the Church there. In Colossians 4 9-18 Paul once again reveals how the hurts, frustrations and house confinements were soothed by the friendship and visits, prayers and greetings of people.

I’ve conducted many funerals. Some have had a sense of hope that death was not the end. It was the entrance into an eternal realm of grace and glory with Jesus Christ. This is such a contrast to others who only see oblivion or perdition. There may be wishful thinking about being ‘up there looking down’ but that’s all they have to cling too.  What is the difference between the two funerals? It is hope grounded in the person of Jesus Christ. Because of who He is and what He achieved on Calvary’s cross and His resurrection our hope has substance. When we activated our understanding of the Gospel by faith and made Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour, an eternal hope was born. Christians have comfort because they know Jesus keeps His promise. Christians want to share with all the wonder of what Jesus does in a life infused with hope, grace and comfort.

 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 informs us of a great ‘getting up from the grave’ event when we will meet Jesus Christ in the air. Then we will be forever with the Lord. It is by this promise, secured for us by Jesus Christ, we are able to comfort each other. How do we know He can and will deliver? The empty tomb, the risen Lord and the Bible are our guarantees.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Ministry is a Love Affair.

Ministry is a love affair with Jesus.

Ministry is also a burden unable to be relinquished without a sense of loss.  Paul cried out ‘…I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel.’

1 Corinthians 9:16.  The burden, no matter how great is carried because of love for the Lord. In fact it is when our love is weak that we notice the burden. Once our eyes are off the Lord we see the magnitude of the task: the wretchedness of sinfulness: the fickleness of people and our own weaknesses. Such burdens are simply too much to bear.                                                                                                                                                   
When my devotion to the Lord is weak and waning then too my capacity to love others is weakened. From a Biblical viewpoint all relational breakdowns really stem from fading love. When John said we love because Christ first loved us it also implies the reverse. When our love for the Lord is dim so too our capacity to love others. When we refresh our love for Jesus the statement by Paul to the Thessalonians will happen. ‘May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else…May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones.’ 1 Thessalonians 3:12–13.

When Jesus took Peter aside after the resurrection, it was to love a failure back into his calling. Peter thought he could find fulfilment back on the water, catching fish, being unencumbered by apostolic responsibilities. Would he have ever been satisfied? He had tasted the Lord’s call. Love may have a price tag but a bigger price is paid when love’s call is sidestepped. Was that what Peter was realising when the Lord appeared on the scene? Peter’s exuberance of jumping overboard and wading ashore to be in Jesus’ presence could point to this fact. But the terrible hash Peter had made of things the days before the crucifixion needed healing attention. Would his mouth and behaviour cancel out any prospects of serving the Lord?

 We will all have our own imaginative scene of Jesus and Peter sitting on the sand side by side. The Lord getting Peter to probe his own heart and confront the issues is tender yet direct. The question ‘Simon, son of John, do you truly love me more than these?’ cuts deep. In other words, ‘would you really be happy doing anything else than following me in service?’ Here the challenge of love’s commitment was being offered anew to deal with the defeatism of guilt, shame, self-pity and self-interests. ‘Is there anything you would rather do than accept my invitation to follow me’ seems to be what Jesus is getting at. This is ever the battle ground in the soul. Do we love the Lord more than ‘these’ – whatever ‘these’ may be?  Ministry, true ministry first and foremost has to be an affair of the heart. Anything less is either being a mere hireling, a prestige thing (that’s an illusion) or someone with ulterior motives.

As the Lord drew Peter out of regret Jesus heard the words I’m sure Peter said with emotion and tears: “Lord you know all things, you know that I love you [phileo = as a friend]”. Whilst it can be said this was a stepdown from the majestic word for love, agape, it seems a more intimate and therefore person response. Was Peter reminded by the Lord’s using “phileo” of Jesus wonderful term for him the other disciples in John 15:15. Peter was still ordained (chosen) to serve. He was still capable of bearing fruit favoured by the Lord. He may have fallen but it was a pruning experience used to enrich his love for the Lord Jesus, his Friend! Now he was commissioned.

The instructions Jesus gave to Peter about ministry are informative. He was to feed the lambs, shepherd the little sheep and feed the little sheep. Imagine that. A fisherman is turned into a shepherd. Years later Peter writes to Church leaders and tells them to shepherd the flock of God. This should not be by compulsion or, worse still, because of monetary gain or for ego domination. (1 Peter 5:1–4) What implications can you see colouring his comments? Surely one of them must be we are shepherds of the flock because we are the friends of Jesus.

Love won the day on the sands of Galilee and we are the richer for it.

Ray Hawkins Jan 11 2016

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Good enough for God!?

Good enough for God?
Sunset.jpgWe tend to think so. This arises from out of our own construction of who we think he, she, it, is. God could not keep us out of Heaven because we have fashioned him, she, it. God may keep others, less nice or naughtier than us from entering for we are the ‘good enough ones.’ How then is it possible for those not up to our standard to have any hope of entering the Celestial city? Are they without hope, locked into fatalism and despair?

There is a historical record of two men considered the worst of their kind. From all accounts they had no chance of receiving a pass into Heaven. One was a king, the other a prominent religious figure of his day.

Manasseh was king over Judah for 55 years. He violated Judah and Yahweh’s covenant, placed idols around the country, in the Temple and worshipped the stars. This man sacrificed his sons to Molech and practiced witchcraft and sorcery. All this corrupted the spiritual and moral life of the nation. His story is in 2 Chronicles 33 of the Bible. Most would write him off. Not the Lord God of Glory who is revealed in the Christian Bible. This true and living Lord God caused Manasseh to be humiliated by Assyria, and terribly afflicted. Sorcery and power could not help him. The affliction did, however, wake up his dormant realisation of the holy and everlasting God. The king cried out for mercy. He repented of his ungodly reign, He sought forgiveness. He made restitution to his people and to Yahweh. He removed the idols and sorcerers. In all this Manasseh was supported by God’s true servants.

The other ‘un-good enough’ for God was religious, devout, moral and intent upon protecting his religion from corruption. He was intent on proving he was worthy of a free pass to Heaven. Paul the Pharisee saw it as his duty to destroy those who were disciples of the crucified Jesus of Nazareth. Surely, he would have been acceptable. Paul was sincere, scrupulous in religious observance and an aggressive defender of his belief system. However, in his words recorded in the book of Acts and Timothy he was the chief of sinners. Paul was on rock bottom. No one was under him. He was the worst possible person according to God’s estimation.

Something happened to him on the Damascus road. His self-righteousness and sense of receiving an entrance into Heaven was shattered. How? He came into contact with Jesus. Paul realised this Jesus was the standard demanded for Heaven. This Pharisee knew he was doomed. Was there any hope for the worst of sinners? His testimony in 1 Timothy 1:12-17 is awesome in its simplicity and powerful in its message of grace. Here is a part of it: ‘This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the chief. However, for this reason I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show all longsuffering, as a pattern to those who are going to believe on Him for everlasting life.’

These two men weren’t good enough for Heaven – yet they’ll be there! Manasseh and Paul actually demonstrate the fact that Heaven isn’t for good people. It is for ‘the un-good’ the failures in being worthy, sinners so defined. That means there is hope for all of us when we recognise we will never get a free pass to the Celestial City on our merit. We need something, someone to deal with our failures, un-goodness, and sinfulness. The Bible says that has been dealt with by Jesus on the cross. He forgives when we cry out for mercy. He cleanses when we confess our need for newness. He gives us the quality of life demanded by Heaven’s ‘gate-keeper.’ Therefore, when we admit we are not good enough for glory but are failure we actually open ourselves up to the grace of God. All of that is found in Christ Jesus and becomes ours when we claim Him as our Lord and Saviour.

As Christ Jesus on the cross was able to reach back to Manasseh (and beyond him) and
forward to Paul, He can reach you. The question is ‘will you let Him?’

©Ray Hawkins Jan 4th 2016.