Sunday, April 24, 2016

First things must remain first

You must teach what is in accord with sound doctrine. Titus 2:1.

DSC_0031.jpgAs Ministers of the Gospel we are not under the constraints of the Old Covenant. Being a Gentile or non Levite would have precluded us from the glorious privilege of ministry. Nevertheless some excellent principles can be garnered from Yahweh’s call to the priests. From Malachi some great insights come to nourish our hearts and minds.

 Malachi 2:5 is such a challenge. ‘My covenant was with him (Levi)…and he revered me and stood in awe of my name.’ It’s easy to be familiar with the divine revelation of God in Christ and lose the sense of awe. Once we trembled at His word but have we now taken it for granted? Has the awe faded and reverence (or fear) been lost? May the Holy Spirit constantly arrest our hearts with the glory of our Lord and Saviour. Then what Malachi wrote will also apply to us.

Malachi 2:6 makes three comments about the life of Levi because of his appreciation of Yahweh. ‘True instruction was in his mouth and nothing false was found on his lips. He walked with me in peace and uprightness, and turned many from sin.’ These three expressions of a relationship with the Eternal can also be found in our ministries.

One deals with having true instruction in his mouth because the Truth was stored in his heart! Are we convinced that Jesus has the words of eternal life and is the Holy One of God (John 6:68–69)?  How is our desire to remain loyal to Him regardless of the cost? Do we still have a passion which motivates us to let others hear about Him? Remember the heart feeds the mouth. Many passages can be found dealing with the importance of the lips.

The second comment declared that Levi walked with the Lord. Can two walk together unless they agree? (Amos 3:3) The apostle John placed that principle in more graphic terms. We can only have fellowship with our Lord and each other when we walk in the Light. This unity requires constant maintenance and cleansing by His poured out life. There is no way we can maintain our walk with Jesus Christ if we insist on teaching our prejudices or wisdom. Yes He does give us room to move in a number of areas of daily life and experiences. That doesn’t apply to His unchanging commands and doctrines. Over and over again in ministry the hardest thing to say is, ‘Not my will but yours be done!’ Without it there isn’t any hope of being in step with the Lord Jesus Christ.

The third comment made is that Levi turned many from sin. To be God’s instrument in reclaiming a person from sin’s grip is an incomparable joy. To have the privilege of seeing them transformed into trophies of His grace is wonderful. How is it possible for this to take place? 1Timothy 4:16: ‘Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.’ It isn’t emotionalism: it isn’t ‘Christian entertainment’: it isn’t soft pedalling God’s Word. It is however living the Truth: teaching the Truth: feeding on the Truth and allowing the Spirit of Truth to strike another’s heart through speaking the Truth.

Malachi 2:7 explains the reason. A man or woman of God is His messenger! They are not delivery boys or girls of the latest religious theory or fashion. Messengers of The Most High have knowledge of Him to publish abroad. They have personalised God’s instruction through experience and devotion so as to show its relevance. Where does he or she receive all this? From the Holy Spirit making His Word alive and active to the Messenger! Then with burning heart and quivering lips the minister makes it known to all with ears to hear.
Reflection: Am I more awe struck about Jesus today than a year ago?  How do I display my reverence for Him?

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Battle Fatigue

Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” Mark 6:31.

In the midst of battle or stressful situations there’s an adrenalin surge. It helps us maintain the necessary inner resources for a successful outcome. When the pressure is off a strange reaction sets in. We find ourselves physically, emotionally and spiritually exhausted. What is required can be summed up in the words ‘Rest and Re–creation.’ Without this ‘R and R’ our ability to handle ongoing stresses and strains of ministry and everyday family life is severely depleted. Unwelcome consequences may then arise.

The record of Elijah’s contest with the prophets of Baal holds important insights for us. The account is in 1 Kings 18 and 19. Whilst there were many undecided onlookers who stood and watched, the prophet Elijah did the manual work himself. Why didn’t he seek their assistance? Delegation may have been risky but it would have eased the stress and lessened the weariness. The account of his intense, sustained and exhausting confrontation indicated he must have been totally drained. Did God ask him to do it all alone? There were men such as Obadiah around who may have accepted an invitation to assist. Did God expect Elijah to race the chariot to Jezreel through the rain and mud? There is a fine line, easily crossed, between God’s call and equipping alongside our zeal and desire to impress.

Chapter 19 opens with an exhausted, vulnerable prophet put to flight. The evil, infuriated, revenge seeking Jezebel wanted his hide. He who had faced 450 prophets of Baal and witnessed Yahweh’s power ran from a women’s threat. Why? Was it complete exhaustion due to doing everything solo? Would he have been better served after the victory to have withdrawn into a quiet place? There he could have been alone with the Lord to be refreshed and renewed. Ministers should take note. To forgo Preachers’ Refreshers, or personal time away can mean they often end up jaded, ragged, and faded. Health problems, family fractures, ministry misunderstandings ultimately overwhelmed. For a few of Christ’s servants unfortunate, long term consequences emerge. God in His mercy took Elijah to Mount Horeb. A new encounter awaited. There self pity and a sense of aloneness were confronted by the Lord. This paved the way for God to heal and recommission him.

Jesus set a principle for His disciples we could almost call ‘The Elijah pause’. Jesus told them to take time out and withdraw to a quiet location and ‘hang loose’ with Him. Still good advice in our society with a 24/7 mentality. With a mobile phone strapped to the ear and constant motivational seminars stress is the ministry disease of today.

In the wisdom of God He set in stone His command to honour the Sabbath, whatever day you take it (Romans 14). Regardless of our theological outlook there is a principle that shouldn’t be explained away. God calls all His people to trust Him by pulling back from life’s pressures. Pause from the work load to renew faith, emotions, spiritual and physical strength. In a sense Jesus was referring to Himself as the substance of the Sabbath in Matthew 11:28–30: ‘Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.’

Ministry has its battles. They are wide ranging and on various fronts. We are human regardless of our love and zeal for Jesus and the Gospel. We wear out. Unless we make the conscious decision to put ‘R and R’ into its proper perspective we will become casualties in ministry. That isn’t God’s calling or expectation for us.

Reflection:  When was the last time I had an uninterrupted solitary meeting with my Lord my Saviour and Master about my ministry? What am I intending to do about that neglect?

Sunday, April 10, 2016

The Erosion of Christendom

Toowoomba street after erosian by flood water.
Erosion is the effect of wind and rain gradually wearing away or eating into a landscape. Also, it can happen by an unknown, unattended underground slow leak.  Suddenly, a sinkhole opens up and swallows houses or other property. Combatting the ill effects of this ‘eating and wearing away’ is huge and costly.

Within the Western sphere, which is predominately Christian, there is a moral and spiritual erosion taking place. It is happening on the visible, but more insidiously, in the unseen realms of Christendom. This eating away at the very fabric of Christian faith and the wearing-away of Biblical morality has been going on for decades.

In a face to face debate Christian apologists in moral, scientific, educational and relational realms more than hold their own. To counteract the authority of Scripture and its support for absolute Truth and righteousness eroding tactics began to take place. Innocent sounding terms began to appear which were designed to cause sinkholes to collapse confidence in Scripture and debase Christian values. Evolutionary theories were tolerated and ultimately usurped Biblical teaching in many Denominations. So many Christians didn’t take notice. Those who did and spoke up about impending dangers were resisted even by fellow believers. It wasn’t nice or ‘Christian’ to make others feel uncomfortable. It was viewed as being intolerant, unscientific even though the effects of this ‘sinkholes’ were evident.

Now what are we facing? Erosion of Christian marriage by the same-sex advocates, even within the Church scene. The safe school program which is really a grooming plan for sex. Put that alongside the push for various views on Gender and the use of change rooms and toilets for how you think you are at that moment. What a great opportunity for perverts. Why is there this erosion of what our Lord plainly said ‘in the beginning God made them male and female?’ The moment a voice is raised against these ridiculous programs lawsuits and anti-discrimination slurs are thrown-up.  Unbelief by many who hold positions of leadership within the Church is also an issue. This is nothing new. It is much wider today due to the ease of technology and the infiltration of false teachers though such media.

It intrigues me how the deceit of Islam is either ignore of accepted. To simply quote what their books state, refer to past or current history is to have Islamophobia. Yet, it is okay to discriminate, insult or make hefty fines against Christians who hold fast to their belief system. Free speech is the result of past heroes within Christendom. Today it’s being bullied into silence by deceit and threats. To appease some from different cultures and belief systems, nice tolerant and probably half-interested Christians accept downgrading Christmas and Easter recognitions. Certain businesses, begun by Christians, have sold out to Halal. Have they been bribed? Bullied? Or is the dollar more valued that Christ. CEO’s should think that through in the light of Matthew 16:26. Gaining the whole world but losing your soul is to lose everything.

People should not judge a political or religious group according to how well liked or disliked a person from such a group happens to be. Check out their rules, their belief system. That is what will ultimately dominate their behaviour when they have ascendency. Sharia law is Islam’s principle. How it gets there is by masquerade and force. Cast your eyes around the globe and behold it at work.

Can the Church survive? Yes! Christ declared it would. Will it suffer? It is already in certain countries. It will happen here unless or because we take a stand for Biblical truth, righteousness and godly relationships. Politicians in many parties have been hypnotised by anti-Christian forces. Those who have their eyes open are slandered and misrepresented in media and personal threats. Pray for our, your country and the politicians who stand for truth and morality. Otherwise, what proverbs says about a country dominated by the ungodly will sweep over us. Wickedness kills faith, morality and the social fabric of a Christian influenced community. May God give us courage to remain true.

©Ray Hawkins April 2016.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Where the Shepherd lives

 Psalm 23 is a sheep’s travel diary. He is being lead through green pastures and by still
waters. Along a right path he walks even though it goes through a foreboding valley. What is the ‘sheep’s’ expectation? To settle down with the Shepherd. How long was the journey likely to be? Unstated.

When we read the word dwell it is so easy to imagine it as meaning what Jesus said about ‘mansions’ in John 14. The two are entirely different. David’s imagery focuses on the tabernacle which is called ‘The House of the Lord.’ He knew however, that as a ‘sheep’ from a different tribe he wasn’t permitted to move in the Shepherd’s precincts. The tabernacle and later the Temple’s courts were segregated. The outer courts for non-Israelites, next the court of the women which butted onto the court of the men. Then it was the exclusive domain of the descendant of Levi who had their restricted areas. Then finally there was the area only accessible to sons of Aaron, the priests. There hidden from view was the Holy of Holies, the place of the presence of Yahweh.

It was this Sanctuary in which the Lord was able to dwell with His creation. He was ‘Immanuel’ for His people. Although it was strictly segregated the people saw it as a wonderful place. David wrote in Psalm 26:8, ‘O Lord, I love the house in which you dwell, and the place where your glory abides.’ Would the reference to God’s abiding Glory indicate that something like the Shekinah Glory radiated from the Holy of holies? There was certainly some heart drawing power for many, many people as epitomised by David and others. It would seem that although knowing the various restrictions the flock still wanted to be somewhere near where his Shepherd dwelt.

For us, because of the cross and resurrection of Jesus, we look on this part of the psalm differently. Belonging to the ‘other sheep’ Jesus talked about in John 10, He has made us into one fold. We, it must be admitted, would have been seen by the angels as wild, unclean, ‘morally and spiritually moth-eaten sheep.’ Here again is the wonder of Christ’s putting His brand upon us. We have been accepted into the fold by the Father. On top of that, the Holy Spirit has been pleased to make His presence at home within us, as promised by our Saviour. When we look back over our lives and our conversion encounter with Jesus it dawns upon us what an awesome make-over He has done on us and in us. But, there is still more work being done to us, as you would undoubtedly agree!

More than that, Jesus has done a cleansing of the heavenly house. In Hebrews 9:23-24 we read of Him purifying the Heavenly dwelling. Satan’s rebellion certainly made a mess throughout the universe. Our Lord told His disciples in John 14 that He was going to build new lodgings for His ‘sheep.’ I wonder how close it will be to the Heavenly Sanctuary. How is this possible? Because Jesus has been granted by the Father, the order of the High Priesthood of Melchizedek. The old Aaronic order still exists and according to Ezekiel 4o-45 has a future role to play. The new order has come into operation due to the cross and resurrection of Christ. His ministry realm is in Glory. It is there our Shepherd watches over us and prayers for us (Hebrews 7:25).  Hebrews beautifully and graciously outlines the superiority of Christ Jesus’ rule as Shepherd over His people. By faith we are walking with him. By faith we keep our focus on Him according to Hebrews 12:1-3. By faith we experience the spiritual reality behind what David wrote in very physical terms in psalm 23.

David’s longing was that his relationship would last forever, meaning while he had breath. For us our longing is open ended. We live under the conviction of His pastoral oversight in this life. We live with hope’s unshakeable certainty that when death embraces us we are released into the presence of our Saviour. For us the word forever is like the eternal ‘Now’ for it is the realm of the Good Shepherd. It is where He takes His flock. Sure, David and the original ‘flock’ will be there although it would be uncertain how many would have understood ‘forever’ in that way?

As we conclude our short ramble through psalm 23 I hope you have had a deepening appreciation of it. Familiarity can rob us of its richness and meaning for our own journey with our Good Shepherd. We, similar to David, will have our detours, stumbles, ‘head-butts’ and spiritual or moral parasites. But our Lord restores our soul and pours His oil over us and goes searching for us when we meander of the track. How eternally grateful we will be that He keeps His sheep who wear His brand for ‘His Name’s Sake!’

©Ray Hawkins March 2016.