Saturday, May 28, 2016

Under the Microscope

Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith. Hebrews 13:7.

Celebrities of sport, movies and adventure live under the spotlight of the public’s interest. Various media follow them around to satisfy some strange fascination. People want to pry into their foibles, successes and tastes. Beats me as to why!

 Very few ministers would imagine themselves to be ‘celebrities’ or even desire to be under such unrelenting attention. However the passage from Hebrews does highlight the fact, like it or not, this is just what takes place. Over the years preachers have complained about being in a ‘fish bowl’ where folk are constantly looking at them. It is wearisome and does create extra pressures we would rather not have. Yet if handled wisely can become a wonderful tool to show the grace, goodness and glory of God.

 Did the writer of this epistle feel concerned by the interest being shown by some disciples to other ‘religious celebrities’? Is there a suspicion about teachings which were contrary to that of Jesus? He directed their minds back to the people who had spoken to them the words of the Gospel. They are reminded of that which brought them into salvation and eternal life. Some of those leaders may have paid a heavy price for their commitment to Jesus as the promised Messiah. Whether living or martyred, such leaders needed to be ‘revisited.’ A thorough scrutiny as to the quality of their words, works and faith was in order. By doing this the distracted disciples would be able to contrast the different types of spiritual and moral leadership. Then the respective ‘fruit’ could be evaluated under the spotlight of Scripture.

What is the outcome of the leaders’ life? We can only guess at what is implied. However then as now there are general and all embracing principles to practice. Writing to a persecuted fellowship the apostle Peter said, ‘Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. (1 Peter 3:8–9) Some imagine the apostle Paul was slightly conceited in his insistence to the readers of Philippians 4:9: ‘Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me – put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.’ This isn’t conceit it is our calling. We are to attract men and women to the Lord and Saviour who has made us ‘attractive’ by His grace and power.

This doesn’t mean we will not trip over from time to time. When that happens some will be delighted, some will cry, others will doubt or fear. However as our Lord did with Peter so He will do with us. When Peter realised his error and repented he realised the Lord had prayed for him, never abandoned him. The seeping sore of betrayal was healed through Christ’s forgiveness. Peter’s testimony is not without mistakes but they are not ulcerated sores on his character or ministry. They are the scars which bear testimony to the healing forgiving grace of God in Christ Jesus.  As leaders we should not give the impression of being failure proof.  To admit we have scars, without necessarily explaining their origins, is our testimony to God’s grace. They also become and encouragement to others that God hasn’t wiped them off His family record.

 The writer of Hebrews encourages his readers to imitate the faith of their leaders. This imitation is not a ‘put on show’ as though they were actors. The word is in the continuous tense pointing to an inner compulsion that works itself out in daily life. As leaders we are to set a high standard in behaviour, faith and relationships. This is something only possible by the indwelling Holy Spirit. He is our compulsion to be Christlike. He is the source of imparting Christ’s fragrance. He through us will challenge our ‘scrutineers’ to have a similar compulsion.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

God: Beyond Comprehension

Chance has no capacity for introducing itself. On the other hand the Lord God of the Bible reveals Himself and what He has done, and how. This is the exciting discovery you make from the opening verse of Genesis. 'In the beginning God created...' In our English translation of the names for God we have been robbed of their meaning and the significance of when and why used. This is a shame.

‘God’ in Genesis 1:1 is Elohim. This is the plural form of El, God. Straight away we are introduced to another mystery embracing God. For whenever the term is used it is with a verb in the singular. So? So we are confronted with an understanding of the Eternal God which stretches our heart and mind. However no matter how much we ivestigate we never really fully comprehend its significance! Genesis 1:26: ‘Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness…”’ (Emphasis added). In Isaiah 6 a similar thing takes place. “Then I (Isaiah) heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?”’ Other verses could be searched out. However the most defining one is from Jesus in Matthew 28:19: ‘Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.’ (Emphasis added.)

'Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Deuteronomy 6:4.' The Jewish people call this, ‘the Shema.’ It comes from the word, ‘hear!’ In this declaration are two names for God. There is ‘Elohim’ referring to His work in creation and there is ‘Jehovah (also translated Yahweh). We will consider Jehovah’s another time for it is His personal name. We could quite correctly translate the verse, “The Jehovah, our Elohim, the Jehovah is one.’ The mystery of the Godhead will never be explained. Christians do not worship three gods but one. We are caught up in the mystery of mysteries when we enter the bible's presentation of God. To help our finite minds our Elohim came to earth, as foretold, to Bethlehem. Part of the reason for the coming of our Lord and Saviour was so that we might focus on Him and His work.

When we try to understand what God looks like we are often befuddled by artistic impressions from caricatures to master painters. I think this is one reason why Jesus never allowed any likeness of Himself to be created. In John 4:24 Jesus tells us that God is Spirit. John 10:30: ‘I and the Father are one.’ This is not referring to purpose but to essence. Again the description of Genesis 1:1 comes to the fore. The apostle Philip couldn’t get his mind around the saying of Jesus in John 14:6: ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except though me.’ Philip said, show us the Father. Jesus reply? You see me and you have an understanding of the Father. This cannot be a physical likeness. Rather it pushed Philip and so too us, to understand God in the character and actions of the One with the title, ‘Emmanuel,’ God with us.  When we do that and receive Jesus Christ by faith in His work on the cross and his resurrection we are indwelt by the Godhead, Father,
Son, Holy Spirit. 1 John 2:23b.3:24. This is why the apostle Paul defines Christians as being the ‘temple of the Holy Spirit.’

In both testaments there are subtil and beautiful indications to the mystery of the Godhead, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Considerthe following:
The Lord bless you and keep you (Father)
the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you; (Son)
the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace. (Holy Spirit) Numbers 6:24-26.

also Isaiah 6:3 'Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts.'

Daniel 9:19. "O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive; O Lord, listen and act and do not delay!..."

2 Corinthians 13:13 'The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.'

We  will never understand the person of God but we can know Him in a faith relationship because of His grace and heart for each of us. The Bible introduces us to our Creator and leads us to see Him as our Saviour and Lord. His invitation is for you and I to accept His invitation as an act of faith and discover God keeps His word.

Ray Hawkins May 23 2016.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Frustration - over-ruled.

Rick Pullen, Ray and Mary, Brian Jennings
North cioast of Ghana

The following devotional was taken from my book (now out of print) called ‘The Neurotic Rooster.’ I contained 31 devotionals arising from our three short term study and mission trips to Africa.

            "Things don’t always run smoothly do they Lord!"

            We commit our way to you, make our plans with good intentions and imagine that we are in for an easy ride. That’s not life. It’s not ministry. There are forces out in the wide world, sometimes close at hand, intent on frustrating our efforts to honour you and encourage others. Plane departure delays making for uncomfortable nights, buses which break down and run to no timetable, promises made without any possibility of being honoured, police road-blocks causing justifiable but time eroding delays have nerve wracking tendencies.

            In the face of such barriers and seemingly unbridgeable time chasms how glad am I that your word has made a wonderful promise to your people. Short term mission trips become learning centres for understanding Romans 8:28: ‘And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purposes.’

            We know...’ Here experience is talking. These often unpleasant experiences had drawn from Paul’s faith and hope the over ruling ministry of the Holy Spirit and the consolation of God’s comforts. It was not a theory. This was a truth we were to learn so that we too can say "we know, from personal experiences, not pious theories."

            that in all things God works...’ therefore don’t be fatalistic, negative or defeatist. Unseen, unfelt, God is in the scene working on behalf of His people and purposes. It is more often than not only realised with hindsight. Each team member could recount difficulties and embarrassing situations unpleasant and unwelcomed and yet on reviewing them realising God was in there with them and producing good. Faith can only gain muscle through being aware of God's workings in our situation even if it is realised afterwards. It prepares you to be more settled when the next circumstance arises.

            for the good of those who love Him...’how reassuring. The unbelieving, indifferent World has great delight in doing Disciples of Christ mischief. There is great glee in placing snares across the believers’ path to trap them. The awesome creative power of God, when permitted by His people, takes such hostility and brings ‘good’ out of it. What ‘good?’ For the disciple it fashions him or her into the likeness of Jesus Christ. For God, it vindicates His purposes, blesses His people, converts opponents, and verifies His word.

            who have been called...’ and responded. It is interesting as we work through this promise that ‘love’ isn’t enough. There needs to be two other faith factors. This one is being ‘called.’ This is not referring to salvation but to ministry. It is stating that God actively safeguards what He initiates, not what we might believe is a good idea to pursue. Here is uncovered why many worthwhile ventures fail. Before going we needed the unshakeable conviction this was pleasing to God. That conviction can be severely tested in coming days.

            according to His purpose.’ This is the next factor in harmony with the other two ensuring the over-ruling of frustration. Assured of God’s purposes is the essential requirement for emotional and spiritual well-being in the face of opposition and doubts. The bold assertion of our faith in the sovereign grace of Jesus is that nothing can separate us from His love, nothing experienced by obedience to his Word can prevent His purposes from being fulfilled. What ever assessment others may make of our time and miistry we have peace in our hearts. Why? Because, our Lord would have achieved His purposes in us, through us, inspite of our strengths or weaknesses, because He called and we went.

Final Word.

            There can be no unwanted experience, no frustrating delay, over which God cannot fashion honour and glory for His Name.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Being an 'Under-rower' in ministry

‘…when God, who set me apart from birth and called me by His grace, was pleased to reveal His Son in me so that I might preach Him among the Gentiles.’ Galatians 1:15–16.

Not everyone has the ‘Damascus road’ conversion. Neither do they have such a revealing call to ministry. God deals with us in His own unique way. However Jesus called you into His service, there is the underlying purpose as expressed to Paul in Acts 26:16: ‘I have appeared to you…to make you a minister and a witness…’ The term ‘minister’ is actually from the Greek ‘Huperetes’ and means an under-rower. What a humbling title for this converted Pharisee. Other Greek words are translated ‘minister’ by Paul and in which he seems to have actually delighted in. Two other humbling descriptions can be mentioned. One is ‘doulos’ meaning bond slave and the other ‘diakonos’ defining a table waiter. W.E. Vine wrote, ‘Doulos, in relation to his master; diakonos views a servant in relation to his work; huperetes, in relation to his superior.’ (Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words.)

Notice that the Lord is quoted as saying He would ‘make’ Paul a minister (under-rower) and a witness. That implies such a position doesn’t come naturally. Why? Probably because our soul nature wants to have the pre-eminent role! It wants control. This spiritual issue could be called the Diotrephes syndrome. 3 John 9: ‘I (John) wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to be first, will have nothing to do with us.’  

In Paul’s training for ministry Jesus took him to Arabia (Galatians 1:17). Was this the place the future apostle to the Gentiles learnt the art of being ‘huperetes?’ In wasn’t a short course either. Nor did Paul burst upon the World scene from out of Arabia. It seems to me that it was back in Tarsus where Paul served his apprenticeship. Once proven the Lord arranged for a wider ministry.

The Lord desires to take us to our own ‘Arabia.’  This is the place where we gain both a deeper insight of being under His command. He will also have places arranged for our ‘apprenticeship’ where lessons learnt are applied and refined. The church scene is littered with formerly keen ‘wantabees’ for ministry who didn’t like their ‘Arabia or Tarsus.’ Once we accept the Lord’s ‘school’ and been found faithful we are equipped to proceed.

Acts 26:18 is a powerful summary of being an effective ‘under-rower.’ ‘…to open their (Gentiles) eyes and turn them from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’ The first feature is to ‘open their eyes…’ This means that a spiritual blindness has overtaken the descendents of Adam and Eve. ‘Eyes they have but see not…’ is on the lips of Jesus many times. It is also the frustration which snaps at the work of His servants. It isn’t the lack of evidence which is the problem. It’s a person’s unwillingness to believe it. In ministry we realise very quickly our impotency in opening the eyes of the blind by our own wit and wisdom. Only the Holy Spirit can do this and He will do it in His time. So what are we to be in this case? We are His ‘tubes’ bearing the ointment of the grace and power of the risen Lord. When the Lord knows it is the right time He through you and me will touch the person’s spiritual eyes.

The second feature is to ‘turn them from darkness to light.’ Here again we are instruments in the Master’s hand. Through our obedient lifestyle and speaking, the light of Calvary’s love can shine out.  What we have personally experienced and rejoiced in confronts those in sin’s darkness. Our testimony verifies Colossians 1:13: ‘For He has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son.’ What is required by those in the ‘shadows’ is a desire for the Light. This will birth courage for Sin will not let the person go easily. Faith grabs the willing but fearful believer’s hand to leads it out of darkness. The minister is not the deliverer. That is the Lord’s role. We are the spiritual attendants to assist with prayer, encouragement, teaching and a strong shoulder to lean on.

One of the dangers in ministry is to try and manipulate a person into turning from the things of Darkness towards the Light. Inducements of any form do not work. Only the Holy Spirit can bring a man or woman to the point where they are willing to pay the price to dwell in the Light. There is nothing more wonderful for a minister to savour as an under-rower than to be Christ’s link to a person hearing the good news. The joy does not stop there. It has only begun. Now the Commander expects His under-rower to unpack for the new believer the treasures found in the Light.

Reflection: Have I understood my calling in the light of such terms as ‘bond servant’, ‘table waiter’ and ‘under-rower?’

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Unauthorised 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.

Yahweh’s spectacular rescue mission on behalf of Israel could have produced a sense of national complacency. He watched over them, opened the Red sea for them, provided for them, protected them, judged them and brought them to the desert of Sinai. That sense of smugness changed at Mount Sinai. His dramatic ‘appearance’ in thunder, lightning, with thick cloud covering and fire created fear. A realisation of God’s glory and holiness made them tremble. The Lord God who redeemed was to be obeyed not played with.

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. Something possessed Nadab and Abihu, to imagine they had a better way than that which Yahweh had outlined. They along with Eleazar and Ithamar had just experienced the wonder of ordination 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? Leviticus 10:1 says they offered unauthorised fire before the Lord. Their self will changed celebration into lamentations. God struck them down.

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 requires 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?

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

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.

As ministers of the Gospel we 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. Familiarity can breed contempt or coarseness with sacred things. A healthy fear of our Lord will be our safeguard. In our presentations we have latitude of method but we have no room to move in regards to the message. 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?