Sunday, July 31, 2016

Check the Chains you wear.

A mural from Sheffield, Tas.
Pray for us too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. Colossians 4:3. Paul the apostle of Christ.

When the apostle Paul gave his testimony before Festus and King Agrippa, they heard the greatest offer the heart can hear. Paul’s ministry to the Gentiles included the news that God was offering forgiveness for sins committed against Him. 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 and Agrippa teased Paul by inferring he, Agrippa, was almost persuaded. This seems to sum up two of the three responses to the message of the cross. The cry of Festus still echoes through many lips to-day. Agrippa also has many ‘spiritual’ descendants who, like him, are ‘almost’, and that’s the state in which they die.

Paul, a shackled prisoner without any earthly abode stood before them. Prisoner though he was he spoke as a liberated man. Paul knew he had hope. It included a place and a kingdom with Jesus who was the One promised by Scripture. How preposterous it must have seemed! The Lord’s people are often in situations similar to Paul They are prisoners of faith but have a hope in a better world to come. Festus, Agrippa, Bernice and the others failed to realise they too were prisoners. Dressed in regal attire outwardly they were inwardly shackled by sin, guilt, shame and fear. They wore not the iron chains around their body but far stronger chains imprisoned 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 was is in the literal sense of being in chains for his faith. The other was in the spiritual sense by which 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 for better things tomorrow.

As prisoners of Christ we are His ambassadors in chains declaring the freedom we have in Jesus. 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 home only to die disillusioned. Those who reject the environment of Christ Jesus live under the same disappointment. Imagining themselves free of the Lord’s perimeters they are actually playthings of fads, fashion and futility. We were created to know, enjoy, serve and worship our Creator. To cast that relationship aside causes the soul’s darkness, self-delusion, meaninglessness and a sense of foreboding about death.

As prisoners of Faith speaking to prisoners of unbelief, what we offer can make it worthwhile for them to exchange ‘chains.’  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.).’  We must always see beyond the taunts prisoners of unbelief throw our way as they flaunt their seemingly unrestricted lifestyle. As Proverbs says of them, there is a way which seems right unto man but the end of it is death. (Proverbs 16:25) For the prisoners of Christ the end is Life eternal and beautiful. Therefore from one prisoner to another heed these words, ‘As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. (Colossians 4:1.)

Being the Lord Jesus’ prisoner has its limitations morally and ethically. At times we can feel a little despondent as others advance within the World’s scene, accumulating honours, possessions and money while we are despised and ignored. It can hurt when they look with scorn or pity on you as you live under the direction of the Master. Our spiritual sanity can only be assured as we keep our eyes on Jesus Christ through His word. He must be our life, our hope, our true freedom and our message. 

Reflection: What makes being a prisoner of Christ Jesus worthwhile?

Request: May my commitment to you Lord Jesus be something that causes someone somewhere to see it as a magnificent madness. Amen

©Ray Hawkins 31st July 2016.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Knowing the Unseen God.

How can you commit your life to someone you haven’t seen? This is an unasked but implied question to disciples from those on the outside. As a Christian and as a minister I’ve had to find an answer, indeed a personal response, to this question. I’d like to share with you my journey from indifference about Jesus to a faith commitment to Him.

It was my good fortune to have someone ask my mother if her children could go to Sunday school. I’m sure she had numerous reasons for agreeing, including an hour of peace. Across the years I’d heard stories from the Bible and was impressed. Still, Jesus was no more interesting than Caesar or Napoleon or my cricketing hero (of the moment).

In my middle teenage years I was a happy hypocrite ignorant about much of the Bible and indifferent to the One it revealed. God however was on my trail. One night I sensed an ultimatum. ‘Shape up or ship out!’ God was getting serious. What was happening? What I had heard over the years about Jesus and which impressed me had now aroused my mind to act. Was the Bible true and therefore to be let loose within my person or was it a lovely myth? I decided it was true!

The following years such a presumption was put to the test. I needed to be sure. So I compared the Bible with history and found it was factual. I’m no scientist so I needed to know how as such qualified people viewed the reliability of the Scriptures. This took me through a bit of a tangled arena but when I emerged from it I was confident about trusting what God’s Word revealed about creation. Nature, according to Psalm 19 and Romans 1 reveals certain things about the unseen God.

The really big issue however had to deal with Jesus as the Christ, the drama of the cross and resurrection. Was it a mixture of myth, miracle and history? Or, was it an actual, historical, verifiable and prophesied event? Secular as well as Church history endorsed all the areas. To me one of the ‘clinches’ was what happened to the original band of disciples. Their commitment to Jesus as the promised Messiah, the Son of God and promised King of Israel cost them dearly. They lost family and friends and ultimately their lives for an unswerving commitment to Jesus and to the fact of His resurrection and ascension. They weren’t stupid. They wouldn’t pay such a price for a lie!

All of these features made my conviction of commitment to Jesus ‘concrete. It may be summed up this way: I heard, I was intrigued, I investigated, I found answers to my doubts and the charges levelled by sceptics, other religious groups and my own self-indulgent will.

Still, I had never seen Jesus. Still haven’t! My commitment to Him was, and remains, an act of faith in His word. The amazing thing is about this faith relationship is over the years it has been tested, tried and been found true. Not, may I hasten to add, by my grit or denial of tough issues. No, it is because the One to whom I committed my life has journeyed with me. His word has linked me to Him.

At the beginning of my new direction in life I admit it was a true but fragile commitment. It was only across time did it toughen up. This came about through discovering the grace and presence of Jesus and the uncrushable truth of His word. Would I say that in those early months or years I loved Jesus? In a way yes, but not deeply. How can you love someone unseen? He may have been unseen by my eyes but not unknown to my heart. Unseen but not unfelt! Some may question this but I liken it to a blind man unable to see the sun but he can feel its warmth. My love for Jesus grew through knowing Him in worship, obeying His teachings, responding to His promptings, seeing the difference between the old and new me and witnessing His providential grace, mercy and forgiveness. His love to me, and you, never changes. My love for Him has matured and expanded over the nearly sixty years since the night I heard Him say those five words: “Shape up or ship out!”

There are many other reasons for this commitment leading to love I may share another time. Just to close I’d like to add the following. Could I be mistaken? There is always a slim wedge of doubt which tries to get between me and the Lord. If I am mistaken (which is unlikely), this cannot be denied.  My Lord has blessed, protected, guided and thrilled me across the years of marriage, parenting and ministry. I (we) have a hope that points beyond this life. Such a hope tells me I shall see Him face to face. That is Christ’s gift of transforming grace and power He worked on your behalf and mine on the cross of Calvary. His resurrection secured it eternally.

One of my favourite verses comes from 2Timothy 1:12 and speaks of the intimacy of faith which matures over the years: ‘I am not ashamed, for I know the one in whom I have put my trust, and am sure that he is able to guard until that day what I have entrusted to him’ (NRSV).

Peter expressed it very well to the persecuted church:  ‘Jesus Christ, whom, having not seen you love…’ 1 Peter 1:8. This apostle was building on the promise of the risen Lord in John 20:29, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

©Ray Hawkins July 24th  2016.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

The Imperative of ministry.

A mural at Sheffield, Tasmania
Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth. 2 Timothy 2:15.

An ‘imperative’ is a word or statement of authority we do well to heed.  Scripture is saturated with them. Unfortunately we tend to do mental gymnastics with such imperatives. They are converted into noble suggestions. By doing this we rob them of their sense of urgency, warning or command.

Paul’s words to Timothy as recorded in the two epistles have a number of imperatives to take to heart. The one calling to study the word of truth is both a command and a warning. The aged apostle, restricted by imprisonment, never forgot to be a mentor to his ‘son.’ He wanted Timothy to be able to fulfil the work he was called to do. Also when called to give account of his ministry no shame would cling to his presentation. Surely that is our heart’s desire also.

‘Do your best’ is from a Greek word calling for diligence. In daily life and work there is abhorrence for the person who is lazy and not fulfilling his or her role. Such characters make things difficult, even dangerous, for others. The same is true in ministry. We are not all equal in scholastic ability or communicating skills but we can all give of our best. The motivation is surely for the honour of our Lord.

‘To present yourself to God’ has overtones of a formal meeting being arranged. Hebrews 13:17: defines God’s servants as ‘men who must give an account.’ There is an official reporting time already set by the Lord. We should not take this lightly. It will deal with our calling as ministers not about our salvation. Between now and that time we have opportunity to get ourselves ready to meet our Master.  The words used by Paul when taking Communion become good advice in this matter. 1 Corinthians 11:31: ‘If we judged ourselves, we would not come under judgement.’ Such a self assessment must be under the scrutiny of scripture. It requires of us honesty and an acceptance of what the Bible has to say on personal issues touched upon.

‘As one approved’ means you have passed the inspection. You have been tried, tested and you stand true. Your testimony of God’s faithfulness is vouched for by others and your conscience as you stand confident in His Word.  In a sense the words of Peter can be applied to you, ‘. . .your faith – of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire – may prove genuine and may result in praise, glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy.’ 1 Peter 1:7– 8

‘A workman’ is often used in Scripture for a field labourer. How applicable! As workman with and in the Gospel we work in the harvest field called the world. From Jesus’ parables dealing with fields some ministry insights are gleaned. There are those who sow seed, rock removers, bird chasers, weed pullers and reapers. At any one time we might be found doing anyone of those tasks. We must know the tools of our trade. In this context it is of course the Scriptures. The Master’s equipment for the various tasks can be found in His ‘toolshed’ of His word. Do we know what ‘implement’ to use and how to handle it when confronted by weed scatterers or birds, thorns or hidden rock?

‘Who correctly handles…’ expresses competency and confidence in the equipment. It is apparent that Scripture can be mishandled, misrepresented and misunderstood. Some of this is from ignorance and at other times from evil intent.  As with any craft the implements take time to master. We who are the Lord’s field workers must apply ourselves with diligence to mastering the many facets of God’s toolbox. The wonder of what is in this toolbox never ceases to amaze the faithful student and experienced worker.

The word of truth’ is a confronting term. It doesn’t say ‘words of truth’ as though there are words in there somewhere which are untrue. It is the word! It is the Logos. Paul associated the spoken word and the written word with the Living Word named Jesus. We may, with reverence, rewrite this verse this way: Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a fieldworker who isn’t ashamed and who knows how to properly handle Jesus – the Logos of Truth.

Reflection: The Lord and Saviour will one day call me into His presence to give an account of my ministry. At this moment what is a reasonable expectation of what He’d most probably say to me?

Request:  Equip me to be a qualified and diligent field worker within the place of your appointment. When I take hold of the Logos may I have the sense that in some way I am handling or hanging onto Jesus!

Ray Hawkins July 18 2016.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Did Jesus have phobias?

In today’s Westernised society Jesus would be considered intolerant, unloving and a threat to community cohesion. There would be those today who would class him with some type of phobia because of His views. Look at some of His teaching as recorded in the gospels.

Jesus gave the act of adultery a very narrow dimension. To look on someone with lustful purposes will receive a judicial sentence. Also Christ’s view on marriage as between a man and a woman is downright disturbing to same-sex relationship advocates. What hackles must arise when people hear His words quoted about the ‘Broad and Narrow ways and how one equals destruction while the other leads to life. Especially when Jesus declared He is ‘the Way the Truth and the Life’ and without Him heaven is shut.

Child abuse is rampant as our papers sadly report, especially on those who should be protectors of children. Jesus is unmerciful in His condemnation of such people. It would be better for them to jump in the lake with a huge millstone around their neck than perpetrate such acts. What verdict awaits them before the great white throne on judgement day! Forgiveness is possible, but only if the fruits of repentance are evident.

As you read the Gospels it is clear Jesus is scathing of those who use His name, his service to make themselves rich, exploit the widow and orphans, corrupt the Word of God and lead people astray. His words are ‘I never knew you; go away from me, you evil doers.’ In Matthew 23 are words directed to the religious (fraudulent) leaders. Make no mistake, they are harsh words. ‘Hypocrites, blind leaders, fools, whitewashed tombs, snakes and vipers’ are His descriptions for such people. Then consider His upturning of trading tables of those in the temple precincts who were fleecing worshippers and selling blemished animals.

To look at such a list, and more could be added, would give the impression that Jesus was a narrow minded bigot, unloving and vindictive. Was He expressing His phobias by such condemnation? In reality the opposite is the truth. His words and actions were from a heart of love and compassion. He was warning such people then and now about an eternal tragedy which awaited unless they changed their ways. Love made Jesus act and speak. Silence would have been easier, safer for Him but deadly for those in such a lifestyle and ungodly activities. The bible is unwavering in stating that there is a judgement day already set and all must appear before it. There is but one avenue of being pardoned.

Jesus experienced peoples’ judgement, the nice and respectable peoples’ ungodliness as well as the rebellious and depraved. That is the message of the Cross! His request to the Father to “forgive them for they know not what they do” offered a new beginning. That requires a commitment of a person’s life to Jesus Christ as the risen Lord and Saviour. It requires a recognition of a life offensive to God and deep sorrow for it. It requires a new lifestyle based upon spiritual, moral and ethical values in harmony with the Holy Scriptures.

When that takes place a number of things happen. To highlight just two: One is a sense of joy under the smile of God. On the negative side you discover many in society and even amongst your family or friends your decision is threatening and unsettling. As you begin to live out and share your new faith and lifestyle you will be labelled as bigoted, racist, unloving and much more. That’s alright, you are in good company for that's how they consider Jesus. But if you seek to cover your faith and want to dabble in a previous lifestyle you are actually hating your accusers. Silence is more of a hate crime against them than sharing your faith. Sure, your words are to be flavoured by grace and your actions with mercy, but the ‘new you’ must begin to emerge. Jesus never authorised His followers to take punitive action against those who lived contrary to His laws. Instead He urged His people to pray for them and express compassion. A far cry from the ideology which kills infidels for a whole number of lifestyle choices.

In the Church’s early days to be called a follower of the Nazarene was considered as an insult, a derogatory term. Christians wore it as an emblem of honour. We are fast approaching a similar scenario. However, Jesus forewarned His disciples about the tough times ahead. His promise remains true for us today, “I am with you always” and “I have overcome the World” plus “I go to prepare a place for you.”

©Ray Hawkins July 2016.


Sunday, July 3, 2016

4 - 8 July
is introducing

(April 2016)

by Ray Hawkins

About the Book:

'The word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword ...'That is one of the ways the Bible defines itself. This Devotional takes you into 30 other of its definitions. Your confidence in and appreciation of God's word will be strengthened as you understand its claims.The author's hope is that this book will enrich your love for and understanding of God's unchanging scriptures. For God has expressed Himself within them so you will know Him in a personal way.Scripture is God's breath in print with power to declare His glory. It is His sword to strike against ungodliness. He has given it to us also to guide, guard and govern our relationship of faith in Him.

About the Author

Ray Hawkins, retired after over 40 years as a Churches of Christ minister, enjoys sharing themes from the Scriptures through Devotional writing. Married to Mary, multi-published inspirational romance author, they have three children and five grandchildren. Ray shares his insights in his first two books on Marriage and Children with more ideas to come about ministry and much more. Living in Beauty Point Tasmania Ray heads up a new Christian Fellowship as well as doing relief preaching, community work and writing.

Nebuchadnezzar's Nightmare.

The king's nightmare  was nearly the death of many of his subjects. He couldn't remember it and expected his wise ment to conjure it up and interpret it. They couldn't. Nechadnezzar  wasn't a tolerant ruler. Fortunately Daniel came to their rescue by Yahweh's intervention through  him. 
What was given by God then is still relevant for us to day.

Nebuchadnezzar's vision of the four World Empires outlines the Biblical view of History. The huge statue portrayed  Babylon, then Medes and Persia followed by Greece and climaxing in Rome. The final Empire is seen to break down into ten distinct divisions yet belong to the one idolatrous system. It is interesting to note the degenerating nature of the Empires and their ferocity according to Daniel 7.

The Roman Empire has come and gone, apparently. So how authentic is the vision Daniel interpreted for the king of Babylon? Something must have intervened to forestall the climax when the Stone from Heaven smashes the fourth (and including the previous three) empires. From Ephesians 3 we understand this to be the Church, the Body of Christ.

In the book of Revelation we come face to face with the fourth Empire and its 1o toes. This book actually helps us to understand Daniel’s presentation to Nebuchadnezzar. We tend to separate the empires when in reality they are infused by the one spirit, the one guiding life force and the one aim.  The head is Babylon and whilst the Kingdom state has ceased the ‘head of the Idol’ continues to rule. It is the energising power of the other three empires.

The first mention of Babylon in Scripture is in Genesis 10:8-12 and 11:1-9. Its founder opposed the Lord Yahweh and initiated a religious system diametrically opposed to the character and purposes of the eternal God. It is the occult and has influenced all the anti-Yahweh, anti-Christ, anti-Judeo/Christian Scriptures across history. The Bible at the appropriate time unveiled the animating power of Babylon. Isaiah 14:12-14. It is Lucifer, the one known as the Devil, Satan and the Serpent.

It is the longing of the Babylonian spirit to rule. It is its desire to occupy the land Yahweh has described as His own. It is the underlying reason for all the effort by Gentile nations to claim the holy mount Zion and raise a statue called in Revelation 13:14-15 ‘the image of the Beast.’ At present such a scenario painted by John is held in check. This is the teaching Paul stressed in 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12 which in turn is preceded by 1Thessalonians 4:13-18.

Whenever that happens the final week [0f years] as foreseen by Daniel (9:24-27. 12:1-11) is about to begin. What he didn’t explain the apostle John detailed! In Daniel the demolishing force is described as ‘the stone cut from the mountain without hands’ is revealed in Revelation as Jesus. He is the Warrior Lord, the Lord of Hosts. He and He alone has the power and the authority to overthrow the spirit of Babylon. By the breath of His mouth Jesus prevails. By His presence returning to His land, Israel, His mount, Zion, the kingdoms portrayed in the idol are shattered and scattered into eternity’s dust. He comes to fulfil His promise to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and David. He comes to vindicate the Covenant of God with the nation of Israel. Amos 3:2 declares that ‘you [Israel] only have I known of all the families of the earth…’ (Psalm 147:19-20). He comes and then Scripture will be fulfilled which says every creature and all creation will bow before Him and through Him render praise to the Father!

When that takes place the promised 5th kingdom begins. It is the Kingdom of God on earth. The number 5 is significant. For that number speaks of God’s grace shown to humanity. The redeemed across history are appointed a place in the promised 5th kingdom. He who is the Son of God and Son of Man, King of Israel and Head of the Church is our Redeemer. We should be thankful to king Nebuchadnezzar for his nightmare as it laid a foundation for us to understand God’s sovereignty in and over history.

© Ray Hawkins July 2016.