Sunday, August 28, 2016

Apostle Paul's Mission Mentality.

Did Paul do missionary work all by himself or just with one or two helpers? Of course not! As you read the book of Acts and his letters it is apparent there were many long-term and short-term co-labourers. Across a ministry covering approximately 32 years there are listed at least twenty eight fellow workers. There are also nine others who could conceivably be included in the list, plus the Philippian and Antioch churches.  Over the next few weeks I’d like to share some devotional thoughts around some of them. The first out of the list of faithful men and women is Aristarchus.

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 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. – Aristarchus  the Un-phased.

©Ray Hawkins August 28th 2016.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Will the real minister step forward

Apart from me (Jesus said) you can do nothing. John 15:5.

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 one evening so the speaker changed his message. He spoke without notes from John 15 to us as students. For me it was the defining moment for my future ministry. The preacher who in my young 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.

1 Corinthians 3:6 underscores the fact of God as 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 appointed 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 it works. 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 most 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. 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 expresses His redemption and the gems highlight His heart for His people.

The Lord desires to bless us in the ministry. This will be known in time. He longs to reward us when our ministry is concluded. This will be when we appear before Him to give an account. 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!

2 Timothy 4:8:‘There is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day – and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.’ However, if in the great mercy of God we should receive a crown would we be compelled to follow the example of 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.”’

Reflection: From which source is the motivation and power of my ministry flowing?

Request: Lord I desire my efforts to be ‘fire resistant.’ May I be a person in which you can fashion ‘Gold, silver and precious gems’ so as to adorn your Name. Amen!
RayHawkins August 21 2016.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Constantine's Curse

‘He who pays the piper calls the tune’ still holds true. To choose some other music means losing out of a guaranteed subsidy. Within Church history this arrangement can be recognised as taking place between Church Denominations) and State.

In the first two and half centuries Jesus was the ‘paymaster.’ He was the Church’s theme and the guarantor of its funding. During that time the Church thrived in the face of opposition, pagan religions, infiltration by false teachers and Imperial edicts branding it as a threat. The melody of the cross sounded out with grace and glory. Then came Constantine. As he faced Maxentius at Milvian Bridge for the throne of Rome he had a vision. It was of a cross with the inscription ‘by this conquer.’ He had his soldiers stitch a sign of the cross on their shoulders as they prepared for battle. I wonder how many – if any – had the cross in their heart.

When he was Caesar in 313 he made Christianity legal and the State religion. The title ‘catholic’ appeared in edicts in 324. Bequests were allowed to the Church and Sunday services were officially endorsed. Constantine’s purpose was clear. Keep the Roman authority and State in unity and harmony in the face of Barbarian attacks. The pagan State was now the ‘paymaster.’ An unequal yoking of the State and Church took place. Christendom was ‘hatched.’

Slowly but surely across the centuries this yoke lingers. Its effect on the spiritual, moral and ethical life of the Church has been devastating. For those in Government care little for Biblical truth, Biblical morality and Biblical ethics. They require compliance and assist this with subsidies to clergy, buildings and charitable works. What appears within Church history is the horror of corruption within the Papacy and gross immorality and dereliction of Christ’s call to service. When the Reformation began hopes were high for a new beginning but the Church and State yoke remained even for the Reformers. There were those who heard the music of the Cross and the melody within Scripture and sought to live to its beat. They paid a high price as Christendom reacted to their threatening ‘music.’

The West is considered a mainly Christian influenced world. The message of Christ has had a great impact over the centuries and has reached-out beyond its borders. However the price of compliance and infiltration by the ungodly into the Church still took place and still does. When you read of atheist priests, ‘Gay’ preachers and theologians who reject the Bible or even the historicity of Jesus it makes people wonder about the Christian Faith. In recent decades various Governments around the World have tried to deafen the music of the Scriptures. Seemingly worthy laws such as the ‘anti-discrimination bill’ have been used to bluff, frighten and silence dissent to practices contrary to the teachings of Christ and His Scriptures.

Something strange however is happening. Heaven’s melody is getting louder. A willingness to stand with the Lord means a dependence upon Him rather than being compliant. Such a stand brings its hardships and misrepresentations. We are threatened with breaching discrimination laws because we hold to Biblical teaching on same sex marriage, sexual practices contrary to Scripture and the uniqueness of Christ for salvation. When the Church speaks against abortion, inhumane treatment of refugees or the impropriety of transgender toilets it is opposed or ignored.

A price may have to be paid by those who hear and heed the music of the Lord and trust Him to meet their needs. One thing is certain, within Christendom there is a sifting going on. The ‘music’ to which people will dance will be dictated by whom they accept as ‘Paymaster.’ Will it be to the Mammon offered by Constantine’s successors or to the accepting of the Communion of Christ Jesus? Will it be the Hallelujah Chorus or ‘Money, Money, Money, it’s a rich man’s world?’

©Ray Hawkins August 2016.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Enemy + you + Love = ?

mural at Sheffield Tasmania
Conspiracy theories breed quicker than mushrooms. I’d like to add another. The constant appeal to “love your enemies” is being pushed by our enemies. They take the quote Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount and try and manipulate us so as to dominate. What do you think?

On Facebook, in magazines and live chat shows this a repeated refrain, especially in regards to treatment of Muslims. I’ve yet to hear or read of it being quoted to someone from another religious group. So I asked the following questions and also replied to myself:

1. Why should I love my enemies whoever they are?

2. What purposes are there in expressing such love?

3. When does ‘loving your enemy’ end?

As a Christian the answer is easy for the first question. Jesus said it! Matthew 5:43-48. He also just before that quote talked about turning the other cheek. Taken in isolation we could imagine Jesus giving His followers a ‘victim mentality.’ However, in reading the Gospels and New Testament letters I gain a fuller and deeper understanding of what underscores Christ’s challenge to ‘love the enemy.’

Jesus set the example quoted in Romans 5:6-11. We were His enemies, yet He loved us. That love sought to remove the animosity and barriers between Him and us. It cost Him dearly which is why the true symbol of love is the cross.  We like to quote John 3:16 concerning this love and fail to appreciate the verses which followed. They speak about the high price to be paid by those who refuse His love, defuse His teaching and abuse His Name and people. Even the Sermon on the Mount, much vaunted as a guide for living, is laced with dire warnings about judgement and Hades. Therefore, how do we express Christ’s love with its warning about rejecting it?

Romans 12:20 tells us to feed our enemy if he is hungry or give him a drink if thirsty. Sounds nice, warm and fuzzy. What we overlook is the judgement which is falling on his head. It is likened to burning coals! What will determine the outcome is his response. Who is the one to decide? The Lord of vengeance and none other. The disciple is to do good works, as Jesus did and taught. What we often fail to understand is that such deeds become a blessing or a judgement on the recipients. As we serve them in the name of Jesus it is not merely as a ‘handout’. It’s meant to be an introduction to the One who wants to be their Saviour with an offer of new beginnings. Did Jesus put a ‘times-up’ on love? Yes! In most cases it would be when death intervenes. For after that judgement takes place (Hebrews 9:27. Revelation 20:11-15.) Some parables speak on this matter and deals with nations, false teachers and spiritual frauds.

When should we imagine our expressing love to our enemies has crossed over into a justice mode? I’d suggest it is when that person (or persons) has received and tasted our love in Christ’s name and then repeatedly trampled on it. When our prayers for him or her are despised and the Lord’s grace repelled over and over then it is time to move on. It could be likened to what Jesus said about a village rejecting the message of the Messiah. Shake off the dust from your sandals as a witness against them. Should an enemy have evil intent upon my family, person or country love for him gives way to a greater love. That is love for my family! What action takes place depends upon what aggression is faced.

When we talk about ‘love and others’ we unconsciously lump them all together. This seems to miss the Scriptural teachings in each case. To love my wife is on a different platform than loving my neighbour. To love my Christian family of faith is a different investment than loving my enemies. To love my Lord and Saviour is a far superior love to all the others and dictates how I love them. Therefore, when it comes to loving my enemies I will do it, even reluctantly, because of my love and commitment to Jesus Christ. As stated above, my underlying reason is to obey Jesus, make an enemy my friend, plus seek to deliver him or her from an eternal separation from the Holy and Everlasting God. Such love isn’t sentimental or pious. It is tough and needs the total resources of the Holy Spirit within to keep the love flowing.

©Ray Hawkins August 2016.