Sunday, October 30, 2016

The God who knits.

I’d been watching my wife do some clothing repairs for our grandchildren. Reminded me of those years, now long gone, when she was seamstress and tailor for me and our children. It may sound strange, but I don’t think it’s out of order when I tell you how her knitting and sewing reminded me of God. He is both the mender of lives and the one who knits. The Lord has the amazing ability to create garments of beauty out of the ashes of a person’s life. Isaiah wrote of how Yahweh would weave a garment of praise out of the ashes of a burnt out life (Isaiah 61:3). Jesus quoted the prophet in the Nazareth synagogue at the commencement of His ministry (Luke 4:17).

This was beautifully highlighted in the testimony of a man I once heard as well as many other testimony also. In his own words he was previously a hopeless case. Family, friends and community workers had written him off as beyond help, the burnt out wreck of an abused childhood and destructive choices. I have to confess I was in tears as he spoke. He gave the glory to the Lord and was thankful that Jesus had men and women at Christian Drop-In centres. They cared for him and shared the good news of Christ's love. It took time for him to realise how the Almighty could knit a new life out of the ashes of his old one. One day he came to desperation point and cried out unreservedly for Jesus to save him, and change him. It happened!  When he said that with the tears of gratitude in his eyes and words, I felt like standing up and cheering!  The change in him was proven over time.  It took a period of time for the knitting process of God takes place. He weaves the grey and black ashes of a person's life with the gold and rainbow colours of grace, mercy and praise.
It’s an unending delight to come across men and women who wear Christ Jesus' unique designer garments. He is certainly not into mass production of clones whose stories are all the same.  The Holy Spirit makes the clothes exclusively out of their own ashes and combines them with the glory of Christ Jesus. The only requirement for this is for a person to hand his or her life over to Jesus as Lord and Saviour. Friends and acquaintances understand God's knitting prowess when they see the wearer showing and declaring God's garment of praise. 

I find there is a tendency in my heart, and I hear the same from others, to compare the Lord's knitting. My ashes were not anywhere near as dramatic or complex as the man’s I heard talk, or others I've known. I’m glad about that by the way. We all have our own stories, dreams and nightmares mixed in with the ashes of sin, failures, and indifference to God. Our stories are each unique. However, the Holy Spirit has the power and skill through the Cross of Christ to make us beautiful before the Lord God. He give us the garment of praise, individually fitted, to wear on the ‘catwalks’ of life . It is there we each bear testimony to our Lord's saving grace. Of course there is more, much more woven into the garment He knitted and placed in and over our heart. Righteousness, Truth, Worship, Steadfastness and others are all threads of Christ's saving power.

The beauty of what the Lord knits is that it never fades or wears out. In fact, the more it is worn and shown in everyday living the more it glows. That garment of praise is designed to go with any other outfit you or I are called to wear. It means when I’m wearing my servant clothes, prayer shawl, hospital dress, sporting gear or being in the ‘witness box’ I will bring Him praise either vocally or by my bearing.

Ray Hawkins. Oct. 31st 2016.


Sunday, October 23, 2016

The Lingerie Hero

I blushed as I asked her the question. Her wide-eyed, innocent expression made it worse. For her a question asked many times before. But for me, a new experience.
“Where will I get a nightdress?”
Then, to cap my male embarrassment with stupidity, I added with an air of jocularity, “Not for myself of course. It’s for my wife.”

Mentally kicking myself, I took the escalator to the first floor. Each clickety click of the ride I was haunted by the salesgirl’s humourless look. “She must have thought I was some sort of nut” I mumbled to myself. In a sort of reflex action I looked around to see if anyone had heard my self-criticism. With a sigh of relief I saw that they hadn’t.

In that frame of mind I stood at the top of those moving stairs. All around were garments for the gentler sex to weaken the stronger sex. Women staff were everywhere. There wasn’t a male in sight. I began to feel like a mouse in a cat’s home. My male ego cringed before foundation garments, lace panties and other unmentionables. Glancing right, left, and to the rear I could see no-one I knew. So, collecting the shattered remnants of my confidence so carefully built up[ over the past few days, I propelled myself through the lingerie department. I came to a standstill at my destination amidst the nightdresses and pyjamas.

There I stood in my charcoal blue suit, brownish hat and flushed cheeks. With the background of multi-coloured nighties I felt even more self-conscious and conspicuous.
“O horrors,” I thought, “What if I meet somebody I know?” Just then, one of the saleswomen approached me. She was a tall, slim, dark haired woman in her early thirties. Her pleasant smile, plus her charming, friendly and business-like manner put me more at ease. Mentally I said “Thank goodness” for she did not have that slinky walk which I had associated with this department.
“Can I help you? Are you a salesman?”
“Well, no” I managed to smile. I wished I was one but added, “I’d like to look at some nightdresses. I want to buy a Christmas present for my wife.”

She asked me the amount I was willing to pay. I told her an amount. To be honest, I felt that the estimate was quite generous, especially as there didn’t seem to be anything to the garments. When the saleslady told me that the prices went up to fifty or sixty dollars (and dearer elsewhere) I nearly hiccupped. In one breath I was revealed as a skinflint. Still, necks can be stretched but dollars can’t. So my estimate stuck.
Then began a new phase in my ordeal. I was walked up and down aisles where these dainty items hung. There were long ones, short ones, lace ones and plain ones. The woman pulled them from out of draws, from under the counter and from behind curtains. I was shown specials, discontinued lines and the most up-to-date fashions. My mind reeled under the impact. Picturing my wife in some of them sent me from suppressed laughter to embarrassed delight.

Suddenly the saleslady was called away for a few moments. There I was left holding three or four different shapes, sizes and colours of night attire. Boy, was I feeling queer. If anyone had appeared who I knew I think I would have dropped the lot and run. Silliest thing of all was that I didn’t know my wife’s size. Wanting it to be a surprise I hadn’t asked her, and I sire wouldn’t ask anyone else. But I remembered hearing her say that she had lost weight. She boasted that now she could get into some S.W. dresses. So, when asked I had knowingly said, “S.W. please.”

Then the colour had to be chosen. From memory I began to recall the various colours of my wife’s nighties. For this I was acclaimed as a rare male. “My husband wouldn’t have a clue what I wore” the woman said. “Some husbands must be blind” I thought. “Still, that’s their business.” The more I lingered over the nighties, the more I was lost in the land of indecision. Short or long? Blue, red, green or what? Close the eyes and pick? Hardly. O well, a decision has to be reached. Here goes.
“I’ll take … that shorties one there. Yes, that’s right. The apricot coloured one with the white lace in front.” With bold decision my mind found peace. My shoulders straightened. My confidence came creeping back.

Swapping cash for the parcel I said as a parting shot, “Sure hope my wife likes it!” With a twinkle in her eyes the saleslady assured me that my wife would be overjoyed. I felt ten feet tall as I walked away.

Going down the stairs, as the escalator only went  up, I began seeing myself as one who had just conquered some untamed territory. I was the hero of the lingerie ‘jungle.’ I could hardly wait for Christmas. At our place this is always a time of delight. But as our children woke us up in the wee small hours of the morning I became torn between delight and despair. What would she say? Would she really like it? Would it fir? Did the colour suit her?
As she unwrapped the small parcel my questions were joined by her “What is it?” Her eyes widened with surprise and delight and perhaps a little unbelief as she took it out and unfolded it. Even before I received a big hug and a soft “Thank you” I knew the ordeal had been worth it.

Unfortunately, it was too small. So it had to be changed. Did I ride the escalator once more? Did I brave the stares of the women and mingle nonchalantly amongst the lingerie? Did I boldly say, “A bigger size please”? Not on your life! My wife did that. I stood on guard at the base of the stairs.

This was perhaps my earliest foray into writing many, many years ago.

©Ray Hawkins Oct. 22 2016.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

The Decay of the West.

Have you taken a look at those in charge of individual Nations and their Governments? The American Presidential elections is taking front and centre attention of moral, ethical and character values and we forget leaders elsewhere. Whoever wins the coming U.S.A Presidency the Nation will actually lose! On what assessment is that made? Proverbs 14:34: ‘Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people.’ The word for ‘sin’ points to the evil nature of a person which has no Godly restraints on it.

What is meant by Righteousness?

Being an Israelite the writer views it from a covenant relationship and the Pentateuch.  That meant amongst other things observing the Law, statutes and judgements given by God to and through Moses. This is beautifully summed in the Ten Commandments.  When the Western Nations turned to Christianity they wove these Commandments into their National psyche. The best summary of these is actually from the lips of Jesus. Love God and love your neighbour as yourself. Righteousness therefore isn’t a theory but an inner condition lived out in a social context.

What is being demonstrated today in many nations previously influenced by the Christian faith is a repudiation of the Ten Commandments. With that emerges a society without a cohesive framework of relationships. In fact, the best description of what is emerging is found in Judges 21:25: ‘In those days there was no King in Israel; everyone did what was right in their own eyes.’ The result as recorded was chaotic and depressive. May I be allowed to paraphrase that verse for our scene today. ‘In our day there was no Ten Commandments in operation in our Society. Governments and individuals did as they pleased.’

Another aspect of Righteousness which exalts according to the Bible is found in Genesis 12:2-3. ‘I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you; and in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.’  Nations bear testimony to this truth in their histories.  As Israel is being isolated more and more and that even by some Christian Denominations so too the downside of what God said to Abram is evident.

Proverbs 14:34 is stressing more than personal responsibility. It confronts corporations, National Governments and communities regarding true righteousness. Therefore this requires leadership from Governments founded on principles of Justice and Truth from a higher authority than pressure from lobby groups. The Nations who once held individual lives as sacred from the womb to the tomb have surrendered to abortion and euthanasia. Why? Evolution has usurped the mystery of Creation according to Genesis. The complex issue of refugees is compounded by terrorism and mass infiltration which changes national culture. However, the delays in processing claims and the neglect to provide for their basic needs is an indictment on the World. In saying that, it must be stressed that it is those nations influenced by the Christian faith who are in the forefront of caring. More could be said about marriage, family, morality, child abuse, corruption in high and low places and family violence. Whether we want to admit it or not these are symptoms arising out of a walking away from righteousness, truth and justice.

As Christians we live in a morally and spiritually decaying world. In facts, according to 1 John 5:19 it is a world under the dominance of the Devil. Can you wonder, therefore, why righteousness, justice, truth and Bible based morality are frowned upon and undermined! In such circumstances we have a choice. Capitulate or agitate! Silence is safe but is frowned upon by our Heavenly Father. Not all of us can articulate our convictions but we can live out those famous words in Joshua 24:15b “as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

©Ray Hawkins October 16 2016.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

The Power of 'Oneness.'

There are any number of ‘how to’ books on the market offering steps to success. This could be for personal lifestyle, business, church, sport or relationships. Each will have varying degree of usefulness. What they endeavour to do is emulate what the Bible has already outlined. Funny thing is, people would rather spend big sums for conferences, DVD’s etc. than read God’s word.
Whenwe embark upon any ministry adventure as a team of mixed personalities, backgrounds and strengths/weaknesses what principle do we need to grasp? The reading from Philippians offers us some clues. In this letter by Paul from prison he seeks to encourage the church in its mission. In chapter 1:27 he urges them to live their lives in a manner worthy of the Gospel. We may adapt that for our purposes and say ‘let us serve each other and the community in a worthy way for Christ’s honour. The way it begins is in the same verse. Stand in one spirit, strive with one mind.

One-ness is a Biblical principle for effective teamwork, ministry, worship and fellowship. This isn’t easy as we all have our histories, strengths, weakness, pride, prejudices, fears and dreams. Any such gathering is fraught with danger. How does the Holy Spirit take such a diverse group and make us an effective team? By dealing with each of us and drawing our lives into line with His will and our minds focused upon Him as Lord.

Throughout Philippians there is this ‘oneness’ stated and implied. Chapter 2:2 stresses it with ‘be of the same mind, having the same love being in full accord and of one mind.’ Oneness isn’t ‘blandness.’ It is actually refreshing, creative, therapeutic and evangelistic! Oneness gives direction but allows each the privilege of helping the other by endorsing their strengths and compensating for their weakness. Being focused on and obedient to Christ means we esteem the other team members more than we value our egos. Should there be a clash about anything it needs to be faced and remedied. As in the case of Syntyche and Euodia (Philippians 4:2) this may require the wisdom of a third party.

This principle is the outworking of the Lord’s High Priestly prayer in John 17:21 – 23. There He prays for this oneness to be known and shown for it reflects the oneness of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. One of the out-workings of this oneness is to make the world believe the Father sent the Son as Saviour.  What the anti-Christ forces aim to do it cause division and thereby hinder the testimony of the Gospel. Unfortunately the carnal nature of self- intoxicated believers unintentionally offers assistance to Satan's endeavours. That's judgement reserved for a future date unless repented of and restitution made.

In chapter 2:5 Paul puts the onus upon each person to be committed to this principle. How it comes about is reinforced by the word ‘let’. Each of us are accountable for giving the Holy Spirit permission to focus our minds on Christ. The cross should always humble us, thrill us and motivate us. Because of it we by faith proclaim Him Lord. One glorious day we will join with all the redeemed and holy angels and liberated creation and proclaim Jesus as Lord to the glory of God the Father.

Therefore, within ministry and cogreational worship we have the privilege and challenge to live out the oneness the Holy Spirit has worked in. Amen!

©Ray Hawkins Oct 9th 2016.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Aristarchus – the Un-phased

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 he 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.
Ray Hawkins Oct 2nd  2016