Sunday, November 27, 2016

Whose Prisoner are you

The apostle Paul stood as a prisoner before Festus and King Agrippa, in Caesarea  The record is in Acts 25-26. They heard the greatest offer the heart can hear. Paul’s news was that God was offering forgiveness for sins committed against Him. The cross was the price paid by Jesus, the One foretold in the Jewish Scriptures. 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. Agrippa teased Paul by inferring he, Agrippa, was almost persuaded. This  sums up two of the three responses to the message of the cross. The cry of Festus still echoes through the lips of others to-day. "You're mad!" Agrippa also has many ‘spiritual’ descendants who, like him, are ‘almost’. In that state they die.

Paul, a shackled prisoner though he was he spoke as a liberated man. Paul knew he had a destiny with Jesus. Here was Paul a prisoners of faith  with an unshakeable hope in the risen Christ. Festus, Agrippa, Bernice and the others failed to realise they too were prisoners. Dressed in regal attire they were inwardly shackled by sin, guilt and fear. They wore the iron chains, not around their body, but around 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 definition is in the literal sense of being in chains for his faith. The other was in the spiritual sense. 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.

Paul a prisoner of Faith spoke to prisoners of unbelief.  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.).’  Prisoners of unbelief throw out their taunts as they flaunt their unrestricted lifestyle. But in the silence  the fears of the future or the 'skeletons' of the past come to haunt. 

The Christian life is a paradox.
When Christ is our Saviour we are set free from condemnation by God's Word.
We are delivered from the kingdom of Darkness.
We are made clean within from the offending lifestyle of our past.
When Jesus is our Lord we discover the chains of gratitude, devotion and hope.
These become and expression of a relationship which leads to Heaven. They also say we are His ambassadors in chains of glory.
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 prison only to die disappointed. Those who reject the bonds of Christ Jesus live under the same disappointment. Their indifference to and rejection of Jesus and His invitation to life appears bold and carefree. Death without hope awaits.
As a prisoner of Christ, Paul found Humanity's true environment. 
This is true for all who are Christ's! 
It leads from this life, through death, into His presence.

Ray Hawkins November 27 2016.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Christ's return, not on the Horizon!

Earthquakes, wars and political upheaval beneath a (promoted) climate change has aroused prophesy gurus. Of late, my T.V. preachers are all warning that Jesus return to earth is imminent. Some of them conclude with a spiel to get their free book for more details.
Now, I’m deeply committed to the reality of Christ’s return to earth to set up His promised Kingdom. However, if the Bible is reliable (I believe it is), then as preachers, teachers and disciples we need to inform people according to what it says. This requires not avoiding the straight out Biblical timeline with its insights into characters, events and nations. 
To say Jesus might return tonight or this year or soon will get some agitated or switched on to ‘religion.’ When it doesn’t eventuate the band of scoffers grow. So, let’s be honest in our presentations. There are certain prophetic events and personnel which haven’t yet stepped onto the world stage. Who knows, they might be out there somewhere, but they haven’t stepped up and out.

What do I mean?
If the book of Revelation is taken seriously (and it should be) then the following (just a short list) have to be operational. In Revelation 11 there is mention of the Jewish temple being in existence. It is being desecrated by antichrist forces. Jesus in Matthew 24 defined this as the setting up of the ‘desolating sacrilege’ as foretold by Daniel. When and how is unknown. However, it will be built as Jesus foretold and 2 Thessalonians 2 supports. At the moment Islam is attempting to deny Israel any right to the former temple mount. This must and will fail. Rebuilding of the temple will take place sometime, date unknown.

Daniel 12 talks about a time of trouble never before experienced on earth. Its duration is in two sections of 3 1/2 years. Although worldwide, its epicentre will be the land of Israel. During this time there will be 144,000 specially prepared Israeli evangelists of impeccable character and faith. They will be speaking about Jesus the Messiah. No attempt to deny them their tribal heritage or have a false religious group claim them will succeed. Revelation is clear, uncomplicated and definite in explaining who they are.

Add to all the above, wars, rumours of wars, apostasy, earth and heavens in upheaval plus a rampant antichrist this is horrid time. Revelation, and other prophetic Scriptures point to events not yet appearing on the horizon. They might be just out of sight but when they appear those alive at that time will be in no doubt the countdown has begun.

Am I presenting a case for ignoring the Biblical teaching about Christ’s return? Certainly not! What I am trying to do is put His return into its rightful setting. That setting deals with Israel and not the Church. Therefore, as Christians we should be living with a more pressing and expectant hope. That hope is plainly set out in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 and 1 Corinthians 15. It is that wonderful time of meeting Jesus in the air. When that happens 2 Corinthians 5:10 and Romans 14:10 takes place. It is accounting time, not for salvation but for being awarded the garland for faithfulness. And remember this, the Lord Jesus could very well call anyone of us out of this life and into His presence at any moment. Therefore, we must be ready to meet Him, face to face!

The Bible is insistent concerning Christ’s return. Those of us committed to the author and His message are under a burden to rightly explain it. As James 3 plainly says, we who are teacher are under greater judgement for what we teach.

To any who read this let me say, “Check out what I’ve written!” Sit down and read the Scriptures for yourself and let their plain, straightforward words speak to your heart.

©Ray Hawkins Nov. 20th 2016.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Beware of playing with 'Straw!'

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 this particular evening so the speaker changed his message. He spoke without notes from John 15. When he elaborated on verse 5, ‘Apart from me (Jesus) you can do nothing’ it was the defining moment for my understanding of ministry. The preacher, who in my twenty plus 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. The Bible defines it as being a co-labourer.

1 Corinthians 3:6 underscores the fact of God being 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 appoints 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, they work. 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 more 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 of His presence. 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 speaks of His redeeming grace and the gems highlight His prayers for His people.

The Lord desires to bless us in the ministry. This will be evident across time. He longs to reward us when He calls us home. Then it is accounting time! 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!

However, if in the great mercy of God we should receive any reward I think we would, in all honesty, follow the example set in 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.”’

Request: Lord I desire my efforts to be ‘fire resistant.’ May I be a co-labourer with you in which you express your ‘Gold, silver and precious gems’ and receive the glory due to your Name and ministry.  Amen!

Sunday, November 6, 2016

I was Swallowed by my wife's handbag.

I had seen it. Mouth open with zipper pulled right back. Here was a monster waiting a victim. Mary’s handbag had been placed on my favourite seat. As I moved towards it my eyes and mind became distracted by a television news item. Suffering short term memory loss, I decided to sit down. Then the nightmare began. 

As my rump squashed the handbag it came alive. It grabbed me. I resisted but the suction was too strong. Down, down, down I went past a forest of paper. I glimpsed such things as a car license, shopping list, an invitation to our grand-daughter’s children tea party and a shopper docket. Trying to cling onto of one was fruitless. In fact I cut my fingers on the sharp edges of the papers. At least my fall was softened by a moist tissue.

 There at the base of the bag I realised I was a captive in a fake leather, slightly faded voluminous and crowded bag. Cramped, confused and feeling claustrophobic, panic tried to ride roughshod over me. Being a man however I knew how to cope. I screamed! Unfortunately the soft sides of the bag muffled my cries. Taking a hold of myself I did what any self respecting, self controlled man would do. I lashed out and kicked the nearest item.

“Ouch!” That was silly; now I had a slight gash on my shin from a collection of keys lurking in the crevices like a metal spider.

Only one thing to do, climb! Light seemed to trickle down from above, casting shadows due to Mary’s wallet and credit card holder. Still I realised I had to escape. Loose change made my footing unstable as I searched for the comb I knew she carried. I fell. My face hit something hard yet sweet. A cough lolly. As I licked it I felt a renewed sense of vigour, found the comb under a piece of Lego. This was probably taken from our small grandson who had a habit of putting things in his mouth. I placed the comb, with much effort, against the bag’s side. Comb tooth, by comb tooth, I made my way upwards.

What the…? What was wrapping itself around my leg? What had fallen on my head? A sense of unease was only overcome when, in the dim light, I saw it was strands of grey hair. I never realised Mary’s hair was so strong. It was like Tarzan’s swinging vines. I kicked, shook and finally pulled my way clear.Who would have thought all those jokes about a woman’s handbag would prove so true? So much stuff closeted away in what I could now believe was similar to Dr. Who’s Tardis. Nervously I continued my climb. “Careful now,” I said to myself, “don’t fall over the edge into the secret compartment or you’ll never be found.”Drawing near to the top, I sighed with relief which soon gave way to despair. Fingers had hold of the zipper. Mary was home but danger lurked for me as she began to close the bag’s mouth. Was I about to be devoured? Would Mary ever wonder what had happened to me? And I hadn’t even kissed her that morning!
Tears of fear and frustration joined in a torrential outburst of anger. Too late! I was doomed to wander forever in Mary’s handbag. As I sank down in misery, a cry shattered my sorrow. My eyes flickered. Light penetrated. 
A voice spoke to me “Are you alright my darling? What’s happened to you? Why is the chair upside down? How did my bag become squashed and things scattered over the floor? Look at you, you’re a mess and that bruise on your head will need some ice.”

Uh oh! How could I ever tell her the truth?
Ray Hawkins 6.10.2016.