Sunday, March 26, 2017

I want to break free

Port Arthur, Tasmania, convict era prison complex.
The music group Queen had a very popular song “I want to break free.” It expresses what many desire and few attain. To break free, as some have found, can cause more frustration, uncertainty and tears than their previous state. According to Jesus, to be free demands a special realm, a deliberate commitment and constant attention. He said that Truth will set you free! He claimed to be that realm when saying “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life” in John 14:6. Therefore, it’s only in a committed faith relationship to and with Jesus that a person begins to understand what freedom is.

Why then the need for giving your faith relationship with Jesus constant attention? Because there are moral and spiritual forces opposed to Christ Jesus and His lifestyle for His followers. It is also necessary because something within our human nature has a sneaky way of abusing the grace of God and spoiling freedom’s realm. The wonder of our Lord’s mercy to us is the risk He takes for us to learn to live, learn and love in Freedom’s domain. By the ministry of the Holy Spirit we are led into a deeper and refining relationship with the Saviour. In walking in Truth according to His word we discover things about ourselves which needs forgiving, cleansing, refining, restoring, undertaking and achieving.

If only each of us was given the leisure and the peace to come to grips with all of the above. Each area is challenged by people and events, some good, some not good at all, meaning we need to know the Truth, apply the Truth, be guarded by the Truth. For this to be an ongoing reality requires the individual to take seriously Jesus’ direction as to where Truth resides. “Your word is Truth” Jesus declared in His prayer to God the Father (John 17:17). It is God’s Word which informs us of our need and points us to where that need is answered. However, we are required to correctly apply the Truth and not to dilute it or add our ‘ingredients and prejudices’ to it. Within the letters of the New Testament the writers, Paul, John, Peter, Jude, confront the ‘merchants of prejudice, poison and perversity.’

In the next couple of weeks we will endeavour to check out those who seek to rob a man or woman of his and her freedom in Christ. Some are well meaning. Some have evil intent. Some are simply na├»ve or ignorant of God word, grace and patience. Just briefly for today I would like to point out those who, in Paul’s words, want to put you back into bondage (Galatians 2:4). What he was furious about was the insidious way in which those who believed all should live under the Mosaic Law led people into error. They were trying to make Gentile believers in Christ surrender their freedom and to take upon themselves the yoke of the Law. That wasn’t merely the 10 Commandments but included the ceremonies, the judgements and statutes set out in Leviticus, Exodus and Deuteronomy.

The Law isn’t dead. But when we commit our lives to Christ Jesus we share in His death.
According to Romans 7:4 -7 we are dead to the Law and delivered from it. Does that mean we can do what we please? Hardly! For we have placed ourselves under the authority of Christ and receive His power to know and do His will. Another important passage has to deal with Christ as our High Priest. Those who place themselves under the bondage of the Law unconsciously (I believe) place themselves under the Aaronic Priesthood. In Hebrews 7:12 when Christ is our High Priest we experience a change of the Law. It is the realm of Grace and Truth, a much more liberating and at the same time very demanding realm. For in it we must ever be vigilant and assessing our inner and outer life under the searchlight of the Truth! Peter sums up the challenge in 2 Peter 3:18. We are to grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ Jesus. The Law may have led us to Christ (Galatians 4) but having done its work we enter a new realm of knowing Christ as the Truth and thereby being set free!

More next week.

©Ray Hawkins March 26th2017.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Christ's greatest challenger.

From a line-up of potential challengers to the Lord Jesus who would you choose as #1? Lucifer, Fame, Power, Sex and Money all are strong claimants. However, Jesus named just one of them as His greatest threat for the allegiance of individuals.

In Matthew 6:24 it is revealed as ‘Wealth’ (NRSV)! ‘No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.’

Christ’s words leave no wriggle room. History, Scripture and today’s media highlight the power, attraction and destructive power Mammon has over individuals, religious groups and corporations. When Mammon is life’s focal point it turns into a spiritual python whose embrace squeezes a person’s moral and life to death. As the Lord put it, Mammon will cause its devotee to despise God which takes him or her into hating God and His word.  Jesus also rankled the Pharisees with straight talking and parables about money Luke 12:13-21. 16:1-14. The first conflict in the fledgling church was due to Mammon’s embrace. Ananias and Sapphira tried to prove Christ’s words an empty threat and they became a tombstone testimony that what Jesus said is true (Acts5)!

Paul’s advice to Timothy which was to be passed onto those financially well off contained a warning and a challenge. 1 Timothy 6:10 is an unchanging truth ‘The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.’ The word for ‘eagerness’ is a picture of a person grasping after more and more of Mammon even though it is destroying health, family, friendships and faith. Prosperity preachers are breeding ‘pythons’ in their own lives and those who accept their teaching. The result is a wandering away and pierced with many pains!

There is a control mechanism presented in Scripture by which the Spirit of God uses to protect the life of a devoted disciple. 1 Timothy 6:17-19 uses such words as ‘set your hopes on God’, ‘Do good, [be] generous and ready to share’. The end result is ‘the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of life that really is life.’ I wonder if Paul was motivated to expand on what he had said in Acts 20:35 to the Ephesian elders, ‘The Lord Jesus…said “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”’

The sorrow seen Mammon power dictating life’s priorities, relationships and friendships is deep and lasting. Friends cut asunder when a lottery is won but not shared. Testimonies shatters and churches wrecked because the collection was siphoned. How many relationships destroyed in bitter battles over dispersal of money from a deceased estate! The list can go on and on. Those countries whose leaders amass large amounts of money whilst their people starve and beg for help. Such leaders and others need to think on Matthew 16:26: ‘What will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?’ An eternity of regret awaits. What is the good of having the largest bank balance when you are under a tombstone?

Jesus summed up His teaching on this matter with “Seek first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness…” It is this personal priority and accepting the cross of discipleship and stewardship will ‘Wealth’ be a servant not a god. The cross slays the ‘python’! A heart set on God’s kingdom keeps the heart focused.  It is better to be the widow of the two mites (Luke 21:2) unsung, unknown by any but Jesus than rich, religious and ruled by Mammon. To the rich whose focus in God’s rule and bear their cross, their wealth becomes a good work to meet the needy, suffering and afflicted. It is these acts of grace which honour to Christ, receive His commendation and become part of their treasure in Heaven!
Ray Hawkins March 19 2017.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

It's included in the price.

A young lass I knew was travelling on a plane and was invited to go from economy class to business class. The Stewards later asked her if she would like a drink, nibbles or something to eat during the flight. Imagining she had to pay for them and as she didn’t have any money, this young girl politely said “no thanks” even though she was extremely hungry and thirsty. What she didn’t know was the fact of merely being in that area meant what was offered was free. She hadn’t paid to go business class but had been permitted to join those already there. In a sense, she was participating in an act of grace. Ignorance of what that also included caused her to miss the treats.

I’ve thought about her experience and how it relates too many in their Christian life. When Jesus paid the price for our salvation included in it was every spiritual blessing and our eternal inheritance. He has invited us into a new realm and wants us to know and enjoy His grace. However, that requires each of us to find out the privileges, responsibilities and limitations of Christ’s realm of grace. This means we must avail ourselves of the ‘flight manual’ – the Scriptures. Being ignorant of what the Bible teaches impoverishes the spirit and prevents us from enjoying the journey.

We have not because we have not asked. We may not receive because we ask for the wrong thing. My young friend could have asked for alcohol but would have been refused, not because the Stewards would be unkind. Refusal would have been because of her age. I imagine that when the Holy Spirit politely refuses our requests it is for reasons of our welfare and protection.

Remember, ‘His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him’ 2 Peter 1:3. We are prone to latch onto the ‘life’ and ignore, or treat lightly the next key word, ‘godliness’. In a sordid world which tries to ‘gate-crash’ my life, your life, and relationships, I find godliness a constant challenge. However, I need not collapse under the sordid weight of impurity ‘thrown’ at me. What is my protection? The power Christ supplies. Trouble is, that power must be allowed to flow. Where do we tap into its flow? In the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour. Where do we find that knowledge? In the Bible! But the knowing implies the allowing of it to have free access to and through our mind, heart and actions.

Ignorance of God’s word isn’t bliss, it is bondage. For when we trip-up in our Christian life we don’t understand our need for repentance and restitution and God’s grace. It is also self-destructive to our joy in service, worship and fellowship as our self-nature dominates and not the standard of the Lord. Without a growing appreciation and understanding of our standing with and in Christ Jesus we will be blown around and over by false teachings and emotionalism. Without a devotion to Jesus Christ that is enriched by being taught His word we cannot be blessed.

This is why the Bible is so merciless in its warning to and condemnation of false teachers, false prophets and false pastors. They are robbers of God’s blessing to His people. They muddy the clear spring of the Water of life promised in and with the Holy Spirit. They violate the character and integrity of God by their misrepresentation and inaccurate interpretation of the plain teaching of God’s text. James 3:1 makes this threat: ‘Not many of you should become teachers … for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.’ Jesus goes even further in His warning to those intent on self -adulation and deliberate falsification of God’s word. “I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; go away from me, you evil doers.’

May each of us grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ!


Sunday, March 5, 2017

the Deadly Fossil

Fossil finds generate news items, especially in scientific papers. They are interesting to look at and even debate. However, they are a testimony to their deadness. This is especially true within the realm of Christian ministry. 1 Kings 13 has a depressing story of a ‘fossilized prophet.’ The amount of detail preserved in Scripture concerning this man must surely be as a warning for all in the service of the Lord. The same applies to all who attend the life and worship of a local congregation. As the years roll over us and we deal with the rawness of people’s experiences we need to be on guard. We should to be alert to any hardening influences which want to creep into our spirits. The ‘Old Prophet’ syndrome is easily caught and hard to overcome. Don’t let it be your obituary notice in Heaven’s log book.

How did this man, unnamed, become spiritually hard, barren and ‘deadly?’ He would not have set out to become that way. The paralysis of the spirit must have been insidious, slow and poisonous. His call to serve Yahweh was during the reign of Solomon. When that king died the nation was divided into the North and South kingdoms. Jeroboam established two rival religious and political centres. Their aim was to seduce his supporting tribes from going to Jerusalem in accordance with the Law. It worked! It was idolatrous but it worked. Did the old prophet speak up for Yahweh’s law and worship? Did he denounce such treason? Did he lose heart because no one seemed to listen? Did he think that silence was safety? What forces were in play to keep him in Bethel which no longer meant the house of God? His subsequent behaviour revealed the hardening power of compromise and indifference to the Word of God!

We live in a multi–cultural and litigious society. As such it’s hostile to the moral and spiritual doctrines of Scripture. The safety of silence can become a wonderful hideout. Whilst our Lord did call us to be wise as serpents and harmless as doves He didn’t ask us to be mute. Nor does He expect us to back pedal on what His word declares. Ministry has to be gracious, not necessarily popular.

We are repeatedly told in Scripture not to be false witnesses. The Old Prophet was just that in two ways, at least. He was false to his calling and false in what he said to the young man of God. The unnamed man of God knew his mission and carried it out. He was on his way home in accordance with the Lord’s word. Then along comes this senior prophet and deceives him. Was the young man’s acceptance due to respect for the age, perhaps imagining God had changed His mind? Why would this fossilized prophet want to have the young man come home for ‘supper’? Was it nostalgia? Was it seeking to impress?  Whatever it was he became an instrument of death to an unsuspecting young man. For God keeps His word whether it be a warning or a blessing. The young man was attacked and killed by a lion. One of the saddest aspects of this matter is how the ‘fossilized prophet’ is portrayed. He showed no remorse, no conscience nor repentance over what he did or what happened to the young ‘man of God’. The young man was led astray by someone who should have been a mentor but turned out to be a traitor. Within our churches today such characters move with worldly approval, even success. They are faithless and compromising ministers and priests who have lost touch with the Lord Jesus and His word. Sad to say they cause spiritual and ministerial death to many bright and faithful men and women of God.

Another question seeks an answer. How were the Fossilized Prophet’s family affected by his betrayal of the Law’s doctrine and duty? Would they have had any interest in the things of Yahweh? If they bothered to go to any form of worship how genuine could it have been? To cap it all would his treatment of the ‘man of God’ be a stumbling block too high to climb? Did he care? There is such a high price to pay with wide ranging consequences when you are comfortable with the reign of a Jeroboam. We may debate about whether the 'fossilized prophet' would be saved or not, ultimately that is God's decision, based on other matters in the old prophet's life. If saved, his appearance before his Creator and Judge will be traumatic, embarrassing and unrewarding

Fossils may hold pride of place in museums, but in Heaven they have no place of honour.