Sunday, October 29, 2017

Don't play with the fire.

Yahweh’s spectacular rescue mission on behalf of Israel could have produced a sense of national complacency. He watched over them, opened the Red sea for them, provided for them, protected them, judged them and brought them to the desert of Sinai. That sense of smugness changed at Mount Sinai. His dramatic ‘appearance’ in thunder, lightning, with thick cloud and fire flashing created fear. A realisation of God’s glory and holiness made them tremble. The Lord God who redeemed was to be obeyed not played with. We too must remember He is the unchanging God as Hebrews 12:29 reminds us, ‘Our God is a consuming fire.’ Fortunately abiding in Christ is our safety ‘gear.’

When the Tabernacle and Priesthood were being instituted the family of Aaron was given the Priesthood. Such a meeting place and ministry were unique. Both were set apart from the everyday and linked to the very character of Yahweh.  The ordination for the Priesthood recorded in Leviticus 8 and 9 is a very impressive and symbolic ritual. Aaron and his four sons had detailed instructions to follow. Something possessed Nadab and Abihu, to imagine they had a better way to perform the required sacrificial ritual. They had chosen to enter into the precincts of the Tabernacle to do their own thing. They would worship or serve God as they thought best. They took their censers and kindled a fire using unauthorised elements. It was rejected as ‘strange fire.’ Here was a serious breach of trust, an act of disrespect and a challenge to the authority of the Lord. 

Judgement was swift. Fire fell from heaven and they died. Their death was to be a testimony to the danger of abusing the grace and glory of God. Why? ‘You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name’ Exodus 20:7. The Lord had to impress upon the nation that ministry, worship and God’s character and commands must not be trifled with.

Leviticus 10:9 sees the Lord add to the ordination requirement, ‘you and your sons are not to drink wine or other fermented drink whenever you go into the tent of meeting, or you will die.’ Does this give us a clue to what caused Nadab and Abihu to act so irresponsibly? The
Lord requires those who worship Him and, more so those who minister before Him, to be clear headed and self‒controlled. It is interesting to note that the kings of Israel had similar obligations. (Proverbs 31:4–5) If we consider ourselves as ‘Kings and Priests’ in the service of the Lord God do such restrictions apply today?

Leviticus 10:10–11: ‘You must distinguish between the holy and the common, between the unclean and the clean, and you must teach the Israelites all the decrees the Lord has given them through Moses.’ The history of Israel details the conflict between His holiness and the tendency of the nation to drag it down. Leviticus 21:6.says, ‘They (priests) must be holy to their God and must not profane the name of their God. Because they present the offerings made to the Lord by fire, the food of their God, they are to be holy.’ Malachi’s account of the moral and religious attitude of the priests and people of his day makes depressing reading. ‘You profane it (God’s Name) by saying of the Lord’s table, ‘It is defiled’, and of its food, ‘it is contemptible.’ And you say, “What a burden!” and you sniff at it contemptuously’ Malachi 1:12–13.

Today the ministry of the Church is a far cry to that of the Tabernacle. However there are certain principles which are unchanging in both realms. Ministers of the Gospel are to uphold the holiness of the Eternal God, the integrity of the Cross and the uniqueness of the person and work of Jesus Christ. Familiarity can breed contempt or coarseness with sacred things. A healthy fear of our Lord and a desire to honour His word will be our safeguard. There will be various ways of presenting a message to a wide range of audiences. However, the servant of the Lord has no authority to alter the ‘fire’ which God has entrusted to him or her.

©Ray Hawkins October 29 2017.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

God's will - our Joy.

There are books galore about guidance, knowing the will of God and related subjects. Most are helpful and motivational. Fortunately, Jesus didn't have the books by religious or secular gurus to explain how many steps you need to be sure of where you are going. He had a direct link with the One who would guide Him. Also, Jesus relied upon a book to refresh His mind and calling. Today, that book is maligned or marginalised to the detriment of a faith relationship with the Lord.

Christians know that doing the will of God is fundamental to their life, worship and service and the joy inherent in them all. Jesus made a promise to His followers in John 15:11."These things I have spoken to you that my joy may be in you and your joy may be filled." (Nestle's Greek text). Therefore, if the joy Jesus knew and which carried Him through the cross can be ours, what is the key to it?  Defining the source of His joy pushes us to realising it is 'doing His Father's will." John 7:16-17 reveals an unbreakable, invisible and invincible link which wrapped itself around Jesus and The Father. 'Jesus answered them and said, "My doctrine is not mine, but His that sent me. If any man will do His will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself."'

Why then are there so many miserable and spineless Christians roaming around churches today? They have no doctrinal strength in their mind and no joy in their heart. Why? Because they are either ignorant of, or playing loose with the will of God! It was the joy of doing the Father's will which gave added strength to Christ on the cross. It is that joy which He gives to fair dinkum, true blue disciples. (Australian slang for faithful, committed people). Peter wrote about such folk in 1 Peter 1:8 'Having not seen (Him) you love ... yet believing you rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory.' The believers to whom Peter wrote were experiencing their own form of Calvary. What bound them to their Cross and turned it into a platform of praise and joy? Love for Jesus which grew out of Faith in Him which was woven in them when they heard the Gospel of the Cross. Now they were able to see beyond the pain to the glory of an unfading inheritance.

That invisible, invincible and incredible link between the true blue believer and Christ stems from the Father. This is grasped from Matthew 17:5. There, on what we call 'the mount of Transfiguration' came The Father's expressed will: "This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased; hear Him!" Why is this important? Let the apostle John explain. 'He that does the will of God abides forever.' ( 1 John 2:17) 'This is His (The Father's) commandment, that we should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ...' (1 John 3:23). What do we know about the Name, that is the very person we call Jesus? Read the Old Testament for insights to the promised One. Read the Gospels to understand about the Word (title for Jesus) becoming flesh and blood and  His dependence upon the Will of The Father. Read the other books to discern how the Holy Spirit unveiled The Son in, to and through the Apostles to us.

Many are the fruits of knowing and doing the will of the Father, expressed to us in the person and work of Jesus. As you set your heart and mind on knowing and doing 'His will' a sense of the wonder of unquenchable joy infiltrates and permeates your life. That's summed up by the apostle Paul in his "Rejoice, and again I say, Rejoice!"

Copyright 22 Oct. 2017. Ray Hawkins.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Joy that defeats Darkness.

Jesus is never said to have laughed, yet He did show a sense of humour. We gather that from such statements as “why do you see the speck in your neighbour’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye.” Then there is “I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” Even some of His serious and theologically important self-descriptions have that touch. Consider Jesus as ‘the door’ or ‘the Bread from heaven’, their importance is sharpened by the imagery presented which could cause a wry smile to appear.

However there is something far more captivating about Jesus. It is more lasting than humour and more durable. It isn’t spelt out but portrayed. Whether a prostitute or centurion, a child or a man like Nicodemus, it drew them to Him. In His presence they sensed “He welcomes me. I am valued as a person. I am important to Him.” Jesus may have summed up His captivating spirit in John 15:11. “I have said these things to you, so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.” (Emphasis added).

Jesus shared this as He was about to enter the darkest experience of anyone at any time in all of eternity. Here His joy would be under extreme pressure as noted in His words to His Father in Gethsemane. He knew that on the cross when the sin of the World for all of time would envelope Him, the power of darkness would be brutal. What sustained Him? What radiant power within his spirit took hold of the darkness and overcame it? Hebrews 12:2 tells us: Jesus the pioneer and perfector of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken His seat at the right hand of the throne of God.”

What was the radiant joy that trampled the darkness? Many aspects would figure in the answer. Among them would be the vindication of the 39 books which promised the coming of the Messiah. There is found in the Passover ceremony, in Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53 the enveloping power of darkness which tried to swallow ‘the Lamb of God.’ The removal of the curse caused by Adam’s treachery and the ‘Death’s’ bondage over Mankind. No longer would individuals be subjected to Satan’s accusations and blackmail. Christ had paid sin’s price and cleansed the believer (Colossians 2:13-15). To top it all the despised Servant has been given the Name above every name and before whom all will bow.

Jesus, I sense, summed all that and much, much more in the phrase: “I seek not to do my own will, but the will of Him who sent me” (John 5:3o. 6:38. 8:16). That was His Joy! That was what He was bestowing upon His disciples. They too were about to be swallowed up by the bitter darkness when all seemed lost. Yet Jesus still placed within their hearts His fragrant promise of coming joyfulness. John 17 Jesus promised them they would see Him in His glory and be with Him forever. That joy would only be know after the bitter bleakness of the crucifixion and the despair of the following days. Christ’s resurrection fulfilled His promise not only about rising from the dead, but of enjoy His abiding joy. After Pentecost this would be tested time and again, but never conquered.

Joy is the eternal fragrance of Christ’s resurrection. When a person hears the gospel, understands then believes it strongly enough to ask Christ to be Saviour and Lord, joy takes hold. The Ethiopian eunuch In Acts 8 highlights that fact. Across the centuries that joy has never diminished. The Devil’s attempt to cover then smother a believer in a return of darkness to the soul crumbles as it meets the resurrection life of Christ. The energy of joyfulness is sustained by abiding in Christ. This is assured as His word abides in the believer. The unleashing of the joy of the Lord isn’t necessarily an emotional feeling. Rather it is a result of a relationship stemming from doing the Father and the Son’s will.

Next week. What does Scripture record as the unquestionable will of God to all?

©Ray Hawkins 15th October 2017.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

The Energy of a Joyful Heart.

There is enough going on to crush your spirit. There’s no escaping its ‘arrows’. The effect it can, and usually does have, is to make a person a ‘punctured tyre.’ Sure you can keep going, but the movement is hard work and ultimately damaging. The writer of Provers summed it up this way:  A merry heart makes a cheerful countenance: but by sorrow of the heart the spirit is broken.’ Proverbs 15:13. He also wrote in 17:22, ‘A broken spirit dries the bones.’

We live in a ‘wacky’ world. Do yo agree? Do you find it nigh on impossible to have the inner energy required to create a merry heart that doesn’t evaporate? Sure, we have a pleasant moments which touch us and then vanish. Is there something which will grip us, take root within and revive a broken spirit? If there is, and it has a proven track record, are you interested?

The writer of Proverbs likened it to a merry heart. Trouble is we can be merry one moment and mournful the next.  A far better word which also has its own energy power- plant is ‘Joy.’ The term must be linked to someone, something beyond a nice, fuzzy feeling, otherwise it too will crash and burn. The best example from Scripture has to be Jeremiah. This prophet was energised by joy amidst spirit depressing, ‘bone’ crushing experiences.

This prophet had it tough. Branded a traitor, his sermons wasted on the callous and indifferent and being shoved down a stinking well as a prison should crush the spirit. To top it all off, he witnessed the destruction of his beloved city Jerusalem, then was forced to go to Egypt never to return. What legacy did he leave us to verify the case for being energised by joy in a joyless situation?

The book of tears, Lamentations which is the 25th book in the Bible, reveals the inner energy of joy. This energy is linked with hope grounded in an unconditional promise. Here are Jeremiah’s power-packed words. “This I recall to my mind, therefore I have hope. It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness. The Lord is my portion; therefore I will hope in Him. The Lord is good to them that wait for him, to the soul that seeks him" 3:21-25.

Was the prophet delirious in his brokenness? No! Where then did he rest his heart? On what was his hope built? The promise of Yahweh that the Messiah would come through Israel. No apostasy of the nation, no captivity by Babylon or others, no device of the Devil would prevent what we call the Christmas event. Jeremiah recorded “Thy words were found, and I did eat them; and thy word was unto me joy and rejoicing of mine heart.” Jeremiah 15:16. He also believed the promise that in the future of the nation. “It shall be to me (God) a name of joy, a praise and honour before all the nations of the earth …” Jeremiah 33:9.

Notice the energy supply line. God’s promises, recorded in the Bible, provide hope which can be ‘eaten’ by faith and create joy. In turn this dissolves the darkness of despair and ‘pumps up the tyre’ of the heart. There is something beyond description when a person today feeds upon God’s Word. In the words of Scripture, ‘The joy of the Lord is your strength.’ A faith relationship grounded on the rock of His promise producing hope that energises the spirit.

Next week: What was the joy of Jesus that He promised to share? John 15:11

©Ray Hawkins October 8th 2017.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

health and well-being

Travellers wanting to fly must go through security check points. Electronic surveillance, sniffer dogs and body searches are designed to uncover explosive materials, illicit compounds and dangerous weapons. This is to ensure the safety of others as well as the individual.

The psalmist realised his need to be ‘explosives free’ in his journey through life. “Search me O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts” was his prayer. He wanted God to give him a security check. Why? The reason is quoted by Jeremiah: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it? (17:9).

In September 2017 a city in Germany had a number of city blocks evacuated. Why? Because a world war bomb was unearthed on a construction site. It was defused. There are many spiritual bombs often long buried in a person’s heart which one day could explode. The Lord is the ‘Bomb’ unearth-er so as to defuse and destroy the destructive devices of the carnal nature. How sad it is to see lives, relationships, fel
lowships blown apart because a person has put up a sign to God ‘do not enter.’

Doctor or other health professionals are there to provide us with a report on our well-being, health and fitness. They also can recommend the treatments for any ailments causing us concerns. The psalmist in psalm 26:2 has asked the Lord to “Examine me, O Lord, and prove me; try my reins and my heart.” There are times when we have to summon up our courage to seek a health check. We don’t want to know if there’ something amiss. This can apply to our relationship with God. Such an attitude is self-destructive. We can call Jesus the ‘Great Physician’ but steer clear of His surgery. Trouble with that is, one day we will stand before Him anyway but this time as our Judge.

Christ Jesus also has His health manual for us to do some self-examinations. The Bible is a book for spiritual, moral, mental and relational health and well-being. To disregard it is a sure recipe for unnecessary distress, broken relationships, loss of motivation for worship, witness and walking in truth and righteousness. 2 Corinthians 13:5 challenges us with ‘Examine yourselves, whether you are in the faith; prove your own selves.’ We can be in the ‘the faith’ yet not really enjoying it because of some ungodliness. We can also be a ‘virus’ infecting the life of someone in our family or circle of friends because of our mean spirit and flaying tongue. That is dangerous, especially when we worship the Lord and share in Communion. The account in 1 Corinthians 11:29-30 show the personal and corporate ill-health when a Christian is out of godly well-being. That is why we need to constantly obey 1 Corinthians 11:28 ‘Let a man examine himself. And so let him eat of that bread and drink of that cup.’

There is an increasing tendency for those seeking good health to have a personal trainer. That man or woman will put you through the various regimes to build you up and improve your life. The aim is only achieved as you push through the pain barriers, go beyond what you perceive as your limitations. Your coach is there for your fitness and you must rust him or her. This also applies to our relationship with our spiritual and moral personal trainer. The Holy Spirit has His regime for us to be able to walk the narrow way, stand strong against the forces of evil, and run the race set before us.

That involves kneeling before the Lord in worship, feeding upon His word, drinking of the Living Water, sharpening your relationships with faithfulness. Sometimes the personal trainer will take us through what is felt like ‘the trial of fire.’  Opposition to our faith, hurdles of hardship to jump, mountains of difficulties to climb and valleys of grief and confusion to negotiate. When you emerge from any or all of these you will realise that your personal trainer, the Holy Spirit, has been with you all the way. You may have felt alone but His promise is to be with you all the time, all the way. To use the analogy from Zechariah 13:9, “I will … refine them as silver is refined, and will try them as gold is tried: they shall call on my name, and I will hear them: I will say, [you are] my people: and they shall say, the Lord is my God!”

Lord search me! Examine me! Try me! And equip me to be your witness, to walk honourably, to worship you thankfully, to express your wisdom graciously and to express your winsomeness constantly. Amen”
Copyright Ray Hawkins 1 October 2017.