Sunday, November 19, 2017

Who is the Christ of Christmas

It is a valid point which a questioner raised. Who is the Christ you want to put back into Christmas? How do you know Him or even where to learn about Him? Certainly not from postcards or even lovely Sunday school stories (though they are often tell things about Him). Some pulpits are even dangerous in their explanation of Jesus as the Messiah. The best, safest and most interesting meeting point is the Bible’s account.

From Genesis to the Gospel there is an unveiling of the One promised and how to recognise Him when He arrives. This then leads into the challenge of making Him known to an unsympathetic world. The book of Acts and the following letters present the case for Jesus as the Son of god, the promised Saviour and the only One before whom we bow and say “my Lord and my God.”

A person either meets Jesus or misses Him through the dimension of faith in the Bible’s testimony. I like to say positive faith draws a person into Christ’s realm. Negative faith (a.k.a unbelief) locks Him out. There can be no Christmas without the reality of a person known as Jesus the Christ. There could never have been a Christmas without the event known as the cross of Calvary. There would not be this debate about His person and achievements without His personal resurrection from the tomb.  The following poem seeks to wrestle with the opening question and the choice positive or negative faith has on the outcome.

Jesus, who are you,
Friend or foe,
Beelzebub or Emmanuel,
Blasphemer or prophet,
How can we know?
The cross,
The cross will show
Who you are!

Jesus, what said the cross.
Victor or villain
Hanging in agony,
Fulfilling prophesy.
How can we know?
The tomb,
The tomb will show
Who you are!

Jesus, what said the tomb?
Conquered or conqueror,
Body decayed or glorified?
Guards, disciples know,
He's Risen!
Yes risen, and it shows
Who you are.

Jesus, what can I say
You're Emmanuel
Before whom I bow.
Now all can know
Jesus Christ, Saviour
Is who you are!

Now I understand who is the Christ of Christmas! He is Jesus!
Copyright Ray Hawkins Nov 26 2017.
Bethlehem's Warrior Baby is available at Christian bookshops and as an ebook.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

It's the Plastic's fault.

Plastic is so cunning. It was meant to be Humanity's great creation but has become a monster. It is taking over the world and environmentalists wring their hands in despair. Square miles of ocean are covered by plastic sheets, ropes, bottles et-cetera killing and maiming the sea and bird life. From cities to country roads Plastic blows free marring the beauty of the landscape. The strange thing is how this soulless commodity has been given 'life' by the attitude of people.

We blame it for its polluting and destructive power without accepting that we, not it, are the real problem. Plastic bottles don't jump out of cars, nor does bait wrapping sneak of the jetty to swim in the river. We who refuse to accept responsibility to recycle, capture and contain this  material are the dealers in death and despoliation. How often do we excuse ourselves by saying as a bottle is left at the camp site bench, "It's only one bottle.!" But 1 times a 100 left a day over a month mounts up.

We may not want to face the fact that the self-excusing tendency in this and other matters has been listed in literature. It is called 'the Adam syndrome.' Genesis chapter 3 holds the story of the blame game and excusing self of responsibility.  God had provided a safe and secure environment for Adam and Eve to enjoy. Part of the upkeep was  not to plunder two specially reserved trees. Tempted by one of the fruits and at the suggestion of the Devil, Eve took then enticed Adam to eat. I wonder where they threw the seed or the scraps? Pollution had its beginning right here.

Then came the blame game. Confronted by the Creator Eve blamed the Devil and Adam blames her. In actual fact Adam was sidestepping his responsibility and inferring God was to blame. This twisted self-righteousness has resided in the human heart ever since. Variations on the theme fill our courthouse drams and media outlets. From politicians to the general public, from pulpit to pew the use of the 'self-escape clause' dominates. Unfortunately, a day will come when each of us will have to give an account of our life and living, relationships and righteousness before the Person who sees heart, mind and motives.

The problem of Plastic is but a modern day expression of personal reluctance to accept responsibility for our actions. The results are catastrophic. People suffer, our environment withers, innocent creatures die and ultimately our personal integrity and well-being fades. The Bible uses the image of a falling short of a standard. Who set the standard? Genesis 3 records it. It is God's Word, His Standard, His righteousness. Because we not only fall short, we intentionally violate it and then cry "Unfair! Unfair!" when we suffer the consequences.

Is there any hope the problem symbolised by Plastic will be overcome. Yes! But is there any power available to redress the self-excusing heart and its blaming of others? Yes! It begins and ends in  knowing, understanding and accepting the Biblical revelation about God's grace and forgiveness. The problem of the heart and its falling short of God's standard is dealt with in the message of the Cross. The power to be lifted up to meet the standard God has set is in a relationship with Jesus as Lord and Saviour. This is a faith and trust matter. That is why people who make Jesus Lord experience the term 'being made new.'

What then does all this have to do with plastic?  Much. When we follow the Lord we will care for the environment. We will be held accountable and not play the blame game. Also we know that He has promised a better world to come when all the pollution symbolised by plastic is removed and controlled.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

To the Forgotten from my childhood.

Many people play small but important roles in a child’s life growing up. Only as that child reaches senior years do he/she appreciate those investors even though names are long forgotten. This is especially true of those in my experiences of being a child in Sunday School then youth club at the Rockdale (NSW) Church of Christ. They have long since entered into the presence of the Lord ere I reflected upon how much grace and patience they showed me over years.

       If I could say, “Thank you!” to…
                                               Seventy–nine years I’ve been able to have seen
                                                A life far different than might have been.
                                                         Age looks back to youthful scenes
                                                   And I wonder who those unknowns were
                                                     Who begged you, “Lord, be merciful to Ray.”
                                                              And You met me to change my way
                                                                               From worldliness
                                                                                   To godliness.

How I would like to say, “Thank you”
                                                    To the unknown, unsung faithful ones
                                                        Concerned for me in careless days,
                                                          Wanting you to change my ways.
                                                        Long did they labour against despair
                                                             As you stored their fervent prayer
                                                                             For confrontation
                                                                             And transformation.

Such a moment came with driving force.
                                               Their prayers empowered by your grace
                                                   Made me sense we were face to face.
                                                     You showed me how you saw me,
                                                             A most unpleasant identity.
                                                              Then offered a new destiny
                                                                      Mine to forsake
                                                                        Or undertake.

A stricken heart.
                                                                  Condemned mind.
                                                                    A fearful choice,
                                                                 “Shape up or ship out.”
                                                           Claimed, Christ’s forgiveness.
                                                              Delivered from hypocrisy.
                                                                 Cleansed from iniquity.
                                                             And, though then unknown,
                                                                   Called to ministry.

                                                               Is it any wonder that
                                                              I would, if I could, say
                                                         To unknown men and women,
                                                         “Thank you for praying for me
                                                              See, what you and God
                                                                     Have done for me!”
                                                                           Thank you."

©Ray Hawkins Nov. 2017.

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.