Sunday, September 25, 2016

Mark – the persistent

Mark is an interesting man in the Gospels and the early Church. His family appears to be wealthy and their home was a focal point for support of Christ and then the fledgling Church. Mark is considered the scribe for Peter and the Gospel which bears his name. He was Jewish with good connections and the use of his Roman name, Marcus, indicates certain connections with that authority.

When Paul and Barnabas went on their first missionary journey Mark was a member of the team. The term used to describe his role was ‘under rower.’ He was there in the capacity to serve and to learn. It is thought that he had a doctrinal clash with Paul over the acceptance of Gentiles by faith and baptism and omitting circumcision and Law keeping. He left the team. When another mission trip was planned Barnabas wanted his cousin to have another opportunity. Paul was adamant in refusing to take him. This resulted in a schism between friends. Was he in the right but with a wrong attitude?

Eleven years pass and Paul writes to the church in Colosse and to Philemon and Marks name is in them. How did they get back together? The reason is unknown. The wonderful thing is that both must have changed. Paul’s in attitude but not doctrine and Mark seems to have matured in the grace of God and ministry. In 1 Peter 5:13 he is mentioned by Peter as being with him in Babylon. Later Mark is credited with giving Peter’s recollection of his time with Jesus in the Gospel by Mark. There is much for us to appreciate here in dealing with others. One of the biggest lessons is the giving and the accepting of forgiveness. This will always precede reconciliation and acceptance.

To Philemon this reinstated man is listed as a fellow-worker with Paul. The word for ‘work’ implies hard labour. To the Colossian church Paul says of Mark in 4:11 along with  others  as  being  like good medicine which soothes irritation. Was Paul speaking from  personal experience?  It must have irritated the apostle immensely to be confined to house arrest. It didn’t stop him from witnessing to and leading many Roman soldiers to faith in Christ Jesus. Each of us may well have a journey similar to Mark’s. How good it is to know the Lord doesn’t give up on us because of mistakes or immaturity. It’s also a joy to know that instead of causing irritation to others, as once we may have done, the Lord makes us as ‘medicine’ to soothe and encourage others.

From Paul’s final letter written during his second and fatal imprisonment Mark is mentioned. He is in Ephesus with Timothy and Paul would like both of them to visit him. Two words flow from Paul’s pen which reveal how much a previously fractured relationship had healed. Mark is profitable especially within the ministry. The word in Greek for profitable points to being advantageous. It’s used in 2 Timothy 2:21 and describes Mark journey well.  The young man who made things difficult on his first endeavour had had a great make-over. The word for ministry describes a Deacon. He had progressed from an under-rower into leadership. We may well see in Mark the evidence of a man whose commitment to Christ made him persistent to serve.

Acts 12:12, 25. 13:5. 15:37-39.  Colossians 4:10. Philemon 24.

2 Timothy 4:11. 1Peter 5:13.

Ray Hawkins. Sept. 25th 2016.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Onesimus - Fulfilled his name

He was a runaway slave from Colosse. Was he a slave due to war or because of bad economic choices or behaviour? How did he end up in Rome we will never know! For certain, he was a man with the threat of death over him. Somehow Onesimus met Paul. Was this one of God’s coincidental meetings not first with the apostle but with Epaphras. He was from Colosse (Colossians 4:12 Philemon 23). Did this man introduce Onesimus to Paul? It was to change his life in time and for eternity. This man whose name means ‘profitable’ was far from that to himself and others. When he believed that Jesus Christ could save him, change him and fulfil the meaning of his name. Now he must address his past and correct it in so far as possible, especially to Philemon, his master. All of us have to deal with issues from our Christless past as opportunity allows. This is the fruit of repentance. It isn’t always easy or pleasant but it is essential as a testimony to Christ’s grace and transforming power.

So, Paul sends Onesimus back to Colosse accompanied by Tychicus. In Colossians 4:7-9 this 'fellow-slave' appears to be, or had been, in the fellowship there. He had also a message to share with them about the Apostle's situation. Tychicus was the encourager. How did the congregation respond/react when Onesimus entered? One thing is certain, Philemon was a believer in good fellowship at the church. How easy it would have been for Onesimus to back-out of going there. He needed someone to stand with him and say a word on his behalf. The term is ‘paraclete’ and Paul did it through Tychicus. Would we take a risk like that for someone with a dark past? He would be under intense scrutiny in the early days of his return. He and the Church, along with Philemon would need the love, understanding and grace of Christ to embrace each other. Jesus saves the most unlikely, even the unlovely persons. Then He places them in a community where all have rough edges. This is where we all become what Proverbs 27:17 describes: ‘iron sharpens iron, and one person sharpens the wits (face in Hebrew) of another.’

The terms used about this once unprofitable person are most instructive. They remind us of the power of the Gospel when let loose in a person’s life. Onesimus is now faithful, a beloved brother and to Philemon he is called Paul’s ‘son’. The apostle urges the master of Onesimus to see him no longer as a doulos – slave –but as a beloved brother. The once unprofitable had the opportunity to be profitable in the employ of Philemon and to the Church. His status in the eyes of the World would not have changed but for the Christians he was a new man, a ‘freeman’ in Christ.

Without knowing the stories of those in our sphere of witness it is certain there will be those similar to Onesimus. What we share with them about Jesus Christ could be transforming here and now. This has happened many times in many places. It may also mean burying the seeds of God’s grace in someone’s heart which will bring new life later. This is one of a number reasons why Christians such as you and I are involved in this and other ministries. When young or old who have had a dark history come to faith they need a ‘paraclete.’ As their spokesperson you help them to integrate into the community of faith. If they have offended certain people you, as did Paul and Tychicus, seek ways to rectify that which had been damaged. This isn’t easy or necessarily short term. However, what a joy it is when the fruits of repentance and renewal begin to blossom and mature. 
Colossians 4:8-9. Philemon 8-16.                
Onesimus – the (un)profitable becomes profitable.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Tychicus - the reliable.

The Apostle Paul was no ‘lone ranger’ in mission. Neither does he presume to take all or even most of the credit for things achieved. He was a team leader yet very dependent upon each member of the team. Tychicus is one such person Paul points out to us through his letters.

We meet Tychicus and others after the riot in Ephesus. This was over Demetrius’ accusation that Artemis’ name was defamed. We will catch up with another team member involved later. Paul decided it was opportune to go to Macedonia and sent an advance party to make the arrangements. Part of Paul’s reason for this return trip which took him to Jerusalem was to bring relief money from the Gentile Churches to the believers in Judea. Tychicus would have been one of those entrusted with guarding and delivering this substantial gift of the brethren for their famine relief.

In four letters this man is revealed as someone who was dependable. The success of any venture is due in a big way to such people. We can plan, pray and perform but without a faithful and reliable team things can fail to reach their potential. In Eph. 6:21 Paul describes him as a deacon. This is a term for a drinks waiter but elevated by the fact that Jesus wore that title (Rom 15:8). Read the qualifications for being appointed a deacon in 1 Tim 3 and you get a measure of the man. In Col. 4:7. A lovely warm term of beloved brother (in Christ) is used alongside of a word despised by the World, doulos (a slave without rights). The Christian faith turns the estimates of the World upside down. It is a mark of honour to be a doulos of and for Christ.

Once again we read of Tychicus on the move. This time to Ephesus with a rather delicate responsibility (Colossians 4:7-9.) He was to accompany a runaway slave of Philemon’s, an influential church and community member. Onesimus had been converted in Rome under Paul’s ministry and was returning to put things right. (See next devotional). What was required was a man of tact and wisdom to prepare the way for the runaway’s restoration and acceptance. You and I may be called upon to represent someone someday who had similar failures, morally, spiritually but had been found by Christ and transformed.

 The apostle Paul experienced two imprisonments in Rome. In the first he wrote the above letters and 1 Timothy and Titus. In this letter Tychicus is once again facing the prospect of an assignment to Crete. He would replace Titus who was being recalled to discuss things with Paul. What does that tell us about our man under consideration? He was rather multi-skilled to say the least, and dependable. The final mention of this man is in a letter from Paul’s second imprisonment. This would culminate in his death under Nero. Tychicus was on the move again, this time to Ephesus.  It is there we have to leave him.

This man’s name means ‘Fortunate.’ How appropriate. He was fortunate to know and serve Christ. Fortunate to be a reliable team member. Fortunate to take risks to help others. He becomes an example for each of us as team members here at camp. May it be said by each of us “it has been our good fortune to serve with you.”

Acts 20:4.  Eph. 6:21.  Col. 4:7.  2Tim. 4:12. Titus 3:12   

Ray Hawkins 11.9.2016.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Epaphroditus - risk taker.

Those in a Roman prison usually had to provide their own necessities. Paul was a stranger in Rome without family and few friends. He relied upon the Churches in the area and beyond to meet his need. In Romans 16 is a fasciating list of such people who probably stepped in to help this outstanding servant of Christ. Epaphroditus steps into this scene as he brought Paul invaluable help, both physical and spiritual from the fellowship at Philippi, (Philippians 4:18). This was to the prisoner in home detention a sweet smelling savour, a sacrifice well pleasing to God.

Individually and as a Church we probably don’t have a conscious appreciation of the benefits our actions have upon others. Nor do we necessarily see it is as a sacrifice well pleasing to God. In many ways that is how it should be. As we do our daily rounds in our workplace, community and homes we should be a fragrance to others. The Lord will use your perfume to influence friends and family plus others to appreciate the Body of Christ and our Lord.

This man from Asia risked his life to serve. Was his sickness a result of whatever happened on his journey?  Was it something which infected his wellbeing from the city of Rome? For his home church to have had news of his condition means he suffered for a considerable period of time. I wonder who cared for him. So much is unknown, tantalizing and yet exciting as we reflect upon it. I imagine it would be the Christians in Rome who took him under their wing. Whilst our culture is different there is still a need for us to care for each other, especially within a team ministry setting.

Paul had a sense of the worth of those who serve with him or ministered to him on behalf of the Lord and the Church. Epaphroditus is called ‘brother (in Christ)’, Fellow worker, (yet he was a delivery man) and a fellow soldier (each of us have enlisted in a moral and spiritual warfare). Two other terms are applied by Paul to this man. ‘Messenger’ is actually apostle. He is on a mission. He is a sent one. This term doesn’t denote power or authority over others. Rather it speaks of mission. The other term is minister and comes from the Greek ‘Leitourgos.’ This defined a man who discharged a public office at his own expense. It was also applied to service to a god. The Church used this word to highlight the work of Jesus (Hebrews 8:2) Paul (Romans 15:16) and service to God by His people (Acts 13:2).

 We may see Epaphroditus simply as a messenger, Paul, described what Epaphroditus did as a priestly function. Whatever we do in Christ’s name and for Him is a priestly act. In many ways it would have cost this man money, time, absence from family and employment to mention a few things. Ministry in any shape will cost you and me in someway. However, when you consider what you are doing and why as well as to whom recall this to mind, it is ‘leitourgos’ a priestly function.

Epaphroditus' name means 'agreeable, lovely' in Greek and handsome in Latin. It is rather fitting that Christ had filled out these meaning within his heart, relationship and service. When Epaphroditus returned to the Church at Philippi imagine the stories he could share.  The trip to and from Rome and God's safe keeping on the road, Paul's ministry to the Praetorium Guards, the care received with gratitude, Epaphroditus's own sense of being prayed for and looked after. Along with that, meeting other believers and fellow servants of Christ associated with Paul and the ministry in which they shared.
By the grace of God we have the privilege of being called 'Leitourgos' even though we might think our role is unremarkable. When we give thegift of a cup of water in the Lord's name we express the aroma of Christ. We are unconscious of it, but the recipient is alert to it!

Reading:  Philippians 2:25-30
Ray Hawkins Sept 6th 2016.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Apostle Paul's Mission Mentality.

Did Paul do missionary work all by himself or just with one or two helpers? Of course not! As you read the book of Acts and his letters it is apparent there were many long-term and short-term co-labourers. Across a ministry covering approximately 32 years there are listed at least twenty eight fellow workers. There are also nine others who could conceivably be included in the list, plus the Philippian and Antioch churches.  Over the next few weeks I’d like to share some devotional thoughts around some of them. The first out of the list of faithful men and women is Aristarchus.

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 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. – Aristarchus  the Un-phased.

©Ray Hawkins August 28th 2016.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Will the real minister step forward

Apart from me (Jesus said) you can do nothing. John 15:5.

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 one evening so the speaker changed his message. He spoke without notes from John 15 to us as students. For me it was the defining moment for my future ministry. The preacher who in my young 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.

1 Corinthians 3:6 underscores the fact of God as 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 appointed 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 it works. 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 most 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. 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 expresses His redemption and the gems highlight His heart for His people.

The Lord desires to bless us in the ministry. This will be known in time. He longs to reward us when our ministry is concluded. This will be when we appear before Him to give an account. 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!

2 Timothy 4:8:‘There is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day – and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.’ However, if in the great mercy of God we should receive a crown would we be compelled to follow the example of 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.”’

Reflection: From which source is the motivation and power of my ministry flowing?

Request: Lord I desire my efforts to be ‘fire resistant.’ May I be a person in which you can fashion ‘Gold, silver and precious gems’ so as to adorn your Name. Amen!
RayHawkins August 21 2016.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Constantine's Curse

‘He who pays the piper calls the tune’ still holds true. To choose some other music means losing out of a guaranteed subsidy. Within Church history this arrangement can be recognised as taking place between Church Denominations) and State.

In the first two and half centuries Jesus was the ‘paymaster.’ He was the Church’s theme and the guarantor of its funding. During that time the Church thrived in the face of opposition, pagan religions, infiltration by false teachers and Imperial edicts branding it as a threat. The melody of the cross sounded out with grace and glory. Then came Constantine. As he faced Maxentius at Milvian Bridge for the throne of Rome he had a vision. It was of a cross with the inscription ‘by this conquer.’ He had his soldiers stitch a sign of the cross on their shoulders as they prepared for battle. I wonder how many – if any – had the cross in their heart.

When he was Caesar in 313 he made Christianity legal and the State religion. The title ‘catholic’ appeared in edicts in 324. Bequests were allowed to the Church and Sunday services were officially endorsed. Constantine’s purpose was clear. Keep the Roman authority and State in unity and harmony in the face of Barbarian attacks. The pagan State was now the ‘paymaster.’ An unequal yoking of the State and Church took place. Christendom was ‘hatched.’

Slowly but surely across the centuries this yoke lingers. Its effect on the spiritual, moral and ethical life of the Church has been devastating. For those in Government care little for Biblical truth, Biblical morality and Biblical ethics. They require compliance and assist this with subsidies to clergy, buildings and charitable works. What appears within Church history is the horror of corruption within the Papacy and gross immorality and dereliction of Christ’s call to service. When the Reformation began hopes were high for a new beginning but the Church and State yoke remained even for the Reformers. There were those who heard the music of the Cross and the melody within Scripture and sought to live to its beat. They paid a high price as Christendom reacted to their threatening ‘music.’

The West is considered a mainly Christian influenced world. The message of Christ has had a great impact over the centuries and has reached-out beyond its borders. However the price of compliance and infiltration by the ungodly into the Church still took place and still does. When you read of atheist priests, ‘Gay’ preachers and theologians who reject the Bible or even the historicity of Jesus it makes people wonder about the Christian Faith. In recent decades various Governments around the World have tried to deafen the music of the Scriptures. Seemingly worthy laws such as the ‘anti-discrimination bill’ have been used to bluff, frighten and silence dissent to practices contrary to the teachings of Christ and His Scriptures.

Something strange however is happening. Heaven’s melody is getting louder. A willingness to stand with the Lord means a dependence upon Him rather than being compliant. Such a stand brings its hardships and misrepresentations. We are threatened with breaching discrimination laws because we hold to Biblical teaching on same sex marriage, sexual practices contrary to Scripture and the uniqueness of Christ for salvation. When the Church speaks against abortion, inhumane treatment of refugees or the impropriety of transgender toilets it is opposed or ignored.

A price may have to be paid by those who hear and heed the music of the Lord and trust Him to meet their needs. One thing is certain, within Christendom there is a sifting going on. The ‘music’ to which people will dance will be dictated by whom they accept as ‘Paymaster.’ Will it be to the Mammon offered by Constantine’s successors or to the accepting of the Communion of Christ Jesus? Will it be the Hallelujah Chorus or ‘Money, Money, Money, it’s a rich man’s world?’

©Ray Hawkins August 2016.