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Marriage

By Tom Hawkes

Though our nation is increasingly confused over the subject, the Bible is clear that marriage is meant to be between one man and one woman for life.  “The two will become one flesh,” affirmed our Lord Jesus.  Recently a group of leaders from various faiths published a joint letter calling for the preservation of this understanding of marriage for the good of all.  It is sad that we must fight our culture over such an issue, but good to see Christian leaders, and those of other faiths, standing up for marriage.  Here is the link to the letter and list of signers.

http://www.lifesitenews.com/resources/the-protection-of-marriage-a-shared-commitment

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By Tom Hawkes

Acts 13:2 While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit
said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have
called them.”

Here we find the great doctrine of vocation or calling. From the particular
call of Barnabas and Saul we learn some important truths about God’s calling
not only on pastors but on all who are called by God to serve him, that is,
every believer.

1. The call of God came in the midst of doing their duties and indeed
conducting themselves in worship of the Lord, even praying with fasting
before him. While God can call anyone at any time, so sufficient is his
voice that he could raise from the pigsty the pig to serve him, yet we see
he is more often seen calling those who are already about their Father’s
business, however humble it may be. So Moses was tending his flocks when he
heard the voice of the Lord call him to deliver Israel, king David was
busily tending the flocks he had been charged with when Samuel anointed him,
Joshua was leading God’s people already when God called him to replace
Moses.  We should not be surprised then if when we are deliberately running
from the Lord we find that his voice is distant to us, even as it was for
Jonah in the belly of the great fish. It was not until Jonah was spewed upon
the land again and had ceased his running from the Lord’s voice that the
Lord summoned him a second time to Nineveh. So too when we are deliberately
engaged in sin, running from the command of God, we should not be surprised
to find God strangely quiet as we seek his direction for our life. I like
the story told of Norman Vincent Peale.

When Peale was a boy, he found a big, black cigar, slipped into an alley,
and lit up. It didn’t taste good, but it made him feel very grown up …
until he saw his father coming. Quickly he put the cigar behind his back and
tried to be casual.
Desperate to divert his father’s attention, Norman pointed to a billboard
advertising the circus. “Can I go, Dad? Please, let’s go when it comes to
town.” His father’s reply taught Norman a lesson he never forgot. “Son,” he
answered quietly but firmly, “never make a petition while at the same time
trying to hide a smoldering disobedience.”

How often have we cried out to God with a petition, even begging for
direction and guidance, while surreptitiously thinking we have hidden our
smoldering disobedience? If we would hear the call of God for any direction
in our lives let us spend them already in the holy things to which he has
presently appointed us. No matter how humble our current calling, obedience
to it is the usually prerequisite to hearing a new call from our Lord. Let
the seminarian who wants to serve God, serve first in his studies. The
teacher who longs to be a missionary, teach as a missionary already. The
banker who wants to lead many, lead himself well to his work each day. The
mother who longs for something more ‘important,’ work as important all the
duties of motherhood.

2. The Call of God came from the Holy Spirit, not men, who commanded that
Barnabas and Saul be set aside from what they had been doing for a new call.

No pastor is called first by men to serve the church. Every true call
originates with God and then is subsequently confirmed, though not
originated, by the church. These two should always correspond. If God has
not called a man to pastor, then neither should the church, and if God has
called a man, then the church ought to as well. What is clear here is that
the idea did not originate with any man. Neither men in the church, nor
Barnabas and Saul either. For nothing makes a more miserable minister than
one who imagines himself to be called when he is not truly called. This sad
circumstance is far too common. Men carried away by either the glory of the
office, or the desire to serve God more fully, wrongly feel their inner
desires as a call from God. Oh how sad that pastors preach today with no
more call than a guilty conscience, and how could God ever bless such a
ministry with the fruits of grace?

As a pastor cannot first be called by himself then neither should his call
only come from outside himself, from a church. A church eager to see itself
succeed in raising up laborers for the harvest may send out bright young men
for seminary hoping that there at least they will finally be called. If a
man is not called before seminary, seminary makes a bad place to hear a
call. Better that the church hears God’s call confirmed and only then send a
man to train for that calling. At some schools fewer than half the graduates
go on to ministry! And many of the half that do, subsequently leave
disillusioned when either the glory or the inner desire fades.

No, to serve God rightly as pastor a man must first be truly called of God!
Calvin comments on this passage:

No man is to be counted a lawful pastor of the Church, as the same Paul
witnesseth, save he which is called of God; neither doth God point out false
prophets by any other mark, save only by this, that he hath not sent them;
therefore, we gather that the Holy Ghost is God indeed, whose authority is
sufficient to choose pastors, and who hath the chief rule in choosing them,
which is likewise confirmed out of the words of Isaiah, “And now, behold,
the Lord hath sent me, and his Spirit.”

But what about all the rest of his people who are not called to be pastors
in his church, does he leave them without call? Do they simply choose what
they want to do apart from his will and voice? No! In the doctrine of
vocation we learn that God has a plan for each person, that we do not invent
our vocations but discover them from the hand and the mouth of God. So we
are rightly told that whatever work the Lord has given us to do is sacred to
the Lord and for him. “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as
working for the Lord, not for men.” (Colossians 3:23) Calvin again teaches
us on the importance of understanding and following our vocation.

The Lord bids each one of us in all life’s actions to look to his calling..
It is enough if we know that the Lord’s calling is in everything the
beginning and foundation of well-doing. And if there is anyone who will not
direct himself to it, he will never hold to the straight path in his
duties… From this will arise also a singular consolation: that no task
will be so sordid and base, provided you obey your calling in it, that it
will not shine and be reckoned very precious in God’s sight.  Institutes 3.10.6.

We are, each of us, to seek and follow the voice of the Lord which calls us
to our own vocation.

3. The Call of God is to a specific work and purpose which fits within God’s
greater plan.

While Barnabas and Saul were already gainfully employed in the life of the
church at Antioch being teachers there and certainly of great benefit to the
church in that capacity, God had other intentions for them. So too we have
over the years sent off many good men whom God has called away from service
at Uptown Church to serve the Lord of the harvest elsewhere in his harvest
field.

Pastor Frank looms large in this way. He gave himself fully and faithfully
to God here, as elder and pastor. Yet God did not design to leave him here
for too long, only five years, before calling him to the Middle East. Just
as clearly as the church in Antioch heard the call on Saul’s life, Uptown
heard the call on Frank’s life. While their work in Antioch was good and
holy, and might be the work of a life-time, God decided, neither they nor
the church, that Saul and Barnabas should be set apart for another service,
in particular, to go into the world to reach Gentiles.  They did not leave
Antioch because they were tired, or discouraged, or hated the work. They did
not leave for greater prestige, money, or opportunity. They left because God
called them to go somewhere else.

So too, no pastor should ever leave a church for the sake of his own career,
ease or advancement. Yet how often do we see this?! How often does doing
“God’s will,” entail much more money or prestige or both! Odd isn’t it that
God who called his own Son to set aside his glory should call so many other
sons to find their glory?! Again after visiting Frank in the Middle East one
cannot help but see what was left behind, and what suffering was taken up
for the glory, not of himself, but of God.

Then what of the Christian called to serve in the world for the Lord? There
is a similar limitation. One is not free to move about for one’s own
advancement, but the call of God must be the driving concern. One must hear
and heed the call. Nothing is more dangerous to work where we have not been
summoned, or to neglect the work where we have been called! Calvin yet
again:

Each of us, casting all his cares on God,  should follow his own calling,
and not be led away from the performance of his duty by any fears. Yet let
no man go beyond his own bounds; for confidence in the providence of God
must not go farther than God himself commands.  Commentary John 7:30

We know that men were created for the express purpose of being employed in
labor of various kinds, and that no sacrifice is more pleasing to God, than
when every man applies diligently to his own calling, and endeavors to live
in such a manner as to contribute to the general advantage.  Commentary Luke 10:38

Let us then, as did Barnabas and Saul, listen for and follow the voice of
the Lord, who alone calls us to our vocation, as he has planned it to work
in his providence, for his glory.

Here is a good article by respected blogger Tim Challies on how Christians should interact with Halloween, an issue many believers disagree on.  I think his best piece of advice, is whether you end up for or against participating in Halloween, believers should think through their stance.

Thanks go out to Dave Latham for the link.

Interesting article

What is our world coming to?  What are kids learning these days?  This article might make one conclude they are  learning something good.  Here is an interesting article about a High School cheer leading squad that asked their board of education to consider changing their cheer leading uniforms to make them LESS skimpy.

The connection between self esteem, control issues and body image implied in this article are interesting as well.  Body image is a big topic in today’s world, and it is heart breaking to hear about how many people struggle with eating disorders.

Lord, help us as we seek to see ourselves rightly and to raise kids to look to You for significance rather than to the many imperfect and cruel masters of this world, including ourselves and how we look.

On Creation

By Tom Hawkes

I was struck again this past weekend with what a great job our Lord has done in creating the earth as he has. Three of my sons and I went canoe camping on the Catawba River south of Rock Hill, SC, stopping to camp on a little island in the middle of our 18 mile paddle. The beauty was stunning, the wildlife plentiful (several bald eagles and too many blue herons to count) and the weather delicious. (Here a view from our campsite) http://www.catawba-river-expeditions.com/

The ancients, better than we, understood that to look on creation was to see the hand of God and to taste his love and beauty. I was reminded at a lecture recently that there are in essence two views of the world. One says the universe is impersonal governed by chance, the other rightly understands that the universe is intimately personal, created by a loving Father to express his love to his children. There is nothing impersonal about creation, or nature! Every flower we see, every Fall leaf, each sun set, each mountain peak is created out of a love more intense than any we have ever known. A love directed at us, his children, his beloved. The greatest American theologian, Jonathan Edwards, argued that clearly in his essay, The End for Which God Created the World.

Edwards writes:
“The communication of God’s virtue or holiness, is principally in communicating the love of himself. And thus we see how, not only the creature’s seeing and knowing God’s excellence, but also supremely esteeming and loving him, belongs to the communication of God’s fulness. And the communication of God’s joy and happiness, consists chiefly in communicating to the creature that happiness and joy which consists in rejoicing in God, and in his glorious excellency; for in such joy God’s own happiness does principally consist. And in these things, knowing God’s excellency, loving God for it, and rejoicing in it, and in the exercise and expression of these, consists God’s honour and praise; so that these are clearly implied in that glory of God, which consists in the emanation of his internal glory.” (Chapter 2, Section 7)

God creates the world not only to communicate his love to us, but that sensing his love might return to him love and praise, and find our joy there.

Last Saturday, waking up before the boys did, I was walking around our campsite and taking it all in (that is Brandon in the orange hammock, generously shared by his older brother Collin, Brandon had the best nights sleep!) The moon was setting, the sun rising the air cool and nice. I could sense from it all that my Father has loved me, loved me long before I knew him, and that this morning was no accident of ‘nature’ but a gift from my Father meant to let me know how much he cares.

The understanding stayed with me the entire trip, each new bend brought a new picture of my Father and his love.

Next time you go outside take the time and look around with this understanding: all creation communicates the Father’s love for us. “For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.” Romans 1:20

By Tom Hawkes

“For the LORD watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish. (Psalm 1:6)

There is a daily, even moment by moment, fight going on for our hearts.  From one side the devil would have us doubt God and from the other side God would have us believe him. It is a battle between unbelief and faith, doubt and confidence. In each instance the fight is waged on the same battle field: the daily occurrences of our lives.  As we experience life in daily portions enough struggles come our way that we live with some measure of disappointment or hurt, this even before we talk of the major crises we may face. It is in the daily circumstances though that this fight rages and it rages constantly.

Right now in the lives of the Hawkes’ family we have several of those small daily struggles. A tile in our laundry room lifted up last week revealing rotten floor, turns out the hot-water heater has been leaking, it must be replaced along with the floor. My car was in for an oil change and we discovered one thousand dollars of needed repairs. Ann has a crown that fell out again last night, for the fifth time. I broke a rib (second one this year! Maybe I should slow down.) tubing at the officer’s retreat, which makes sleeping every night difficult. Preston went to bed last night with a reaction to something he ate, struggling to breathe and with his face swollen. Brandon, who turns 18 on September 30th has been shopping for a cheap car for the last two months and has found nothing but frustration. Taylor, who has his own software business in California, has been so nervous over meeting project deadlines that he has developed a sick stomach. Collin is struggling in a relationship with a girlfriend. These are just the highlights for today; the list goes on and on. So does yours! The point is there are enough struggles small and large that there is plenty of fodder for the battle to be fought here amid the daily occurrences of our lives.

Here is how the battle unfolds in the daily circumstances of life. The Devil, aided by the world and our own sinful flesh, would have us look at our daily lives and doubt God saying: “See, look at the evidence, if God were good and powerful and he loved you, he would not let this happen to you. Clearly he either does not love you, is not powerful enough or not very good, therefore it is no use putting your confidence in Him, you had better do something about this yourself. You had better stop having faith and instead turn from trusting in this Uncaring God and fix your life yourself.” At the same time God will fight for us to believe amidst the same circumstances. As we experience the daily circumstances he bids us: “You must hear my Word to understand what is happening to you. My Word tells you that I am here in the midst of the struggles.  I am your God whose providence rules over all your circumstances, and I rule in power and love for your good. No matter how bleak the daily circumstances may be, believe my Word that I am ruling over them all in my good providence and trust in me, the God of Providence, to make all things work together for your good.” As Jesus said: “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father.  And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered.  So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”  Matthew 10:29-31

The battle rages on daily, moment by moment, the same circumstances but with two different interpretations, doubt always bidding us to panic and think that we are alone in an uncaring universe where only the strong survive and might makes right, faith always leading us to peace and assurance thinking that “whatever my Father has ordained is right.” With each new struggle small or large, the Evil One hopes to gain a foot hold, “See, look at the difficult circumstances, yet another struggle!” With each new struggle the Good One advances our salvation, “Listen, do not just look at what you can see, but also hear my Word, my voice. I am near to save you and deliver you, only turn to me and trust in me.”

In the middle of the Battle the Word of the Lord comes to us: “For the LORD watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish. (Psalm 1:6) The Lord assures us that our way, the way of those righteous in Christ, is known to him in such a way that he watches, guards and superintends all the activities of our lives. At the same time he wants us to understand that while our way is protected, the way of those who doubt God, the way of the wicked, is not protected. Whether their lives are easy or hard, they lead to one end: destruction. While our lives, easy or hard, day by day, lead to blessing and life.  This is the doctrine of the Providence of God. It may sound distant, remote and overly theological, but its essence is this: God watches over the way of the righteous, he will see that finally they prosper in Him, that every single circumstance in their lives is used for their benefit in the midst of his very carefully considered plan.

In his commentary Calvin makes the same point: the righteous in Christ can have confidence in any circumstance because “it is the peculiar office of God to defend them and take care of their safety, they must be happy under his protection.”

Moreover, as things appear to be here driven about at the mercy of chance, and as it is not easy for us, in the midst of the prevailing confusion, to acknowledge the truth of what the Psalmist had said, he therefore presents to our consideration the grand principle, that God is the Judge of the world. Granting this, it follows that it cannot but be well with the upright and the just, while, on the other hand, the most terrible destruction must impend over the ungodly. According to all outward appearance, the servants of God may derive no advantage from their uprightness; but as it is the peculiar office of God to defend them and take care of their safety, they must be happy under his protection. And from this we may also conclude that, as he is the certain avenger of wickedness, although, for a time, he may seem to take no notice of the ungodly, yet at length he will visit them with destruction. Instead, therefore, of allowing ourselves to be deceived with their imaginary felicity, let us, in circumstances of distress, have ever before our eyes the providence of God, to whom it belongs to settle the affairs of the world, and to bring order out of confusion. John Calvin, Commentary on Psalm 1:6

In the ‘dailyness’ of life the battle between faith and unbelief is waged, over every leaking hot-water heater, car repair, sick child and broken relationship. The Devil would have us turn from God in desperation, our Good Father would have us turn to him confident in his love, his good providence and ask, “Yes, Father I see the difficult circumstance, now, what good thing will you do this time?”  For it is true finally, the Lord does watch over the way of his children.

Have you recently moved?  Do you know someone who has recently moved?  Are you struggling to live in the city God has you right now?

Here is an article a friend of mine wrote a couple of years ago on the theology of moving.  It is very good for helping us consider, what does it mean to “seek the peace and prosperity of the city” in which God has carried you (Jeremiah 29:7).