Pledges / Vengeance and the Exorcism of Legion: March 31st 2021

Numbers 29:12-31:24

This lists the complicated list of sacrifices required for each day of the Feast of Tabernacles.

Chapter 30 concerns vows. When a man makes a vow to the Lord or ‘binds himself with a pledge, he must not break his word but must do everything he said’ (30:2).

Similarly, if a young woman makes a vow and her father does not nullify it, or, when she gets married, her husband says nothing to her about it, then her vows and pledges ‘by which she bound herself will stand’ (v.5).

I think this is what happened to the Virgin Mary. According to legends / non-canonical texts she was dedicated to the temple and lived there between the ages of 3 and 12. She had made a vow to be a Holy Virgin for her whole life, dedicated to God. Being a virgin was her job and vocation. ‘How can this be since I am a virgin?’ (Luke 1:34).

The priests in the temple arranged for Mary to be looked after by the elderly widower, Joseph, as soon as she reached puberty. He respected her vow of chastity and did not nullify it as her husband. Mary remained a virgin for her own life.

In Chapter 31, the Lord told Moses to take vengeance on the Midianites. The Israelites killed every man including the colourful character, Balaam. Here we find evidence as to why Balaam is so unpopular when later mentioned in the New Testament. He was a sorcerer, paid for his divinations, curses and blessings. He was able to hear from God but he did not worship God alone, He was instrumental in the Israelites starting to worship demonic entities after the Moabite women had seduced them at Peor. Only the virgin Midianite women were allowed to live. This seems harsh by today’s standards but this was a matter of life and death. The survival of the entire nation was at stake. Moses could not risk the Israelite men being seduced into worshipping other Gods again because this would result in another plague at the very least. God would be justified in destroying all the Israelites if they were seduced away from him again.

Because the Midianites worshipped demonic entities, all the bounty that the Israelites had captured had to be cleansed before it could be brought into the camp. Anything that could go through fire was put through it but it ‘must also be purified with the water of cleansing’ (v.23). See Numbers 19 for details about the ‘water of cleansing’. Demonic spirits can attach themselves to objects either by their own will or by spells / curses. It is very unwise to bring back souvenirs from different cultures such as African masks and display them in your house as havoc might ensue. You can even buy ‘cursed dolls’ on Ebay, which have one of more evil spirits attached to them.

Be very careful about what you introduce to your home. The Holy Spirit can give people knowledge about which articles in their house may have been cursed and need to be disposed of. Amorth gives practical advice on how to dispose of cursed objects, They should never be flushed down the toilet as this can cause all the drains in the house to block. The traditional method of disposal is to sprinkle them with holy water – which can be obtained from any Catholic church – and then the item must be burnt (it is very important that prayers are said while the object is burned to protect against spiritual backlash) and then the ashes are thrown into running water – the sea or a river. Then pray to God for forgiveness for having introduced such an object to your home.

Luke 8:19-20

Here we have a reference to ‘Jesus’ mother and brothers’ (v.19). Everyone who is born again is a brother or sister of Jesus.

It is a long-held Christian tradition that the ‘brothers’ mentioned in verse 19 are relatives of Jesus but born to another Mary (Mary the wife of Cleopas (see John 19:25)). The Eastern church has an even simpler explanation that these were children from Joseph’s previous marriage (he was an elderly widower when he married Mary). So they neither have the same mother as Jesus (Mary) nor the same father (God / The Holy Spirit). If they were actual sons of Mary, they would have taken Mary in after Jesus died on the cross rather than ‘the disciple whom he loved’ (John 19:26-27).

Jesus calmed the storm (v:22-25). ‘Where is your faith?’ he asked his (frightened disciples)’ (v.25). Looking back over the last year of Covid lockdowns, I think my wife’s and my faith has kept us remarkably calm. We have taken sensible precautions as we are scientists as well as believers. However, we have still risked frequent exposure to the virus as we gathered provisions for elderly people. I wouldn’t have wanted to face a global pandemic without having God to pray and put my trust in.

Our Pastor tells an amazing story of a church situated in an area, which was forecasted to be hit by a tsunami. The local pastor urged his parishioners to flock into the church and lock the doors. The pastor stood on the porch outside and prayed that they would not be harmed. When the tsunami arrived it wiped out the town, except it split and went around the church. The pastor reported that the tsunami looked like a cobra’s head as it reared up over the town. All the Christians in the church were unscathed. In the face of natural disasters, show the people around you your faith.

In verse 27, we find out that the storm in the lake may have not been such a ‘natural’ hazard. Jesus was met by a demon-possessed man as soon as he stepped ashore. Jesus performed his most spectacular exorcism, allowing a legion of exorcised demons to enter a herd of pigs who then rush down a steep bank and drown themselves in the lake.

This makes me suspect that the storm on the lake was whipped up by demonic spirits, who had seen that Jesus was en route to exorcise Legion and tried to drown him and his disciples before he got there. Exorcists find that they are often attacked during a journey to an exorcism with cars or aircraft breaking down or engines going on fire. Amorth reports a demonic plot to overturn a carriage containing an exorcist was foiled when the carriage driver was given a blessed medal of Saint Benedict to carry. I never travel without one. This isn’t superstition or idol worship – it’s what the church calls a ‘sacramental’. When I pick up a blessed medal of St. Benedict, I am calling down the protection of God through the intercession of St. Benedict.

The fact that there was a herd of pigs next to the lake indicates that the people living in this region were not Jews. No Jewish farmer can keep pigs as God declared them unclean (Lev. 11:7-8). So Jesus has basically gone onto an exorcism excursion into the land of the Gentiles. The poor possessed man ‘had been driven by the demon into solitary places’ (8:29). The demons didn’t want him to meet an exorcist before he died and certainly not Jesus, the chief exorcist.

Sending the demons into ‘unclean’ pigs, who were then destroyed, shows that salvation comes from the Jews and we, as Gentiles, should recognise the superiority of the Jewish law over our historical, heathen practices. The swineherds weren’t being very sensitive to their Jewish neighbours by keeping massive herds of pigs next to Jewish territory. Jesus may have thought it was highly appropriate sending ‘unclean spirits’ into ‘unclean animals’. Demons can possess animals as well as people but people are first choice as a demon’s key aim is to stop us turning to God with faith and accepting His priceless offer of eternal life. God loves animals but demonstrated that saving one human life is worth thousands of animals. We are all uniquely precious to God.

The demons begged Jesus repeatedly not to order them ‘into the Abyss’ (v.31). Demons are terrified of being sent down into hell to await the end of time as they will suffer for ever and can never receive forgiveness.

The man, who had been exorcised, longed to go with Jesus but he is sent back to his own town as the first travelling disciple to the Gentiles. Jesus knows where each disciple can do his best work. This is long before Peter converts Cornelius in Acts 9-10 and Paul starts his travels as apostle to the gentiles. Maybe some of the Gentiles that the exorcised man spoke to travelled back across the lake and tracked down Jesus seeking their own healing and deliverance.

In other gospels, the area is describe as Gadara with the pigs called the ‘Gadarene swine’. From this comes the adjective ‘Gadarene’ describing a headlong rush. For example, ‘Today, there was an unwise Gadarene stampede to the hairdresser as soon as Covid lockdown ended’.

Psalm 39:1-3

King David kept his tongue from sin ‘as long as the wicked are in my presence’ (39:1). Any type of leader, pastor or even a lay Christian is constantly under minute scrutiny from the wicked to see if they slip up and reveal themselves to be hypocrites. We have to be on our guard as to what we say and do. However, when he stopped speaking completely ‘not even saying anything good’ (v.2), he found his anguish increased. We need to keep talking to God.

David reflects on how short our life is and how pointless piling up wealth is just for someone else to inherit it. As soon as I had calculated that God had delivered sufficient funds into my pension pot I retired from my secular job. There was no point heaping up extra riches; my children are more than capable of looking after themselves. Our lives are so fleeting, we need to dump secular concerns as soon as we can and get on with the work of God. Covid lockdown taught me how little money we need to live happily and how worthless most possessions are.

God will ‘rebuke and discipline men for their sin’ (v.11) but each time he does this, we can withstand it more easily and come out happier and healthier each time. I was last rebuked and disciplined for becoming too lazy in my Catholic faith. I was attending a church where the power of the Holy Spirit was not being displayed. I could see no miracles or healings taking place. God allowed me to become ill and to be attacked by the wicked. In desperation for spiritual help, I met local Pentecostals and, under their joyful care, God healed me, instructed me and strengthened me in order to bring back more of the good news to my Catholic brethren. I have had several major trials from God, the first two nearly killed me but the last one I stormed through, keeping both my sanity and my sense of humour, because I handed myself over to God for him to sort everything out. Praise be to God for my salvation.

Picture: Katolophyromai, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0&gt;, via Wikimedia Commons

Moses appoints Joshua / Parable of the Sower: March 30th 2021

Numbers 27:12-29:11

The Lord instructed Moses to ascend a mountain, to view from afar the land that had been given to the Israelites. Moses was destined to die there because of his earlier disobedience (Numbers 20:9-12).

Moses didn’t plead with God for an even longer life but asked for God to provide a new leader ‘so that the Lord’s people will not be like a sheep without a shepherd’ (27:17). It’s wonderful that Moses’ concern was not for himself but for the Israelites to have a worthy leader as his successor. God has lined up Moses’ assistant Joshua ‘a man in whom is the Spirit (v.18) to become leader. It was quite rare in the Old Testament for the Holy Spirit to be in someone permanently. Normally, the Spirit came to rest on someone temporarily for a specific purpose / prophesy. These days, all baptized Christians can benefit from the priceless help and comfort of the Holy Spirit inside them permanently. We just have to invite him to come into our lives fully, giving us all his gifts and fully ignite our faith.

Ministry was passed on by the laying on of hands (v.18 and v.23). Moses was instructed to officially ordain Joshua in front of the entire assembly so everyone was clear about the identity of the authorised leader. It was extremely important to appoint a spiritual man to such an important role. His decision making would mean either prosperity or disaster for the entire Israelite nation.

Joshua would have help making decisions in that he could ask the priest to consult the mysterious ‘Urim’ (v.21). The Urim was a supernatural object which allowed God to communicate decisions. The Urim usually went together with the Thummim (see Exodus 20:30) and resided in the ceremonial breast piece worn by the Chief Priest. It may possibly have been a way of casting lots, or the priest might have looked through it to see a vision / answer. Either way, it is lost now – judging by the quality of many world leaders’ decisions (https://bible.org/question/how-did-urim-and-thummim-function). Maybe they were destroyed or reside in Ethiopia with the Ark of the Covenant. One suggestion is that these objects only functioned when the early Israelite priests had the Holy Spirit residing in them. Later on, the Holy Spirit withdrew from the priests and gave temporary power to certain prophets by resting on them. God doesn’t like to make things too easy. He created multiple languages after Babel in Genesis (Genesis 11:7) so we couldn’t understand each other and could possibly have removed the Urim and Thummin to make us pray to him as individuals for advice rather than letting a priest find out from God what our decisions should be.

The rest of today’s reading covers the complicated list of offerings required daily, monthly, on the Sabbath day and on specific feast days. As Christians, these don’t apply to us but it is fascinating to see how specific God was for each occasion.

Luke 8:1-18

Jesus travelled from place to place. We hear about ‘Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out’ (v.2). When multiple demons infest someone they will obey the most senior / powerful demon present, who may prevent the lower powered demons from leaving during an exorcism. There is a power hierarchy for the nine different choirs of angels / demons with the seraphim at the top and ordinary angels at the bottom. Jesus, as the Chief Exorcist, had the authority to bind and cast out the most senior demon in Mary, along with all the others (see Matthew 12:29 – ‘How can anyone enter a strong man’s house and carry off his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man? Then he can plunder his house’).

Jesus and his disciples had financial support from women who had been cured of diseases and exorcised (v.3). It’s significant that Joanna was the wife of the manager of King Herod’s household. This Herod’s full name was Herod Antipas and he was the son of ‘Herod the Great’ who had attempted to murder baby Jesus. Joanna was a member of the upper class of Jewish society and if she was subsidised by her husband’s wages, Jesus would have been indirectly using money from the King for his ministry. Joanna may have contracted a serious diseases or demonic oppression because her husband worked for the evil King. She turned to Jesus for her cure.

We then have the famous parable of the sower. When my children were growing up, I can really relate to ‘the seed that fell among thorns’. This signifies those who hear but ‘as they go on their way they are choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature’ (v.14). It has only been after my children grew up and started to do their own thing that I started to feel I could begin to produce a crop through perseverance. So the different types of soil may represent different stages of our lives. I might cycle through the different examples that Jesus gives us weekly or daily. I may go to church on one Sunday as ‘good soil’ and hear the word and retain it. The very next week, I might be distracted by worldly cares and then I am thorny ground. The place we don’t want to be is the path, which is where most people are. We must believe and be saved. Do not let the devil take away the joyful gospel from your hearts. Believe and be saved.

After we receive the Holy Spirit at our baptism, we should shine his light to everyone through the joyful and charitable way we lead our lives. We must be lights for all the world. When we have the Holy Spirit, we will be given more of his gifts and wisdom if we ask God for it. If people reject coming to Christ in baptism and live an empty, superficial life without searching for God, ‘even what he thinks he has will be taken from him (v.18).

Psalm 38:13-22

King David show us that no matter how we are feeling we can be confident that God will eventually answer us (v.15).

We can be surrounded by hostile, evil people who ‘repay by good with evil’ (v.20). Many Christians find they are slandered by friends, family and acquaintances just for trying to follow the Christian faith. They ‘slander me when I pursue what is good’ (v.20).

We know that if we confess our sins and believe in Him, God will not be far from us. Praying in tongues demonstrates that God is actually within us at all times. The Holy Spirit is always there to help us, we just have to hand over control to Him and He will build us up to confound our enemies.

Jesus anointed by a Sinful Woman: March 29th 2021

Numbers 26:12-27:11

Here we read a long list of the clans of Israel. This must be fascinating if you are of Jewish heritage and can trace your family line all the way back to one of these biblical clans. The total number of the fighting men of Israel was 601,730 (v.51) and the land was allocated in proportion to the number of people in each clan. This makes sense in terms of ecology / population density but one hopes that a small tribe, such as the Simeonites with 22,200 men, was happy at receiving a third of the land that the clans of Judah (76,500 men) were given. God told us all to ‘Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth’, (Genesis 9:1). The clans who been the most fecund were rewarded with the most land.

We learn the names of Moses’ father and mother, Amram and Jochebed (v.59-60).

There were now 23,000 male Levites (over a month old) – a veritable army to carry the Tabernacle and the Holy Things into the promised land (v.62).

This census was taken after the 40 years of wandering around the desert that God had mandated after the Israelites refused to enter the promised land. All the adults that had refused to go in had now perished apart from Moses, Caleb and Joshua.

In chapter 27, there are early champions for women’s rights: the daughters of Zelophehad. Their father had died in the desert without a male heir and so they petitioned Moses that they should inherit property and keep their father’s name going. Moses didn’t give an answer off the top of his head but represented them before the Lord, who agreed with them and dictates: ‘If a main dies and leaves no son, give his inheritance over to his daughter’ (v.9). It’s a long way from full equal rights but revolutionary at the time.

We see that Noah can be a female name as well as male. I am particularly taken with the name of one of her sisters, Hoglah. I think that this should be far more popular than it currently is.

Luke 7:36-50

A lady of the night wets Jesus’ feet with her tears, wipes them with her hair and pours perfume on them (v.38).

Sounds very relaxing – my feet are aching after slogging around the town with my miniature dachshund on her extensive lockdown walks.

The Pharisee looks down on Jesus for accepting this attention, even though the Pharisee had obviously let the lady into his house. He was prepared to have her around but obviously kept himself guarded and apart from her, which prevented her from changing her way of life sooner. Jesus was actually prepared for her to touch him and this intimate contact with holiness helped her to heal.

The woman proves her faith by her deeds in ministering to Jesus. Without her actions, Jesus wouldn’t have been able to say, ‘Your faith has saved you; go in peace’ (v.50).

Jesus came to call sinners, not the righteous to repentance (Luke 5:32). It is marvellous when you meet people who appear to have been righteous throughout their live, particularly Christian students starting at university. They do stand out as wonderfully meek ‘aliens’ in a foreign land, surrounded by their fellow students who are drinking and fornicating. I think it’s a challenge for the righteously meek to show overt joy. As a forgiven sinner, I have this great feeling of joy and happiness in my heart all the time. I know what it was like to be in the depths of despair and to be rescued by Jesus. Who loves more? The person who has been forgiven more. ‘But he who has been forgiven little loves little’ (27:47). I think it’s more challenging for people who have never had to be forgiven of grave sin to demonstrate such a high level of gratitude. They tend to look on in quiet, calm bemusement at the dreadful behaviour going on around them. Whereas, children of the Eighties such as me can look at today’s fleshly people and remember that we were once like that.

Even righteous people, who have behaved themselves all their lives, will still have carried out small sins. No-one is sinless apart from Jesus (and, particularly if you’re Catholic, the Virgin Mary (CCC,493)). So Jesus still suffered and died terribly even for people who appear to show exemplary behaviour and we all need to reflect on this. We can schedule a daily reflection time to consider that no-one is righteous before God without the sacrifice of Jesus. We all needed rescuing by the priceless gift of Jesus’s precious blood and even if we didn’t experience an exhilarating pardon from decades of accumulated sin, we should all exhibit huge amounts of joy, gratitude and love.

Proverbs 8:12-21

Wisdom is associated with prudence, knowledge and discretion (v.12). A very powerful combination.

If we are in awe (fear) of the Lord, we hate evil, pride, arrogance and perverse speech (v.13). As a result, I can’t stand watching most politicians on TV debate shows.

However, a few rare rulers do possess wisdom allowing them to make just laws (v.15) and giving them counsel and sound judgement (v.14).

We are guaranteed wisdom if we ask God for it. ‘Those who seek me find me’ (v.17). I would much rather hire someone with wisdom, with a degree in common sense, then an unwise person with a raft of formal qualifications.

Wisdom is better than gold and silver (V.19). It makes us love justice and righteousness. If we seek wisdom and love it, it will bestow ‘wealth on those who love’ it and make ‘their treasuries full’ (v.21).

Picture: Artus Wolffort, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Moabite Women and Jesus raises the dead: March 28th 2021

Numbers 23:27-26:22

The Moabite King, Balak, took the prophet Balaam to a third location overlooking the Israelites hoping this would change God’s mind to curse the Israelites rather than to bless them. People can be very persistent when trying to pursue evil. Balaam had the sense to continue to obey God and blessed them, ‘May those who bless you be blessed and those who curse you be cursed!” (v.9).

The King was furious and refused to pay Balaam. It is interesting that he didn’t harm or imprison the prophet. Balaam was respected and feared as the King knew that Balaam did receive genuine words and visions from God. Balaam confirmed that however much money he was offered, he couldn’t go against Gods commands. He even gave a final prophecy for free, which must have really ruined the King’s day, by predicting the Israelites would conquer Moab and several other nations.

The Moabites might not have been able to win in battle but they had other ways to scupper the Israelites. The Israelite men start to have sex with Moabite women in the picturesque town of Shittim. I live in North Wales and we have hundreds of villages named after places in the Bible: Bethel, Nebo, or Carmel. We even have a little village called Sodom, in the county of Denbighshire. However, the name ‘Shittim’ does not seem to have been adopted even though it means something innocent like ‘acacia trees’. Once, the Moabite women had seduced the men, they ‘invited them to the sacrifices to their gods. The people ate and bowed down before these Gods’ (v.2). Of course, God was going to be infuriated by this unfaithful behaviour. The devil knows today that women can easily corrupt men through the power of sex and turn them from God and so exorcists report that far more women than men are oppressed or possessed by the devil. It’s the ‘Eve Principle’. A woman working for Satan can turn far more men away from God, than a man can turn women away. If Adam had been alone in Eden, he would have continued to ignore the tree that he had been banned from eating from. It was Eve’s persuasive power and Adam’s weakness to resist her that pulled down the entire human race.

Amorth states that women are far more often demonised than men because they go to fortune tellers more, which gives demons a legal right to attach to them. Our Pastor reported that once when she carried out a village baptism session in Africa, 14 out of the 40 women who came to be baptised were heavily demonised. None of the men showed similar signs. The baptisms had to be carried out in a large oil-drum full of water and when a demonised women was dunked under the water, the demons would not let them come back up. They tried to drown the women and the women started to squirm like snakes under the water as the demons manifested. Possession by snake demons is still common in many parts of the world. It took a lot of physical effort to drag the women back to the surface, finish the baptism and deliver them from the demons. The golden rule of carrying out baptisms in the field is always to baptise the largest men first, then they can physically wrestle any demonised women back to the surface.

The Israelites have to put to death anyone who has worshipped the demonic God of the Moabites and another plague breaks out among them killing 24,000. The son of the Chief Priest spears an Israelite man and his new Midianite wife, and God gives him a covenant of peace and an everlasting priesthood. This must have been a bit awkward for Moses, who of course was married to a Midianite woman, Zipporah (see my blog for 27th March).

A second census taken totalling all the men over twenty years old and this comes to 601,730. At the last census there was 603,550 but this new census was taken after 40 years of wandering in the desert, so numbers haven’t really gone up due to the elderly Israelites dying in the desert, fighting with indigenous tribes, earthquakes swallowing rebels and several plagues as punishments for disobedience.

Luke 7:11-35

Jesus was touched with compassion at the grief of a widow over her dead son, ‘When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her and he said, ‘Don’t cry’ (v.13).

Jesus raised the dead son and ‘gave him back to his mother’ (v.15).

John the Baptist, in prison, wondered if Jesus was the promised Messiah. Jesus told John’s disciples to report back to him the miracles that were taking place. When people come to our churches they should expect to see miracles taking place through the power of the Holy Spirit working through us. We should all be witnessing miraculous cures / miracles / prophecies and words of knowledge. At the Pentecostal church I attend, there are often testimonies about medical miracles that have occurred after prayer. For example, members of the congregation have had fibroids that required an operation or a skin cancer – only for the patients to be miraculously cured by the time they came to the hospital for treatment. There are scans, medical records and baffled doctors to prove this. Every week, people bring prophecies and words of knowledge from God. This should be a weekly occurrence in all churches. How else do we prove that the word of God is true and powerful? If we don’t see miracles happening on a regular basis in our churches, it is because our priests / pastors and fellow parishioners do not have enough faith, are not sufficiently filled with the Holy Spirit and are not praying to God for miracles because they don’t believe He can do what He says He will do. This is disobedient, rebellious unbelief. I would suggest that we should all move to a place where we will see some miracles and pray for the Holy Spirit to fully come into our bodies and ignite it with fire and power so that we can carry out miraculous healings for the glory of God.

The baptism that John had carried out for the forgiveness of sins had changed peoples hearts so they were able to acknowledge Jesus’ words. The hard-hearted, like the Pharisees, who had resisted John’s call to repentance, which would have prepared them to receive and accept Jesus, rejected God’s purpose for themselves. Baptism is a legal requirement for us to go into God’s Kingdom. We should be desperate to receive it. Baptism removes all traces of sin and puts a permanent supernatural seal stamped on our hearts that we belong to God. If you call yourself a Christian, yet haven’t been baptized you should be earnestly desiring it and must arrange it as soon as possible. You might not feel you need to do it if you have been ‘born again’, but it’s a legal requirement to enter heaven after you die and the demons, who will formally argue against you entering heaven, are extremely legalistic. You ‘might not feel’ you need a passport to enter a foreign country like Australia but you will not be allowed in without one. Similarly, we should desire our baptismal passport to enable us to enter the presence of God.

Unlike John the Baptist, Jesus enjoyed a party and drank wine. Whatever people in the public eye do, they are going to be criticised. People didn’t like John’s abstinence but they also criticised Jesus mixing with sinners and enjoying a drink with them. I think the key rule, when it comes to alcohol, is constant moderation. I like to avoid obvious temptations and so I don’t normally have crisps, chocolate or alcohol in the house. I also don’t like clutter. I would never have a wine cellar or even a wine rack in my home as I would set myself a challenge to empty it. In lockdown, I have diligently consumed all the food from our enormous chest freezer and cleared out our huge loft. Once I start on a challenge to tidy something, it will get done. But if friends were coming to dinner, I might buy a single bottle of wine and wouldn’t feel guilty about drinking several glasses. However, I work much more efficiently if I haven’t been drinking, I sleep more soundly and I seem to get more inspiration about what to write about. There are plenty of scripture readings about how alcohol might hinder us if we let it take over:

‘And these also stagger from wine and reel from beer: Priests and prophets stagger from beer and are befuddled with wine; they reel from beer, they stagger when seeing visions, they stumble when rendering decisions’ (Isaiah 28:7).

‘Wine is a mocker and beer a brawler; whoever is led astray by them is not wise’ (Proverbs 20:1).

Psalm 38:1-12

Poor King David is in a miserable state. He pleads with God to not rebuke or discipline him (v.1). God’s wrath has descended on him, because of his sin, and ‘there is no health’ in his body (v.3).

He is completely distraught: feeble, utterly crushed and he groans in anguish (v.8).

People avoid him (v.11) but his enemies are still setting traps for him. The same Psalm finishes with David calling out to God, ‘Come quickly to help me, my Lord and my Saviour’ (v.22).

However, we know today that Jesus will never leave us: ‘And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age’ (Matthew 28:20). If we have have been baptized, we have the Holy Spirit dwelling within us and are adopted children of God.

We will face tests and trials in our life but positive things will come out of all of them. They help to make us strong.

‘And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose, (Romans 8:28).

‘See, I have refined you, though not as silver. I have tested you in the furnace of affliction’ (Isaiah 48:10).

We can look back on previous issues and reflect on how God brought us through them. We can shrug off new trials – that would previously have floored us – with confidence, while retaining our internal joy.

‘We also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope’ (Romans 5:3).

God will rescue us in the end if we keep faith

‘And the God of all Grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast’ (1 Peter 5:10).

Picture: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/f/f8/Christ_raises_the_widow%27s_son_from_the_dead._Wood_engraving_Wellcome_V0034858.jpg See page for author, CC BY 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Balaam’s Donkey / Building on Rock: 27th March 2021

Numbers 22:21-23:26

Balaam saddled his donkey and went with the princes of Moab. God was very angry, even though He had told Balaam to go with them (22:20). An angel stood in his way to block him, because his path ‘is a reckless one before me’ (v.32). Maybe God thought Balaam was still just pursuing a large payment for his services and can’t be trusted to listen to God’s advice. This reminds me of when God met Moses at a lodging place on the way back to Egypt (Exodus 4:24) and ‘was about to kill him‘ even though God had just told Moses to return to Egypt. Moses is saved by his wife, Zipporah, carrying out an emergency circumcision on their baby boy and furiously flinging the bloody foreskin onto Moses feet, ‘Surely you are a bridegroom of blood to me’ (Exod. 4:25). Moses is saved by the spilled blood. This is a very strange story.

Moses had been chosen by God to be the leader of the currently enslaved Israelite nation, yet had failed to carry out the most important act of the Old Testament Blood Covenant – circumcising his son. From his wife’s fury, we can guess that she was the one who had refused to have their son circumcised but Moses had been weak, failing to insist that it must be carried out. Zipporah only relented when Moses was about to be killed. Even more disturbingly, is that if you believe that all actual physical encounters with ‘the Lord’ in the Old Testament are actually with Jesus (known as Christophanies) – as he is the only incarnate person of the Trinity and no-one can see God without dying – this would have been Jesus ‘about to kill Moses’ (4:24), who then lets ‘him alone’ (Exodus 4:26) only after his son’s blood touches Moses’ feet. Moses is spared and forgiven through the shedding of blood, just as we are justified and made righteous through the shedding of Jesus’ precious blood on the cross.

So, in summary we have Jesus arriving as an assassin to kill Moses because he wasn’t fit to the lead the Israelites, having failed to have his son circumcised. However, it is easy to forget about the time travelling abilities of God. God can move around time and knows the past, present and future. So God knew that if Moses was threatened with death, Zipporah would finally relent to having her son circumcised and Moses wouldn’t be killed. God knows the future and the choices people will make under pressure. It just shows how radical God is prepared to get in order to make people obey some foundational rules. We know today that a basic requirement to get into heaven is to be baptized. The indelible supernatural stamp you receive on your soul from baptism is like a passport with a valid visa allowing you entry into a country. If someone has refused to become baptized, when they have been told this fact, God may start doing some radical things in their life to get them to comply.

Amazing stories like this demonstrate the truth of the Bible. People haven’t just included the easy, ‘God is love’ stories. They have included the hard to digest, tough-love stories. Moses wrote the first five books of this Bible and he doesn’t hold being nearly killed by God against Him in any way. So Exodus chapter 4 is basically Moses saying, ‘Yes, God was about to kill me, but he didn’t. I deserved it, because my wife and I failed to respect his covenant. Nothing to see here, let’s move on with the story’.

It’s very similar to Abraham very nearly sacrificing his son Isaac in Genesis 22. These days, if we heard a voice in our heads saying, ‘Sacrifice your family as a burnt offering‘, we can reply, ‘It is written, thou shalt not kill. Get behind me, Satan.’ However, Abraham was sure it was actually God that had given him the instruction to slay his beloved son. Maybe the command had come from Jesus, if God had actually appeared to Abraham in physical form. Abraham was so full of faith that he was actually going to kill Isaac. Yet, God knew he was going to be stopped at the very last minute and no-one was going to die.

God sent an angel to oppose Balaam and it stood in the road. The donkey that Balaam was riding tried to avoid the angel repeatedly – despite being beaten for its troubles – and eventually lay down and refused to move. We then have the fascinating line, ‘The Lord opened the donkey’s mouth’ (v.28) and she started to speak. We learn from this that: animals can potentially talk (however, God has closed their mouths so they normally don’t); they can see angels when we can’t; they can try to save us through their actions; they have a memory, a sense of belonging to someone and a sense of justice, ‘Have I been in the habit of doing this to you?’ (v.30). Presumably God let all the animals in the garden of Eden talk (hence Eve’s conversation with the serpent wasn’t considered unusual) and perhaps they were all still talking on Noah’s ark up until the flood receded and the fear and dread of humans fell upon them (Genesis 9:2). This should make us treat the creatures in our lives with even more respect. If God opens their mouths, what are they going to say about us? I hope the birds in the garden will testify on my behalf, ‘He spent an awful lot on peanuts’.

Eventually, the Lord opens Balaam’s eyes so he can see the angel too (v.31). This means that there is a gift of seeing / discerning spirits that God can turn on and off in us as he pleases. We can pray to the Holy Spirit to be given this gift as it is both useful and fascinating. The evangelist, Ros Powell, https://www.rospowell.com/, told me how she was once at a Christian conference in Blackpool queueing up to receive prayer ministry and she could see a demonic spirit attached to a pretty girl in a line of people parallel to hers. The spirit was giving off clouds of scent / pheromones which made every woman that walked past gravitate towards this girl. Ros said this was fascinating to watch. It wasn’t Ros’s conference so she couldn’t march over and offer to deliver the girl. She left it to the designated prayer leaders. However, later in the week, Ros, accompanied by her husband, decided to go on a trip into town for lunch and this same girl got on the bus (with the same demonic spirit still attached to her). She was, of course, accompanied by a female friend. Ros was ‘on holiday’ but prayed to the Lord ‘If you want me to do something, you will have to show me a sign.‘ Eventually, Ros and her husband reached their destination and got off at the bus stop in the centre of Blackpool only for the demonised girl and her friend to get up and follow them. Ros felt she was directed to go up to the girl in the bus stop, explain what she could see and ask if the girl wanted God to deliver her from it. The girl willingly agreed. She must have sensed that something was amiss which is why she had attended the conference. Ros prayed for deliverance while they were all still standing in the Blackpool bus stop and the spirit detached itself and left. . The gift of spiritual discernment is a powerful weapon for the urban prayer warrior.

The angel was going to kill Balaam if he had continued – and spare the innocent donkey – but Balaam apologises and offer to go back home. The angel confirms he can continues but can only say what he is told to say.

Perhaps Balaam had started to brag to the Moabite princes about what he was capable to doing to the Israelites and needed clear guidance that he ‘must speak only what God puts in his mouth’ (Numbers 22:38).

Balaam and Balak built seven altars for sacrifices of bulls and rams and twice Balaam met with God and delivered God’s messages back to Balak. Balaam confirms the Israelites cannot be cursed, as God has not cursed them (23:8) and that ‘There is no sorcery against Jacob, no divination against Israel’ (23:23). Balak’s plot has been completely foiled. He has brought Balaam to curse the Israelites who, at Gods command, continues to bless them. Employing Balaam has damaged his plan to defeat the Israelites and now he desperately wants Balaam to shut up before even more blessings are imparted to them, ‘Neither curse them at all nor bless them at all!’ (23:25).

We can all learn the lesson that if we plan evil against righteous people it can harm us more than it harms them.

Luke 6:37-7:10

Here we have important lessons on not judging (or condemning). If we forgive, we will be forgiven (v.37). We should generously give and ‘it will be given back to you’ (v.38). There is the warning against a blind man leading a blind man (v.39-40) and a warning not to be hypocrites (v. 41-42).

Recognise a good tree by it’s good fruit, ‘The Good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart’ (v.45). I pray that this blog is populated by the overflow of good stories and reflections that have built up in my heart as I have attentively listed to dozens of teachers from a multitude of denominations over the years,

We should lay our foundation on rock like the wise builder (6:48). We can take this as basing our lives on the words and commands of Jesus and we have to put his teachings into practice. As Peter (the rock) was the first Pope I base my life on the 2,000 years of sound foundational teaching curated by the Catholic church, which will keep me safe when floods come. I am under the church’s authority, which gives my reflections validity. If the church points out any errors, I will apologise and correct them accordingly. The Centurion recognised, from his own experience of being under authority, the valid power that Jesus possessed.

The gentile Centurion demonstrated great faith, ‘But say the word, and my servant will be healed’ (7:7). The elders pleaded with Jesus asking him to help because the Centurion had given to the Israelites. He loved them and had built a synagogue (v.5). This goes back to 6:38 ‘Give, and it will be given back to you’. The Centurion could not have predicted that when he freely gave to build a synagogue, his generosity would later help persuade the Son of God to give him back the priceless life of his valued servant.

Psalm 37:32-40

‘The wicked lie in wait for the righteous’ (v.32). If you are a Christian in a modern secular workplace, you will be surrounded by wicked people, probably even your own boss, who will be looking for any opportunity to persecute you. However, the Lord will not leave us in their control ‘or let them be condemned when brought to trial(v.33).

Many wicked and ruthless managers get shifted around or promoted from job to job ‘flourishing like a green tree in its native soil (v.35) and so we usually just have to be patient for their future to be cut off, ‘he soon passed away and was no more’ (v.36). ‘All sinners will be destroyed’ (v.38).

God will be our stronghold in times of trouble while we wait for his deliverance, because we take refuge in him. ‘The salvation of the righteous comes from the Lord’ (v.39).

Picture: Miguel Hermoso Cuesta, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Bronze Snake and ‘Love your enemies’: March 26th 2021

Numbers 21:4-22:20

The Israelites stepped up their complaining. Previously, they had just moaned about God’s representative, Moses, and God hadn’t appreciated that. This time they also ‘spoke against God’ (v.5). They were even ungrateful for the manna that was sustaining them in the desert, without which they would all be dead: ‘And we detest this miserable food!” (v.5).This wasn’t going to end well and ‘the Lord sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died’ (v.6).

God hates ingratitude so we need to make sure the first thing on our agenda each morning is to praise and be grateful to him. It’s interesting that God was using his created fauna, this time snakes, to plague the Israelites. He used a menagerie of frogs, flies, gnats and locusts against the Egyptians. The snake was an interesting choice, The last time we heard about the serpent was when Satan deceived Eve in the guise of a snake and it was then cursed to crawl on its belly. God has rehabilitated these reptiles to do his work for him.

The Israelites again asked Moses to rescue them / interceding through prayer to God. They just wanted the snakes to go but God didn’t make it that easy for them or they would soon forget the lesson. When they were bitten, they actually had to do something. They had to go and look at a bronze snake on a pole – then they would live, There is often a debate in Christianity whether we are saved through faith or works of a combination of both. Here, an Israelite is cured if they go and look at the snake. It doesn’t say they have to believe this will happen or to have faith in God. However, all the Israelites were operating at a much higher level of faith then our society does. They saw miracles on a daily basis – being led by the cloud descending or ascending from the tabernacle. They knew God existed, that he could prevent them from dying from snakebite and that Moses relayed his instructions faithfully. However, they were still saved by works – in that they had to go and find wherever the snake was in camp and look at it. We are saved by faith (belief) and baptism. However, faith and believe are still ‘works” as we have to choose to do them. We aren’t passively saved, we have to choose to accept God’s gracious and priceless gift of salvation. We have to work to be baptized – finding a minister to do it, going to church, agreeing to climb into the water. We work in a partnership with God for our salvation. God does all the supernatural heavy lifting of course. He is only too pleased to do the majority of the work for us if make a tiny effort. However, the fact remains is that we do have to make a conscious effort to accept God’s freely offered gift of salvation.

Making a bronze snake on a pole is highly unusual because it could easily become an idol that is worshipped instead of God. By the time Hezekiah become king of Judah, the Israelites have named the bronze snake and are burning incense to it. However, the snake on the pole represents Jesus on the cross, ‘Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life. (John 3:14-15).’ The serpent in Eden was punished by God for its transgressions. Jesus on the cross, took on our transgressions and punishment, so that if we turn to him we can live.

Hezekiah (2 Kings 4) broke the bronze serpent into pieces as the Israelite were worshipping it, instead of God. It should have been broken up and destroyed as soon as the venomous snakes had gone – if they ever did – but by now the Israelites were starting to collect a a large collection of holy objects – from the ark, altar and lampstand to the stone tablets, jar of manna and Aaron’s staff. They just added the bronze snake to the collection.

The Israelites politely asked Sihon, King of the Amorites, if they could pass through his country. He refused and attacked them. Israel killed him and took over a large number of settlements. Sihon probably mistrusted the Israelites and thought that they would have stripped the resources from his country. However, it would have been a lot better to trust in their word and take a risk rather challenging more than half a million fighting men. This victory allowed the Israelites to settle in the area and God assured them that they could also defeat Og, King of Bashan, and his whole army. They take possession of his land too. Things are going well for the Israelites – as long at they always trust in God to fight for them.

The Israelites settled across from Jericho and Balak, the King of Moab, realised that they are so many of them that he will require supernatural assistance to defeat them. He hired a professional ‘prophet’ called Balaam to curse the Israelites ‘For I know that those you bless are blessed and those you curse are cursed’, (Numbers 22:6). Even though Balaam charges a fee for his services, which religious people are not allowed to do ‘freely you have received, freely you give’ (Matthew 10:8), he did seem to have some sort of relationship with God. He was confident that the Lord would give him an answer during the night and, indeed, God did come to him and asked ‘Who are these men with you? (Numbers 22:9). It’s fascinating that a professional gentile prophet is making a living amongst a pagan population and regularly communicates with God. However, Balaam is condemned in the New Testament (2 Peter 2:15) as no-one should curse people professionally for money. As God knows everything, he already knew who Balaam’s visitors were and so he must have been testing Balaam with the question to check his honesty and motives. God instructed Balaam that he must not put a curse on the Israelites – as they are blessed and that he must not go back with the Moabite delegation. Balaam obeyed completely. However, the king does not take ‘no’ for an answer and sent even more distinguished visitors with the promise of a higher fee. This time, God permitted Balaam to go with the Moabites but to ‘do only what I tell you (22:20).

This shows we should continuously ask God for guidance as he may change his advice when circumstances change.

Luke 6:12-36

After a night praying to God, Jesus called all his followers and chose twelve to be apostles. The list is in order of importance with Simon (now called Peter) at the start and Judas Iscariot at the end. The Holy Spirit must have advised Jesus to make this selection. Judas had been working devoutly to be elevated from a disciple to ‘an apostle’ and would have healed people and delivered them. The Holy Spirit knew what traitorous decisions he would make in the future but still included him because God turns all bad things to good for those who love him.

Power came from Jesus and healed all the people who come to see him. All those troubled by evil spirits were cured. Jesus gave a list of ‘blessings and woes’ which are similar to the beatitudes in Matthew 5 but seem a bit more physical. In Luke, Jesus says ‘blessed are you who are poor’ (v.20) ‘ but Matthew says ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit‘ (Matthew 5:3). Luke says ‘blessed are those who hunger‘ (v.21) but Matthew has ‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness‘ (Matthew 5:6).

‘Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment (1 Timothy 6:17). Prosperity pastors point out that people such as Abraham, Joseph, David and Solomon were rich and still enjoyed favour with God. However, we are commanded to ‘do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share’ (1 Timothy 6:18). The poor are often relatively more generous than the well-off and shame us by giving more generously than we do, like the widow in the temple (Mark 12:41-44). Luke 6:24-36 clearly implies that those who are rich, well fed, laugh and well regarded in this life will not have such a great reward in heaven as those who were poor, hungry and wept. It’s warning to the majority of us who sit in warm houses with plenty of food in the fridge. while other people in the world are starving. We should be grateful to God for all he richly provides for us but we should share. This reading encourages us to love more and give more generously. Obviously, we can’t give richly to the poor unless we are blessed by God with resources in the first place. God does not forsake the righteous and richly provides for us in order that they can be generous (Psalm 37:25-26). Even when we live in a nice house, with food for dinner we can still ‘hunger’. Many celebrities find that their lives are still missing something despite wealth, comfort, shallow laughter and the adoration of their fans. We can decide that our comfortable and cossetted life doesn’t satisfy us and it’s only by looking to Jesus and asking him to come into our life that we can be satisfied.

Our house and bank balance will just be left to others when we die. We possess nothing for eternity other than our relationship with God.

Jesus’ next radical teaching is that we should love our enemies and show mercy to all. It is such a blessing to forgive people who have wronged us rather than carry around hate, bitterness and unforgiveness, which will harm our relationship with God. Lack of forgiveness can also harm us both physically and spiritually. I spoke to a friend this week who said she used to suffer with constant throat problems and painful tonsillitis. When she went for prayer, the pastor told her, through a word of knowledge, that she needed to forgive a certain person. She thought she had forgiven them in her mind, but the pastor advised her to ‘say it out loud’ as Satan needed to hear it too. As soon as she forgave a certain person out loud, she felt something shift from her throat. her medical problems instantly cleared up and she never suffered again. Forgiveness is a decision and one we need to make as soon as possible after an issue, rather than letting unforgiveness fester in our hearts turning them hard and giving certain spirits a legal right to take up residence within us.

Psalm 37:21-31

If we are ‘righteous’ our children will not have to beg for bread (v.25). We can give generously (v.21) and utter wisdom (v.30). If the Lord blesses us, we will inherit the land (v.22) and the Lord will uphold us with his hand (v.24).

If we turn from evil and do good, we will not be forsaken as God loves the just and faithful (27-28). We will be protected for ever (v.28).

Picture: Jules & Jenny from Lincoln, UK, CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

New Wine into New Wineskins: March 25th 2021

Numbers 19:1-21:3

Today, we read about a strange ceremony involving ‘cleansing water’ containing the ashes of a red heifer. We are cleansed today by Jesus’ blood, shed to atone for our sins.

Moses made a grave faux pas and is banned from ever entering the promised land (v.12). God had instructed him to speak to a rock to make it pour out water for the thirsty, grumbling Israelites. Instead, Moses hit it with Aaron’s miraculously flowering staff after claiming credit for the forthcoming miracle, ‘Listen, you rebels, must we bring water out of this rock?(v.10). Rather than, ‘I will pray to God so that He will produce water for you from this rock.

Water gushed from the rock. Jesus established the church on Peter (the rock) and so we can go to the church (the bride of Christ) for spiritual refreshment and renewal for the glory of God.

The Israelites mourned for Aaron for 30 days (v.29) after he died. Even though the Israelites were constantly grumbling and rebelling, they did recognise that Aaron had done a lot for them and deserved their respect and gratitude. His son, Eleazer, must have felt a massive burden of responsibility in addition to grieving for his father.

The Canaanites proactively attacked the Israelites and captured some of them. The Israelites wisely made a vow to the Lord before they retaliated and are able to completely destroy them. One tribe destroyed, plenty more to go.

Luke 5:33-6:11

Jesus was asked why his disciples don’t fast. He says they will in the future once he has left. Fasting is a tremendously beneficial spiritual practice. We know that some evil spirits can only be exorcised through a combination of prayer and fasting. Whenever, you want God to do something special it is wise to make an effort to fast – don’t make a big song and dance about it – it should just be between you and the Lord.

I had my first even prophetic ‘picture’ in my mind in regards to the ‘new wineskins’ passage. Jesus said that new wine shouldn’t be poured into old wineskins or they will burst. I could clearly see in my mind an old wineskin. In fact, it was so old, rutted and encrusted it looked like a wrinkled, white and grey nut. However, cracks started to appear on the surface and the old brittle and hard surface shattered. From within the wineskin came a new fleshy wine skin, young, supple, health and flexible and the pink / purplish colour of fresh liver. It unfurled and expanded to be four to five times the size of the old skin. My wife and I are always praying for the conversion of our elderly relatives and I take this to signify that people are never too old to be saved. The power and glory of God will burst out in their lives and renew them, shattering their former old, hardened shell.

I love the beautiful ‘New Wine’ song from Hillsong Worship.

In verse 39 we read, ‘And no-one after drinking old wine wants the new, for he says, ‘The old is better.” I find this with my fellow Catholics particularly the older ones. They can be resistant to new teaching on the Holy Spirit. Catholics can pray for the Holy Spirit, who took up residence in them at the time of baptism and should have been fully activated at the time of their confirmation, to become fully active in their lives. Many never seem to bother. The Holy Spirit carries on as a small pilot light in their heart rather than igniting into an all-engulfing flame allowing the supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit to flow through their lives, We should all pray:

‘Come Holy Spirit, and fill my faithful heart. Kindle in me the fire of your love and give me a full measure of all your precious gifts, pressed down, shaken and overflowing so that I can be the most effective witness for the Lord Jesus Christ. Send forth your Spirit, O God, and let me be recreated. And You shall renew the face of the earth.’

Jesus disciples picked and ate corn on the Sabbath even though this is unlawful. They are under minute scrutiny from the Pharisees who spot this infringement. However, even the Pharisees seem to have given up on anyone totally complying with the Sabbath law, they just moan about it rather than trying to stone them. It is strange that so many Christians still want to ‘keep the Sabbath’ on a Saturday when Jesus has demonstrated it is impossible and it can be broken to do good / lessen hunger. We are no longer slaves to impossibly rigid laws after Jesus’ death on the cross. We must come together as a Christian community each week to give God communal praise and worship but for Christians, this is now on a Sunday to commemorate Jesus’ resurrection on ‘The Lord’s day’.

Proverbs 8:1-11

Wisdom and understanding are always calling out to us. We should continually ask God for them for a full measure of them to gain prudence and understanding.

Once we have wisdom we have ‘worthy things to say‘ and we ‘speak what is right’ (v.6). Our mouths ‘speak what is true‘ (v.7) and ‘just‘ (v.8).

Choose wisdom and knowledge more than money or precious stones. ‘Nothing you desire can compare can compare’ (v.11).

There is a vast distinction between ‘worldly wisdom’, which might help people success in business or politics and Christian wisdom – which comes from Jesus.

‘For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate (1 Corinthians 1:18-19)”.’

Picture: Tamorlan, CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Jesus heals the paralytic: March 24th 2021

Numbers 16:36-18:32

Grim start. Bronze censers were picked up from among the ‘smouldering remains’ (v.37) of the 250 men who had unwisely burned incense before the Lord and, as a consequence, were burned up by fire for their impudence. Only the descendants of Aaron were allowed to burn incense. Catholics still have some sacraments reserved to the full ordained priesthood today such as the Eucharist, Reconciliation, and the Anointing of the Sick (as this also involves reconciliation). Only a priest, appointed by the Bishop, can carry out a formal exorcism. As lay people, we are also priests, prophets and kings, and can pray informally for healing and deliverance.

Moses faced an even larger rebellion after God killed the 250 rebels and God threatened to to kill the entire assembly of Israelites – all 2 million of them (v.45) – and started a plague among them. I have heard some pastors say that God will never give someone a disease but this passage disproves that. Some don’t preach an omnipotent God – which He is. Anything that happens to us is because God has allowed it to happen. God can do what He likes and we should always show him love and respect. Jesus pointed out: ‘Be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28). Sometimes, God uses death and disease to get our attention. Jesus took the wrath of God for us so that now We call him our Father. I think today some people contract diseases to bring them to God. If normal methods of evangelisation don’t work, it’s only by having our body affected that we might start to consider if God can help us. God might directly give us the disease or He might reduce the spiritual protection He gives us which allows the devil to give us the disease or He may just allow the rogue bacteria or virus to spread to us. This is splitting hairs, dropping our protection so that we catch a diseases is the same as giving us one. People can contract a disease or a disability so that a miraculous cure can bring them and others to God and increase the faith of direct witnesses and those who hear the resultant testimonies, ‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned,’ said Jesus, ‘but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him’ (John 9:3). This is a good reason to evangelise and pray for healing. It might be our destined mission to pray for someone at a defined place and time for them to be healed. If we don’t listen to the prompting of the Spirit to go there and do that, that person may miss their healing but hopefully God has a back-up plan. When we go to heaven we might be shown the healings we missed by not being in the right place at the right time.

Moses and Aaron rushed to make atonement for all the Israelites – just as Jesus made atonement for us on the cross. They had to hurry as the plague had already started. The plague bacteria may already have been present in the desert soil or on the skin of the people and it was only God’s protection that had stopped the Israelites catching it before. Once God lifted this protection, as a righteous punishment for rebellion, the bacteria was able to grow and spread. Aaron offered incense, made atonement, and stood between the living and the dead and the plague stopped Another 14,700 people were dead. When were the Israelites going to understand the necessity to be obedient?

God was keen to stop the rebellions and the deaths and did this by proving Aaron, representing the house of Levi, is the appointed priest by making his wooden staff sprout, bud, blossom and produce almonds (17:8). This was meant to be a sign to the rebellious. The Israelite switched from being rebellious to being terrified worrying that they were all going to die. It is easy to understand how God became so exasperated with them. It was only the Levites who were allowed to perform duties near the Tent of Meeting and only an even smaller group, Aaron and his sons, could be priests.

God himself selected the Levites to do the work at the Tent of Meeting (v.6). They didn’t select themselves. They were paid with all the tithes of Israel (18:21). All the Israelites had to give them a tenth of whatever they produced / earnt and the Levites had to give a tenth of this – the best part of it – to the priests. We aren’t obliged to tithe our money anymore but it is good practice. However, for obvious reasons, many Pastors would prefer this Old Testament tradition to continue and it does seem to confer spiritual benefits. When we freely give away money in a cheerful manner, God will always look after us even though that shouldn’t be the motive behind giving. We should all freely give a realistic proportion of our money to the church. If we value the work of our priests / pastors and want to worship in a building that isn’t falling apart – we have to support in a generous way. Tithing and freely donating generously on other occasions builds up a health attitude to money. We are just custodians of money and our task is to give away excess to worthy causes and support our church.

Luke 5:17-32

‘And the power of the Lord was present for him to heal the sick’ (v.17). Even though Jesus was both God and Man and filled completely with the Holy Spirit, it seems that some days were better than others for healing. We know from Matthew 13:58 that the faith of people around Jesus was sometimes necessary for miracles to take place, ‘And he did not do many miracles there because of their lack of faith’.

Jesus heals the paralytic lowered through the roof. Our pastor says this happened at Jesus’ own house. That makes the story even more incredible. I love praying for healing but might get a little concerned if people started dismantling my roof. At least Jesus was a carpenter to fix the damage and one hopes that the men responsible helped. It’s marvellous that Jesus isn’t concerned about his roof – he is concerned with forgiving the paralytic’s sins and healing him. Maybe it’s immediately after this that Jesus just walks away from his house – maybe tossing the keys to the healed paralytic – and starts to travel. He never goes back to his previous possessions. ‘Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head’ (Luke 9:58).

Psalm 37:10-20

The meek will inherit the land and enjoy great peace’ (Psalm 37:11). (Also see Matthew 5:5). Won’t it be great to have peace? If the wickedness, greed, anger and sin could just go away. That could happen if everyone become a ‘born-again’ Christian. When you visit a dynamic, spirit-filled church where everyone is loving each other and joining in – you don’t ever want to leave. But we have to take that joy and co-operation into the world. Unfortunately, it soon gets diluted by the work of the wicked. However, church can give us a glimpse of paradise – a place where everyone loves God and their neighbour as themselves.

‘The wicked plot against the righteous’ (v.12). We see this in modern day society with the wicked trying to ban campaigners standing near abortion clinics to save the lives of the unborn or parliamentary attempts to try to remove bishops from the House of Lords. It’s not just a reaction against new religious ideas, people actively seem to wrack their minds to try to dismantle any religious influence on the state. There is often a smoke screen of reasonableness stating that ‘all people are all equal before the law and parliament’ – but unborn people are not regarded as equal at all and targeted for destruction in the womb with enthusiastic support for abortion. Abortion isn’t a specific religious topic and so should not form part of a secularist agenda. All good people should agree that killing the defenceless unborn and trying to systematically eliminate people with conditions such as down’s syndrome is bad. However, the wicked cannot help but plot against any ideals that religious people should sign up to. We have to trust in God that wicked schemes will be foiled and the wicked themselves will perish and vanish: ‘Their swords shall pierce their own hearts, and their bows will be broken’ (v.15).

Jesus heals a man with leprosy: March 23rd 2021

Numbers 15:1-16:35

But anyone who sins defiantly, blasphemes the Lord, and that person must be cut off from the people‘ (15:30).

It’s wonderful that we can now confess defiant sins to God and receive absolution thanks to the blood of Jesus. However, we do need to stop sinning. Regularly praying in tongues throughout the day (through the Gift of the Holy Spirit) will build us up, edifying, sanctifying and enabling us to resist temptation.

In verses 32-36, the Israelites caught a ‘sabbath breaker’ gathering wood and he was stoned to death. Many Christians still insist that everyone should still ‘keep the Sabbath’ on Saturdays without remembering how stringent this is. To keep the Sabbath properly, no-one can do any work at all. The Sabbath was a stipulation between God and Israel to stop the Israelites working themselves to death. It is virtually impossible, since the advent of electricity, to keep all the strict requirements of the Sabbath. This is because there is a stipulation not to light any fires on the Sabbath – and this means not driving (due to the sparks involved) or turning on any lights or electrical appliances. We couldn’t even open a fridge – because the interior light will go on. It is thus virtually impossible for anyone in the modern world to completely ‘follow the Sabbath’. We would have to live in a tent in the middle of the desert and leave all our mod-cons behind. We would then probably find one of our children had smuggled their mobile phone with them and we would have to theoretically stone them to death.

Christians worship on the Sunday because it’s the ‘Day of the Lord’ when Jesus was resurrected. We must come together as a community to worship and spend time with God but it’s also a day for us to enjoy, eat together, to rest and relax, to help elderly relatives, to spend time on relaxing pastimes and ‘marital relations’. It’s a day to forget the rat race, the pursuit of money and the other ‘lusts of your own hearts and eyes’ (v.39). God wants us to rest one day in seven for our benefit (and also to remember his creation of the earth). Enjoying a worship filled, family-based and charitable Sunday covers the moral obligation to make one day more special than the other 6 working days. And let’s be honest, with offices opening up on Mondays in most of the Western world Sunday is the 7th day of the week according to the vast majority of the population. Jesus nailed the old requirement to ‘obey the (Saturday) Sabbath’ on the cross. We Christians are new creations and no longer slaves to the Old Testament Law. Jesus said, ‘For my yoke is easy and my burden is light’ (Matthew 11:30). Everyone has a right to go with their own conscience and convictions but I find life a lot less exhausting if I am just obedient. If the leaders of all the major churches and 3 billion Christians are celebrating Jesus’s resurrection on a Sunday, I am am not going to rebel and start my own traditions. I am just going to join the party.

God stipulated blue tassels should be displayed on the corners of everyone’s garments (v.39). Blue is the holy colour (see March 16th). It’s useful to have an object permanently in view to remind us of God’s commands. My wedding ring reminds me not to prostitute myself by going after the lusts of my eyes. People often accuse Catholics as being idol worshippers but pictures and statues in Catholic churches are just reminders – like these blue tassels remind the Jews of God – of the people portrayed in them. Catholics honour a Holy image but the honour rendered to an image passes to the person portrayed in it. If we venerate a picture of Jesus, it’s not the picture itself that is being honoured, the honour passes to Jesus. ‘The honour paid to sacred images is “respectful veneration”, not the adoration due to God alone (CCC, 2132). God stipulated blue tassels on garments to help the Israelites remember him. He also specified a whole collection of Old Testament images from: the staff of Aaron; to the bronze serpent; to the ark of the covenant; the jar of manna within it; the cherubim on top of the ark and a whole host of holy objects. They were to be respected but not adored. Jesus, in becoming incarnate as a visible man, ‘introduced a new “economy” of images (CCC, 2131).

There was then a rebellion. The revels were either swallowed in an earthquake or consumed by fire from the Lord. Moses predicted the earthquake to show that ‘the Lord has sent me to do all these things and that it was not my idea’ (v.28). This is a good lesson in obedience. I am not going to try to overthrow the priesthood and take over. I am going to fully accept and enjoy my layperson role as a spirit-filled evangeliser.

Luke 4:38-5:16

After Jesus had been in the synagogue he ‘went to the home of Simon’ (v.38). Presumably, Simon had been in the synagogue and invited Jesus or did Jesus just turn up, led by the Spirit? I like to think that Simon had listened intently to Jesus in the synagogue, watched him carry out the exorcism and wanted to hear more. When I was a new Christian convert, my wife and I would often invite priests and religious people around for dinner. It is surprising how many Christians shun priests socially. Jesus healed Simon’s (Peter’s) mother-in-law from a high fever. ‘They asked Jesus to help her’ (v.38). So even though Jesus had barely started his ministry, his disciples sensed he could ease suffering. He actually ‘rebuked’ the fever i.e. he spoke to it, which implies that either fevers / bacteria / viruses can hear and respond to authoritative commands or that a demonic spirit was causing the illness. Simon’s mother-in-law instantly recovered from the healing / deliverance and began to wait on them. Jesus didn’t say, ‘ You rest and put your feet up and recover some more’. This lady had been totally healed and so could immediately carry out her full workload to support his ministry. In these day of covid, we would be wary of someone who has just recovered from a high fever serving us. We would want them to stay in a different room or even a different house, while we all wore masks, sanitised all the surfaces and washed our hands. Jesus knew that the problem had entirely gone.

Jesus then healed all who had varied kinds of sickness. He laid hands on them and healed all of them. Some people not only had a sickness, they also had one or more demons in them and so they received both healing and deliverance. Jesus commanded the demons not to speak. It was too early for his cover to be blown and for everyone to know he was the Son of God.

The people in Capernaum don’t want Jesus to leave. He would be a useful insurance in case anyone became ill in the future but he insisted he had to visit other towns as well.

The work of Jesus sounds fantastic and miraculous but, as his death enabled all of us to be filled with the Holy Spirit and become adopted children of God, he is doing nothing we can’t do if we have enough faith. We can teach, heal and deliver through the power of the Holy Spirit, in Jesus’s name for God’s glory.

Simon, James and John made a miraculous catch of fish by showing obedience despite tiredness and world-weary low expectations. God loves to astonish us with a miracle when we have been unsuccessful through our own efforts and are feeling low in confidence.

‘Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!’ (v.8) says Simon but this tactic doesn’t work. We are all sinners and so no-one would be converted unless God were persistent. He will always call and invite us to love him in return.

The man with leprosy in verse 12 shows faith in Jesus’ ability to heal but isn’t sure of Jesus’ willingness. God is always willing to heal us both physically and spiritually but he sometimes allows the devil / rogue bacteria or viruses to make us ill because he wants good to come out of it,

Despite Jesus’ fame growing, he still makes time to withdraw to lonely places and pray. We need to spend time alone with God without the distractions of noisy crowds. I seem to get most of my inspiration when I am in the bathroom, one of the few places I can be alone and quiet in a family house.

Psalm 37:1-9

We should just forgive and forget when evil deeds are committed against us. Evil people won’t prosper for ever, they will soon wither. Don’t fret about their temporary successes. Forgiveness enables us to ‘delight ourselves in the Lord’ (v.4) without being bitter and distracted.

We are told to ‘commit your way to the Lord‘ (v.5). It’s a brave prayer to say to God, ‘I don’t know what I should be doing and what path my life should take. Please be absolutely clear God and shut down situations you do not want me to be in and open up new avenues you want me to take, in Jesus name, Amen.’

Expect God to act in a totally unexpected way. For example, God might stop restraining the evil people you work with, who have been champing at the bit for years to persecute a Christian, and you might find yourself engineered out of a company if it’s not where God wants you to be. Don’t fret. Trust God with your future. ‘In all things, God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose’ (Romans 8:28).

If we are patient and trust and hope in the Lord, we will inherit the land and shine like the noonday sun (v.6). God will give us the desires of our heart (v.4) and we can delight in him.

Picture: Cadetgray, CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Refusing to enter the Promised Land and Jesus, the Chief Exorcist: March 22nd 2021

Numbers 13:26-14:45

The spies returned from the promised land after 40 days and gave a truthful report to Moses. Caleb was all for going in and taking possession of it. He wasn’t afraid of any giants.

The other spies were scared. They didn’t believe that God would keep to his promises and help them to conquer the current inhabitants: ‘We can’t attack those people; they are stronger than we are (v.31)’

All the spies, except Caleb and Joshua, told blatant exaggerations and lies about the land to the Israelites, ‘The land we explored devours those living in it. ‘All the people we saw there are of great size’ (v.32). Lies can be very powerful when they are exaggerations of the truth. Some of the people they saw were of great size, but not all.

The mysterious Nephilim were mentioned (v.33) from which the giants are descended – see also Genesis 6:4, where they are describe as ‘heroes of old, men of renown‘. The enormous Philistine, Goliath, who fights David (1 Samuel 17) is thought to have descended from this race of giants.

The whole community rebelled again showing just how quick they were to disbelieve God’s promises.

The Israelites proposed going back to Egypt – where they lived in bondage and their baby boys were being executed. They wanted to go back to certain slavery instead of even testing God’s promise of freedom.

Moses, Aaron, Joshua and Caleb tried to persuade them how fantastic the land was and that they will ‘swallow‘ up the current inhabitants of the promised land because ‘their protection is gone, but the Lord is with us’ (v.9). There was no reason for the Israelites to be afraid with God on their side.

The moaning of the Israelites annoyed the Lord again even though he is ‘slow to anger, abounding in love and forgiving sin and rebellion’ (v.18) and He was going to strike them down with a plague and destroy them. Moses told him that this would be bad for his image. People would say that God was not able to bring the Israelites into the promised land and so slaughtered them instead.

Moses asked God to forgive the grumbling Israelites, which he quickly did but they still had to face punishment. None of the current adult Israelites (twenty years old or more) – apart from Caleb (and Joshua) would be allowed to see the promised land due to their contempt and disobedience. Caleb ‘has a different spirit and follows me wholeheartedly’ (v.24), said God. We should all try to have a ‘Caleb-spirit’ and enthusiastically follow and obey the Lord. Everyone was sentenced to be suffering shepherds in the desert for 40 years (including poor Joshua and Caleb).

The spies who had spread the bad report about the land were struck down with a plague and died.

When Moses told the Israelites about their 40 year sentence they mourned, realised they had sinned and headed off towards the promised land. Too late! We have to learn to seize the gifts of God when they are offered, not throw them back in His face, later regret our actions and then try to take them in our own time.

The disobedient Israelites refused to turn back to the Red Sea and headed off into the promised land without Moses, the ark and (most importantly) God’s help even though they were warned it would end in disaster. They were duly attacked and defeated. It’s easy to understand why God was so annoyed with them but I am sure we have all blundered around in our own lives, been disobedient and ungrateful to God and later tried to do things all by ourselves. We need to listen to God, follow him exactly when he wants us to and rely on his promise to help and deliver us.

Luke 4:14-37

‘Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit’ (v.14). His ministry starts out so well, ‘everyone praised him’ (v.15).

Jesus predicted that he won’t get much of a reception in his home town with reference to the difficult ministries of Elijah and Elisha. We can find preaching to our own friends and relatives the most difficult task of evangelisation. If we have been born again after a secular childhood. they may think we are still the old sinful people they grew up with and were comfortable with. They can become furious with the suggestion that they too can turn their lives around and confront their own sins.

We are meant to proclaim good news (the gospel) to the world as anointed, baptized, confirmed, Baptized in the Spirit, born-again Christians, having received the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus used ‘gracious words’ (v.22). It can be tempting to become heated when people simply do not acknowledge the greatness of love of God. We should just sow little gracious seeds in their hearts and show patience and kindness.

The crowd want to throw Jesus off a cliff, ‘But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way’ (v.30). Jesus was under supernatural protection up until the time of his crucifixion. His guardian angel was the captain of the angelic army, Saint Michael and Jesus was also fully filled with the Holy Spirit. If we are working on God’s business, the Holy Spirit can make us invisible / not noticeable to our enemies or He can throw our enemies into total confusion meaning that we, as servants of God, can slip by, crossing borders / passing through checkpoints with impunity. Our pastor thinks nothing of visiting countries in the midst of civil wars as she firmly believes that machine-gun toting rebels simply won’t notice her.

Jesus is instantly recognised by a demon ‘I know who you are – the Holy One of God’ (v.34)‘. Trendy theologians might try to suggest the ‘possessed man’ was mentally ill but this not correct. The man was possessed by a fallen angel who knew full well who Jesus was. Jesus lovingly created all the angels (‘through him all things were made’ John 1:3). Each individual angel forms its own unique species and they all ‘have intelligence and will; they are personal and immortal creatures, surpassing in perfection all visible creatures’ (CCC. 330). The fallen angel recognised his creator, which most humans fail to do today. However, angels are a lot smarter than we are and have been around since creation (CCC, 332). Jesus in his role of Chief Exorcist swiftly delivers the possessed man. We can do the same if we invoke the name of Jesus in faith: ‘Be quiet! Come out of him, in Jesus’ name!’

(Incidentally, what directions should be give to an exorcised Spirit? Where should they go? We don’t want them hanging around or coming back. ‘Go to the foot of the cross for Lord Jesus to judge you as you are, in Jesus’ name’). Jesus is the judge, not us.

People were amazed at Jesus’ authority and power as they should be amazed today at God’s power wielded through Holy Spirit filled Christians delivering people through the name of Jesus for the glory of God.

Psalm 36:1-12.

We have to pray to the Holy Spirit to reveal to us how we have sinned and continue to sin otherwise there is a danger of flattering ourselves and not detecting or hating our sin. The Holy Spirit wants to continuously sanctify us – making us holy enough to enter heaven and once we have asked Him into our lives, He will nudge and guide us to give up habits we might be unaware were a problem. We can’t earn a place in heaven by being holy but God hates sin and if we want to hear from him in this lifetime we want to have clean hands and a pure heart. Since praying for longer period of time in the Spirit, I have been nudged to give up secular music, most films and most newspapers and I receive more frequent flashes of inspiration / words of knowledge as I purify my life.

God loves us just as we are (‘how priceless is your unfailing love!’ v.7) and salvation is a priceless gift from God that cannot be earned – but the more we try to become like his Son the more the Holy Spirit communicates and works through us.

We should lie on our beds and plot good, committing ourselves to un-sinful courses. God allows the devil to tempt us but always gives us enough grace to conquer all temptations, rejecting that is wrong.

King David marvels at God’s love. faithfulness, righteousness and justice. There is no favouritism with God, ‘Both high and low among men find refuge in the shadow of your wings’ (v.7).

When Jesus fed the 5,000, there were baskets of food left over. There is always an over-abundance of provision from God: a ‘feast’ (v.8), a ‘river of delights’ (v.8) and a ‘fountain of life’ (v.9).

Image by falco from Pixabay

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