Sowing and Reaping / Jesus, ‘The Saviour of the World’: May 5th 2021

Judges 2:6-3:31

The Israelites proved to have a short memory. After their remaining great leaders had died: ‘another generation grew up, who knew neither the Lord nor what he had done for Israel’ (v.11).

They started to follow the demonic entities that the people around them worshipped and forsook the Lord. In his righteous fury, God handed the Israelites over to raiders who plundered them (v.14). He made sure they were defeated in every battle.

When they were in great distress, groaning under those who oppressed and afflicted them, God would raise up a judge to save them from their enemies. God was with the judges while they were alive but each time one died, the Israelites returned to ways even more corrupt that those of their fathers: ‘following other gods and serving and worshipping them. They refused to give up their evil practices and stubborn ways’ (v.19). Our society will be like this as the Covid pandemic recedes. Covid shut down the nightclubs and the pubs where people worshipped alcohol and sex. People stopped spending money on frivolous items at department stores, theoretically freeing up disposable income to give to charity. God heard the cry of the frightened and bereaved and sorted out vaccines. Once we have been delivered, people will rush back to the pubs to corrupt themselves even more than before.

God decided not to drive any more enemy nations from the promised land keeping them in place to constantly test Israel’s loyalty to him. The Israelites failed the test. They intermarried with the pagan nations and served their gods.

The first judge was Othniel, a nephew of the legendary warrior Caleb. ‘The Spirit of the Lord came upon him’ (3:10). He defeated the king of Aram and Israel had peace for 40 years until Othniel died. Notice that the Holy Spirit came upon Othniel and empowered him for this leadership task. How much more are Christians empowered today because we have the Holy Spirit living permanently within us? We just have to co-operate and pray for him to activate his gifts within us.

The Israelites committed evil again and so were handed over to the king of Moab for eighteen years. God gave them a new deliverer, Ehud, who stabbed the evil king with a double-edged sword: ‘I have a message from God for you’ (v.20). The Bible tells us that the word of God is a double-edged sword that we can use to metaphorically stab our enemies. Jesus stabbed Satan with sacred scripture during his temptations in the desert. The Israelites followed their new strong leader into battle and Moab was defeated. Then ‘the land had peace for eighty years’ (v.30).

The Holy Spirit gave certain judges supernatural strength and endurance in battle. The next one, Shamgar, stuck down six hundred Philistines with an ox-goad and saved Israel (v.31).

John 4:27-42

The Samaritan woman went back to her town and said: ‘Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Christ?’ The Samaritans listened to her and came out of the town to see Jesus. After Jesus’ resurrection, when Mary Magdalene told the weeping and mourning disciples that she had see the risen Jesus, ‘they did not believe it’ (v.11). It is wonderful that Gentile Samaritans were hungrily looking for the Messiah when so many Jews had rejected him. We should tell as many people as we can to ‘come and see’ and invite them to a Spirit filled dynamic church so that their lives can be changed.

Jesus sent us out to preach the gospel to the end of the world. Covid has shut down travel to a great extent but we can still tell people about Jesus via the internet. Greetings to my readers right across the world. Our food is to finish his work and proclaim the saving power of Christ.

Jesus saw the town’s people making their way towards him. ‘Open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest’ (v.36). Someone must have previously sown faith in the Samaritans hearts that made them long for the Christ. Jesus, and his disciples, could now harvest these believers for eternal life. So many people taught me different bits of the Bible as I grew up; not least, the Anglican vicar who gave me intensive tuition on Christianity before my wedding in a High Anglican church. We might not see any growth or harvest as we talk to people about Jesus but God’s word will germinate in their hearts allowing others in the future to harvest them into heaven.

Just from the woman’s testimony, many Samaritans believed in him (v.39). The Holy Spirit can give us supernatural words of knowledge about people that can not only convert an individual, they can convert others to Christ through that convert’s powerful testimony. The Samaritans urged Jesus to stay with them. He agreed, stayed for 2 days and many more became believers. Hearing Jesus for themselves strengthened their belief in the woman’s testimony enabling them to declare that he really was the Saviour of the world (v.42).

It must have been so refreshing for Jesus to teach people who wanted him there. This is the kind of refreshment we can enjoy when we attend a faith-filled church or go on a Christian retreat. Sometimes, we all need our batteries charged up with positivity which will give us renewed strength to face more challenging audiences.

Psalm 56:1-13

Even kings can be afraid. When King David was afraid, he chose to trust in God (v.3). If God is for us, what can mortal man do to us (v.4) ?

People watch Christians intently. They conspire as they lurk in the shadows, plotting to twist our words, looking for faults. Many people have fallen for the most basic trap of the devil by rejecting Christianity as nonsense due to the terrible sexual sins carried out by a tiny minority of religious professionals. Yet, they would never withdraw their child from school or not attend hospital despite the thousands of teachers, doctors and nurses that have abused the people entrusted to them.

When David called on God for help he had expectant faith that his enemies would turn back (v.9). He vowed not be afraid of any man because of his trust in God. Christians have vowed our lives to God and we should praise and thank him for his saving grace. Jesus has delivered us from death by his sacrifice on the cross. When we believe and are baptized we can forever walk before God, our Father, in the light of life. The Holy Spirit inside us will stop us from stumbling on our journey. God will deliver us from our enemies, ourselves and from death itself.

Image: https://pixabay.com/photos/cereals-corn-stalks-spike-grain-4357683/

Jesus gives us Living Water: May 4th 2021

Judges 1:1-2:5

The Book of Judges starts positively with all the Israelites consulting God as to who should attack the Canaanites first (v.1). God told them that the tribe of Judah would fight first.

The men of Judah asked the Simeonites to help free their territory and promised to return the favour in the future (v.3). They struck down ten thousand of their enemies and captured the Canaanite king, Adoni-Bezek. They adopted the cruel Canaanite method of crippling high-ranking captives: cutting off his thumbs and big toes (v.6). Adoni-Bezek was philosophical about this: ‘God has paid me back’ (v.7) as he had done the same to seventy Canaanite kings previously. Maybe if he had shown mercy to his captives, he wouldn’t have received the same punishment.

The men of Judah captured Jerusalem and put it on fire (v.8).

The tribes of Israel had notable success against the Canaanites but, in some areas, the Canaanites were determined to cling onto their land. The Israelites compromised and allowed the persistent survivors m to live with them. This was totally contrary to God’s instructions. God knew that these foreign people would be Israel’s downfall and he wanted them all gone. The Israelites would be lured into worshipping their demonic entities. If they couldn’t win the battle through their own strength, they should have prayed to God to prevail.

An angel of the Lord went up from Gilgal – where Joshua had set up the twelve stones from the middle of the Jordan – to talk to the Israelites at Bokim. He told the Israelites they had already broken their covenant with God. God had banned them from making a covenant with the people of the land and ordered them to break down their altars – which they had failed to do (2:2). We have only just started the second chapter after the death of Joshua and the Israelites were already in big trouble. The Israelites knew they had disobeyed God and they wept aloud. God would no longer drive their enemies out before them, ‘they will be thorns in your sides and their gods will be a snare to you’ (v.3). The penitent Israelites offered sacrifices to God. However, God does not want sacrifices, he wants obedience. We are surrounded by similar spiritual snares today from well-meaning friends: offering to take us to yoga (in effect worshipping Hindu deities); suggesting we try reiki healing (the invocation of Shinto serpent demons into us through the kundalini spot at the base of our spines) or karate (channelling the mysterious demonic destructive force of ‘ki’). https://www.chess.com/clubs/forum/view/exposing-the-dangers-of-maritial-arts2. When anyone is depressed or stressed, even an official government health service might suggest mindfulness – which may be appropriate if you are already a Buddhist but not if you are a Christian. All therapies / pastimes developed from non-Christian religions have the potential to lead us down the dark alley of demonic oppression. We need to repent and renounce of any such activities that are coaxing us down the pathway of lost souls, perform a screeching handbrake turn in our lives and start to journey back to God.

John 4:1-26

Chapter 4 clarifies yesterday’s suggestion that Jesus baptized people (3:22). ‘It was not Jesus that baptised, but his disciples’ (v.2). The Pharisees were counting which team of disciples were more ‘productive’. Jesus was not interested in a rivalry with John the Baptist’s disciples. Jesus and his team withdrew from the area and headed for Galilee.

Jesus travelled through Samaria and asked a Samaritan woman at a well for a drink of water. Jews traditionally did not associate with Samaritans and religious leaders did not speak to lone women. However, Jesus was a rule breaker when it came to saving people. He didn’t care about our race, sex or lifestyle. He wants to rescue each individual one of us.

Jesus described how he can provide ‘living water’. ‘Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life’ (v.14). The Holy Spirit is sent to believers by both the Father and Jesus, the Son. If we pray for Jesus to send him, the Holy Spirit will give us his gifts, guide, comfort and console us. He is the living water, residing in us; transforming and empowering us to witness to the world.

Through a supernatural word of wisdom, imparted by the Holy Spirit, Jesus told the woman she had already had five husbands. A word of knowledge like this, if we are brave enough to vocalise what the Holy Spirit has told us about someone can break open a non-believer’s hardened heart making them receptive to the gospel.

Salvation is from Jesus and so ‘salvation is from the Jews’ (v.22). If you visit a thriving Pentecostal church, you will witness what worshipping the Father in spirit and truth looks like. God doesn’t want miserable people in an empty church mumbling a depressing hymn into a hymn book. He wants people to worship him with energy and dynamism with a pure sense of gratitude for all the blessings he has bestowed. After an hour of that you will feel the atmosphere in the church change. Peace will settle on the congregation as the Spirit arrives. Only then is it time for prayer. If you want to ask God to do something, you have to make sure he is in the room first.

Proverbs 11:9-18

Godless people specialise in slandering people (v.1). They can even bring down cities with their evil words (v.11). When such people perish and face judgement, ‘there are shouts of joy’ (v.10).

When righteous people prosper, ‘the city rejoices’ (v.10). The example we provide by living positively can change our entire neighbourhood.

We shouldn’t be hasty to speak. We should gather all the facts before we come to any conclusions about people’s actions. We should demonstrate our trustworthiness by keeping people’s secrets (v.13).

If we are in a position of power, consulting with many different people will help us secure victories (v.14). People respect the kind-hearted (v.16) and giving out kindness benefits ourselves the most (v.17).

Ruthless and wicked men can gain wealth but it is deceptive. It will not profit us after our death. If we spend our life sowing righteousness, we will reap an everlasting sure reward in heaven.

Image: Stefano Erardi, CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Marriage / Divorce and Jesus’ Disciples Baptize: May 3rd 2021

Joshua 23:1-24:33

Joshua gave a farewell speech to the leaders of the Israelites before he died. He reminded them that the Lord, their God, would drive out the tribes before them so they could conquer all of the promised land. They must be ‘very strong‘ and obey all that was written in the book of the law ‘without turning aside to the right or to the left’ (v.6).

They must not associate with the nations that remain and not invoke the names of their heathen gods, swear by them, serve them or bow down to them (v.7). Just like us now, they must ‘hold fast to the Lord your God’ no matter what temptations they face.

As the Lord God will fight for them, just one Israelite will be able to rout a thousand enemies. If they turn away, ally themselves with the survivors of their enemies, intermarry and associate with them, this will bring them down (v.12). God will no longer drive their enemies out and their pagan associates will ‘become snares and traps for you, whips on your back and thorns in your eyes, until you perish from this good land, which the Lord your God has given you’ (v.13).

The instructions are all very clear. However, in the future, sex is going to bring down the entire nation. Lusting after Pagan women will result in intermarriage leading to Israel and Judah being defeated by the Assyrians and Babylonians and led into exile. Even Solomon, the wisest man in history, will be brought down by his hundreds of Pagan wives tempting him to worship other deities.

Sexual temptation is still a massive problem for Christians today. Christians can’t divorce and get remarried. God hates divorce. Yet, we find many Christians, including those who would regard themselves as ‘born again’ divorcing and getting remarried or marrying a divorcee. This is a grave sin that will bar people from heaven. Marriage is permanent and lasts until one of the partners is deceased, The only way a Christian can ‘marry’ for the second time is if their partner dies or they prove that the first marriage didn’t actually exist through an annulment process (for example, proving the first marriage wasn’t consummated).

Christians cannot divorce and get remarried like Pagans do. Christian marriage is for life. Of course, this truth can be very painful but it shouldn’t put people in danger. If people are in abusive relationships they can separate and live apart but, until one of the partner dies or the marriage is annulled, there is meant to be no sex with different people / no extra marriages. If married people fall in love with other people, they can live with them but only as brother and sister. Sex isn’t allowed. This is massively difficult for the modern world to accept. Most people do not believe they can live in a celibate relationship.

This is why marriage should not be entered into without a lot of care and consideration. We must try to ensure we have found our true, lifelong partner before we commit to them. The prophet Ezra had to lead all the Israelites in separating themselves from their Pagan marriage partners in order to make the nation right with God again (Ezra 9:1-44). When we come to God after repenting our past mistakes, we are meant to stop sinning. If we are in an illicit marriage, we wake up each day in a state of grave sin. We have to choose which is more important, obeying God or sex.

The model for a happy celibate marriage is the Holy Family: Joseph and Mary, Mother of God. Mary was a temple virgin – a lifelong vocational virgin – and the temple elders asked the elderly widower, Joseph, to be her guardian to remove her from the temple before she started menstruating. Mary stayed a virgin all her life because she had been dedicated to God.

Joshua pointed out that all of the good promises that God had made had been delivered. God is faithful to us. However, he is also faithful to the threat that his anger will burn against us and we will perish if we serve other gods. It’s a mystery why we haven’t all been wiped out already when we look at the state of the world today. God is being patient with us to save as many as possible but eventually judgement day will fall. ‘He is a holy God; he is a jealous God’ (24:19) Before Jesus made us righteous with God, God would not have forgiven our rebellion and our sins and he still won’t if we don’t approach him through the precious blood of his son by confessing our belief in the death and resurrection of Christ.

Even Abraham’s father, Terah, worshipped pagan gods. We can be the first generation in our family to convert to Christ. If our parents are still living, we can be an example to them and pray for their salvation. Part of your mission on earth might be saving your own family as you also preach to others.

Choose who you serving today. Are you going to worship pagan entities, demons, yourself or celebrities? Are you going to worship at the altar of consumerist capitalism? As for me, I will serve the Lord.

Joshua made the Israelites witness to themselves that they had chosen to the Lord and would throw away all foreign gods but, with the luxury of the rest of the Bible, we know a terrible fate is awaiting them due to their inability to be faithful.

Joshua set up a stone as a witness against them under the oak tree near the holy place of the Lord: ‘It has heard all the words the Lord has said to us’ (v.27). All of creation seems to be able to record events and play them back, Jesus is in all created matter. Interestingly, some paranormal investigators think that ghosts more frequently occur in old stone-built cottages because the stones record past events and play them back like a DVD player. Jesus preached that objects we generally regard as inanimate do have their own interior life. This probably explains the fascination with rocks and crystals in the New Age movement. Engineers know that crystals such as quartz oscillate at an incredibly precise frequency, which is why they are built into watches. Mountains will fling themselves into the sea if we have enough faith and stones would have cried out on Palm Sunday when Jesus entered Jerusalem (for his cataclysmic showdown with the devil) if the crowds had not shouted ‘Hosanna’ (Luke 19:40).

Joshua sent the people away to their own inheritance and died (at the age of a hundred and ten) (v.29). The nation of Israel had served the Lord during his lifetime and the lifetime of the other elders who had been direct eye-witnesses of God’s miracles. However, Joshua had not appointed a single successor to keep the whole nation unified. The Israelites had all split into their different tribes. Since Moses had come back to Egypt, having a single leader who could communicate with God and, most importantly, intercede for his people to stop God’s wrath at their disobedience had been vital. The only clear successor they had was Eleazar the Priest’s son, Phinehas, taking over the priesthood. The last few verses of Joshua clear the decks of the older generation – with the bones of Joseph finally being laid to waste. A new chapter in Israel’s history is just about to start.

John 3:22-36

Jesus and his disciples spent some time in the countryside and his disciples baptized people (4:2). People started to flock to Jesus’ disciples rather than John the Baptist who didn’t mind his ministry dwindling: ‘He must become greater; I must become less’ (v.30). This is why the church celebrates John the Baptist’s birthday on the 25th June after the longest day of the year on the 21st June in the Northern hemisphere – the nights are just starting to become longer. Jesus’ birthday is the 25th December – after the shortest day on the 21st – to mark the coming of the light.

The church is the bride of Jesus. He is the bridegroom. John the Baptist was the friend who was full of joy when he heard the voice of the bridegroom (v.29). Jesus came from heaven and is above all. John the Baptist was filled with the Holy Spirit from his conception and the Holy Spirit will also live in us when we become baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. We are greater than John the Baptist, because the precious blood of our Lord Jesus Christ has made us justified and righteous in the eyes of our heavenly Father.

‘Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him’ (v.36).

Psalm 55:12-23

It is particularly hurtful to be betrayed by a friend or close colleague.

When King David called out to the Lord, he was always saved (v.16). God ransomed him unharmed from the battle waged against him.

Jesus ransomed us from judgement for our sins by the shedding of his precious blood. He will always save us if we renounce and repent of our sins and turn to him with belief.

Many people are slick orators but their words are evil weapons. They plan war and disaster. Many will never change their ways and will have no fear of God until their death and the eternal separation from God they have chosen.

We should trust in God and cast our cares on him. He will sustain us.

If we have any worries in our life, we should praise, worship and speak in tongues. This perfect prayer from the Holy Spirit will build up our inner self to know that God ‘will never let the righteous fall’ (v.22).

Image: Image by Gabriel Ballerini from Pixabay

Becoming ‘Born Again’ / Coming into the Light: May 2nd 2021

Joshua 21:20-22:34

Cities were allotted to the Levites (the priests) from all the remaining tribes of Israel. The Levites were to run the refuge cities, such as Shechem, where those accused of murder could shelter before a fair trial.

God had given Israel all the land he had sworn to their forefathers (v.43). The Israelites had acted in faith, conquered and settled there. How wonderful it is to work in partnership with God on a major project. God gave them rest on every side from their enemies. Every one of the Lord’s good promised to the house of Israel was fulfilled (v.45). Praise the Lord. If we become baptized and believe our Lord Jesus will fulfil his promise to us: ‘Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned’ (Mark 16:16).

The Reubenites, Gadites and half-tribe of Manasseh had faithfully battled for the other Israelite tribes to conquer the rest of the promised land even after they had been given territory of their own. They had faithfully fulfilled the promise they had made to Moses. They had riskily left their families behind on the other side of the Jordan in Gilead while they fought. I would assume that God supernaturally protected them while their fighting men were away or they could have been easy pickings for the Canaanites. Joshua blessed these soldiers for their faithful service and sent them home. They did not return empty-handed. They had accumulated massive herds of livestock, precious metals and other plunder taken from their enemies. When we are faithful to our word and work for God, we can also be blessed financially and materially. He warned these departing tribes not to forget God and to always: ‘love the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to obey his commands, to hold fast to him and to serve him with all your heart and all your soul’ (22:5).

It was an amicable parting of ways as these faithful fighters returned to Gilead but soon there was a massive misunderstanding between them and the rest of Israel. On their journey back home, they constructed for themselves am imposing altar on the Israelite side of the Jordan. This appeared to be scandalous. The only altar to God was meant to be the one before the official tabernacle. The other Israelites were scandalised and ‘gathered at Shiloh to go to war against them; (v.12). Fortunately, before the fighting started, the Israelites sent the son of the priest and a delegation from each of the other tribes to find out why they had done this. They assumed that the tribes in Gilead had already started worshipping demonic entities and this unauthorised new altar was for pagan worship but they wisely went on a fact-finding mission first. They had genuine concerns for their future having witnessed God’s wrath against those who were unfaithful to him.

The tribes who had returned to Gilead were mortified that they intentions had been misinterpreted. They had built this new altar, not for offering sacrifices, but to witness that they would only worship at the official Israelite sanctuary. It was just a replica in memory of the official one, a witness that, even though they lived far away on the other side of the river Jordan, they were still part of Israel worshipping the one God. Phinehas the priest and the leaders were relieved at this explanation and explained it to the rest of the Israelites. They were glad to hear this and war was averted.

The replica altar was given a name: ‘A Witness Between Is that the Lord is God’ (v.34).

It is refreshing to read of a society that is so concerned about not upsetting God. The Israelites had learned through hard experiences that things go much more smoothly for a country when people diligently follow God’s laws. Many of our politicians seem to have no such fear with their condonement of divorce, abortion and lack of respect for Sundays. We reap what we sow.

John 3:1-21

Nicodemus, from the Jewish ruling council came to see Jesus at night. He confirmed that all the council knew Jesus had come from God, ‘for no-one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him’ (v.2).

This is why there is no logic to people deciding to be an atheist / humanist / secularist. Jesus was a real historical figure who proved he was the son of God by performing amazing public miracles that were witnessed by thousands of people. If you do not believe in these historical facts, you stand condemned. People refuse to come to the light for fear that their evil deeds will be exposed by it. If you call evil things good and good things evil you will hate the light of truth and avoid it.

Here we have one of the most beautiful phrases in the Bible: ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life’ (3:16).

We now come to one of the most fascinating discussions in the Bible. Jesus cryptically said, ‘I tell you the truth, no-one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again’ (3:3).

Nicodemus was as puzzled as the rest of Christianity: ‘”How can a man be born again when he is old”, Nicodemus asked (v.4).

What does it mean to be a ‘born-again’ Christian and, as it is so vital, how does one become one?

I would regard myself as ‘born again’ as I know God loves me, I love him, I find great joy in reading his word and want to live in a way that pleases him. However, looking back on my life when exactly was I ‘born again’?

I was baptized at the age of one. I went to a Christian school, which had prayers and hymns in assembly and weekly chapel services. My whole class studied the Bible for an O level in Divinity when I was fifteen. My parents occasionally took me to church. However, none of this stopped me carrying out teenage sins or gave me a burning urge to study Christianity further. I always knew that God existed and most days prayed the ‘Our Father’ prayer. The Mother Church would say that when I was baptized, even though I was an infant and knew virtually nothing about it, I would have been given the Holy Spirit, my personal sin would have been washed away and the Original sin I had inherited from Adam would also have gone. The reason I sinned when older was due to the typical human tendency to sin and evil termed ‘concupiscence’.

When I was forty, I visited the Sistine Chapel in Rome and suddenly the Holy Spirit convicted me of my sins. He convinced me that there would be judgement and I needed to get my faith life sorted. I joined a course and became a Catholic becoming confirmed at the Easter Vigil. Before and after this, I had a burning desire to find out more about God and Jesus. In theological terms, my confirmation would have strengthened me and activated the Holy Spirit within me to be a more powerful witness for Jesus. However, soon after becoming a fully active member of the church I became very sick and felt like I was dying. I made a dramatic recovery after a charismatic priest prayed a healing / deliverance prayer over me.

A couple of years later, I attended a ‘Baptism in the Spirit’ course and prayed to receive the Gifts of the Holy Spirit. A week later, I started to pray in the Spirit. However, I didn’t do it very much or for very long and started attending a church that was undynamic. A couple of years ago I was laid low by a spiritual attack and I only recovered after starting to also attend a charismatic Pentecostal church. I prayed ‘The Sinner’s prayer’ more than once: ‘Dear Lord Jesus, I am a sinner. I believe that you died and rose again from the dead to save me from my sins. I want to be with you forever. Forgive me all the sins I have committed against you. I open my heart to you and ask you to come into my heart and life and be my personal Saviour. In Jesus name. Amen’. God healed me from spiritual attack and drove out the enemy that was causing it. However, I still had issues with habitual sin. God finally strengthened me and sorted me out when I handed over the reins to him and started to pray in tongues for up to an hour a day. The temptation to commit sin melted away.

So looking back, I did receive a seed of the Holy Spirit at my infant baptism. This gradually grew until it burst into life during my trip to Rome. My confirmation made me a stronger enemy of the devil and he tried to snuff me out. The Holy Spirit started to activate more spiritual gifts inside me after my baptism in the Holy Spirit but the true process of sanctification only started once I gave up trying to conquer sin by myself and handed the reins over to God.

The one thing all Christians should agree on is that baptism is vital for salvation. A Christian friend, who feels she is born again, said to me ‘I don’t feel I need to be baptized’. But feelings are irreverent. You might ‘not feel’ you need to possess a valid visa to enter foreign countries but if you turn up on their border without one, you can be turned away. Heaven follows laws and justice. For all we know, there might be a demon with a list on a clipboard objecting to every one who turns up at the gate of heaven without the permanent stamp of baptism on their soul. Baptism permanently marks us as a child of God.

My Pentecostal friends would say that once you have said the ‘Sinners Prayer’ and really believed it you are saved. Also get baptized, get a Bible and read it. However, I am slightly concerned that if my friend thinks she is saved without yet going through the legalistic step of baptism, that our feelings might deceive us in this matter. The gift of eternal life is so precious, we should not skimp on any requirements that Jesus stipulated. Should we be the judge of whether we believe? Shouldn’t that be down to God’s judgement. My Catholic friends would say we cannot presume we are saved, we have to live and die in hope of God’s mercy on us but that might be too gloomy. Not many Catholics speak in tongues. If it was more common, this supernatural proof of the Holy Spirit living within us should give us full faith in our salvation because of Ephesians 1:13 – 14: ‘When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession – to the praise of his glory.’

This is how Pentecostals can be so certain that they are saved. Praying in Tongues prove that the Holy Spirit lives within us. His presence within us is a deposit guaranteeing our our inheritance. Acts 5:32 says: ‘We are witnesses of these things and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him’. Hallelujah.

God can do what he wants. If he wants to change any rules, that’s his prerogative. Jesus promised one of the criminals on the cross that he would be in paradise with Jesus that day and it was unlikely the criminal was baptized. We trust in God’s mercy for the souls of children who die before baptism including aborted children. Catholics even believe that unreached people, who have never heard the gospel message, can be saved if they live righteous lives and would have responded to the call to be baptized if they had been told of its necessity. All of us can live righteous lives in accordance with God’s laws that have been inscribed on everyone’s hearts. When Peter was preaching to the Gentile Cornelius, in Acts 10, the Holy Spirit came upon all in his household who heard his message. After they had received the Spirit and had began to speak in tongues and praise God, Peter then orders them to be baptized. So there appears to be no hard and fast rule. We do receive the Holy Spirit during baptism but we could also be ‘born again’ prior to this – either by devotedly asking Jesus to come into our lives or from hearing the word of God. Knowing that the Holy Spirit is inside us, that we have called on the name of the Lord and confessed ‘Jesus is Lord’ and knowing we have been baptized strengthens our faith so we know we are beloved children of God and will receive God’s gift of eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. Hallelujah.

Being ‘born again’ does seem to be more than infant baptism. It is an adult consenting encounter with the power of the Holy Spirit that enkindles the fire of faith within us empowering us to manifest the gifts and fruit of the Holy Spirit. We must be ‘born of the Spirit’ (3:8). There seems to be a single time in people’s lives when this happens and people do not forget this conversion experience. It is a memorable moment of transformation and turning fully to God. Speaking to dynamic Christians they can usually recall when it dawned on them that God exists and they wanted to worship him. My wife came this conclusion when she standing on a beautiful hill in the Cotswolds. There was wonderful light, a soft gentle breeze and the quiet peace of nature. The beauty and tranquillity of God’s creation touched her heart and she turned to him.

Jesus confirmed that no-one had yet gone into heaven apart from ‘the one who came from heaven’ (v.13) i.e. him. All the dead of the world up until Jesus’ crucifixion were stuck in hell. The righteous dead were released into heaven after Jesus died, descended into hell and preached the gospel to them. Moses in the desert lifted up a bronze serpent on a pole to save the Israelites from the wrath of God that had been unleashed to punish them for their sins. Jesus would be lifted up on the cross, so that if we look to him and believe in him, the wrath of God because of our sins will be transferred to him. Jesus paid the full ransom price for us once and for all through this precious blood. Jesus came to save us, not condemn us.

Psalm 55:1-11

David prayed for his prayers and pleas to be heard (v.1) He was being troubled by his thoughts. He was distraught and suffering (v.3).

Poor King David was in a bad way for someone of such unshakeable faith. He longed for the wings of a dove so that he could fly from his troubles (v.6). He wanted to hurry to his place of shelter. However, all of us – especially Kings – have to stand and face our demons and we get the strength to do this from the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit, the dove of peace, is within us. If we are distraught, we can flee to him by praying in tongues. Handing over our vocal cords to him so that he can pray the perfect prayer for us.

We have a massive advantage over King David we can know Jesus and he will come to live within us and give us shelter. Jesus said: ‘Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light (Matt. 11:28-30).

Image: The Chosen press photos (press.thechosen.tv), CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Wedding at Cana / Jesus Clears the Temple: May 1st 2021

Joshua 19:1-21:19

Lots were drawn and the newly conquered territory in the promised land was allocated to the remaining tribes of Israel. The land was split up fairly and efficiently without tribes greedily acquiring more than they needed: ‘The inheritance of the Simeonites was taken from the tribe of Judah, because Judah’s portion was more than they needed (v.9).

After the land had been divided into allotted portions the leader of the Israelites, Joshua, was given the town he had asked for, Timnath Serah (v.50). We need to remember to adequately reward our hard-working leaders and pastors.

The Israelites gave the priestly tribe, the Levites, thirteen towns to live in with pasture-lands for their extensive collection of livestock (21:8,19).

The Israelites founded six cities of refuge to where anyone who had accidentally killed someone could flee before they were killed in a blood vendetta. They could then face a fair trial in regards to the accident. We might be critical about our health and safety culture these days but as least we don’t need six cities to house all those accused of manslaughter. However, we have seen quite a careless attitude towards other people’s health recently. I was a very early adopter of a Covid mask as it made perfect sense to wear one when surgeons always wear a mask whilst operating. It would be manslaughter if we gave someone else fatal Covid just because we selfishly neglected to wear a mask or accept a vaccination. When we pray for our sins to be forgiven we pray both for things we have done and things we haven’t done to care for our fellow citizens.

John 2:1-25

Mary pointed out to Jesus that there was no wine left at the wedding at Cana (v.3). How embarrassing.

Jesus intimated that he was not going to help, ‘My time has not yet come’ (v.4). But Jesus never turns down a valid request for help.

Jesus converted a vast volume of water into the best wine as his first public miracle. The servants had to join in with his miracle by following his instructions exactly. They filled large jars with water to the brim and took some of the new wine out to take to the master of the banquet. They would have looked stupid if it was still water when he tasted it. They took a risk based on Jesus’ word. The master praised the bridegroom for his generosity in providing an abundance of even better wine at the end of the banquet rather than at the start. Rather than being embarrassed in front of his family and friends, the bridegroom’s reputation was enhanced. What a fantastic start to the couple’s married life. We should always invite Jesus to our wedding by holding it in his church. He knows all about marriage. He is the eternal bridegroom to the eternal church.

Christians have an uneasy relationship with alcohol. Many don’t drink at all. This story doesn’t really help as prodigious quantities of the best wine are produced so that people can have a massive celebration. Jesus loved a party. Alcohol is something we just have to keep a very tight rein on. It can easily take over our lives. I don’t tend to have it in the house unless I am holding a dinner party and then I will buy a specific bottle of wine just for that evening. I would never have a wine cellar – I would regard it as a challenge to empty it just as I challenged myself to empty our massive chest freezer full of ancient food during lockdown. There was frozen fish in there that was so old it might actually have been coelacanth. We should always be in control of ourselves and never actually drunk. If I was dining with Pentecostal friends, I would enjoy drinking grape juice with them. We shouldn’t make our guests feel uncomfortable. If I was dining with Catholic friends, I would have a glass of wine if I wasn’t driving. There often comes a time when things get so serious in our lives that we need a completely clear head and a good night’s rest. At these times, it is best not to drink at all. When Jesus was preparing to face the cross, he cleared away frivolous distractions: ‘Truly I tell you, I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God’ (Mark 14:25)

Of course the most marvellous transformation of wine is at the Last Supper when Jesus took the cup, gave thanks and said: ‘Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins (Matt. 26:27-28). This is repeated at every Holy Mass, when the Holy Spirit changes ordinary wine into the Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ for all the faithful to drink. This has been wrecked by the Covid pandemic. The days of an entire congregation drinking from the same cup of Holy Blood seem long gone. Each drop contains Jesus’ body, blood, soul and divinity and so it can’t be put into hundreds of individual containers as traces would be left behind. Maybe this is why the devil allowed Covid to circulate freely to devastate Christian worship and the reception of the Blessed Sacrament.

Through the Holy Spirit working within us we can come up with new prophetic words, new interpretations of God’s word and new miracles. As in this wonderful song, we can pray to Jesus to bring new wine out of us. The best worship songs are serious prayers asking God to change our lives and work through us.

Jesus went down to Capernaum with his mother and brothers and his disciples (v.12). Of course, Jesus didn’t actually have any blood-related brothers. Mary, his mother, stayed a virgin all her life. She had been dedicated to the temple as a virgin by her parents, Joachim and Anne, at a very early age. It was her vocation to be a virgin for the whole of her life. Joseph, ‘her husband’, was an elderly man and had been asked by the temple authorities to be her guardian. Joseph had children by a previous wife and was a widower when engaged to Mary. These ‘brothers’ therefore had neither the same father as Jesus, as he was the son of God, nor the same mother. The world would have considered them as ‘half-brothers’ to Jesus. However, Jacob had twelve sons by 4 different women and they are described as brothers. The word ‘brother’ is often used for ‘half-brother’ in the Bible.

Jesus drove all the merchants out of the temple. It is amazing how many souvenir shops and market stalls congregate around a famous religious shrine. These locations can also attract some interesting characters. When tourists are queuing up outside the Vatican, they have to run the gauntlet of pickpockets who saunter up and down the queue looking for a distracted victim. Kathleen Beckman (p.300-301) warns that we should not linger or stare into the eyes of such people. She was cursed by an evil eye spell outside a cathedral by a woman selling trinkets and became paralysed as she knelt down to pray inside the cathedral. Fortunately, she was with a charismatic priest who prayed a deliverance prayer over her and she instantly recovered. Holy places can attract unholy people.

Jesus prophesied that his body (this temple) would be resurrected three days after he died. Our bodies are a temple of the Holy Spirit if we have been born again through baptism.

Jesus was so empowered with the Holy Spirit he knew what was in each person’s heart through supernatural words of knowledge. Most employers don’t bother asking for references any more when interviewing candidates for a job. Many firms are scared of giving a negative reference – for fear they will be sued – and a glowing positive reference could mean that a current employer is trying to offload that particular member of the staff. Jesus was the best ever manager and excelled at recruiting disciples. Of course, Judas turned bad of his own freewill but he must have shown interior promise when Jesus first recruited him. No-one can hide the intentions of their heart from Jesus.

Psalm 54:1-7

King David knew that God was his help and sustained him (v.4). He prayed to God to always hear him, save him and vindicate him.

In many of David’s psalms he asked for serious harm to come to his enemies but David lived in tough times and his life was often in mortal danger. He was often attached by strangers (v.2). We are more likely to be attacked by people we know.

We usually live in less risky circumstances and so it should be easier for us to pray for blessings on our enemies as Jesus commanded.

David had confident faith in God. He pledged to sacrifice to him and praise his good name in the future. God would eventually deliver him from all his foes and all his troubles (v.7).

We need to look back on how God has delivered us in the past to have full confidence in him repeating his saving miracles time after time in our future. God will never leave us or forsake us.

Image: Paolo Veronese, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

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