The Lost Sheep / Coin and the Prodigal Son: April 13th 2021

Deuteronomy 19:1-20:20

Moses dictated that the Israelites must set up three Cities of Refuge – that any Israelite could flee to if they accidentally killed someone. Lethal accidents must have been surprisingly common back then if they required three cities to accommodate those accused of manslaughter. Actual murderers, who killed someone with malicious intent, would not be allowed refuge, ‘You must purge from Israel the guilt of shedding innocent blood, so that it may go well with you (v.13). Things aren’t going well with us here in the UK in terms of the pandemic, national debt and social unease. We kill over 200,000 unborn children a year in state-sponsored abortion clinics. When that much innocent blood is shed, no-one can expect their country to thrive.

There had to be more than one witness to bring about a conviction and perjury was punished severely. For the third time in the Old Testament, Moses decrees an ‘eye for an eye, tooth for tooth’ (Deut.19:21). This time it applies to false testimony. If someone falsely accused another of a crime that warranted the death penalty, then the false witness deserved death. Jesus quoted this phrase in Matthew 5:38-42 and called us to forgiveness. If someone insults us, we shouldn’t retaliate. We should forgive immediately and not hold a grudge.

When going into battle, even against armies much greater than them, the priest would remind the Israelites that the ‘Lord your God is the one who goes with you to fight for you against your enemies to give you victory’ (20:4). Anyone who was afraid or faint hearted was allowed to avoid battle – ‘so that his brothers will not become disheartened too’ (v.8). Lack of faith is infectious. When we are waiting on God to provide a great victory, we need people of faith standing alongside us.

The Israelites were told to completely annihilate the tribes who lived in the cities they were to inherit or they would lure them into idol worship, a grievous sin against the Lord. It is interesting that the Israelites were not told to convert the local natives into Jews. That was obviously impossible. Since the resurrection of the Jesus and the coming of the Holy Spirit, we aren’t told to conquer and destroy other countries, we are told to preach the gospel to that they can turn to Jesus and be saved. Through the name of Jesus, we now have power to evangelise and to save rather than to destroy and kill.

God cares for the environment and instructed the Israelites not to wantonly cut down precious fruit trees to use their wood for war. We should preserve our food-chain and the natural environment for generations to come.

Luke 15:1-32

‘There will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent’ (v.7). Fifteen years ago, I woke up on the morning of Easter Saturday, the day I was scheduled to be confirmed and join the Catholic church and was stunned by what I found outside. As I stepped out of my back door and walked around the side of my house, there was a carpet of pure white feathers on the ground (‘there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents (v.10)’). I have never seen such a thing before or since. A whole flock of owls would have been hard pressed to provide this many feathers. An entire duvet would have had to have been disembowelled. I have heard pastors pour scorn on the popular notion that a feather could be sign that an angel has been near. However, as with all supernatural occurrences we shouldn’t judge and mock things we haven’t personally witnessed. I take this as a clear sign that my Guardian Angel had been rejoicing in celebration that finally, as a repentant sinner, I was going to be saved.

We are each assigned a Guardian Angel at the time of our conception to protect us and guide us to conversion. He does this by gentle promptings, arranging for us to meet people or encounter situations that will invite us to confess our sins, freely accept Jesus into our lives, believe and inherit eternal life. I was baptized as an infant and, if I had died soon after, I would have gone to heaven. However, as a teenager and a young adult I freely started to sin. My sins were frequent and, on reflection, serious. Even though I was a baptized Christian and had a tiny seed of the Holy Spirit within me, I think I was being led by the enemy ever so gently into hell. It just felt normal because all my peers were leading the same sort of life. I do think that as adults we have to freely make a choice to repent, say sorry to God and accept Jesus into our lives as our personal saviour. We have to believe in our heart and confess with our mouth. As a Catholic, this can be done by choosing to go through the Sacrament of Confirmation – which gives us an ‘indelible spiritual mark’ indicating that Jesus Christ has marked us ‘as a Christian with the seal of his Spirit by clothing him with power from on high so that he may be his witness (CCC,1304)’. A Protestant could also become confirmed or say the ‘Sinner’s Prayer’. The supernatural gift of Praying in the Spirit is wonderful evidence to show that we truly believe and that our repentance had been accepted by God, that we are fully adopted as God as his son or daughter and the Holy Spirit is now supernaturally activated within us. If we ask for it, we can experience the constant, live presence of the Holy Spirit edifying us and sanctifying us – illuminating areas of sin in our lives and empowering us to overcome them.

‘Confirmation is the special outpouring of the Holy Spirit as once granted to the apostles on the day of Pentecost‘ (CCC,1302). Following confirmation, I asked for the Holy Spirit to fully activate his gifts with me (a process known as ‘Baptism in the Spirit’) and a few weeks after doing this, I received the supernatural gift of Praying in Tongues (Praying in the Spirit).

I used to be lost – like a lost sheep or the prodigal son – because I had chosen to be lost. I had been safe with my heavenly Father and could have stayed with him all my life without straying but, of my own free will, I wandered off and became lost / submerged in the sin of the world. When I repented and came back into God’s embrace, there was joy and celebration. Jesus lifted me up and placed me on his shoulders for all to see. Both the Lost Sheep and the Lost Coin shows that God is actively looking for the lost. The lost sheep is so far away, it can’t get back by itself. The shepherd has to go and look for it, calling it but its name. The parable of the lost coin shows that someone can become lost simply by not doing anything. We can simply chose to ignore God’s gift of eternal life and not bother to become baptized and accept Jesus into their lives. We can just fall into the dust and dirt of the world and become lost. The coin didn’t wander off. It simply fell off people’s radar. However, God always knows where we are and will actively come looking for us, driving away the darkness from our lives with his light and sweeping away the sins that have covered us, that are hiding us from his face.

I have been a lost and prodigal son. I know what it was like to be far from God, mired and enslaved in sin and squandering my inheritance prior to being joyously welcomed back. It is wonderful that our Father watches out for us to return and sees us from a long way off. He will come running to us and embrace us. God doesn’t wander away from us. We always know where He is and how to find him. He is always present and overjoyed to see us return to him. The bitter older brother in the parable is an intriguing character. People who have been devout Christians from the cradle sometimes have a problem with prodigals. They can’t see why such a fuss needs to be made when one returns. Proud and self-righteous Cradle Christians can demonstrate little joy in their lives when a fellow Christian repents and returns to church even though we are called to be joy-filled evangelisers of the gospel. We all need to reflect that Jesus died for us. We all have an enormous amount to be grateful for and ensure we have made a personal conscious adult decision to repent, ask Jesus fully into our lives and for the Holy Spirit to give us a full measure of all his spiritual gifts. If heaven rejoices when a lost prodigal son or daughter is found, then so should we.

The Pharisees had repeatedly complained when Jesus ate with sinners or healed people on a Sabbath. The Pharisees should have been rejoicing – along with the angels in heaven – when they witnessed conversions, repentance and healings.

Psalm 45:1-9

The king has been richly blessed by God. His ‘lips have been anointed with grace’ (v.2).

He rides forth victoriously to uphold justice and loves ‘truth, humility and righteousness’ (v.4). The Queen of Great Britain exemplifies these virtues and we extend our condolences to her on the death of her husband, Prince Philip.

We can see why God has blessed our Queen with such a long life. She is not embarrassed to profess her faith in Jesus Christ. Our National Anthem is a prayer for God to save her and give her long life. Even though she has experienced many public and personal tragedies, deep inside her she has the deep rooted joy of the gospel.

Jesus’ dominion will last for ever. He loves justice and righteousness. He hates wickedness (v.7). His name is above all other names.

The Holy Spirit anoints Christians with his everlasting joy.

‘Therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions by anointing you with the oil of joy’ (v.7).

The Parable of the Great Banquet: April 12th 2021

Deuteronomy 16:21-18:22

The Israelites were told not to erect any sacred stones, ‘for these the Lord your God hates’ (v.22). Here in Wales, they always used to erect a permanent circle of standing stones whenever they held a National Eisteddfod – a annual gathering for Welsh poetry, prose and music. We have one down the road, a Gorsedd circle. I can see it down in a field as I walk my dog. It is a dodgy looking structure with a flat altar in the middle, just right for blood sacrifices. I avoid getting in close proximity to it. The ancient druids sacrificed thousands of innocent children to placate the demonic spirits they revered. A according to the Roman writer Tacitus: ‘they considered it a pious duty to slake the altars with captive blood and to consult their deities by means of human entrails‘, https://resourcesforhistory.com/celtic_druids.htm. When the Romans invaded a territory, they added the local native gods into their assortment (pantheon) of deities that it was permissible for Roman citizens to worship. The Romans only deemed it necessary to ban two religions: druidic practices and Christianity as both were considered too powerful – even if located at the opposite end of the holiness spectrum. Nowadays, the ‘druids’ of the modern Eisteddfod have toned down the heathen roots of their celebration so much that a former Archbishop of Canterbury allowed himself to be sworn in as a bard. They only set up fake stones today. Presumably, real stones are too expensive.

The Israelites were told to be zealous in purging evil from among them, putting to death anyone found worshipping other gods or celestial bodies (17:1-7). They were also instructed to have respect for the verdicts of judges and priests (17:8-13).

Moses predicts that the Israelites will appoint a king when they eventually settle in the promised land. He must be chosen by God and not obsessed with horses, women or wealth. Several of our modern royal family seem pretty keen on collecting horses. He predicts the fall of Solomon who took on too many wives, who lured him to worship other Gods,. ‘He must not take many wives, or his heart will be led astray (v.17). Kings are called to humility and must read the law of God all the days of his life.

The whole tribe of Levi, which includes all the priests, were to live on offerings from the other Israelites. Moses listed detestable practices that the Israelites must not inherit from the tribes they conquered such as child sacrifice. The list includes divination, sorcery, interpreting omens, witchcraft, casting spells and consulting the dead. When Harry Potter came out, the local children in our small Welsh village used to ride up and down our street shouting spells from the books at the top of their voices. ‘While he was still a cardinal in 2003, the future Pope Benedict XVI described the books as “subtle seductions which act unnoticed and by this deeply distort Christianity in the soul before it can grow properly”’, https://www.theguardian.com/books/2019/sep/02/harry-potter-books-removed-from-catholic-school-on-exorcists-advice

Instead of listening to sorcery or divination which comes from the evil one, the Israelites must only listen to a prophet, like Moses, who God will raise up from among their own brothers. Jesus was the new Moses. All of his prophecies came true such as the Jerusalem temple being destroyed (by the Romans) with no stone left on top of another.

Luke 14:15-35

Jesus told ‘the Parable of the Great Banquet’. The Jews are all invited to God’s banquet of forgiveness and eternal life but they all make poor excuses for not attending. I once heard someone say they couldn’t possibly get to Sunday worship because it would interfere with them cooking the lunch! The people making the excuses have all been highly blessed by God. God has given them abundant wealth so that one man can buy a field and another one five young of oxen. He has provided a wife to another man. They still won’t take time to join in a communal celebration, witness to how blessed they were and give thanks to God.

The poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame were all welcomed instead – the people considered ‘unclean’ by the Pharisees – but there was still room. Finally, all the Gentiles were brought in to be with God. It is a tragedy to turn down God’s priceless invitation due to the cares of the world.

The danger is that if we refuse God’s invitation when we are thoroughly blessed. If we refuse to acknowledge him and give him an offering in return, He might have no alternative other than to take the shackles off the devil and allow him to make us poor, crippled, blind or lame. It might only be when we are brought down to a desperate state that we will respond to God’s invitation. That is why God still allows suffering, disease and death in the world. How else can He get some people’s attention? God will only allow suffering if a greater good will come out of it. The Lord will give us a way out of any affliction if we turn to him.

There is a real cost to being a disciple of Jesus – but it’s a cost worth paying. We might be abused by our family, ignored by the public and have to give up well-paid secular professions. If we work in a secular workplace, everyone around us may be living lives completely opposed to gospel principles. It can be terribly draining to be constantly surrounded by non-belief. It is wonderful to regularly attend a church with a supportive and loving congregation and charge up each other’s batteries and hope for humanity with our shared faith.

Psalm 44:13-26

Sometimes, we can be the only practicing Christian on our street. We are meant to share the gospel with our neighbours. This might intrigue some of them but others will hate us for it, ‘you have made us a reproach to our neighbours (v.13).

Many Christians around the world are still being persecuted and murdered for their faith. We suffer more from mental abuse in the West. Most of society try to side-line us, revile us or, more commonly, ignore us and try to pretend we don’t exist. If I type any Christian sentiment on my brother’s Facebook page, he simply deletes it. We can expect regular scorn and derision from our family, friends and neighbours.

King David called on God to rouse himself and not to reject the Jews for ever. God roused himself in spectacular fashion by sending his only son to die for our sins. God rose up and redeemed the entire world because of his unfailing love (v.26).

Be Generous and Gather God’s Chicks: April 11th 2021

Deuteronomy 15:1 – 16:20

The Israelites were instructed to cancel debts to each other every 7 years (v.1). A commendable system, which would make many people’s lives much better if we applied it today to mortgages. The promised land was going to be so productive, God expected there to be no poor among them ‘if only you fully obey the Lord your God and are careful to follow all these commands I am giving you today. (v.4).’

By the time Jesus arrived, there were many poor people indicating how far away from God’s intentions the people had come. Jesus said, ‘the poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me (Matthew 26:11).

God decreed how financially secure the Jews would become, ‘you will lend to many nations but will borrow from none (v.6).

God called the Israelites to be generous to their less fortunate brothers and ‘freely lend him whatever he needs (v.8)’. They should do so ‘without a grudging heart’ (v.10) then God would bless them in everything they did. God states there will ‘always be poor people in the land’ (v.11). He may have been predicting the Israelites would not carefully follow all his commands or He was referring to widows, orphans and newly-arrived migrants who would rely on the charity of others.

Hebrew servants had to be freed in the seventh year (v.12) and supplied liberally with provisions. The Israelites must remember how they were liberated from Egypt and were given riches by the Egyptian on departure. Slaves could chose to stay with their master if they loved them and were well treated.

The Jews were to eat the firstborn of their herds and flocks in the presence of the Lord (v.20). At Passover, they were to eat unleavened bread – because they had to leave Egypt in haste. No yeast must be found in their possession for seven days (v.4). Yeast also represents sin. It starts as just a tiny amount, grows its tentacles into everything, making problems rise and grow. I read an article in which people complained that supermarkets had run out of yeast in lockdown. This amused microbiologists who pointed out the world can never run out of yeast. To get some, you just have to leave out an uncovered bowl of flour and water and the yeast will find you. The Israelites would have been eating sourdough, with natural yeast cultures blown to them by the desert winds. If we leave ourselves uncovered by the blood of Jesus, sin will also infect and start to grow in us.

‘No man should appear before the Lord empty-handed’ (16:16). We should all give to the Lord in proportion to the way we have prospered.

Justice must be a top priority. Officials must judge fairly with no partiality and must not accept bribes. The kingdom of heaven has the the most honest courts in creation. We would have been condemned for all eternity as sinners if Jesus’ death had not justified us in the sight of God.

Luke 13:31-14:14

Some Pharisees still had enough respect for Jesus that they warned him about Herod. Jesus was not intimidated by Herod wanting to kill him (v.32), even though he knew he was a cunning adversary. Jesus was used to people trying to kill him. Herod’s father had plotted to kill Jesus as soon as he was born. Jesus knew his Father would protect him until exactly the right moment he chose to lay down his life.

Jesus mourned over the spiritual state of Jerusalem. Its people had long rebelled, killing all God’s messenger sent to gather them back to him. Jesus longed to tenderly gather its children together ‘as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings’ (v.34). However, God does not make it compulsory for us to love Him. He gave us free will so that we can freely choose to love, because He loved us first. A hen will give up her life for her chicks and defend them against danger, but it can’t run after each chick. They have to be aware of where she is and run to her at the slightest hint of trouble. It is heart-breaking that churches can offer such a wonderful place of refuge for people, but the great majority chose not to go. We should give the warmest, genuine welcome to both old and new visitors to our church to make them feel they have been gathered under the protective and living wings of God.

Jesus would make a glorious entrance to the city on Palm Sunday, prior to Calvary. The people of Jerusalem would praise him for a day, before turning on him.

Jesus healed on the Sabbath again. He pointed out that the Pharisees would always rescue one of their children or animals on a Sabbath. Why shouldn’t Jesus rescue the people he created if they were in distress? The Pharisees were using the Sabbath regulations as a way to trap and criticise people rather than following the spirit of this day of rest.

We should always take a seat of low importance at a function. We can always be moved to a more prestigious one. Jesus came to serve, not to be served and we should emulate his humility.

We will be blessed if we host people who have no means of paying us back. If we just provide hospitality to our prosperous neighbours and they host us in return, we have given nothing. We need to help the poor and the needy in imitation of Jesus.

Psalm 44:1-12

King David recalled how God helped the Israelites conquer the promised land. The stories had been faithfully handed down by previous generations. God helped them because He loved them (v.3).

David did not trust his own strength or weapons to win battles (v.6). He relied on God.

All victories are due to God’s assistance and for the glory of God. Thanks be to God.

Parable of the Mustard Seed: April 10th 2021

Deuteronomy 13:1-14:29

We must not listen to any ‘prophet’ or ‘dreamer’ who suggests following other Gods. God can allow the devil to tempt us to see whether we love him with all our heart and soul (v.3).

It could be our closest friend who tries to entice us to accompany them to a yoga class with them or visit a non-Christian temple while on holiday, We should just say ‘no’!

Moses listed which meats the Israelites could eat and which types were banned. Rabbit and pork are strictly off the Jewish menu. It is sensible from a public health point of view to ban pork, because pig metabolism is so close to humans that living closely to domesticated pigs could enable one of their animal viruses to jump over to us and cause another deadly pandemic.

Moses reminded the Israelites to tithe – to give a tenth of their wealth every year to the Lord. This is Old Testament and does not apply to Christians. However, it is a very worthwhile practice. It breaks an unholy love of money and engenders a spirit of generosity within us. Pastors need a salary and church buildings need to be maintained. If everyone tithed, think what a difference this could make to the environment where you worship. A church should be full of life, beautiful, warm and welcoming to non-believers and some of this requires adequate funding.

The Jews were instructed to provide tithes (every three years) to the Levites, migrants, orphans and widows (v.29). Generosity gives us many spiritual benefits. The Lord promised to those who tithed that He would, ‘Bless you in all the work of your hands’ (v.29).

Luke 13:1-30

In the Easter readings, Pontius Pilate was desperate to release Jesus as he knew he was innocent. However, he succumbed to constant pressure and permitted Jesus to be executed. He was a weak judge, prepared to sacrifice the sinless to placate a hostile crowd. Here we see that Pilate had a fearsome reputation. Any Roman Commander would have been responsible for the deaths of many people. People told Jesus about ‘the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices (V.1). Jesus knew he would have to face this formidable man in the end. Jesus’ perfect blood was the ultimate once and for all sacrifice.

Jesus told us to repent so we would not perish (v.3). God spares us year after year hoping we will repent / convert and bear fruit. Eventually, time will run out for us. It could be today, so we need to make sure we are right with God through repentance, baptism and fully accepting Jesus into our lives. We can follow God’s example in being patient with people as we help them and pray for them to bear fruit.

We can allow the word of God to ‘fertilise’ us so that we will begin to blossom and bear fruit.

Jesus healed a woman on the Sabbath (v.13). Jesus points out the hypocrisy of the rulers in that they deliberately untied their domestic animals on the Sabbath to allow them to drink (v.15), but they disapproved of humans being unbound from their illnesses. Jesus showed he was the Lord of the Sabbath. It is perfectly permissible to spend the day looking after people or even catering, if we do it in love for other people. We shouldn’t spend it in a selfish secular pursuit of money.

The crippled woman had been crippled by a spirit (v.11) that was working for Satan (v.16).

Christianity has grown to be the world’s most followed religion and is spreading through virtually every nation. However, this has taken over two thousand years. Just like a tiny amount of yeast can change a whole bowl of flour to risen dough if we place it in the correct environment and wait patiently, it only takes one effective missionary to eventually change a whole country. Early missionaries would always try to convert rulers first, who could then lead their subjects to faith. Just one tiny seed of faith, can grow into an enormous living church where every believer can find their home.

Jesus confirmed that not all people will be saved. We need to enter heaven through the narrow door – which is Jesus. In the West, many people suffer from complacency. We can think we live in a vaguely Christian city and that possibly might be enough so save us. Just being in the same town as some Christians isn’t going to save us, ‘you taught in our streets (v.26), ‘Away from me, all your evildoers (v.27). We all need to work out our own individual salvation with fear, trembling and positive action. We each need to make a decisive decision to repent, become baptized and personally ask Jesus fully into our own lives as our Lord and Saviour, accepting his priceless gift of salvation.

Proverbs 9:1-12

Wisdom calls out to us that we should leave our ‘simple ways and you will live’ (v.6).

Correcting people who mock Christianity is a painful process as they will insult and hate us. However, we will receive a reward in heaven for putting up with this type of abuse. It isn’t worth getting into a Twitter or Facebook war with mockers, we must always reply calmly and with love.

Instructing, correcting and teaching wise and righteous people is a much more pleasant process.

As mockers do not fear the Lord, they lack wisdom for ‘The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding (v.10).

Wisdom will add years to our life (v.11) and reward us (v.12).

Sarcasm and mockery only harms the person who engages in it (v.12).

Once we have asked the Holy Spirit for wisdom, we should thirst for knowledge of God to increase our learning and make us even wiser. Wise Christian teachers deserve our love and gratitude for their efforts.

Picture:

Sheila Sund from Salem, United States, CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Parable of the Rich Fool: April 8th 2021

Deuteronomy 9:1-10:22

The Lord was going to fight for the Israelites against the formidably tall Anakites. However, this was not because of the righteousness of the Israelites; it was because their enemies were wickedly evil. Similarly, Jesus did not die for us because of any righteousness on our behalf for we are also ‘a stiff-necked, disobedient people’ (v.6). Jesus died to destroy the works of the devil. He died to conquer the wicked kingdom that had taken up residence in the world. Jesus died for us while we were still sinners and gave us righteousness by his death on the cross. He redeemed us with the sacrifice of his perfect blood.

Moses recalled how the Lord wanted to destroy the Israelites after they had made an idol to worship – the Golden Calf. He had left them for forty days and forty nights while he received the two tablets on which were written the Ten Commandments, ‘inscribed with the finger of God’ (v.10). Moses went through real physical hardships. He hadn’t eaten bread or drunk water for forty days before he was horrified by the idol worship of the Israelites. He immediately started another fast. He didn’t eat or drink anything for eighty days, forty of which were spent prostrated before the Lord. He must have been supernaturally sustained by the presence of God. Moses gives a great example of the benefit of fasting. By fasting for so long, he persuaded God not to kill his brother, Aaron, and the rest of the Israelite nation. If we want God to answer a specific prayer, fasting is a tried and tested way of bringing us closer to God. It is hugely beneficial to fast just one day a week – just drinking water. Consult with a doctor beforehand if you have any underlying medical conditions. Fasting regularly for 24-36 hours also sharpens our minds, brings us closer to suffering people in the world and delivers some real health benefits – normalising our sugar metabolism and fighting off type 2 diabetes.

It must have been heart breaking for Moses to come down from the blazing mountain, full of positivity, hope and faith to find his people had so quickly gone astray. He deliberately smashed the stone tablets that been inscribed by God. He probably didn’t think his fellow Israelites deserved them. The same shock happened to Peter, James and John when they come down the mountain after the Transfiguration. They had briefly experienced the glory of God but, as soon as they got back to society, they are exposed to failure, with the other disciples failing to exorcise a demon (Luke 9:37-40).

Moses gave an example of how to dispose of a cursed object – in this case, the Golden Calf. He crushed it, ground it to powder and threw the dust into a stream (v.21). Exorcists recommend that if we have to dispose of cursed objects, they must be burnt outside (preferably after being sprinkled with holy water) while we pray intently for protection and then the ashes must be thrown into running water.

The Israelites were repeat offenders at making God really angry with them at: Horeb, ‘Taberah, at Massah and at Kibroth Hattaavah’ (v.22). They repeatedly rebelled and didn’t trust or obey God. Moses successfully interceded for them by reminding God of the promises he had made to the patriarchs: Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and pointing out that God’s reputation would be damaged if he killed them all. God listened to Moses. God loves a difficult challenge. It would have been too easy to conquer the Promised Land with an obedient and trusting people. He showed his greatness by helping wicked, stubborn and sinful people to do it.

God wrote the Ten Commandments on a second set of stone tablets to keep in the ark of the covenant. I always thought the Ten Commandments were written on rather dull grey stones with rounded tops. It turns out, according to ancient Jewish tradition, that they were rectangular and written on blue sapphire. Blue is God’s favourite colour. The original sapphire tablets may have been from God’s throne and the second set that Moses chiselled out came from a convenient sapphire mine that God told Moses was under his tent. The writing was engraved through the stones, visible on both sides but miraculously legible right to left on both sides. https://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/1114513/jewish/What-Did-the-Tablets-Look-Like.htm

The tribe of Levi had been set apart to: ‘carry the ark of the covenant’, to ‘stand before the Lord to minister‘ and to ‘pronounce blessings in his name’ (10:8).

Moses gave us a perfect summary of the nature of God: ‘For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the alien, giving him food and clothing’ (v.17-18).

We are called on to be hospitable and generous to migrants and refugees. We are encouraged to never neglect orphans and widows and prioritise them over empty religious practices: ‘Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world’ (James 1:27).

Notice that Moses acknowledges that there are other gods and other lords. Ancient peoples did not make up all the demonic entities that they tried to appease with blood sacrifices. There were dozens of demonic minor gods around the world with preternatural powers. However, our Lord God is ruler of all of them as he originally created all the other pretenders to his throne – before they rebelled. God loves everything he created – even the demons. However, they still face justice and have chosen eternal separation from him. God loves them so much He respects their free will to have chosen their own final destiny.

Moses acknowledged that the normal type of circumcision is not producing obedient people who love God. He called on the Israelites to ‘circumcise your hearts‘ and not to be ‘stiff-necked any longer‘. There are billions of stiff-necked unbelievers in the world today, even though God has written his rules on our hearts. We need to pray for him to soften our hearts of stone and make us realise we have a heart of flesh.

God had been good to the Israelites. There were now over two million of them about to enter the promised land ‘as numerous as the stars in the sky’ (v.22), they had prospered and exceedingly multiplied from their seventy forefathers who had gone down into Egypt.

Luke 12:1-34

Jesus was so popular that people in the massive crowd trampled on one another. He warned us against hypocrisy (v.1) and predicted today’s tabloid press that loves to dig up the dirt on celebrities, particularly those that have an ‘holier than thou’ attitude, ‘there is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known (V.2).

It is always best to be careful about what we say as the devil will remember our unkind words and use them to prosecute us. The devil can’t read bad thoughts going through our minds – only God can do that – but as soon as we verbalise something, it can be used in evidence against us. Best to vocally praise God as much as we can throughout the day.

Jesus told us to fear God not men, ‘Fear him who, after the killing of the body has power to throw you into hell’ (v.5). Humans are the pride of his creation. He has tattooed our name on the palm of his hand and numbered all the hairs on our head. We are ‘worth more than many sparrows (v.7).

We must always be proud to acknowledge Jesus in front of men (v.8). Jesus gave a very worrying warning about blaspheming against the Holy Spirit. It can never be forgotten. If we count ourselves as a Christian we are in the clear, we haven’t committed this sin. Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is defined as ‘final impenitence’: ”blasphemy’ does not properly consist in offending against the Holy Spirit in words; it consists rather in the refusal to accept the salvation which God offers to man through the Holy Spirit, working through the power of the the cross” https://www.ewtn.com/catholicism/library/unforgivable-sin-1164. Demons can never be forgiven, because even though they knew God face to face, they rejected him and persisted in impenitence.

Jesus told us not to worry when facing synagogues as the Holy Spirit will teach us what to say (v.12). I had prepared some notes when I stood in front of 5,000 people at a union conference to say it would be wrong to condone abortion. However, the chair person just turned my microphone off. So much for freedom of speech.

Jesus refuted the prosperity gospel with a clear warning against greed, ‘“Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist on the abundance of his possessions”’ (12:15). God will give us what we need, not always what we want. Greed is responsible for most of the mess we have made of this planet: wars, famines, pollution and destitution. There are enough resources for everybody. Economists are wrong to think only a few can prosper at the expense of the poor. The antidote to greed is generosity. We must learn to be cheerful givers. ‘Sell your possessions and give to the poor’ (v.33). I have spent some time during lockdown emptying items from the loft (‘where the moth destroys’ (v.33)). It’s amazing how dusty, dirty and shabby stored items are when they are dragged back out into the light. The items in our loft possessed my family, rather than us possessing them. They were stopping us from moving and downsizing to a smaller house, they were taking up our time and energy as we shuffled them around and they were a fire hazard. I am completely sold on minimalism. The fewer items I possess, the more time I have to spend on projects such as this one.

The parable of the rich fool (v.14-21) inspired me to give up my secular job. I worked out that I had stored exactly enough money to give me a pension, through the grace of God. No more, no less. I could have stayed in my well-paid job and built bigger financial barns but I could have died the very next week and then ‘who will get what you have prepared for yourself?(v.20). I should have left earlier and relied on God to supply my daily bread. However, I am still relying on him to prevent the stock market from crashing too badly, which would evaporate my pension. I can now spend every day building barns of knowledge within me, reading the rich word of God. Halleluiah.

It’s very difficult not to worry about our lives and how to provide for our families. Looking back, I can see that God provided everything I needed at exactly the time I needed it and so, I must assume he will continue to do this. We can’t add a single hour to our life by worrying (v.25). In fact, worry and stress is likely to take years off our lives. Praying in Tongues can help massively by building us up internally and distracting us from our issues. Hand over control of your mouth to the Holy Spirit, whenever you are in a stressful situation. You will feel the benefit.

We need to seek the kingdom of our Father first and He will then look after all our practical, daily needs. ‘Our Father, give us our daily bread’. This great prayer doesn’t say, ‘Give me a year’s worth of bread, so I can store it in the freezer’. It encourages us to come daily to the Father and ask for our needs.

As we receive our Father’s generosity from his inexhaustible supply in heaven, it encourages us to reach out in generosity to others, particularly orphans and the widows.

Jesus told us not to worry. Cue a great song to practice one’s whistling to.

Psalm 42:6b-11

King David is still having issues, ‘my soul is downcast within me’ (v.6b).

We respond to people’s testimonies when we see that God’s love and care has touched someone emotionally deep inside them themselves: ‘Deep calls to deep’, (v.7).

He acknowledges that God is still his rock (v.9) even when he feels forgotten.

David speaks to his own soul and encourages it to hope in God.

David has full confidence, ‘for I will yet praise him, my Saviour and my God’ (v.11).

This reminds me of ‘doubting’ Thomas’ exclamation to the risen Jesus, ‘My Lord and my God!’ (John 20:28).

‘He who does not Gather with me Scatters’: April 6th 2021

Deuteronomy 4:15-5:33

No-one, apart from Jesus, knows what God, the Father, looks like. ‘You saw no form of any kind the day the Lord spoke to you at Horeb out of the fire’ (v.15). Therefore, we aren’t meant to make an image of God and then worship the object we created. When Jesus became incarnate, we could see an image of God. The church allows us to make a painting or sculpture of Jesus, but we must not worship the actual created object, we must worship through it towards Jesus himself. It’s the same for any photograph that we might take on a phone. We wouldn’t worship the actual image of our children or spouse, the image would remind us of them and assist us in directing loving thoughts towards them.

Moses once again said, ‘The Lord was angry with me because of you,’ (Deut. 4:21). We can seemingly work hard all our life for God or an employer but can be destroyed by the unfaithful actions of those around us. However, God was just. Moses was actually responsible for his downfall in that he hit the rock at Meribah with a staff rather than speaking to it as God had instructed. Moses served the quarrelling people but didn’t fully follow God’s instructions. We need to always remember who we are working for.

We need to be careful not to ‘worship man-made gods of wood or stone, which cannot see or hear or eat or smell’ (Deut.4:28). I watched a documentary about a famous chef who appeared to be in love with his car, an Aston Martin. He lovingly polished it and agonised over every new stone-chip that it collected. We need to have a healthy lack of regard for created objects. I appreciate my car – but I never wash it and it is covered with little scratches and dents from other people’s supermarket trollies. As long as it starts when I need it and is safe to drive, that’s all I need and I will trade it in without a moment’s thought when it is near the end of its life. We also need to avoid the cult of celebrity. We don’t need to follow celebrities careers and lives on sites such as Instagram. There is a danger of putting famous people on a pedestal and starting to idol worship them. If we spend more time on social media than we do working on our relationship with God, we have a serious problem.

However, God is merciful (v.31). Even if we have worshipped idols he will accept us back and we will find him if we, ‘look for him with all your heart and with all your soul’ (v.29).

Moses asked the Israelites to reflect on the wonderful things they have experienced and how special they are as a nation. No other God has rescued his people from another nation by such mighty signs and wonders. God rescued them because, ‘he loved your forefathers and chose their descendants after them’ (v.37).

Moses reminded the Israelites of the Ten Commandments. God had given these to them at Horeb speaking to the Israelites face to face ‘out of the fire of the mountain’ (v.4).

Jesus taught that the entire Ten Commandments are based on love for God and love of our neighbour. There are hundreds of different ways we can show our love for our neighbour each individual day.

Our modern society breaks the Ten Commandments in a myriad of different ways and, as Christians, we must not join in with their deadly ways. I found it impossible to consistently follow all the Ten Commandments until I started to speak in tongues for an extended period of time on a daily basis. Handing over control to the Holy Spirit allowed him to progress with my sanctification and the temptation to carry out habitual sins started to evaporate.

As well as condensing the commandments down into two themes: loving God and loving other people. Jesus also cut the ten commandments down down to six in Mark 10:19, ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honour your father and mother’.

We still need to be careful to do what the Lord, our God, has commanded us to do in regards to Jesus’ six commandments. We must ‘not turn aside to the right or to the left’ (5:32). If we obey God’s commandments, believe in Jesus and become baptized we can live and prosper and prolong our days.

Luke 11:5-32

Jesus taught us about persistence in prayer. If we ask our Father for something, it will be given to us. If we seek God, we will find him and he will open the door to us (v.9). Some people worry when they start to pray in tongues, whether the gift comes from God or whether it is a counterfeit evil version from the devil. If we pray to God for a good gift from the Holy Spirit, he will give us a good gift, ‘how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!’ (v.13).

We can judge a good gift by its fruits. If we routinely exercise a supernatural gift like Speaking in Tongues and we become calmer, more self-controlled, more patient and demonstrate other fruits of the Holy Spirit, we know it’s a good gift.

Jesus drove out ‘a demon that was mute’ (v.14). The demon was mute and it actually made the man it was residing in mute as well. The demon’s ‘muteness’ over-ruled the man’s natural ability to speak. The man spoke as soon as the mute demon had been cast out. Possibly the man had previously got into a habit of not speaking, of not offering praise and thanks to God and this sinful behaviour had given this demon a legal right to latch onto this behaviour and make it permanent. Some physical issues can be cured instantly through prayer if they are being caused by an evil spirit.

Jesus confirmed that there were other Jewish exorcists, ‘by whom do your followers drive them out?'(v.19). After the tower of Babel, mankind was dispersed to the four corners of the earth and subjected to demonic tyranny. In every continent, some holy and righteous people preserved and exercised knowledge of how to exorcise demons to prevent their compatriots from being slaughtered. Some of these holy people were taught by angels. God didn’t abandon indigenous people to their fate. Primitive exorcists could carry out deliverance work in the name or God or carry out what we might call spells. For example, in the book of Tobit, in a Catholic Bible, the Archangel Raphael instructs Tobias on how to drive away an immensely powerful and persistent demon, by burning a specific fish’s heart and liver: ‘the reek will rise, the demon will smell it and flee, and there is no danger that he will ever be found near the girl again’ (Tobit 6:17-18). Some commentators think the fish may have been a pike.

Jesus was able to exorcise with a simple command. We can command demons to leave through deliverance prayers, ‘in the name of Jesus’. Official church exorcists exert the power and authority of the church, in the name of Jesus, to exorcise the most evil and powerful demons – the Biblical big hitters with personal names.

When someone is exorcised from a demon, it is vital that they receive prayers to fill them with the Holy Spirit and they continue to live a holy life. They must not leave a spiritual vacuum inside them or they can be demonised again, ‘and the final condition of that man is worse than the first’ v.26).

We live in a particularly wicked generation. Bibles are readily available. there are first class commentaries available on the internet and most have heard the gospel. Yet, familiarity breeds contempt. Many of us, in the West, can easily access a church but so many people still don’t bother accessing the truth and teaching of God. We have to be wholeheartedly on the side of God, ‘He who is not with me is against me, he who does not gather with me, scatters (v.23). We need to critically look at our lives and behaviours? Are we fully with Jesus or are you against him? Are you the enemy of God?

We are blessed if we ‘hear the word of God and obey it’ (v.28).

Proverbs 8:32-36

We must not ignore the voice of wisdom (v.33). We are blessed if we listen and watch out for wisdom on a daily basis (v.34).

If we find wisdom, we find life because we will realise we need God, we will turn to him and receive favour from him (v.35).

All who hate wisdom, will, as a result, hate God and love death (v.36).

After all, what is wisdom?

‘The fear of the Lord – that is wisdom, and to shun evil is understanding’ (Job 28:28).

If people reject holding God in reverence and awe, they hate and reject wisdom, they turn down God’s blessings and love death.

Turn away from death, love life.

Picture: Didgeman, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Good Samaritan and The Lord’s Prayer: April 5th 2021

Deuteronomy 2:24-4:14

God started to make all the nations fear the Israelites (2:25). By the time the Israelites invaded the promised land and approached Jericho, the inhabitants were terrified of their formidable reputation (Joshua 2:11).

God acted on Sihon’s heart (the Amorite king of Heshbon) to make his spirit stubborn and his heart obstinate in order that he would challenge the Israelites and suffer defeat (Deut. 2:30). This is similar to God making Pharaoh so stubborn, back in Egypt, that he wouldn’t let the Israelites leave until the 10th plague. It is fascinating that Jesus said, ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God (Matt, 5:9)‘ but God didn’t want peace between the Israelites and the Amorites. He wanted Sihon’s kingdom to suffer total defeat with no survivors.

Moses pleaded to be allowed to go into the promised land (Deut. 3:23-23) but God stuck to his previous ruling and would not listen. Due to his previous disobedience, Moses would only be allowed to look at the promised land from a high place. Joshua would be commissioned to lead the Israelites from there. A ‘no’ from God can really mean ‘no’. He obviously knew that it was time for Joshua to step up and Moses had finished his race. Moses was expected to swallow his disappointment, commission Joshua, and ‘encourage and strengthen him‘ (v.28). All leaders must know when it is time to hand over the baton to the next generation.

As Christians, we are a new species, a new creation. a new international nation with God actually living inside each one of us. We are much more privileged than the Israelites, who were blessed for their time, ‘What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way our God is near us whenever we pray to him?’ (Deut. 4.7).

We must not forget the wonderful things of God we have heard and seen. How awesome it must have been for the Jews to stand ‘at the foot of the mountain while it blazed with fire to the very heavens with black clouds and deep darkness’ (4:11) and receive the covenant of God.

Luke 10:25-11:4

An expert in the law stood up ‘to test Jesus’ (v.25). It took extreme arrogance for an academic to try to trick the Son of God. He thought he already knew the answer and, it turns out, he did. Jesus got him to answer his own question and he condensed the ten commandments into two. The academic gets the credit in this gospel of Luke, but Jesus himself said this in Matthew (22:37-40).

Jesus then told the very famous ‘Parable of the Good Samaritan’. It’s wonderful that Jesus selected a Samaritan to be the hero of the story when recently a Samaritan village had rejected him (9:51-56).

Jesus never ‘passed by on the other side‘ (v.32) Throughout his ministry, he was constantly distracted and diverted his attention to whoever was in need. I like to write this blog first thing in the morning, but I have to be prepared to instantly drop it if someone genuinely needs my help. The priest and the Levite may have been hurrying to carry out their holy duties – forgetting that ministering to the needy, trumps all other worthy tasks.

Jesus visit the home of Martha and Mary. I used to get confused about who got tied up with the housework. It’s a simple rule. We all want to be like Mary – either as Mary, Mother of God, the number one disciple, or as Mary, sister of Lazarus, sitting at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. If a famous preacher is in town, forget the housework and spend quality time with them. Go to a restaurant with them or get a takeaway delivered, leave the washing up – everything else can wait. Listen intently to what they are say. Their words could change your life.

This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t enthusiastically help with the housework on every other occasion. Saint Theresa of Avila said, ‘God walks among the pots and pans’. It is a blessing to serve others and we can pray in tongues while we wash up – offering the perfect prayer to God. However, we should not confuse hospitality – actually being present for our guests, listening to them and making them feel cherished – with being background skivvies in the kitchen. We constantly have to assess each moment, to make sure that people are prioritised over chores. Martha could have just given a fish and a loaf to Jesus and asked him to multiply it.

Jesus taught his disciples ‘The Lord’s prayer‘ in chapter 11. It gives the perfect format for our prayers. It was a revelation that we can start praying to God by addressing him as ‘Father’ (v.2). We should always ‘hallow’ God’s name (v.2) and, in keeping with Jewish tradition, refuse to say his most holy formal name. The name beginning with a ‘Y’. When I first started praying in tongues, I asked the Holy Spirit whether I would ever say the name beginning with a ‘Y’ while he was directing my prayers. He categorically confirmed to me that it should never be said. I cringe and apologise to God, when I hear someone else read out the holy name in church. We should always say ‘The Lord’ instead.

Each day, we need to ask God for ‘our daily bread’ (v.3). We shouldn’t stock up and try to live each day off our own resources. When I started this blog, I thought I could write it a few weeks in advance. Then I could take the odd day off for holidays / lack of inspiration. That didn’t work at all. I now just work on one day at a time – scheduling it in the evening, to be posted at 06:00 the next day. I trust God to give me something to write about each day as I read his word – my daily bread.

‘Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us’ (v.4). When we are baptised, all our sins up until that point are wiped out, including the ‘original sin’ we have inherited from our forefather, Adam. However, you probably have noticed that this is not the end of sinning. The more time we spend praying in tongues, the less sin we will commit. The Holy Spirit works on sanctifying us, steering us away from old sinful habits and inspiring us to live better lives. However, Jesus obviously says that we should assess our lives on a daily basis and ask forgiveness for the sins we have committed in the last 24 hours. If we were to die immediately after being baptized, as a creature born again through water and the Spirit, we would go straight to heaven. However, immediately we start to carry out serious sins again, we are destined for hell. We can’t carry on living in sinful ways and expect our baptism to cover it. We have to continually ask for forgiveness and move away from sin.

We ask God to ‘lead us not into temptation’ (v.4). God doesn’t tempt us, that’s the work of the devil and his demons but nothing happens without God’s permission. God will always give us sufficient grace to resist any temptation but he might want to test our willpower at times. Resisting temptation can require some emotional, spiritual work and so avoidance is always the easiest route.

Psalm 41:7-13

King David’s enemies thought he was defeated and even his closest, trusted friend had betrayed him.

King David continued to survive. His enemies had not triumphed and so he knew that God was pleased with him and would raise him up (v.10-11). God upheld David in his integrity and was ever present to him.

We should give praise to our everlasting God throughout the day. He will also have mercy on us, uphold us and raise us up.

Picture: Accademia Ligustica di Belle Arti, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

‘Leave the dead to bury the dead’ and ‘Satan Shoes’: April 4th 2021

Deuteronomy 1:1-2:23

Moses commanded the Israelites to break camp, move from Horeb and take possession of the promised land; over forty years after leaving Egypt.

Moses recalled how he had appointed leaders and judges to help him govern over the two million Israelites. The judges had been instructed to be impartial and not to be intimidated, ‘for justice belongs to God (v.17). Moses was always there to support his assistants, ‘Bring me any case too hard for you, and I will hear it’ (v.17). Moses was happy to admit when decisions were too hard even for him and referred them up to God. Moses was an excellent leader and excelled in humility.

The Israelites failed to trust that God would fight for them in the promised land. Their rebellion even damaged Moses, ‘Because of you the Lord became angry with me’ (v.37). The Israelites were terrified they would be defeated by the resident tribes and their children would be captured. God decided that only these innocent children who did not ‘yet know good from bad‘ (v.39) would grow up to eventually inherit the land. Their disbelieving parents would die in the desert.

The Israelites were told not to provoke the descendants of Esau (their ancestor Jacob’s twin brother) to war (2:5). Even though God had favoured Jacob over Esau, he had still richly blessed Esau and was preserving his territory for ever. Similarly, the Lord had given Ar to the descendants of Abraham’s nephew, Lot, as their possession (v.9). God remained faithful to his historical promises made to his servants.

Luke 9:57-10:24

Jesus was by now an itinerant preacher with no fixed abode, ‘Foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head’ (v.58). It is striking how mobile modern preachers of the gospel can be. Our local Pastor can be in Burundi one week and then think nothing of flying out to Indonesia the next. I flew to Lourdes on a Catholic pilgrimage and was amazed at how slick elderly Catholic priests were at getting through customs. They were seasoned travellers and skipped through the airport with hand luggage. Covid lockdown has scuppered a lot of travelling and so we need to pray that the world will open up again soon. In the meantime, the internet will have to suffice.

One potential disciple wanted to bury his father first. ‘Let the dead bury their own dead’ (v.60), said Jesus. He could see a spark of life in this man. The man had recognised that Jesus was the source of eternal life and that by following him, he would be truly alive. Once we have found Jesus, we can leave secular tasks to people who haven’t yet found faith – the spiritually dead. We should critically analyse our secular jobs. If they are filled with ‘dead tasks’ such as completing useless forms or spreadsheets or attending worthless meetings, leave the dead people to carry out the dead tasks.

Jesus sent out the ‘seventy-two others’ (10:1) to heal the sick and to proclaim that the kingdom of God was near. It’s fantastic that the power and authority he had previously just given to his 12 apostles were now being distributed to an even larger group. His group of spiritually empowered assistants was expanding at an exponential rate.

It shouldn’t cost much to be a travelling evangelist as people should be eager to feed and shelter you, ‘for the worker deserves his wages’ (v.7).

It is amazing how many people won’t listen to or even acknowledge the gospel message. Many people actively avoid it and become angry when confronted by it. If I uploaded a cute picture to Facebook of my dog cavorting in Spring flowers, I would probably get dozens of ‘likes’. People feel unthreatened by such a post. A cute dog picture is acceptable in modern culture as people don’t like to be confronted by the uncomfortable truth, that they have to critically look at their own lives and their personal relationship with God, realise if they are heading in the wrong direction, turn and be healed. If I wrote a short, inspiring post about Easter – I might not get any ‘likes’, even from my Christian friends. In not responding to the gospel, people reject God himself, ‘He who listens to you listens to me; he who rejects you rejects me; but he who rejects me rejects him who sent me’. (v.16).

Luke 10:18 is referenced on the side of the ‘Satan shoes’ that have recently been on sale, ‘I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven’. Consulting Twitter, it’s amazing to see how many people think these shoes are desirable. Many teenagers seem to have a secret, secondary Twitter account, that their family members do not know about, which allows them to support unsavoury projects from the privacy of their dark bedrooms. Some young people have bought the shoes as they are fans of the ‘art collective’ who made them and also cynically think they are making an investment. The obvious controversy over such objects will push the price up. Other people feel marginalised by society / religion due to their lifestyle choices and rush to sign up to other alternative cultures. However, this unsavoury commercial stunt reminds me of the punk rock movement in the Seventies. People were duped into following an alternative to the mainstream, thinking they were being individualistic, but the punk music scene was manipulated / controlled by marketing men making punks more in bondage to commercialism than everybody else.

Luke 10:18 is a strange verse to adorn the side of the Satan shoes as it is about the first defeat of Satan – when the army of loyal angels under the command of Saint Michael fought the rebelling angels (the demons) and kicked them out of heaven. Eventually Satan and the demons were totally defeated by Jesus’s death on the cross and so the shoes could simply have had ‘Loser’ inscribed on them. Tradition is that Satan fell from lightning out of heaven on the 29th September (Michaelmas) and landed in a blackberry bush. In the UK, we don’t eat blackberries after the 29th September because they become bitter after this date (allegedly because the devil has urinated on them in revenge). So we can imagine the purchaser of these shoes falling headfirst into a blackberry bush and getting stuck in the brambles with their little Satan Shoes kicking about in the air. It is hard to find a complementary passage in the Bible to adorn such shoes. They could have used John 8:44, ‘You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies’.

I fully support Nike bringing a copyright infringement against the Satan shoes creators. Ironically, Nike is itself named after a demonic entity – the winged Greek Goddess of Victory.

Jesus gave us the true reason for rejoicing on a daily basis, ‘Rejoice that your names are written in heaven’ (v.20).

Jesus gave us authority. How much of the power of the enemy can we overcome? All the power of the enemy (v.19).

Jesus was overjoyed that his plan to send disciples throughout the world was working. He was learning both from experience and by revelation from the Holy Spirit on the daily basis. I love reading the gospel because I have never grown up, nor do I plan to. I still feel like a little child and take a childish delight in wonderful stories and legends. This attitude is a tremendous blessing because God has ‘hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children’ (v.21). I pray that I keep my childlike enthusiasm and delight in God forever.

We are blessed by the fact we can go to church, read the Bible ourselves and read commentaries on the gospel. Prophets and kings wanted to ‘hear what you hear’ and ‘see what you see’ (v.24).

Psalm 41:1-6

Those who have regard for the weak are ‘blessed’ (v.1). Mary, Mother of God, had regard for the child she was carrying, Jesus. She is the most blessed of all women because she nurtured God, when he was at his most vulnerable as a tiny unborn child in her womb.

There is an enormous list of benefits if we care for the weak. We will be delivered from trouble (v.1), our life will be protected and preserved, we will be blessed and not surrendered to our foes (v.2). We will be sustained on our sick bed and healed from illnesses.

Our enemies will speak nicely to us, while gathering evidence to malign our name (v.6). Tabloid newspapers are full of political gossip. People falsely gain the confidence of world leaders, just to slander them.

King David’s enemies wanted to know when he would die and his name perish (v.5). However, because David was a man after God’s heart and cared for the poor, his name will live forever thanks to his descendant, Jesus.

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

The Transfiguration: April 3rd 2021

Numbers 35:1-36:13

The Lord commanded Moses to give the Levites forty-eight towns from the territory the Israelites ‘will possess’ (v.2). As far as God was concerned, the conquering of the Promised Land with his help was a done deal. None of the resident tribes in their walled cities could have prevented this from happening. ‘If God is for us, who can be against us? (Romans 8:31).

Cities of refuge‘ had to be created where a person, who had accidentally killed someone, could flee and remain safe before their fair trial. God loves justice. Today, we recognise the difference between accidental manslaughter and intentional murder in our modern justice system. God mandated the death penalty for murder but only on the testimony of multiple witnesses. No-one was to be put to death on the testimony of only one witness (v.30). Life imprisonment wasn’t practical when the nation was wandering around the desert for forty years.

In the New Covenant post Jesus, we shouldn’t support the death penalty. We have been told to forgive and bless our enemies – not to kill them. Justice has to be served and so life-time imprisonment is appropriate for unrepentant / dangerous offenders. We cannot risk killing the innocent due to a miscarriage of justice.

If a person committed accidental manslaughter, they had to live in a city of refuge ‘until the death of the high priest, who was anointed with holy oil’ (v.25). We still utilise ‘holy oil’ today. It is known as Chrism. It is used to: anoint priests or bishops; consecrate churches, holy vessels, and altars; and as part of the baptismal rite. Chrism cleanses, strengthens and sets people and objects apart for God’s service. At confirmation, the Bishop traces the Sign of the Cross with chrism on the forehead of the one being confirmed and says, “[Name], be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

To consecrate holy chrism oil, normally an annual event on the Wednesday of Holy Week, a bishop mixes aromatic balsam with olive oil, breathes on the mixed oil to signify the presence of the Holy Spirit, and says a prayer over it.

“Do not pollute the land where you are, Bloodshed pollutes the land, and atonement cannot be made for the land on which blood has been shed, except by the blood of the one who shed it’, (v.33). During Covid lockdown, we currently have the horrors of home abortion. Pregnant women are sent two sets of abortion pills through the post having had no scan to show them their developing baby or check how old it is. These poor women are aborting their child, often by themselves, in their own showers or bedrooms. It is a horrific process with their bed mattress and carpets becoming permanently stained with blood to remind them of what they have done. They also have to dispose of their dead, unborn baby. Even prior to this, some people were taking home their aborted child and burying it in their own garden. Homes in the UK are gradually becoming polluted with bloodshed and this could cause real spiritual problems for the current inhabitants and anyone who may purchase these properties in the future. https://www.spuc.org.uk/News/ID/384421/The-day-SPUCs-worst-fears-on-remote-abortions-were-realised

The book of Numbers dramatically finishes with an order from God, ‘Do not defile the land where you live and where I dwell, for I, the Lord, dwell among the Israelites’ (v.34).

In the current New Covenant, since our Father and Jesus sent us the Holy Spirit, our Lord dwells inside all baptized Christians.

Luke 9:28-56

Yesterday, Jesus said, ‘I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God’ (Luke 9:27). Many people incorrectly think this referred to the end of the world, final judgment and the righteous going to heaven and that Jesus’ prophecy was therefore wrong. However, Jesus was referring to the event known as ‘The Transfiguration’, which occured ‘about eight days later’ (v.28). All Jesus’ prophecies happened on time.

The ‘some who are standing here’ means Peter, John and James who were taken up a mountain and saw Jesus’ face changed and his clothes becoming ‘as bright as a flash of lightning’ (v.29).

Two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared ‘in glorious splendour’ (v.30) to talk to Jesus. The text doesn’t say, ‘two dead men’. Moses and Elijah are perfectly fit and well. In fact, they appeared to be in much better shape (in glorious splendour) than they were when previously seen. This is because, ‘He is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive’ (Luke 20:38). This shows the validity of praying to ‘dead’ saints and asking for them to intercede for us. Moses often talked to God, on behalf of the Israelites, often begging God not to kill them for their disobedience. If God listened to Moses when he was on earth, how much more would He listen to Moses, when he is up in heaven with Him. Praying to the Blessed Virgin Mary and asking for her to intercede for us – exerting her motherly influence on her son, Jesus, is if course particularly effective and biblical. If Mary interceded at the wedding at Cana resulting in Jesus making bounteous quantities of new wine, she will intercede for us now she is installed in heaven. A host of wonderful saints sit up in heaven in the cloud of witnesses, watching all our daily work, just waiting for us to ask for their assistance. Praying to Saint Joseph, the role modal of good fathers, is also particularly effective. If you have ever asked for a pastor or a priest to pray for you on earth, asking a holy person in heaven to pray for you works on exactly the same principal.

Peter wanted to preserve the transfiguration by building shelters for the three great prophets to stay on the mountain (v.33) but this was just to be a fleeting vision of the kingdom of God. They were going to have to descend the mountain and get back to their work. However, these three disciples would have carried this vision of our transfigured Lord in their hearts forever. It would strengthen them during troubled times in their future.

After descending the mountain, they are soon back in the thick of the action as the remaining disciples have failed to exorcise a young boy, who was suffering from a dramatic case of demonic possession. It looked like a case of epilepsy, but the symptoms were caused by an evil spirit. This was a serious case: ‘it scarcely ever leaves him and is destroying him (v.39). Demons can’t resist making people suffer. They ultimately want to kill their hosts if they are allowed to.

In Matthew 17: 20, Jesus told the disciples they failed to cast out the demon ‘because they have so little faith’. In Mark 9:29, Jesus said, ‘This kind can come out only by prayer’. So even though the disciples had been successful on previous occasions, they eventually came across a demon that was so powerful and had become so entrenched in a person, the small amount of faith they had so far accumulated was not sufficient. Perhaps they were commanding the demon to leave in the name of Jesus, without also praying to God for it to leave. Today, we can combine commanding a demon to leave in Jesus’ name with the perfect prayer – by allowing the Holy Spirit to pray through us by praying in tongues.

The story shows us that when we come across a person with a spiritual problem, we should not give up after one attempt at deliverance. We are on the Victory Side and all demons are part of a defeated army. Their only hope is to try to remain undetected and destroy their hosts from within. Once, we know that someone has a demon, it has lost the battle. It is like a trapped rat in a barrel. We simply have to keep hitting it with a variety of spiritual baseballs bats until it leaves. If our prayers are ineffective initially, we can pray and fast before having another attempt. If it still won’t shift, we ask for help from someone with more faith, a higher degree of spiritual authority or a supernatural gift of deliverance. We just keep going, trying different approaches, wear it down and win through perseverance.

Jesus tells us to welcome everybody – even a little child with little knowledge, influence or money. We should welcome everybody with no thought as to what we can get from them.

Jesus told the disciples not to stop a man driving out demons in Jesus’ name, ‘for whoever is not against you is for you’ (v.50). This is a call for Christians of all denominations to work together. We are all family and should love each other and not quibble about slight differences in doctrine. I am a Catholic, yet spend the majority of time with lovely Pentecostals. I have learnt a lot from them and I hope I complement their worship in some way.

Jesus was not welcomed in a Samaritan village ‘because he was heading for Jerusalem’ (v.53). Maybe, he would have had a different reception if he had gone specifically to their village to teach them the gospel. Samaritans had ‘urged him to stay with them’ in John 4:40. They had acknowledged that Jesus really was the Saviour of the World. James and John suggested cataclysmic retribution for rejecting Jesus and were publicly rebuked. Jesus remained gentle, loving, forgiving and patient in the face of rudeness and rejection.

Psalm 40:9-17

King David speaks publicly about the righteousness of God (v.9) He does not hide the truth about God, he speaks of his love, truth, faithfulness and salvation (v.10). We should confidently proclaim our faith in God in all public forums.

David is in anguish surrounded by troubles, overtaken by sin, with his heart failing within him but he is still generous to others in prayer, ‘But may all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you’ (v.16).

David is King but is not proud. He fully recognises his dependence on God, ‘Yet I am poor and needy; may the Lord think of me (v.17). Even though he urges God not to delay, David fully trusts that God will will save him in the end, ‘You are my hope and deliverer’ (v.17).

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

Jesus feeds the Five Thousand: April 2nd 2021

Numbers 33:1-34:29

‘At the Lord’s command Moses recorded the stages in their journey’ (v.2). Trendy, modern theologians sometimes try to suggest that the first five books of the Old Testament were written by different authors other than Moses. I think this is complete nonsense and agree with Jewish history. Moses wrote the Torah (the Pentateuch or ‘Five Books of Moses’). To justify the irritating multiple author theory, some theologians rudely suggest that Moses couldn’t even write. As he had been brought up with Pharaoh’s son in the Egyptian royal palace, Moses would have received a fantastic education. Today, we see some more clear evidence of Moses’ journalistic skills.

The Egyptians ‘were burying all their firstborn’ – when the Israelites had set out from Rameses – ‘for the Lord had brought judgment on their Gods (v.4). Humans can get caught in the crossfire as the one true God, our Father, shows his omnipotence over all other pretenders to his throne.

‘Aaron was a hundred and twenty-three years old when he died’ (v.39). Servants of God can live fruitful and long lives. Aaron even had to climb up a mountain to die (Mount Hor) implying he was still relatively mobile up until the end. Aaron had a long and fascinating life, seeing wonders and tragedies. He had witnessed all the miracles of God in Egypt and the Exodus. However, he had seen two of his sons die before the Lord due to their disobedience (Lev. 10:1-3). He hadn’t complained about this, he kept silent. Silence is a great strength as exemplified by Saint Joseph in the New Testament. Aaron kept the faith until the end. He gave a magnificent example of how to support a brother in their ministry.

When the Israelites invaded Canaan they were meant to destroy ‘all their carved images and their cast idols, and demolish all their high places’ (v.52). Many Western people bring back carved images from Eastern religions as souvenirs from their travels and install them in their houses – often in pride of place. God will not appreciate that type of behaviour. If we are Christians, we should only have Christian objects in our houses.

God advised them to drive out all the inhabitants of the land or they ‘will become barbs in your eyes and thorns in my your sides (v.55). It’s easy to watch the wrong type of films or click on the wrong type of news website and see unsuitable images – in the secular world we have to be be on our guard against ‘barbs in our eyes’, which can hook us into sin.

Joshua, Eleazar (the priest) and Caleb were among the familiar names that God appointed to carve up the entire promised land between the nine and a half tribes. God will continue to use us for bigger and bigger projects if we show him we are reliable.

Luke 9:10-27

Jesus fed the five thousand. It is wonderful how Jesus assigns this task to his disciples, ‘You give them something to eat’ (v.13). He expects his followers to learn from him and then demonstrate practical, fruitful results.

At Jesus’ instruction, they organised the crowd. Splitting the five thousand up into groups of about fifty. Just because a miracle is about to take place doesn’t mean there has to be disorganised hysteria. Miracles can take place in a calm setting. The five loaves and two fish were multiplied by the power of God and when God provides, He provides generously. There was far more food left over than they started with. I wonder if everyone commented that it was the best fish and bread that they had ever tasted – like the fantastic wine Jesus produced at the Cana wedding.

Peter won ‘Disciple of the Year’ for correctly identifying Jesus as ‘the Christ of God’ (v.20). Peter was starting to demonstrate one of the supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit – the Gift of Knowledge.

Jesus warned us about pursuing empty careers – just to gain money or prestige, ‘what good is it for a man to gain the whole world and yet lose or forfeit his very self? (v.25). So many jobs are a total waste of time and life. We need to critically assess our careers. If a job is just to gain money and we spend our lives filling out spreadsheets or performing other meaningless tasks, we should change our career. If no-one needed us to do our job during the Covid pandemic (apart from the vital hospitality industry that supports travel) it must be questionable if anyone really needs us to restart the same career once everything returns ‘to normal’. Even many of the backroom jobs in ‘key’ industries are a total waste of effort and wouldn’t be missed. Often, the more senior (and better paid) roles in a company, are some of the most pointless. Many of the best paid managers spend most of their day hampering and distracting their subordinates from carrying out useful work. We need to all be key workers serving the public carrying out one or more of the corporal acts of mercy: feeding the hungry; giving drink to the thirsty; clothing the naked; giving shelter to travellers; visiting the sick; visiting the imprisoned or burying the dead.

The imprisoned don’t have to be officially detained at her Majesty’s pleasure. Any lonely person living by themselves counts.

Proverbs 8:22-31

Wisdom was the first of God’s works (v.22). We know from John 3:3 that Jesus created the world, ‘Through him all things were made’ and so wisdom, from the Holy Spirit, accompanied Jesus as the heavens were set in place, ‘when he marked out the foundations of the earth (v.29).

Wisdom was ‘filled with delight day after day rejoicing always in his (Jesus’) presence’ (v.30).

How can we welcome wisdom into our lives?

‘The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom’ (Psalm 9:10). Jesus is ‘the power of God and the wisdom of God’ (1 Corinthians 1:24).

Wisdom is waiting to help us out. We just have to ask for it to come into our lives. It rejoices in Jesus’ presence (v.30) and delights in mankind (v.31).

Picture: https://www.flickr.com/photos/paullew/7667661950/

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