Israel Exiled Because of Sin / Paul sails for Rome: July 8th 2021

2 Kings 16:1-17:41

Ahaz became king of Judah. After a recent run of good Judean kings, Ahaz turned to the dark side. He walked in the ways of the evil kings of Israel. He worshipped the Canaanite demonic deities and even performed child sacrifice (2 Kings 16:3).

Ahaz’s capital city, Jerusalem, was besieged by the Arameans and the Israelites. Ahaz sent silver and gold to the king of Assyria and asked to be rescued. The king of Assyria responded and attacked the Aramean capital, Damascus. He captured it, killed the king of Aram and deported its inhabitants.

King Ahaz went to meet his saviour Tiglath-Pileser, king of Assyria, in Damascus and decided he wanted to build a replicate altar to one he saw there. He sent a sketch and detailed plans to Uriah the priest, who had it built before Ahaz returned. This is despite the Lord having told the Israelites not to imitate the nations around them (2 Kings 17:15). Ahaz would use the new altar for sacrifices but would still use the old bronze altar for ‘seeking guidance’ (2 Kings 16:15). He would be lucky to receive any guidance from God with his attitude.

Hoshea became the last king of Israel. For a while, Hoshea paid tribute to the king of Assyria, Shalmaneser, but he traitorously sent envoys to the king of Egypt and stopped paying. Shalmaneser imprisoned Hoshea, invaded the whole of Israel, captured its capital Samaria and deported the Israelites to Assyria. Even since the Israelites had made Jeroboam king, they had irritated the Lord. Jeroboam had ‘enticed Israel away from following the Lord and caused them to commit a great sin (2 Kings 17:21). They had ignored God’s prophets and so God afflicted them, ‘gave them into the hands of plunderers’ and ‘thrust them from his presence’ (2 Kings 17:20).   

The historian writing 2 Kings summarized that these events ‘all took place because the Israelites had sinned against the Lord their God’ (2 Kings 17:7). In contrast, the Southern kingdom, Judah, had been fortunate to have many kings that were not as evil as the Israelite kings. God preserved the integrity of Judah thanks to its more positive attitude towards Him, far longer than He protected Israel.

The Israelites had worshipped other gods, most commonly the demonic Canaanite fertility deities Baal and Ashtoreth. They had set up sacred stones and Asherah poles and burned incense in the high places. They worshipped worthless idols making themselves become worthless (2 Kings 17:15). The Israelites had rejected God’s decrees, statutes and covenant. They had carried out child sacrifice, practiced divination and sought omens. They had ignored the warnings from God’s prophets and so God in his righteous anger removed them from his presence.

We now live in such a multi-faith culture that many people syncretize other religions as the Israelites attempted to do. We can attempt to amalgamate and reconcile differing religious beliefs and cultural elements. State run schools are no longer solely Christian focused and will celebrate other faith’s festivals as well as Christmas and Easter. People in the United States feel pressurized to wish each other ‘Happy Holidays’ rather than ‘Happy Christmas’ to feel more inclusive of other faiths. Mohr states that ‘the person most likely to insist on “Merry Christmas” would be a Republican man over 60 who lives in the Midwest; the archetypal “Happy Holidays” proponent is a young (18 to 29) female Democrat living in the Northeast’  https://www.nbcnews.com/think/opinion/using-merry-christmas-or-happy-holidays-no-longer-about-putting-ncna1106181.

Many people today still worship false idols such as celebrity and wealth rather than God. Jesus said ‘you cannot serve both God and Money’ (Matt.6:24). People do not trust God to provide all their basic needs and end up stressed and requiring counselling. They worry about their futures. Jesus said that we should not worry about our lives or what we should eat and drink. We should seek first God’s kingdom and His righteousness and ‘all these things will be given to you as well’ (Matt. 6:33).

The Israelites had practiced child sacrifice with even the king, Ahaz, sacrificing his son ‘in the fire’ (2 Kings 16:3). Child sacrifice has become endemic in Western Societies since the 1960’s through the state-sponsored practice of abortion. Over 200,000 unwanted children are killed before birth in the United Kingdom every year for many different reasons including: economic pressures (due to the greed of the rest of society), worship of material possessions and career, lack of desire to be a servant to one’s family and pressure from oppressive / abusive partners who want sex without accepting responsibility for the consequences.

Jesus ‘did not come to be served, but to serve’ (Matt.20:28). In Mark 10:19 he reiterated the commandment: ‘you shall not murder’ and had a particular love for small children ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them’ (Matt.19:14).

The King of Assyria resettled Israel with foreigners, deported from other countries. These people did not know how to worship the Lord, so God sent lions to kill them. The King of Assyria then sent one of the Israelite priests back to Samaria to teach the people how to worship the Lord. However, each national group still set up their own shrines to their national gods. They worshipped the Lord in addition to worshipping their own demonic deities, serving their man-made idols and performing child sacrifice.

Israel was now full of people who did not worship the Lord exclusively, nor did they adhere to the decrees, ordinances, laws and commands that the Lord had given to the Israelites. The country was at a very low spiritual ebb. Many people call themselves Christians in our country but in addition to giving lukewarm occasional worship to God, they also worship other man-made gods and their own desires. It is tempting to follow secular rules and laws rather than God’s commandments. We all need to assess our lives and behaviours to see if we have adopted the attitudes and idols of the non-Christians around us. Are we listening to God and only following him?

Acts 26:24-27:12

Festus shouted at Paul and accused him of being insane (Acts 26:24). Many people think Christians are crazy today but they haven’t actually worked out in their own minds who they think Jesus is. They would rather not think about him at all. There is no denying he is a historical figure – secular historians have confirmed this. Looking at the miracles and wonders he performed, it is true and reasonable to conclude he was the Son of God. He proved this beyond doubt by his resurrection. People who don’t follow Christianity are the ones not living in reality. They deny documented history and will not listen to the truth.

Paul did not lose his cool. He was adamant he was truthful and reasonable. He asked King Agrippa whether he believed the prophets. King Agrippa realised that Paul was attempting to convert him (Acts 26:28). Paul prayed for him and everyone who listens to his words that we will become what he was.

The senior Romans left the room and all agreed that Paul should not even have been imprisoned. He could have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar. It seems crazy that they would persist in sending Paul to Rome when they had agreed he was innocent, but God wanted Paul in Rome and they were unwittingly carrying out His will.

Paul was handed over to a centurion called Julius, who would supervise him on the gruelling boat journey to Rome. Luke – the author of Acts – travelled with Paul along with Aristarchus, a Macedonian. Paul was still given a great deal of kindness and freedom during the voyage. Julius allowed him to go to his friends when they stopped in Sidon.

The ships they boarded made slow headway against the wind. It was getting late in the year and Paul prophesied that the trip was going to be disastrous (Acts 27:10). However, the centurion ignored Paul’s advice. They hoped to reach the port of Phoenix in Crete and overwinter there. Just as the devil had tried to sink Jesus’ boat as he crossed the lake to exorcise the Gerasene demoniac, the devil was orchestrating the wind and sea against Paul.

Satan wanted to prevent Paul from reaching Rome as from there his teaching would reach the whole world.

Psalm 81:8-16

Israel would not listen to God so he left them to their own devices (Psalm 81:12). Billions of people do not listen to God today; they follow their own gods and desires – worshipping the false idols of money, career and self.

Our fellow citizens wonder why the world is ravaged by wars, famines, natural disasters and a pandemic. If we would all follow God’s ways, he would quickly subdue our enemies and turn his hand against our foes (Ps.81:14).

The demons have chosen to rebel against the Lord for ever – they and their followers will receive punishment that will last forever (Ps.81:15).

When we repent and turn to God, inviting Jesus into our lives as our personal saviour we will be fed with the finest produce of the land (Ps.81:16)

Image: Alberto Fernandez Fernandez, CC BY-SA 3.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/, via Wikimedia Commons

Absalom’s death / Stephen’s Speech to the Sanhedrin: June 11th 2021

2 Samuel 16:15-18:18

David had sent his friend, Hushai, to give poor advice to Absalom (David’s treacherous son who was intent on taking over the country). Absalom suspected Hushai’s motives as he knew he was a good friend of David’s (2 Sam.16:17).

Absalom first of all asked the renowned wise man Ahithophel how to progress his coup. Ahithophel told him to publicly lie with all of David’s ten concubines. This would declare to the whole of Israel that he had formerly set himself against his father. Absalom did this because Ahithophel had a great reputation for giving wise advice (2 Sam.16:23).

Ahithophel then wisely recommended that Absalom should assassinate his father David and bring all the other Israelites back to him. Absalom would have gained the throne if he had done this but God had made him resistant to good advice.

This gave Hushai the chance to propose an alternative strategy. Hushai recommended gathering an enormous army and killing not only David but also all his supporters. He managed to get Absalom to sign up to this plan (2 Sam.17:14). Hushai then sent David a secret message telling him to cross the river Jordan to get away from Absalom’s army.

Aphithophel was so upset that his wise advice had been ignored that he went and hanged himself (2 Sam.17:23). It would have been better for him to stay loyal to King David and to have left Jerusalem with him.

David had travelled to Mahanaim and was treated hospitably by people in the region. They brought him and his army bedding and food.

David mustered his men for battle and wanted to fight with them but they would not allow it. He was too valuable. He stood at the gate of the city in support but begged his soldiers to be gentle with his disloyal son (2 Sam.18:5). It is incredible that David should still want to protect someone who had disrespected his reign and was leading a massive army to kill him.

In the ensuing battle, David’s army killed twenty thousand Israelite soldiers. They probably had far more motivation in that they were fighting for their lives whereas the Israelites were just trying to swap one satisfactory king with another. There is the intriguing statement: ‘the forest claimed more lives that day than the sword’ (2 Sam.18:8), which implies that God was fighting for David in unusual ways. Perhaps the enemy troops ran into the forest in panic and fell into concealed ravines / large pits. They might have been attacked by wild animals or God may even have mobilised the trees to entangle the troops and drop branches on them. I suspect this verse was the inspiration for Tolkien’s Fangorn forest in ‘The Lord of the Rings’.

Absalom himself fell victim to one of the trees in the forest. His head got caught in the branches of a large oak as he was trying to ride under it and he was left swinging there. One of David’s soldiers saw his predicament but did nothing because of David’s command to be gentle with him. Joab, David’s army commander, thought this was nonsense and he and his men went and executed Absalom as if he were a piñata. Joab buried him in a large pit in the forest.

Absalom had earlier vainly set up a stone pillar as a monument to himself in the King’s Valley (see photo). It is difficult what to make of Absalom’s life. He had stood up for justice by avenging the rape of his sister Tamar but he had been extremely disrespectful and disloyal to his father, King David – possibly out of frustration that David hadn’t disciplined his rapist son, Amnon. David had welcomed Absalom back from exile and still wanted to protect him even after he had slept with his women and assembled a massive army to hunt him down. Absalom was a victim of his own good looks, charisma and vanity, lusting for power and thinking that he could do better than his father, who was loved by God. Absalom would have done better to emulate David’s patience, tolerance, love and humility.

Acts 7:20-43

Stephen continued to give the seventy one members of the Sanhedrin a potted history of the Jewish nation. At first glance, this would appear to be like me narrating the Nativity story to the Pope. I am sure they intimately knew the Old Testament storylines already but they had missed the vital point. All the Jewish Old Testament scriptures pointed to Jesus. Even today, many Jews aren’t taught the whole of Isaiah as it so obviously prophesies all about the life of Jesus (Isaiah 53:4-5).

However, Stephen would skilfully be building his later statements on the firm foundations of the Old Testament. Our faith in Jesus Christ is rooted upon the prophesies of the Old Testament. Jesus is referred to throughout the Old Testament and he often personally appeared and interacted with key characters, this is known as a Christophany,

Stephen reminded the Jewish elders that Moses had told the Israelites: ‘God will send you a prophet like me from your own people’ (Acts 7:37). This ‘prophet’ was Jesus, whom they had just killed. In fact, the Jews had killed virtually all of God’s messengers that had been sent to them. Jesus’ life had multiple similarities to that of Moses but Jesus was far greater. Moses delivered his people from oppression and slavery and led them to freedom. Jesus rescued the whole world from the oppression of the devil and the slavery of sin and death.

Stephen repeatedly demonstrated that God throughout history did not just dwell in the Jewish temple. God met people wherever they travelled from the burning bush in the desert, in Gentile territory, to the wonders he performed in Egypt. The Jewish religious elite did not accept that God had become incarnate in the form of Jesus and had performed miracles outside the temple. Many Christians these days tick off their religious obligations by monotonously attending a fixed-format service in a certain church each Sunday as if Jesus is confined to the four walls of that building. However, we carry God inside each one of us. He is fully portable. He is God of the whole world, there is nowhere we can hide from him, and we should be taking him with us each day to meet the needs of suffering people throughout the secular world.

Stephen would became the first Christian martyr and his evangelistic speech is a powerful example for all of us to follow. Stephen’s name mean ‘victor’s crown’ and, even though he was stoned to death, he delivered a timeless ‘victory speech’.

This event would be the official Jewish rejection of the renewed offer of the kingdom, paving the way for salvation to be eventually offered to all the Gentiles.

It would have intimidated an average person to give witness in front of 71 members of the Sanhedrin but Stephen was empowered by the Holy Spirit. He was meant to be defending himself but he went on the attack and prosecuted the Jewish elders. Stephen was innocent, yet he would be punished. The Sanhedrin were guilty yet would escape punishment until God meted out his eternal justice.

Religious leaders have a history of rejecting God’s truth and his messengers. The Israelites had rejected God in the desert and so God turned away from them (Acts 7:42). The Jewish leaders were now rejecting God again with their beloved temple now becoming a worthless idol following the death of Christ.

Psalm 71:1-20

We should pray for our rulers to be people of justice and righteousness.

Queen Elizabeth II has had a spectacularly long reign because we all pray for her when we sing the National Anthem: ‘God save our gracious Queen. Long live our noble Queen’. Prayers really do work.

Our politicians should deliver the needy who cry out and the afflicted who have no-one to help, particularly our most vulnerable citizens, unborn children (Psalm 72:12). They should take pity on the weak and the needy, to save them from death.

We lose over 200,000 unborn children a year in the UK because we no not rescue them from oppression and violence. Their blood is precious in God’s sights (Psalm 72:14).

God alone does marvellous needs and we should praise his glorious name for ever.

Jesus created the world and he will be with us until the end of time. He will endure for ever and his words will feed us and water us so that we flourish (Psalm 72:5-7).

Image: Absalom’s monument: Alien is, CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

David meets Abigail / Jesus is Truth: May 29th 2021

1 Samuel 24:1-25:44

Saul needed a quick break from chasing David around the desert and went into a cave ‘to relieve himself’. David and his men were hiding far back in the same cave! David could easily have killed Saul, his persecutor, but instead crept up and cut off the corner of his robe (1 Sam. 24:4). David felt guilty even for doing that and prevented his men from attacking Saul.

After Saul left the cave, David shouted after him: ‘My Lord the king!‘ and explained to Saul that he had spared his life and was innocent of plotting against him.

Saul wept aloud and admitted he had treated David badly. He prophesied that David would be king and establish the kingdom of Israel forever but made him swear that he would look after Saul’s descendants (1 Sam. 24:21). Saul returned home and David and his small army went to his stronghold.

Samuel the prophet died and was buried at Ramah.

While David and his men had been hiding in the Desert of Moan, he had protected shepherds working for a wealthy man called Nabal. Now, David sent men to Nabal to ask for provisions. Even though he was prosperous, Nabal was miserly and refused. David was furious at this lack of respect and vowed to kill Nabal and all the males in his household.

Fortunately, Nabal’s wife Abigail had more sense. She was horrified that her foolish husband had refused David’s request and she knew this would mean disaster, She loaded an enormous amount of food onto donkeys and rushed off to placate David, who was descending a mountain ravine to kill her household. She called David her master and said she was relieving David of having needless bloodshed and revenge on his conscience. David accepted her generosity and apology. It probably helped that she was intelligent and beautiful just as the beautiful Esther would later save all the Jews. We all need an Abigail in our lives to soothe us and talk us out of taking actions that we might later regret.

Abigail told her husband the next morning how close he had come to death ‘and his heart failed him and he became like a stone’ (1 Sam. 25:37). Ten days later he was dead. David was pleased that the Lord had avenged him. David invited Abigail to be his second wife (he had already married Ahinoam of Jezreel). Saul had given David’s original wife. Michal, to another man. There were complicated marriage set-ups back in the Old Testament – most of which didn’t end well due to envy / jealousy/ duplicity. Christians in the New Testament are strictly monogamous. God hates adultery.

John 18:25-40

Peter denied Jesus for the third time as Jesus had prophesied. Peter is a great example to us as despite all his failures and ill-judged comments he remained faithful to Jesus and full of zeal. He was personally forgiven by Jesus and became the leader of the church, a dynamic Spirit-filled apostle.

Jesus admitted to Pilate that he was a king, but his kingdom was not of this world. He came into the world to testify to the truth. ‘Everyone on the side of truth listens to me’ (John 18:37). Jesus is ‘the Way, the Truth and the Life’ (John 14:6).

When we have the Holy Spirit living inside us, He confirms the truth to us. It can be frustrating to mix with the secular world who often refuse to listen to the truth. I once had to stand up in front of a major trade union conference, being held in a large arena, as the seemingly solo voice against abortion. I wasn’t allowed to use the word: ‘unborn child’ in my speech. The woman chairing the meeting kept shutting off my microphone saying that the term was ‘offensive’. Abortion is the state-approved disposal of unwanted children – that’s the offensive truth. There are many tragic aspects to each and every case and our hearts go out to everyone involved but the basic truth remains. Secular people, living in a morally compromised culture of death, can’t handle the truth.

Pilate offered to release Jesus or the rebel, Barabbas. Barabbas’ full name was ‘Jesus Barabbas’ with Barabbas meaning Son of the Father. So the question to the crowd was: ‘Should I release Jesus, the king the Jews and the true Son of the Father or Jesus Barabbas (the false Son of the Father)’. The crowd chose the false option. Barabbas deserved his sentence due to his crimes but the innocent Jesus died instead of him. We hope that Barabbas believed in Jesus after his crucifixion and was saved. We were all like Barabbas before our baptism and belief in Jesus. We were destined to die because of our sins. Jesus died as our substitute and washed away our sins with his perfect, precious blood.

Psalm 68:15-20

Why gaze in envy, O rugged mountains’ (Psalm 68:16). Mountains can’t have feelings we declare. This must be ‘figurative language’. However, God is in all of his creation. Everything that is alive comes from dust / rock fragments including Adam the first man. Jesus said that if the people on Palm Sunday had kept quiet, then the stones would have cried out (Luke 19:40). The natural world – with each element beautifully created by Jesus – may well be a lot more alive than we give it credit for.

God daily bears our burdens. If we have the same depressing, anxious thoughts going through our brain – the cure is praise, worship and prayer. The last time I was mentally laid low was because I had let myself get into a spiritual rut. God let the devil attack me mentally. I became seriously ill. God allowed this trial so I could find myself in a new church – a dynamic Pentecostal church – where the Spirit delivered me into peace.

We might go through trials and tribulations but only so good can come out of it in the end. God refines us like silver and disciplines us because he loves us. He prunes us so that we can bear more fruit.

He is a God who saves. Praise the Lord!

Image: National Library of Wales, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

War against the Benjamites / Jesus’ Truth will set us Free: May 15th 2021

Judges 20:1-21:25

The Israelites were shocked by the ghastly behaviour of the inhabitants of Gibeah. They assembled at Mizpah and told the tribe of Benjamin that they should hand over their wicked compatriots. The Benjamites refused and mobilised their troops for battle. They mustered an impressive army of twenty-six thousand men but this would be up against the rest of the Israelites: four hundred thousand fighting men.

The Israelites asked God who should attack first and he told them to send the tribe of Judah. The Benjamites killed twenty-two thousand of them in the first day. After confirming with God that they should attack again they lost another eighteen thousand soldiers. So far, the campaign to rid the evil from Israel was a complete disaster but God had never promised them it would be easy or that he approved of the war.

The Israelites wept in front of the Lord, fasted and made offerings. Then God promised to give the Benjamites into their hands (v.28). This time, with the help of an ambush the other Israelites slaughtered the Benjamites, killed twenty-five thousand of them, putting all their towns to the sword (including the animals_ and setting everything on fire. Only six hundred Benjamites escaped into the desert. Let us hope that the old man who had been hospitable in Gibeah escaped the carnage (19:16-24).

The other Israelites vowed that not one of them would give a daughter in marriage to a Benjamite (21:1). However, they were very sad and wept to the Lord in grief that one of the original twelve tribes of Israel had nearly been wiped out.

The chaos continued because the Israelites had vowed that whoever failed to assemble before the Lord at Mizpah should be put to death. No representatives had turned up from Jabesh Gilead. The Israelites sent twelve thousand men to kill all the inhabitants of Jabesh Gilead apart from four hundred female virgins. They then made an offer of peace to the few remaining Benjamites and gave them the four hundred virgins.

However, the Benjamites still did not have enough wives. The Israelites were determined not to entirely lose the tribe of Benjamin and wanted to allow them to build up their numbers again. So the Benjamites were allowed to hide in the vineyards around Shiloh during the annual festival of the Lord and rush out to kidnap a wife – taking her back to the land of Benjamin.

‘In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit’ (v.25).

You can say that again!

What are we to make of this? When society does not have a single, righteous leader with a single set of unifying laws, wickedness and civil war can multiply. The majority of the Israelites still respected the official tabernacle and had attempted to come together to rid themselves of terrible evil but they had suffered heavy casualties. It would have been better to repent and renounce their sins, fast and offer sacrifices to God before they waged war as he may have given them victory straight away. Jesus’ prayers were always successful as he was in tune with God at all times through continual prayer and regular fasting. He didn’t have to get into God’s good books to have his prayers answered unlike his disciples who were unable to cast out a demon because they had failed to pray and fast enough (Mark 9:29).

It would have been far easier for the Benjamites to admit that their compatriots were evil and surrender them for trial. We should be impartial when it comes to justice and not try to violently defend evil. The rest of the Israelites did show love and regret for nearly wiping out the tribe of Benjamin. They did want to preserve their heritage. However, they came up with a bizarre way of providing wives for the Benjamites – allowing them to kidnap their women. This is legalistic nonsense. It would have been far more traumatic for the women to have been seized in this way rather than be asked if they wanted to volunteer. Thank God that we still have a government setting national laws. It has been intensely confusing in Great Britain having devolved governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland making their own rules during Covid. However, sometimes this does give your own area a small advantage. Let’s hope that our government doesn’t break down into even smaller units so that ‘everyone will do as they see fit’.

We must pray for our leaders that they are themselves led by God. When leaders reject God and ‘do as they see fit’ countries and empires will be lost. We must pray for President Biden, who declares himself to be a Christian, that he will follow the will of God.

John 8:31-59

The truth we learn from Jesus will set us free (v.31).

Everyone who sins is a slave to sin’ (v.34). We need to break away from this slavery to take up our place as adopted children of God and be ‘free indeed’. God arranged for me to be free from the slavery of paid employment so I can work for him. I was recently tempted to start a new well-paid secular job but what would I be doing it for? To squeeze even more money into my bank accounts? I shouldn’t give up freedom for the love of money. I was emotionally traumatized at the thought of secular employment, because I would be returning to slavery. Proverbs 26: 11 kept popping into my mind: ‘As a dog returns to its vomit, so fools repeat their folly’. I would be a slave to the opinions of my new boss and my co-workers. Of course, a secular job at the right times in our lives can be a great blessing from God and he will engineer us into work positions that we need when we need them. I couldn’t have raised a family without decades of secular employment. However, eventually we might be called to do something else. I had this nagging feeling that I should leave and prayed a bold prayer to God ‘Lord, if I should be doing something else please make it abundantly clear as I am slow to respond to hints. I need you to make it plain’. He made it abundantly clear I should change my vocation. We aren’t permitted to boldly proclaim Christian values in most secular work places. I felt a deep sense of peace when I rejected the idea of returning to secular slavery and chose continued freedom in Christ.

The Holy Spirit will help us to be free indeed from the sin that attracts us and clings to us like a sliver of cellophane stuck to our hand. I was stuck in repetitive addictive sin despite being ‘born again’ until I handed over control to the Holy Spirit by praying for up to an hour a day ‘in the Spirit’. The power of the Holy Spirit can set us free after we repent, renounce and believe in Jesus.

Jesus told the crowd that they were nothing like Abraham. Jesus knew exactly what Abraham was like. It had been Jesus, along with two angels, who had visited Abraham in his camp and predicted that he would be blessed with a miraculous child (Genesis 18).

Jesus proved that the assembled crowd were neither children of Abraham nor of God. Their father was the devil, ‘the father of lies’ (v.44). As opposed to the people who belong to God who hear what God says (v.47).

The devil was a murderer from the beginning (v.44). People who support murderous abortion work for him and twist the truth that a foetus is somehow different to an unborn baby. They cannot hold to the truth, for there is no truth in them. They lie that abortion is a liberating ‘right for women’ when it kills over twenty million women a year before they are born.

Abraham saw Jesus back in the time of the patriarchs and rejoiced because Jesus brought truthful, good news to him. Jesus existed from the dawn of all time. He created the world and so existed long before Abraham: ‘He was with God in the beginning’ (John 1:2). Jesus said he was God by claiming for himself the most holy name of God: ‘I am’ (v.58).

This was so outrageous to the crowd that they wanted to stone him but it wasn’t yet time for Jesus to die. His guardian angel was Saint Michael, leader of the loyal angel armies, and so it was a simple matter to hide and slip away under the shelter of his wings.

Psalm 61:1-8

King David’s heart was growing faint and he felt a long way from God. He continued to faithfully call to him. He longed to shelter under his wings and dwell in his presence for ever (v.4).

God had always been his refuge and ‘a strong tower against the foe’ (v.3).

David called for God’s love and faithfulness to protect him. He would sing praise to his most holy name and fulfil his vows.

Image: https://pixabay.com/illustrations/chain-broken-broken-chain-link-1623322/

Birth of Samson / Many Disciples Desert Jesus: May 11th 2021

Judges 12:1-13:25

Just as the Ephraimites had previously criticised Gideon for not calling them to fight Israel’s enemies (Judges 8:1-3), they now criticised Jephthah. The Ephraimites had never led a rebellion against Israel’s oppressors. They just had an irritating habit of jealously criticizing anyone else who did it. They were so furious, they threatened to burn down Jephthah’s house.

Jephthah didn’t diplomatically flatter them as Gideon had done. He said that he had called them, they hadn’t responded and so he launched the attack himself with the Lord helping him to victory. The Gileadites, under Jephthah’s command, wouldn’t put up with being called renegades and fought the Ephraimites, their fellow Israelites, killing forty-two thousand of them. They conducted ethnic cleansing by forcing anyone who wanted to cross a river ford to say ‘Shibboleth’ and executing the people from Ephraim, who pronounced it differently.

After Jephthah came an assortment of other judges until the birth of Samson.

The Israelites committed evil again and so, the Lord ‘delivered them into the hands of the Philistines for forty years (13:1). A man called Manoah had a wife who was sterile. An angel appeared to tell her she would conceive and have a son. Inability to conceive is a common recurrent theme in the Bible with Elizabeth sterile until giving birth to John the Baptist and Hannah not having children before becoming pregnant with the prophet Samuel. However, both Elizabeth and Hannah had prayed to God to have a child. Samson’s mother is very matter of fact about this annunciation and doesn’t praise God for helping her.

This lady is instructed not to drink wine or any fermented drink and not to shave the baby’s head for he is going to be a Nazirite, set apart to God from birth, similar to John the Baptist. Manoah prays to God for further information and the angel was sent again with the same set of instructions. Manoah said he would like the angel to stay while he prepared a meal for him, a young goat. The angel said he wouldn’t eat it ‘even though you detain me’ (v.16). So not only had God sent the angel as a messenger, but the angel was also under orders to follow the couple’s requests to a limited extent. Manoah then made another faux pas by asking for the angel’s name. We are not permitted to know the name of any angels, apart from the archangels referenced in the Bible: Michael, Gabriel and Raphael. An official exorcist will ask the name of a demon during an authorised exorcism but this is dangerous for lay people and is banned. When we know the name of the spiritual entity, we can summon them and tell them to leave – if we have sufficient authority. However, angels and demons do not like people having this knowledge over them. When lay people carry out deliverance prayers, the Holy Spirit can tell them the name of the oppressing demon as a word of knowledge. As this information has come from God, it can then be used to drive out the demon.

As Manoah sacrificed a goat and a grain offering on a rock, the angel of the Lord ascended in the flame (v.20). Samson’s mother – who is never named – eventually gave birth to Samson and the Lord blessed him as he grew. Eventually, the Spirit of the Lord started to stir him (v.25). He was obviously destined for great things.

John 6:60 – 7:13

Many of Jesus’ disciples started to grumble about his ‘eating Jesus’ flesh and drinking his blood’ teaching. We still get this today. A huge percentage of Christians refuse to acknowledge that Catholics eat Jesus’ actual flesh and drink his actual blood during the Holy Eucharist. They don’t believe that an actual miracle takes place during every Holy Mass resulting in ordinary bread and wine becoming the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. Modern Catholics haven’t helped this disbelief with the great majority not demonstrating any detectable benefit from consuming Jesus’ body and blood. If everyone could see that Catholic’s faces were shining with the presence of God and they rushed around preaching, healing the sick and delivering people, more people would desire full communion with the Mother Church. To become invigorated, Catholics can undergo ‘Baptism in the Spirit’ and start to exercise the supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit. It’s a tragedy that the main group of non-Catholics who believe in transubstantiation are witches and devil worshippers. They often have to obtain a consecrated wafer before being allowed to join a coven. The desecration of the Holy Body of Jesus is a terrible part of the initiation ceremony.

The words that Jesus had spoken ‘are spirit and they are life’ (v.63). It is amazing that many ‘disciples’ were following Jesus, hearing his teaching and witnessing his miracles but still did not believe in him. If we attend church and say we are Christians, we have to search our own hearts to determine our own state of believe. We can pray the classic prayer: ‘Jesus, I believe; help my unbelief’.

‘No-one can come to me unless the Father has enabled him’ (v.65). In the Bible, there are many instances where God hardens people’s hearts for specific purposes. What does it mean that our Father God has to enable us before we can come to Jesus? This is a great mystery. We all have free will. We all have God’s law written on our hearts. We all have sufficient saving grace – as a free gift from God – that if we exercised our free will to believe in Jesus, he would come into our lives. Time means nothing to God. The past, present and future are all the same to him. So he knows whether we will, in the future, choose to come to God. Because he knows the people who will definitely do this (as he knows all our futures), he gives them the grace to go ahead and do it – in effect, enabling us. Salvation is a complicated topic. Someone might turn up at the gates of heaven, who had been given hardened heart all their life for some purpose and who had met ‘Christians’ who had behaved so appallingly they had put them off joining the church. We just have to leave all individual judgements in Jesus’ hands.

However, belief is also a simple choice. We can switch on a reputable news channel and decide that they are telling us us the truth about a dozen events happening in the world. We can believe the journalists are endeavouring to tell us the facts to the best of their ability. Similarly, it is very easy for billions of Christians to believe in the stories about Jesus in the Bible, believe in the thousands of eye-witnesses who saw his miracles, believe in the thousands of holy people who have been martyred over the last two thousand years on account of their witness to Jesus and who have successfully spread the gospel to the end of the world. Belief is a switch we can just flick in our brains to swap us from disobedience. Lorcán O’Reilly (OMI) wrote: ‘Many people think they have no faith because they feel they haven’t. They do not realise they must make a choice to believe, take the risk of believing, of committing themselves and setting themselves to live out the commitment. Never mind that they continue to feel that they do not believe. Under cover of being ‘authentic’ we can spend our lives waiting for the kind of certainty we cannot have’ (Oblate Connections – No.46, Feb. 2020).

Simon Peter and ten other disciples remained loyal to Jesus: ‘You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God’ (v.69).

Jesus avoided Judea and Jerusalem because: ‘the Jews there were waiting to take his life’ (7:1). Jesus was encouraged to go to Judea to show off his miracles in public but the time was not right. When the right time came, Jesus would willingly lay his life down for us but that time would be dictated by the Holy Spirit, not by disbelieving men.

The world hated Jesus because he testified that what it does is evil (v.7). Talking about the great injustices in the world does not make you popular. If you ever want to turn a dinner party into a riot, bring up how evil we all are at allowing over 200,000 unborn children in the UK to be executed each year through abortion. However, the fact that we don’t say this enough allows this practice to continue. We all need to channel our inner Greta Thunberg and stand up and say the truth, whatever the cost.

People whispered their opinions about Jesus in secret at the Feast of Tabernacles, Jesus moved around in disguise. ‘No-one would say anything publicly about him for fear of the Jews’ (v.13). Many people today are secret believers in Jesus. If they talk about their faith, they will face abuse and criticism from the world. However, we need to stand up and be counted. If we declare our faith in Jesus openly, he will stand up for us at the Day of Judgement

Psalm 59:9-17

God is our strength and fortress. He is our refuge in times of trouble.

Evil people are caught out in their pride by the lying words of their cursing lips.

We should always sing praises to our loving God. Worship him alone.

Image: https://picryl.com/media/an-angel-announces-the-birth-of-samson-to-manoah-and-his-wife-0ac785

Feeding the Five Thousand / Jesus Walks on Water: May 9th 2021

Judges 9:1-57

Gideon had produced an abundance of offspring. He had seventy sons by his wives and an additional son, Abimelech, by his concubine.

Abimelech carried out a bloody coup and murdered his seventy brothers. The citizens of Shechem had funded him and crowned him king. It was an appalling act of betrayal after Gideon had heroically saved Israel. However, the youngest son of Gideon, Jotham, escaped.

Jotham gave a very brave speech – wisely shouting it at the evil citizens of Shechem from the top of a tall mountain before running away. He asked them if they had acted in good faith towards his late father Gideon. If not, ‘fire’ would come out from Abimelech and consume Shechem and vice versa.

God brought justice after three years of Abimelech’s rule. ‘God sent an evil spirit between Abimelech and the citizens of Shechem, who acted treacherously against Abimelech (v.23).

A man called Gaal led the citizens of Shechem, who had become highway robbers, in a revolt against Abimelech. They were defeated and Abimelech captured the city and killed the people. He burned a thousand people alive in the tower of Shechem; people who had previously enabled him to become king (v.49).

King Abimelech then besieged and captured the town of Thebez but they had constructed a strong tower into which all the citizens fled. As Abimelech was storming it, a woman dropped a millstone down onto his head and cracked his skull. He ordered his servant to finish him off with a sword. Everyone breathed a sigh of relief. Abimelech’s army went home.

God had repaid both the power-mad, psychopathic Abimelech and the disloyal citizens of Shechem for their wickedness. The curse of the one surviving son of Gideon, Jothan, had come upon them. We reap what we sow and God will ensure that justice is served.

John 6:1-24

Jesus fed the five thousand. He was attracting large crowds because of the miraculous healing miracles he was performing, It would have been an impossible task to feed this many people with just the disciple’s resources: ‘Eight months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!’ (v.7). God loves an impossible task. Jesus asked Philip what they should do just to test him. Jesus ‘already had it in mind what he was going to do’ (v.6).

Jesus took five loaves and two fish, gave thanks, broke them and distributed them. Everyone ate as much as they wanted and they filled twelve baskets with the leftovers. I like to think this would have been the best bread and the tastiest fish anyone had ever tasted. Just as Jesus produced the best wine from water at the wedding in Cana. Jesus’ body is broken and distributed to us during the Holy Eucharist and he can feed as many people as want to receive him.

These types of food miracles still happen today. Missionaries can find they have nearly run out of flour for bread, only to find that empty storage tins have mysteriously refilled. People catering for large events with seemingly insufficient food pray that it will stretch and everyone is fed. Jesus created all things and can easily make more resources. He will ensure that believers are satisfied. However, God wants to work in partnership with us. Jesus did not create the food from nothing. Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, did some research and found a boy had a meagre amount of food with him. Presumably the Holy Spirit had persuaded the boy to pack this food and bring it with him that very morning. He brought this to the party and Jesus was able to use this small contribution to feed everyone else. If everyone in a church community joins in with a project. just imagine what can be achieved when our resources are miraculously multiplied.

Jesus did not want to be made king and so didn’t hang around to receive the praise and adoration of the crowd. He withdrew to a mountain by himself.

The disciples set off across the lake for Capernaum leaving Jesus behind. They were struggling, trying to row in the wind, and the sea was rough. Jesus approached the boat, walking on the water. He might have walked the whole distance (three and a half miles) or the Spirit might have transported him there (see Acts 8:39). As soon as the disciples took Jesus into their boat they reached the safety of the shore as if their boat suddenly shot across the lake at miraculous speed. As soon as we repent of our sins and invite Jesus into our life to be our personal saviour we will reach our destination – eternal life.

How did Jesus walk on the water? Jesus created everything and water is one of his creatures. It would respond to his command. Water can also take on other spiritual forces and become blessed or demonised. It is best to exorcise water before using it in a baptism. One missionary I know once baptized forty people from an African village in an oil drum filled with water. Fourteen women of the forty were heavily demonised and when dunked under the water were unable to surface again. Very strong men had to pull them up out of the water. Either the demons within them were trying to drown them or, just as the water in the presence of the Chief Exorcist held Jesus up, the water used for this baptism may have been extracted from a water source dedicated to a demonic entity and tried to hold the women down.

The crowds found out that Jesus and his disciples had left and so climbed into boats chasing him to Capernaum. Once we have found Jesus and experienced his miraculous healing power in our lives, we don’t want to let him get away either. However, he will never leave us or forsake us.

Psalm 58:1-11

Do our rulers speak justly? No, in their hearts they devise injustice.

In my country, Great Britain, we have a state-sponsored abortion industry killing over 200,000 unborn children a year so of course our rulers are not speaking justly. Their hands ‘mete out violence on the earth’ (v.2).

We go astray from the womb. We have a terrible innate tendency to sin and tell lies termed ‘concupiscence’. We are born with an inclination to evil. However, Jesus has washed us clean through the sacrifice of his perfect blood. We just have to repent and renounce of sin, believe and become baptised.

At the end of days, the righteous will be rewarded for there surely is a God who judges the earth.

Image: https://www.publicdomainpictures.net/en/view-image.php?image=316645&picture=jesus-walks-on-water

Mary visits Elizabeth: March 15th 2021

Numbers 2: 10-3:51

The Tent of Meeting (where Moses could talk to God) and the camp of the Levites (who were to take care of the tabernacle) were placed right in the centre of the Israelite camp (Num. 2:17) and what an awesome camp it must have been. The census counted 603,440 men over 20 years in age and so adding women and children there must have been over 2 million people in the Israelite camp. I don’t think any modern-day logistics experts could supply provisions to a mobile group this large. No wonder, they had to rely on God’s miraculous daily provision of food (manna) and water.

Aaron and his sons were to serve as priests and were given special access privileges. ‘Anyone else who approaches the sanctuary must be put to death‘ (Num. 3:10). We are amazingly blessed today that we can have the Holy Spirit permanently dwelling within us and address God as ‘Father’, after the death of Jesus allowed us all to be God’s adopted children.

God had earlier stipulated that all Israelite first born males belonged to him but he now swaps them for the Levites. He is God, he can change his mind and do what he wants. Unfortunately, there weren’t quite enough Levites (22,000) when compared to 22,273 firstborn males. So 5 shekels (worth 10 dollars at today’s price of silver) had to be paid to redeem each of the additional 273 firstborn. This money was given to the priests. Even in the middle of the desert, hard cash is obviously necessary to keep a religious enterprise going.

Luke 1:39-56

Mary goes to visit her relative Elizabeth. The jury seems to be out on exactly how they were related. Elizabeth may have been Mary’s aunt (due to the age gap) or cousin. If she was a cousin this would have made Elizabeth’s son (John the Baptist) Jesus’ second cousin.

When I first started attending Church weekly, this verse absolutely stunned me: ‘When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb‘ (Luke 1:41). The fact that baby John (the Baptist) in the womb (filled from conception with the Holy Spirit) leaped with joy when the foetal Jesus came into the house is stunning. And here we have a second person in the New Testament (Elizabeth) being ‘filled with the Holy Spirit‘. The Spirit didn’t ‘come upon her’ as happened temporarily to prophets in the Old Testament, it actually filled her – as we can be filled today, if we just ask. She instantly displayed one of the supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit, a word of knowledge, identifying that both Mary and Jesus were blessed and that Jesus was ‘Lord’. The Holy Spirit gives this supernatural gift to some believers today and it’s a powerful weapon in converting people. When I first visited a Pentecostal church, I was overwhelmed with emotion when a church elder (with his back to me at the front of the church) pinpointed the agony I was currently going through and reassured me that God would deliver me. Which He did. Alleluia.

Elizabeth also recognises Mary’s outstanding level of faith. Mary fully believes that what God has said to her will come true.

The meeting between the two holy foetuses and their mothers is one of the most joyous occasions in the Bible. This is the last time I will use the word ‘foetus’ because I never use the word normally. I use the term ‘unborn child’ or ‘unborn baby’. The word ‘foetus’ has been hijacked by the Devil to sanitise the horrific practice of abortion. Modern society sorts unborn children into either ‘babies’ when they are wanted and ‘foetuses’ when they are to be disposed of. For I believe that someone else was watching this joyous meeting of the unborn. Someone who was intensely interested in the upsurge in activity in the angelic realm and was tracking both Mary and Elizabeth. Satan himself. He would have loved to have murdered Jesus and John in the womb but they were protected by powerful guardian angels. Saint Michael, the Prince of the Angels, had been assigned to permanently guard Jesus during his life on earth. Satan had been defeated by Saint Michael before (Revelation 12:7).

Satan has been waging war on the unborn ever since in revenge for not managing to kill the greatest prophet and the Son of God in the womb. According to the World Health Organisation, at least 42.6 million unborn children were killed in 2020 (https://www.spuc.org.uk/News/ID/384687/426-million-abortions-in-2020-the-leading-cause-of-death-worldwide). 22% of pregnancies in the USA are aborted and abortion is now the leading cause of death worldwide. The numbers are increasing.

When it comes to supporting abortion, adults tend to be too sophisticated. Very few adults would label themselves as ‘pro-death’ or even ‘pro-abortion’, they try to take a more nuanced approach and come up with the most twisted scenarios to try to convince themselves that sometimes it is a ‘necessary evil’ particularly if babies are conceived in terrible, tragic circumstances. However, God is much more straightforward. In matters of morals, there is no wriggle room. We have to look at the situation through the eyes of a child. I would hope that the vast proportion of children if asked about a baby growing in a mother’s womb would agree that it cannot be killed deliberately under any circumstances. So should we. Killing an unborn child is a grave sin. Of course, God will always forgive and welcome back the perfectly contrite from any circumstances but if people don’t repent and renounce this practice, there are everlasting and terrible consequences for them.

Christians can’t be smug and theoretically disapprove of abortion, while failing to publicly voice this opinion or do anything about it. Lack of action, against a global outrage, is a sin. You don’t have to stand outside an abortion clinic yourself – even though this has saved many lives. At the very least, write to your MP whenever there is a debate about abortion and express your opinion about the universal right to life. Join an organisation like the ‘Society for the Protection of Unborn Children‘ (https://www.spuc.org.uk/). If you don’t do something positive to fight this practice, you are morally complicit in it.

Back to the positive. Mary’s song ‘The Magnificat‘ is beautiful and echoes Hannah’s prayer in (1 Samuel 2:1-10). Trendy theologians – from which you should run a mile – come out with terrible slurs about Mary and ask how could a illiterate, teenager write such a magnificent prayer? Maybe it was written later by someone else? However, I agree with the legend that Mary had been raised in the temple from the age of 3 to at least 12. She had an intimate knowledge of the scriptures and was extremely eloquent and well educated. Who do you think Jesus learnt all his scripture from?

Nicky Gumbel makes the touching observation that half of Jesus’ DNA came from Mary and so he probably looked like her in some ways. Maybe when we look into Jesus’ eyes, we will recognise his mother in them.

I want this song at my funeral (not a morbid thought when you are born again)

Psalm 34:1-10

I was in such a good mood from the Magnificat that I found every single verse of this psalm beautiful.

Those who look to him are radiant‘ (Psalm 34:5). I watched a cookery competition the other day, ‘Junior Bake-off‘. The competitors had to bake something to represent their ideal future career. One girl baked a cross as she said her father was a Pastor and she wanted to be one too. We all cheered at home in delighted surprise but looking at her we could have guessed. Her face radiated love, peace and joy. If all the contestants had lined up and we had been asked to choose the really Christian child, we would have selected her. The other contestants were of course beautiful in their own ways but ‘slightly less radiant’.

Moses always had a radiant face after communing with God and had to wear a veil to damp down the brightness. I remember reading at church once from a high pulpit (which is rare in trendy modern churches) and I could feel my face glowing afterwards. You really can tell joyous Christians from their radiant faces. My Pastor says that bitterness and unbelief makes lines on your face. People don’t need to spend money on expensive face-creams (especially if they are made from foetal cells https://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2009/nov/3/aborted-fetus-cells-used-in-anti-aging-products/ ) they just have to accept Jesus and the Holy Spirit fully into their lives. They will make us beautiful both internally and externally.

I have been ‘saved out of all my troubles’ (Psalm 34:6) by the Lord. How many troubles is the poor man saved from? All his troubles! Shout it out loud.

The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them‘. Amazing. Give thanks to your Guardian angel. He is your best friend and protector, leading you and willing you to eternal life. Show him some gratitude.

Those who seek the Lord lack no good thing‘. If you’re seeking the Lord, you probably won’t win the lottery or be given a sportscar but, by definition, these things can’t have been good for you. Because, if they were good for you, you wouldn’t lack them. In contrast: ‘those who fear the Lord lack nothing‘. By the time you have stopped seeking the Lord, found him and now fear him (have awe and respect for him) you have realised that an expensive car will just get scratched, depreciate and rust and winning the lottery would present quite a few difficulties. Your definition of needs and wants will have evolved and worthless consumerist desires will have dropped away. Blessed is the man who takes refuge in the Lord and not in his possessions.

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