King David flees / Stephen Seized: June 10th 2021

2 Samuel 15:13-16:14

David was informed that his son, Absalom, had treacherously stolen the hearts of the men of Israel.

David decided to flee from Jerusalem, along with all his officials. The king left ten concubines behind to ‘take care of the palace’ (2 Sam.15:16). What could possibly go wrong with this plan seeing that Nathan had prophesied: ‘I will take your wives and give them to one who is close to you, and he will lie with your wives in broad daylight’ (2 Sam.12:11)?

Ittai the Gittite showed far more loyalty to King David than his own son. Ittai promised that he and his men would stay with David (2 Sam.15:21). The whole countryside wept as the king passed by accompanied by Zadok, the priest, and the Levites carrying the ark of the covenant.

David told the priests Zadok and Abiathar to take the ark back to Jerusalem. David had total confidence in the Lord’s righteous judgement as to whether he saw it again: ‘Let him do to me whatever seems good to him’ (2 Sam.15:25).

David went up the Mount of Olives, weeping as he went. He was barefoot and had covered his head. David prayed that his son Absalom would receive foolish advice and sent one of his friends back to Jerusalem as a spy.

Ziba, the steward of Saul’s grandson Mephibosheth, met David and provided him with donkeys and a copious supply of provisions. However, he slandered his master to King David, who believed him and gave him all Mephibosheth’s land and possessions.

A man called Shimei, from the same clan as Saul, came out and cursed David, throwing stones at him. One of David’s men offered to cut off Shimei’s head but David would not allow this. He knew that there was truth in Shimei’s accusation that he was ‘a man of blood’ (2 Sam.16:8). David told his men to let Shimei curse him as the Lord might see his distress and repay him with good (2 Sam.16:12). David and his men arrived at their destination exhausted but he then refreshed himself.

David had suffered a hard, difficult day but he had seen loyalty from his faithful friends and allies and he had shown patience, long-suffering and restraint. He had wept, walked barefoot and exhausted himself but at the end of the day, he had been refreshed by the provenance of God.

Acts 6:1-7:19

The apostles wisely decided that they could not do all the work themselves and so asked the disciples to choose seven men to help them. These were the first deacons of the church. They had to be ‘full of the Spirit and wisdom’ (Acts 6:3). The disciples were very pleased with this proposal. They chose seven men, including Stephen, and presented them to the apostles, who then prayed and laid their hands on them.

It is a sign of a healthy church community when as many people as possible get involved in running it. We all have gifts and talents we can use to lighten the load and invigorate our worship. I have been to churches that are dying because the priest keeps most jobs to himself, refuses to delegate and only grudgingly allows a few people in a tiny clique to assist. If you are never asked to do anything at your church, move to where you can be fruitful, grow and be appreciated.

The number of disciples in Jerusalem grew at an exponential rate as the word of God spread and a large number of Jewish priests came over to the faith.

Stephen, one of the seven new deacons, performed great wonders and miraculous signs (Acts 6:8). However, people began to argue with him and their pride was dented because he could never be defeated in an argument (Acts 6:10). They stirred up false witnesses to testify against him. Like all the best lies, there was an element of truth to some of their statements: the new Christian community would permanently ‘change the customs Moses (had) handed down’ (Acts 6:14).

Stephen, with a face of an angel, delivered an impressive speech to the Sanhedrin giving them the whole history of the Jewish race starting with their patriarch, Abraham. Stephen proved that he was very knowledgeable of the scriptures and the Holy Spirit made him eloquent.

We never have to worry what to say if we are dragged in front of the authorities and persecuted for our Christian faith. The Holy Spirit will give us wisdom and the right words to say.

Psalm 71:19-24

The Psalmist asks: ‘Who, O God, is like you?’ (Psalm 71:19). His righteousness reaches to the skies.

Saint Michael is the commander of God’s angel army. Michael means ‘Who is like God?’ in tribute to the awesomeness of his creator.

During our lives we will see many bitter troubles but God will always restore us. We should not lose heart when God rebukes us because he disciplines the people he loves (Hebrews 12:5-6).

God will increase our honour, comfort us again (Psalm 71:21) and the discipline we suffer will produce a harvest of righteousness and peace (Hebrews 12:11).

God is faithful and worthy of our praise. Praising God vigorously gives us joy, comfort and peace. When we are born again, we want to give everyone our testimony, telling everyone of God’s righteous acts.

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:The_stoning_of_St_Stephen._Oil_painting_attributed_to_Orazio_Wellcome_V0017355.jpg

The Ark Brought to Jerusalem / The Holy Spirit comes at Pentecost: June 4th 2021

2 Samuel 5:6-6:23

David attacked the Jebusites and captured Jerusalem. He took up residence there and called it ‘the city of David’ (2 Sam. 5:9).

David built up the area around Jerusalem and became more and more powerful because ‘the Lord God Almighty’ was with him (2 Sam. 5:10). Hiram, king of Tyre, sent craftspeople to build a palace for David. David felt secure in his reign (2 Sam. 5:12).

The Philistines came to attack David and he enquired of the Lord whether they would be handed over to him (2 Sam.5:19). David defeated them with the help of God: (2 Sam 5:20). The Philistines abandoned their useless idols and David and his men carried them off – hopefully to be safely disposed of.

The Philistines came for war again and this time the Lord gave David a battle strategy (2 Sam. 5:23). The Lord sent what presumably were legions of angels marching in the tops of the balsam trees to strike the Philistine army ahead of David’s troops. Due to David’s obeying God’s plan, he was successful (2 Sam. 5:25).

David set out to retrieve the ark of the Covenant (2 Sam. 6:2). It was still a dangerous object, to be treated with reverence. One man reached out to steady it when the oxen pulling it on a cart stumbled and he was struck down dead (2 Sam. 6:6-7). David was then too frightened to take the ark to Jerusalem and so stored it for three months in the house of Obed-Edom the Gittite. His house was so blessed by the ark’s presence that David tried again to move it (2 Sam. 6:12).

As the ark travelled, David danced before it with all his might (2 Sam. 6:14-15). His first wife, Michal daughter of Saul, despised David in her heart for dancing in such a vulgar and undignified way (2 Sam. 6:20). There is always a family member ready to put a damper on any celebration. David was unrepentant and vowed to be even more undignified in the future. He knew that God had chosen him rather than Michal’s father, Saul, to be king (2 Sam. 6:21-22). God liked the way that David behaved. Michal had no children all her life to ensure that none of Saul’s descendants would gain the throne.

David sacrificed to the Lord and generously gave food to all the Israelites (2 Sam. 6:19). When we rejoice and celebrate out of our love of God, it gives us the desire to be generous and hospitable.

Acts 1:23-2:21

The disciples prayed, cast lots and chose Matthias to be added to the eleven disciples. There had to be twelve apostles at the birth of the church as there were twelve tribes of Israel.

Pentecost was a traditional Jewish feast, fifty days after Passover but this year it became the birthday of the Christian church. A sound like a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where the disciples had gathered. What seemed to be tongues of fire separated and came to rest on each of the disciples. All were filled with the Holy Spirit and they began to speak in other languages (Acts 2:2-4).

Speaking in other tongues / languages is a supernatural gift that all Christians can pray for today. It is the initial gift of power unlocking all the other gifts of the Spirit. It often comes when adults are baptized by Pentecostal Christians, because they are obedient to the Spirit and faithfully pray for his gifts to be unlocked. It is a marvellous gift and everyone should desire it as it brings wonderful benefits. It builds us up internally. It edifies us to be a powerful soldier for Christ. To receive this gift we have to believe, be baptized, and faithfully ask the Spirit to give us this gift. God will not refuse to give good gifts to his children. We are always in total control of this gift and can start it / stop it whenever we like. I feel that it is like a broadband prayer connection to God, instead of trying to communicate with him via a faltering dial-up connection. In my heart, I can feel the Holy Spirit broadcasting prayer to God twenty-four hours a day – to pray in tongues I just have to open my mouth and start to move my vocal chords, giving the Spirit permission to vocalise my prayers. It is extremely powerful. The more we pray in tongues, the more the Holy Spirit will be able to mould us, change us, sanctify us, through us the Holy Spirit speaks the perfect prayer to God.

The Holy Spirit also helps us pray when we don’t know what to say. He will pray the perfect prayer whatever the circumstances and, when we pray in tongues over other people, he will discern the prayer that they need and speak it through us. It is a powerful spiritual weapon used for delivering ourselves and others from evil and for healing.

The more we pray in tongues, the more other gifts will be unlocked. I love to sing in tongues as well. The Holy Spirit will give me a new praise or worship song each day, which I sing aloud as I take my dog for it’s daily walk. I love to record these on my phone and play them later on a keyboard as these are new tunes – written by God. I have never composed music before so I find it delightful that the Holy Spirit uses me to do this. The next gift we might receive is the ‘interpretation of tongues’. This allows us or the people around us to translate tongue languages into our native language. Tongue languages can be supernatural languages – used in heaven or by angels – or it could be one of the seven thousand earthly languages used around the world. My pastor prayed for a lady in Pakistan to receive the gift of tongues and she started speaking in perfect English, even though she had never been taught any.

At Pentecost, the Holy Spirit gave all the ‘God-fearing ‘Jews’ who could hear the apostles in Jerusalem the gift of interpreting tongues as they were all able to understand them in their own native language. ‘We hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!’ (Acts 2:11-12). God loves it when we declare his wonders, particularly the wonder of how he rescued the Israelites from the Egyptians and he will bless us greatly as a result. Pentecost reversed Babel, when God made life more difficult by creating different languages (Gen. 11:1-9). Now, people could understand visitors from foreign lands making it much easier to spread the gospel.

Some people made fun of the apostles (Acts 2:13) and said they were drunk. Two thousand years later there are many people – even so-called Christians – who will make fun of this supernatural gift. Some Christians seem to regard their religion as just an academic exercise, they don’t expect to see someone demonstrate supernatural abilities or for prayers to actually achieve anything but it is they who are missing out. Without the empowerment of the Holy Spirit, we will never make much progress in our journey towards God.

After the Holy Spirit descended on Peter, he instantly became a powerful and persuasive preacher and quoted from the prophet Joel (Acts 2:17-21). God will pour out his Spirit on all people in the last days. He has poured it out on thousands of people from all denominations over the last few decades giving them supernatural charismatic gifts. We can thus conclude that we are now in the end times. Young men will see visions and old men will dream dreams. I pray daily that elderly members of my family who have so far been resistant to God will experience such a dramatic, intense dream that it will instantly convert them. The evangelist, Ros Powell, wrote a beautiful article about how her atheist husband was converted through a dream: https://www.rospowell.com/my-old-man-dreamed-a-dream/

Through regularly practicing the gift of Tongues, the Spirit may then give other gifts such as a the gift of prophesy, which is far more useful in public if no-one present can interpret our tongue language.

The gift of tongues enables us to call out perfectly to the Lord through the intercession of the Holy Spirit. ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved’ (Acts 2:21).

Psalm 69:29-36

God loves praise and thanksgiving more than sacrifices (Psalm 69:30-31).

The Lord hears the needy and the poor. He has a special regard for prisoners. Prison can be a blessed place where people turn their lives around and can find God. Apostles, like Peter and Paul regarded prison as an opportunity to loudly praise and worship, write Godly letters that would change the world and convert other prisoners and guards. Wherever we find ourselves, we can loudly give thanks to God.

God brought the Jewish people back to their land to rebuild it (Psalm 69:35-36). He has gathered them from around the world as he will always be faithful to his covenants.

God will save us and protect us. Even we are in pain and distress, we know that ‘in all things God works for the good of those who love him’ (Romans 8:28).

Image: Distant Shores Media/Sweet Publishing, CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Jesus Anointed at Bethany: May 20th 2021

1 Samuel 5:1-7:17

The Philistines took the captured ark of the Covenant to the temple of their demonic deity, Dagon, in Ashdod. The next day, their statue of Dagon had fallen on its face. They put it back up, only for it to fall down the next night and smash into pieces. Dagon’s head and hands were broken off – showing the superiority of our one true God.

God brought devastation on the people of Ashdod and affected them with tumours. The Philistines moved the ark to Gath. Usually, people other than Levites are struck down dead for merely going near the ark and so God was allowing the Philistines to move it around, to fall into his trap and demonstrate his power. The city of Gath was thrown into panic and both young and old broke out in tumours (v.9). They then moved the ark to Ekron.

In Ekron, those who didn’t die were afflicted with tumours. All the Philistines wanted to send the ark back to Israel. After seven months with the ark they sent it back to Israel along with five gold tumours and five gold rats. This implies the tumours may have been a type of bubonic plague – spread by the fleas from an invasion of rats. There were five of them because five Philistine cities had been devastated by the presence of the ark.

The Philistines loaded the ark onto a new cart with two cows that had never been yoked. The Philistine diviners said that if the driverless cart went to the Israelite town of Beth Shemesh, this would confirm that the Lord had brought the disasters on them. The cows went straight for Beth Shemesh and the Israelites, harvesting wheat in their fields, were delighted to see the ark coming towards them. However, seventy of he villagers disrespected God by looking inside the ark and were struck down dead. They sent a message to the town of Kiriath Jearim and asked them to take it. The men of Kiriath Jearim finally gave the ark the respect it deserved, setting it up in the house of Abinadab and consecrating Eleazar his son to guard it (7:1).

These days, the ark of the Covenant is said to reside in a chapel in the Ethiopian city of Aksum, guarded by a single monk who, once appointed as the ark’s guardian, is never allowed to leave the chapel’s grounds. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/travel/keepers-of-the-lost-ark-179998820/

The ark stayed at Kiriath Jearim for twenty years and the Israelites ‘mourned and sought after the Lord’ (7:2).

Samuel, the prophet, told them to rid themselves of all their demonic idols and commit themselves solely to the Lord. His prophesied with faith that the Lord would then deliver them from the Philistines. All of Israel assembled at Mizpah.

They ‘poured water before the Lord’, fasted and confessed they had sinned. Samuel was their leader (v.6). The Philistines came to attack them but Samuel told them not to stop praying to God while he offered a suckling lamb as a burnt sacrifice to God. As the Philistines drew near, the Lord threw them into panic with loud thunder and the Israelites were able to slaughter them (v.11). Samuel set up a stone as a memorial.

We have in this story familiar elements of communing with God. They used water as a symbol of washing away sin / rebirth. Samuel sacrificed a lamb – similar to the Passover lambs that had saved the Israelites in Egypt and prefigured Jesus, the holy lamb of God. Samuel set up a memorial stone and an altar in Ramah – the Israelites had set up stones and altars during their Exodus years to remember and worship the saving deeds of God.

Samuel was judge over Israel all the days of their life and during this time, the Israelites recaptured their towns from the Philistines.

John 11:45-12:11

‘Many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, put their faith in him’ (v.45). If Mary (of Bethany) was indeed Mary Magdalene and also the sinful woman mentioned in Luke – these men may well have been ‘interesting’ characters. Converting a sinner, who has a lot of intimate connections to other sinners, can reap a great harvest.

The high priest, Caiaphas, prophesied that Jesus would die as one man to save the entire Jewish nation. So even someone plotting evil can be a mouthpiece for God. Thanks to the mercy of God, sacraments from priests who may be themselves living in grave sin are still valid. From that day, the chief priests and the Pharisees plotted to arrest and kill Jesus. They did not want to lose their power and control and be further subdued by the Romans. If Jesus went around raising everybody from the dead, people would have no choice but to believe in him. It is amazing that religious leaders can feel so envious and threatened by witnessing the truth and power of God. God can use evil people to bring about a greater good in the end. By allowing the Sanhedrin to arrest and kill Jesus, God would allow us into heaven because of the sacrifice of his precious son.

Jesus visited Bethany again – where Lazarus, Mary and Martha lived. Mary poured expensive perfume on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair (12:3), just as she may have done in the house of Simon the Pharisee in Luke (7:37-38). At that earlier encounter, she had been weeping because of her many sins. This time, she anointed Jesus in anticipation of his burial. She would later accompany the other women to Jesus’ tomb expecting to anoint his dead body – only to experience the joy of his resurrection.

Judas was annoyed at this use of expensive perfume. He was a thief, like his father the devil. If they had sold the perfume, he would have helped himself to some of the proceeds. Jesus predicted that we would always have the poor among us, ‘but you will not always have me’ (v.8). We do still have the poor among us, principally because of greed and exploitation. There is no shortage of food and other resources, we just need to stop selfishly hoarding and share equitably. Jesus gave us permission to hold the occasional guilt-free party. Life is for joyous living as well as helping the needy.

The dramatic testimony of Lazarus, having been raised from the dead, was converting many people to Jesus and so, the chief priests made plans to kill him too. There are many legends about what might have subsequently happened to Lazarus. As Lazarus had died once and already seen life after death, he wouldn’t have been frightened by his second death. He would have known Jesus, his friend and saviour, would be there to rescue him from death once again and this time give him eternal life. One legend is that Lazarus, Martha and Mary were put into a leaking boat by the Jews at Jaffa but still miraculously landed safely in Cyprus. There Lazarus died peacefully after serving as bishop for 30 years. Later, his relics were transferred to Constantinople. https://www.franciscanmedia.org/saint-of-the-day/lazarus

Proverbs 12:18-27

The Lord delights in the truthful (v.22). God doesn’t like lying, foolishness or laziness.

He wants us to bring healing with our words, to be prudent, diligent, righteous and joyfully promote peace.

We can be weighed down with anxiety but kind support from others can cheer us up. Jesus will take away our burdens. One of my favourite passages is Matthew (11:28-30): ‘Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light’.

A yoke is a wooden beam that joins two oxen side by side when working in a field. Jesus is saying he will walk step by step with us throughout our life, teaching us, connected to us and doing the heavy lifting to give us rest.

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

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