Hosea: God’s Love for Israel / Paul: Praying in Tongues: 24th July 2021

Hosea 10:1-11:11

Israel was described as a ‘spreading vine’. As the country prospered, the people bult more altars to their demonic deities and ‘adorned their sacred stones’ (Hosea 10:1). They had deceitful hearts and now must bear their guilt.

They litigated against each other as they took false oaths and broke secular agreements. Lawsuits are described as ‘poisonous weeds in a ploughed field’ (Hosea 10:4). Wouldn’t it be wonderful to live in a land where we didn’t need a legal system, where everyone acted lawfully and honourably.

The golden calf idol would be taken into exile into Assyria. The people and the idolatrous priests would mourn for it. The pagan high places and altars would be destroyed and become overgrown.

The Israelites had been committed sinners since the terrible crime of Gibeah in Judges 19. God had arranged the war against the Benjamites to punish them for their sexual misdeeds and he would punish the whole of Israel when it pleased him (Hosea 10:10). So it is hardly surprising that our countries get involved in so much conflict and strife when our people commit similar crimes against God.

We should sow righteousness and ‘reap the fruit of unfailing love’. We have hard unploughed ground in our hearts that the Holy Spirit can break open to reveal a loving heart of flesh. When Jesus died for us on the cross, he showered righteousness on us (Hosea 10:12).   

The Israelites had planted wickedness and reaped evil having ‘eaten the fruit of deception’. They had made the mistake of relying on their own strength and their own warriors rather than relying on the Lord. (Hosea 10:13). This is why God was so upset with King David taking a census of his fighting men (1 Chronicles 21:1).

God planned to devastate the fortresses of Israel and destroy the king of Israel.

God loved the nation of Israel when it was just a fledgling nation and he called it out of from slavery in Egypt. He lifted the yoke from their necks, led them with kindness and fed them. However, the more God called, the further the Israelites went from him.

God would never give up his people entirely, despite their unfaithfulness. God would have compassion for them and show them his forgiveness. When he roared like a lion, the fugitives from Egypt and the people that had been exiled in Assyria would come trembling back to their land and God would resettle them in their homes (Hosea 11:11).

Romans 8:18-39

The whole of creation ‘has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth’ due to its bondage to decay (Rom.8:22). Ever since Eden, the state of the world has been on a steady downwards slide. Humans have become weaker. Our immune systems are breaking down. Allergies are becoming more common. Animals and plants have become extinct, ecosystems have been destroyed and the climate has become less stable. Unbelievers are frantic to reverse this as the earth is all they have but the best we can do is to slow down the process. Christians groan inwardly waiting for eternal life. We know this dying planet will not last forever and is destined to be replaced with a new glorified version. However, we are called to be good stewards of God’s wonderful creation in the meantime. We can all do our bit to lessen our impact on the planet: I drive an electric car, recycle, have installed solar panels and am planning to eat tofu for lunch.  

The Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. When we do not know what we should pray for, if we have been given the gift of praying in tongues we can hand over our vocal chords, tongue and lips to God and he prays the perfect prayer for us and those around us (Rom.8:26). The Holy Spirit intercedes for us ‘in accordance with God’s will’ (Rom.8:27) and his prayers will be answered.

We now have the classic verse: ‘And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose’ (Rom.8:28). When we are Christians and bad events / challenges happen in our lives, we can be secure in the knowledge that God is working behind the scenes to bring good out of them.

God knew from before we were conceived, whether we would love him and believe in his son. God doesn’t see time in the linear way we do, he knows everything we are going to do in the future. That doesn’t mean we didn’t exercise our free will to turn to him but because God knew we would choose to be one of his children, he gave us grace and called us from when we were born. Everyone, even the most devout atheist has been given enough grace to respond to God should they chose to do so.

God foreknew all who would choose to be Christians. We were predestined to make our freewill choice having been given the gift of saving grace. We were called and we responded. Through Jesus’s death we are justified. We are glorified through Christ Jesus (Rom.8:29-30).

The greatest example of predestination (apart from Jesus) was that of the Virgin Mary. God knew that when she was a teenager she would agree to be the mother of Jesus, becoming the mother of God. Jesus couldn’t be conceived by a sinner and so God made Mary ‘full of grace’ from the time of her conception.

God created and rules the entire universe and so ‘if God is for us, who can be against us?’ (Rom.8:31). He does not condemn us and did not spare his own son to rescue and redeem us. He will  ‘graciously give us all things’ (Rom.8:32).

Jesus is at the right hand of God and is interceding for all Christians. We can shrug off unjust accusations and charges against us. We only care what God thinks about us and have no fear of other people’s opinions. We conquer all through him who loves us.

Nothing in the whole of creation can separate us from ‘the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord’ (Rom.8:39). This phrase gives us everlasting comfort.

Praise be to God.

Psalm 89:1-8

Let us all sing of the Lord’s great love and faithfulness for ever (Ps.89:1).

His love for us stands firm for ever (Ps.89:2).

This psalm also hints at the existence of a heavenly council of minor ‘gods’ that God created and rules over (Ps.89:7). It mentions ‘the assembly of the holy ones’ (Ps.89:5) and ‘who is like the Lord among the heavenly beings?’ (Ps.89:6). The heavenly beings could equally be angels with Saint Michael the archangel’s name meaning ‘Who is like God?’

As assembly of lesser heavenly beings is a tempting theology as it explains many ancient religions and the Greek and Roman pantheon but these beings, if they even existed, are irrelevant now as God judged and confined them, after they failed to live up to his standards. Our modern-day theology is confined to the Holy Trinity, angels and demons.

We join in with the heavens in praising your wonders, O Lord (Ps.89:5).

Image: bobosh_t, CC BY-SA 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Hosea proclaims Destruction and Punishment / Paul: Life Through the Spirit: 23rd July 2021

Hosea 8:1-9:17

Israel was to reap the whirlwind of destruction due to their unfaithful idolatrous worship. The golden calf that they worshipped at Bethel had been made by a human craftsman. It was not God.

God would remember the wickedness of the Israelites and punish them. The people of Judah had fortified many towns but this would not save them. God would send fire upon their cities.

Prophets were the ‘watchmen’ over Israel, yet the people set snares for them on all their paths and were hostile to them in the house of his God (Hosea 9:8).

When God had first made covenants with the Patriarchs of Israel it had been like ‘finding grapes in the desert’ and ‘seeing early fruit on the fig-tree’ (Hosea (9:10). It had been beautifully refreshing to find righteousness and faith.

God would reject his people because they had not obeyed him. They would become wanderers among the nations.

Romans 8:1-17

Romans 8 is the climax of the amazing book of Romans – the most intense theological treatise in the Bible.

There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus’ (Rom.8:1). The Holy Spirit has set us free from the law of sin and death.

God sent his own son to be a sin offering (Rom.8:3). Those who love in accordance with the Spirit have their mind set on what the Spirit desires. We no longer live according to what our former sinful nature desired. When our mind is controlled by the Spirit, we enjoy life and peace.

The sinful mind is death, hostile to God and does not submit to God’s law. If we are controlled by a sinful nature, then we cannot please God (Rom.8:8).

When we have been baptized and have asked Jesus into our lives as our personal saviour we are controlled by the Spirit. The Spirit of God lives in us. We know that the Spirit of God is living in us when we pray in the Spirit / speak in tongues. This proves the Holy Spirit is living within us and, as he raised Christ from the dead, he will also give life to our mortal bodies (Rom.8:11).

In order to live, we have ‘to put to death the misdeeds of the body’ (Rom.8:13). We do this by the power of the Spirit. I was too weak to eliminate my misdeeds when I tried to rely on my own willpower, by handing over control to the Holy Spirit through praying in tongues, he did it for me.

When we are lead by the Spirit of God we become ‘born again’ as we ask Jesus into our lives, we then become sons (and daughters of God) (Rom.8:14).

We are no longer slaves to fear, we have the Spirit of sonship. God is our Father. The Holy Spirit will testify to that. We are God’s children and heirs of God. When we emotionally or physically suffer, we are supernaturally linked to our Lord Jesus Christ and like all bad things in our life, God has designed good to come out of it. ‘We share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory’ (Rom.8:17).

Proverbs 17:25-18:6

We should pray to the Holy Spirit for wisdom so we will not bring grief and bitterness to our parents (Prov.17:25). ‘The fountain of wisdom is a bubbling brook’ (Prov.18:4).

The Holy Spirit gives us self-control so we will use words with restraint and remain even-tempered (Prov.17:27). Keeping silent can make even the foolish appear wise and discerning (Prov.17:27). However, we should never miss an opportunity to proclaim the gospel when we know, through the wisdom imbued in us by the Holy Spirit, that it is an appropriate time.

Christian communities should be noted for their generosity and friendliness. Born-again sons of God should never be hostile (Prov.18:1).

Wicked fools do not want to understand and will show contempt. Foolish words will bring us strife (Prov.18:6).

We need to pursue and fight for justice. We should never be swayed by the wicked or deprive the innocent of justice. We should never unjustly punish those with integrity. God watches all and will judge us for our deeds.

A Prophet Condemns Ahab / Paul in Corinth & Ephesus: June 28th 2021

1 Kings 20:1-21:29

Ben-Hadad, King of Aram, besieged Samaria, where Omri the king the Israel had built his capital city. Israel was currently ruled by the evil Ahab, who had succeeded Omri.

At first Ahab simply agreed to Ben-Hadad’s claim on the city. Ahab could not fight against such a massive force but Ben-Hadad became even more demanding and Ahab finally made a stand and insulted him (1 Kings 20:11).

A prophet came to Ahab and said that the Lord was reaching out to him. The Lord would defeat Ben-Hadid’s vast army to prove who the Lord was (1 Kings 20:13). Ahab sent out young army officers with seven thousand men. Ben-Hadad was busy getting drunk and was dismissive of the threat they presented (1 Kings 20:18). However, the Israelites successfully struck down their opponents and the rest of the Aramean army fled.

The prophet warned Ahab to strengthen his position because he would be attacked again next spring.

The Arameans analysed their defeat. They came to the conclusion that the Israelite ‘gods’ were gods of the hills and so they needed to fight them down on the plain. The next spring, the vast army of the Arameans advanced again. The camp of the Israelite army was tiny in comparison (1 Kings 20:27). Of course, God was not going to accept the insult of being considered just a ‘god of the hills’, he was God of everywhere and would prove it (1 Kings 20:28).

The Israelites killed a hundred thousand Aramean foot soldiers in one day. The rest escaped to the city of Aphek, where the wall collapsed killing another twenty-seven thousand. Ben-Hadad and his officials begged for their lives. Ahab spared him and made a treaty with him.

However, God had wanted Ben-Hadad dead. A prophet was sent to Ahab to tell him he would die in Ben-Hadad’s place for disobeying God (1 Kings 20:42).

Ahab wanted to buy a vineyard close to his palace to use as a vegetable garden. The owner of the vineyard, Naboth, upset Ahab by refusing to sell it. This made Ahab sullen and angry. However, his evil wife Jezebel simply arranged for Naboth to be stoned to death on false charges so that Ahab could seize the vineyard.

God told Elijah to go to Ahab and accuse him of his crimes (1 Kings 21:19). God was going to wield justice on Ahab, bring disaster on him and all his male descendants and ensure Jezebel’s death. Ahab and Jezebel were the worst royal couple in the history of Israel (1 Kings 21:25-26).

Ahab listened to this prophesy and did something about it. He tore his clothes, put on sackcloth, fasted and went around meekly. God noted Ahab’s new-found humility and relented. The disaster that God had promised would not arrive until the days of Ahab’s son.

God had tried to reach out to Ahab by giving him victory against the Arameans. Ahab had tried to buy his desired vineyard from Naboth honestly before Jezebel got involved. However, he would not give up worshipping idols egged on by his evil wife. Ahab was prepared to humble himself when convicted by Elijah, which postponed disaster. If Ahab had married a righteous woman, his whole reign might have ended differently.

Acts 18:9-19:13

God spoke to Paul, while he was in Corinth, and reassured him that he should keep on speaking. God was with him. No-one was going to attack or harm him. God had many people in the city. Paul stayed there for eighteen months.

The Jews made a united attack on Paul and brought him to court. However, Gallo the proconsul of the region refused to judge on religious matters and threw them all out. The Jews beat up the ruler of the synagogue in frustration.

After his stay in Corinth, Paul left the other disciples and sailed for Syria along with his fellow tent-makes Priscilla and Aquila. Before he sailed, he had his hair cut off ‘because of a vow he had taken’ (Acts 18:18). This implies that Paul had made a temporary Nazirite vow to the Lord – the completion of which was marked by cutting off his hair which had been allowed to grow long during the period he had especially dedicated himself to the Lord (Num.6:18). Even though Paul was now a Christian and not bound by the full Jewish law, he was still performing some of their historical spiritual practices.

Paul travelled to Ephesus, where the Jews wanted to hear more from him and then to Caesarea and Antioch. Priscilla and Aquila had heard a learned man, Apollos, speaking with great fervour about Jesus in Ephesus. His teaching was many accurate but he only knew the baptism of John (Acts 18:25). Priscilla and Aquila invited him to the home and gently explained the full gospel message. We all need good Christian mentors, who can correct misunderstandings and fill in gaps in our knowledge. Married Christian couples radiate their love of Christ to the world and also their holy commitment to each other. They are less intimidating as mentors than ordained ministers and can combine family hospitality with the gospel message. Married partners always have a Christian on hand to back up their prayers making their combined ministry highly effective (Matt.18:19-20)  

Apollos wanted to be a missionary and the brothers encouraged him. They wrote to the disciples in Achaia to ensure a welcome for him there. He was a great help to believers in vigorously refuting the Jews in public debates. He proved ‘from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ’ (Acts 18:28). So many passages in the Old Testament show that Jesus was our anointed saviour such as Isaiah 53:1-12.

Paul started to find disciples who had not heard of the Holy Spirit. They had only received John’s baptism for the repentance of sins. Paul re-baptised them in the name of Jesus and when he placed his hands on them, ‘the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied’ (Acts 19:6). This process needs to happen to the majority of modern Christians. They may have been baptized in the name of the Trinity, possible decades ago as an infant, but they then sit around passively with a tiny flickering pilot light of the Holy Spirit within them and have never asked for the unlimited power of God within them to be fanned into a roaring flame. As adults, we have to ask Jesus to come into our lives as our personal saviour and also ask the Holy Spirit to enkindle within us the full power of his gifts.

It is encouraging to us that even Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles, was not able to convert everyone. Even though he argued persuasively, some of his audience became obstinate and refused to believe (Acts 19:9). Paul did not stay, he simply started daily discussions in a lecture hall. After two years, all the Jews and Greeks in Asia had heard the word of the Lord.

When handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched Paul were taken to the sick, miraculous cures and deliverances happened (Acts 19:12). Jesus had cured a woman with the hem of his garment (Luke 8:44). Peter’s shadow appeared to cure people (Acts 5:15). A dead man thrown into the prophet Elisha’s tomb came back to life when the body touched Elisha’s bones (2 Kings 13:21). In each of these instances God brought about healing using an object. The cause of the healing was always God. The pieces of material, the shadow and the bones were a means through which He acted. Objects such as these are not magic. They do not contain a power that is their own; the power comes from God. God worked through Paul’s handkerchiefs in order to draw attention to the message that Paul was faithfully proclaiming. God wanted people to recognise Paul as a model and an intercessor. As the Bible says, ‘God did extraordinary miracles through Paul’ (Acts 19:11).

The Mother Church still venerates such relics today. There are three classes of sacred relics. The first-class is a part of the saints body such as the bones of Elisha (it is this type, which was traditionally placed in an altar stone.) The second-class is a piece of the saints clothing or something used by the saint such as Paul’s handkerchief, while the third-class is an object which has been touched to a first-class relic. I carry a cross on a keyring that has been touched to half a dozen first class relics.

Prior to Jesus’s incarnation, there had been Jewish exorcists. Every culture had been given prayers / incantations / ceremonies to deliver people from demons, presumably having been taught by angels or the Holy Spirit. Without these, whole cultures would have probably ceased to exist. The exorcism prayers and techniques were passed on in books of prayers or ‘magic’ books. Solomon allegedly collated several volumes of these incantations for his son Rehoboam. There was no guarantee that these ancient prayers would be effective and the people who used them probably charged for their services. Jesus exorcised people with a simple command and faithful people can deliver others ‘in the name of Jesus’. Some Jewish exorcists started to use the command: ‘In the name of Jesus, whom Paul preaches, I command you to come out’ (Acts 19:13. However, they weren’t professing their own faith in Jesus and faith is very important in deliverance work. We will review the success of their approach tomorrow.

Psalm 78:32-39

In spite of all God’s wonders, the Israelites kept on sinning and did not believe.

God is always merciful and forgiving. He knows that our flesh can be weak but, through the power of the Holy Spirit, he intends to make our spirit powerful, strong and ready for eternal life.

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

Death of King David / Peter Baptizes Cornelius: June 16th 2021

1 Kings 1:1-2:12

King David was now old and so his servants found a beautiful virgin girl, Abishag, to wait on him and keep him warm in bed. The king did not have sexual relations with her.

Adonijah, another one of David’s wayward, handsome sons started to set himself up as the next king. He gained the support of Joab, which is unusual as Joab was usually very politically astute. Abiathar the priest also supported Adonijah.

Adonijah invited the royal officials and all the other sons of the king, apart from Solomon, to a gathering where he made sacrifices intending to be appointed as king.

Nathan the prophet went to warn Bathsheba, Solomon’s mother, that both her and Solomon’s lives were in danger if she did not act fast. Adonijah was likely to execute threats to his throne if he succeeded in taking over.

Bathsheba and Nathan informed King David that Adonijah was in the process of setting himself up as king.

King David confirmed his solemn oath to Bathsheba that Solomon would become king.

David promptly abdicated telling Zadok the priest and Nathan the prophet to anoint Solomon as king over both Israel and Judah and set him on his throne.

Adonijah was terrified at this news. His guests rose in alarm and dispersed and Adonijah sought sanctuary by holding onto the horns of the altar. Solomon allowed him to live and go home as long as he proved himself to be a worthy man (1 Kings 1:52).

David instructed Solomon on how to be a good king. He should be ‘strong, show yourself a man and observe what the Lord your God requires’ (1 Kings 2:2-3).

It was vital that Solomon should keep all the requirements in the Law of Moses so that he would prosper and his descendants would always retain the throne.

David told Solomon the crimes of Joab and Shimei and advised him to deal with them according to his wisdom. He asked Solomon to respect the loyalty that the sons of Barzillai of Gilead had shown him.

David then died after forty years on the throne and was buried in ‘The City of David’ (1 Kings 2:10). There is no clear consensus in modern times as to where David’s tomb is. Some think it is in Jerusalem but this would have been stated clearly. To me, ‘The City of David’ is Bethlehem (Luke 2:4). One 4th century traveller found a vault in Bethlehem reputed to contain the tombs of David, Ezekiel, Jesse, Solomon, Job and Asaph with these names carved into the tomb walls (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David%27s_Tomb). 1 Kings 3:1 clearly shows that the ‘City of David’ is not Jerusalem.

Not many people have led a life as extraordinary as David’s. Plucked from obscurity, an overlooked youngest child tending the sheep, he was anointed as the successor to the first King of Israel. As a young boy he defeated a formidable giant dressed in scale armour, showing how he would stand up for God’s people against the forces of evil. He was an amazingly brave and a ferocious fighter who won and retained the loyalty of the nation of Judah.

David showed himself to be a strong man, rather too strong in his adulterous affair with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband. David had serious faults but he was quick to apologise to God. He loved truth, loyalty and integrity. He refused to kill Saul, the Lord’s anointed king. He was quick to forgive and didn’t want his son Absalom harmed even when he had almost usurped David as king. He longed to build a permanent temple for God but he had soiled his hands with too much blood. Above all, God communicated with him and David listened making him one of the foremost prophets and author of so many awesome psalms. Above all, David was a man after God’s own heart and that is what we should try to emulate (Acts 13:22).

Like David, we should do everything that God wants us to do.

Acts 10:32b-11:18

Peter travelled to see Cornelius, the Roman Centurion who had called for him. Peter took backup with him, some of the brothers from Joppa. Cornelius had gathered together his relatives and close friends to meet them. It is wonderful to read about such excitement and anticipation. We should feel this whenever we go to church and pastors / priests should be working to promote this by allowing the Holy Spirit to work freely and unpredictably in any church gatherings.

Cornelius fell at Peter’s feet in reverence but Peter made him get up (Acts 10:26). It is only God that we worship. Everyone else, including angels, are fellow servants of God and we should treat them like friends and comrades, not masters (Revelation 22:8-9).

It was against the law for Peter to associate with or visit any Gentile but God in a vision had showed him not to call any man impure or unclean (Acts 10:28). God’s laws trump human and religious laws.

Peter had realised that God does not show favouritism for one nation over another. God ‘accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right’ (Acts 10:35). Peter preached about Jesus’ ministry (Acts 10:38). Peter declared he was a witness of everything that Jesus did.

Mankind had been at war with God because of our disobedience and sin but, through Jesus, those who believe now have peace with our heavenly father (Acts 10:36).

As Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit came upon all who heard the gospel message and they started speaking in tongues and praising God. This astonished the Jews who had travelled with Peter (Acts 10:45-46). The unbaptized, Gentile believers had been given the Holy Spirit. This flies in the face of modern theology, which states that people always receive the Holy Spirit when they are baptized. Many people just receive a tiny mustard seed of the Holy Spirit and never do anything with it so it doesn’t fully grow / develop / burst into flames of faith. However, the Holy Spirit cannot be confined to rules and doctrines. He is God and can do what he wants, when he wants. In this particular circumstance, the coming of the Holy Spirit was the catalyst that pushed Peter into baptising these converts. Peter might not have had the confidence to do this, if the evidence of speaking in tongues had not confirmed that they obeyed God and believed in him (Acts 10:47-48).

Peter ordered that Cornelius and his household should be baptized and they then asked Peter to remain with them for a few days. How wonderful it must have been for them to have the head of the new church, the first pope, the keeper of the keys of the kingdom of heaven, to stay with them and tell them his extraordinary testimony.

This amazing event opened up Christianity to non-Jews around the globe. I am a Christian thanks to Cornelius inviting Peter to visit him.

Peter then had to explain his actions to the rest of the church. He told the circumcised believers about his vision and how the Spirit had instructed him to visit, after Cornelius had been visited by an angel. The Holy Spirit had promised that Peter would bring him ‘a message through which you and all your household will be saved’ (Acts 10:14). All Christians are now commissioned to bring this same message to other people.

This is a good example of predestination. God had looked into the future and seen Cornelius becoming a Christian when he heard Peter’s message and so he gave sufficient grace to Cornelius earlier in his life to be a Godly person with a desire to seek salvation. God knew he would respond to the angel’s instruction to call for Peter.

Peter described how the Holy Spirit had come on the Gentiles as he had begun to speak ‘as he had come on us at the beginning’ (Acts 11:15). ‘The beginning’ must mean the day of Pentecost, the beginning of the Christian church.

God had baptised these believers with the Holy Spirit ahead of them being baptized with water (Acts 11:16).

The other apostles in Jerusalem accepted Peter’s testimony and praised God.

Peter’s perfect logic was ‘So if God gave them the same gift as he gave us, who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could oppose God’ (Acts 11:17). It is wonderful that the apostles were not jealous in any way of the new believers, unlike the Pharisees and the Chief Priests who had persecuted Jesus because they had wanted to retain power and status.

The apostles summarised this latest revelation: ‘So then, God has granted even the Gentiles repentance unto life’ (Acts 11:18). The phrase ‘even the Gentiles’ shows how revolutionary this message was. From this event we can see some keys principles of accepting the gift of eternal life. We have to repent. We have to accept the message about Jesus Christ and believe in him so that we will be given the gift of the Holy Spirit. We have to be baptized.

Speaking in Tongues is a great way of bringing different people groups and denominations together. It proves we obey God and believe in Christ. Nicky Gumbel (p.350) saw that he could not withhold the Protestant Alpha course from Catholics, when at the first Catholic Alpha course he witnessed all the Catholics praying in tongues, the same supernatural gift that had been given to his Protestant converts. Similarly, I visited my local Pentecostal church as a Charismatic Catholic and witnessed my new Protestant friends exhibiting the same gifts I had. The gifts of the Holy Spirit make us realise we are all one big church family and we should work together and love each other for the glory of God.

Psalm 74:10-17

The Psalmist still did not understand why God was holding back his hand but God always has very good reasons for any delays. He will eventually bring justice to those who have mocked and reviled him.

God brings salvation upon the earth ultimately through Jesus Christ’s death once and for all on the cross.

God is all powerful. He owns the day and the night and established the sun and the moon. He made both summer and winter. Winter has its own beauty but the harsher aspects of it help us appreciate the summer periods of our lives.

God can split open the sea, crush the heads of seas monsters and dry up ever-flowing rivers. Praise the Lord that we have been reconciled to him and received the everlasting gift of peace with our awesome Father through Jesus’ death on the cross.

Image: https://www.flickr.com/photos/ideacreamanuela2/5585080402

God Sends Plague / Peter Resuscitates Tabitha: June 15th 2021

2 Samuel 23:8-24:25

David was an incredible fighter. He also had three ‘mighty men’ in his army who were renowned for their fighting prowess. One of them, Josheb-Basshebeth, had killed eight hundred men with a spear in one battle. They were prepared to stand their ground and fight hordes of the enemy even when their fellow comrades had fled in fear

Kings have to be careful what they say in the earshot of particularly loyal subjects. David once rashly said during a war with the Philistines: ‘Oh that someone would get me a drink of water from the well near the gate of Bethlehem!’ (2 Sam.23:15). The three mighty men fought their way through Philistine battle lines to fetch it for him. David was horrified at the risks they had taken and wouldn’t drink it. This reminds me of when David wept for his dead son Absalom, disgracing his army who had risked their lives to defend his sovereignty. I personally think he should have been grateful for their efforts, drank the water and vowed not to be so irresponsible in the future. It’s probably not a good idea to disrespect men who can kill hundreds of soldiers in one battle.

Abishai, the brother of the army commander Joab, was chief of the three mighty men and had killed three hundred men in one skirmish. Both he and Joab were nephews of King David. Benaiah son of Jehoiada was a valiant fighter and and as famous as the three mighty men. He was put in charge of David’s bodyguard due to his great exploits. There were another thirty men in David’s personal army who were also renowned for their skill in battle and bravery.

In every thriving church there are usually two or three mighty men or women who greatly assist the pastor / priest in running the parish. We shouldn’t just take from our church community, we should seek to give and to donate our time, money and talents. Even if we don’t have time to be one of the three most renowned mighty men or women in our church we can loyally strive to be in the top thirty and hope for promotion to more responsibility.

God incited David to take a census of Israel and Judah and he entrusted this task to Joab (2 Sam.24:2). However, later in the Bible it said that Satan incited David to do this (1 Chron.21:1). However, Satan is not allowed to do anything without God’s mysterious permission and so they might have discussed putting David through a trial of his faith just as God permitted Satan to persecute Job (Job 1:12).

David’s army commander, Joab, was reluctant to conduct the census. Joab was cunning and ruthless and he could see that this would result in trouble, However, David over-ruled him. The census took nine months and twenty days. The count showed that Israel had many more fighting men than Judah (2 Sam.24:9).

David was then conscience stricken and realised he had done a very foolish thing. He confessed to God and asked for his guilt to be removed (2 Sam.24:10). He should have said to God: ‘I don’t need to count my soldiers because I rely on you for victory. You will win the battle for me no matter how great the opposition’. By counting the troops, it appeared that he intended to rely on his own military might rather than trust in God to deliver him.

God spoke to David through the prophet Gad and said there were three options as to how God should punish him for his lack of trust: three years of famine, three months of fleeing from his enemies or three days of plague. David left it up to the mercy of God as long as he did not ‘fall into the hands of men’ (2 Sam.24:14).

The Lord chose to send plague on Israel from that very morning and seventy thousand people died. When the angel striking down the people with plague was just about to strike Jerusalem, God stopped him. ‘God was grieved because of the calamity’ (2 Sam.24:16). David could actually see the plague angel at the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite and said to God that he personally should be punished, rather than his subjects who were but sheep. David showed himself to be a good shepherd, prepared to die for his flock.

The prophet Gad told David to build an altar where the plague angel had stopped. David insisted on buying the threshing floor and oxen from Araunah, even though they were offered to him for free. David built the altar and sacrificed to the Lord, who then answered prayer on behalf of the land. The plague in Israel was stopped.

This is a very strange story. God was very angry at Israel for an undefined reason. He incited David to take a census or got Satan to do it and then offered a choice of three different punishments when the census was eventually completed. The only person who had immediately spotted this would not turn out well was David’s cunning and murderous army commander nephew, Joab.

If David had chosen to be pursued around the country for three months – which was one of the punishment options offered by God – that would probably have saved a lot of lives. However, in the end, David came out well offering him (and his family) as a sacrifice in place of his subjects. David proved himself to be a good shepherd offering himself up for his sheep.

It’s a troublesome passage because I have heard Pastors say that God never brings disease – that’s the work of the devil. This text clearly shows that God brought this plague and an angel (not a demon) actively inflicted it. However, even when the devil does bring a disease (or incite someone to carry out an illicit census), God has allowed him to do it which is the same as doing it himself. Nothing happens in heaven or earth without God’s permission. He is all powerful. It’s all very mysterious but as God owns everything, has positive reasons for everything that happens and has good long-term plans, we just have to trust in his justice, wisdom and mercy. He is our refuge and our strength and will answer if we cry out to him.

Acts 9:32-10:23a

Peter prayed for a paralytic to be healed: ‘Jesus Christ heals you. Get up and tidy up your mat’. This can be a model for our healing prayers. Jesus has the power and authority to heal, not us, and so we pray in his name. Peter’s command showed total faith in Jesus. The paralytic man had to choose to move in faith to grab his chance of being healed. He chose to get up immediately. This healing echoed Jesus healing a long-time invalid with a direct command (John 5:8).

Peter then went to bring a disciple named Tabitha back to life. He sent all the crying widows, who Tabitha had helped in her lifetime, out of her room and got down on his knees to pray before commanding her to get up. Jesus had resurrected a little girl with the words ‘Talitha koum!’ (Which means, ‘Little girl, I say to you, get up!)’ (Mark 5:41-42). Before Jesus did this he had put all the people who were weeping and wailing out of the room. We should also pray in an atmosphere of peace, not surrounded by distress, despair and unbelief.

A Roman centurion, Cornelius, then sent for Peter. Even though he was not a Jew, Cornelius (and his family) had a wonderful reputation for being devout, God-fearing and charitable (Acts 10:2). Cornelius had seen a vision of an angel about three in the afternoon. Three o’clock in the afternoon is a great time for a vision as it is the holy time when Jesus died. Conversely, three o’clock in the morning isn’t a holy time of day. If we wake up with a nightmare at three o’clock in the morning, the thoughts in our mind are likely to have come from the demonic dark side and we should pray until we regain peace. Even though Cornelius was a Roman Gentile the angel gave him fascinating news: ‘Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God’ (Acts 10:4). This shows that people’s good needs and prayers can eventually attract God’s attention even before they are Christians.

Meanwhile, Peter had a vision in which God had said: ‘Do not call anything impure that God has made clean’ (Acts 10:15). As he was wondering about the meaning of this vision, the men sent by Cornelius to fetch him arrived and the Holy Spirit told him to go with them: ‘For I have sent them’ (Acts 10:20).

The Holy Spirit was orchestrating Peter’s daily ministry. The Spirit had been with Cornelius for years until he now inspired him to send for Peter who would lead him, and his family to salvation. Cornelius would demonstrate to the disciples that you didn’t have to become a Jew first before you became a Christian. The Spirit also worked on Peter to ensure he would answer the call. Jesus said it was for our own good that he was going away because then the Holy Spirit would come to us. The Holy Spirit can work on everyone at the same time. When Jesus was incarnate, he could only be in one place at the same time (John 16:7). As born-again baptized Christians, we have the Holy Spirit living within us leading us to the truth and transforming us into the likeness of Christ.

Psalm 74:1-9

The Psalmist called on God to remember his people. They were living in ruins and their enemies had destroyed God’s sanctuaries. No-one knew who long their agony would last as no prophets were left (Psalm 74:9).

We know that God continued to send leaders and prophets to rescue Israel but they were rejected and persecuted.

The great John the Baptist straddled the divide between the Old and New Testament and prophesied the arrival of our Saviour.

When we can’t feel God’s presence and guidance in our lives, we need to continue to pray. Praying in the Spirit is the ultimate reassurance that God is with us, working within us and through us and will never leave us.

God offered the ultimate gift to all who have faith and belief. He offered to the entire world eternal salvation through the sacrifice of his beloved son, Jesus Christ.

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

The Gibeonites avenged / Simon the Sorcerer / Philip and the Ethiopian: June 13th 2021

2 Samuel 20:1-21:22

Another rebellion started. The fickle men of Israel deserted David again. This time, to follow Sheba, son of Bicri. The men of Judah stayed loyal to King David.

King David returned to his palace in Jerusalem. He took the ten concubines, whom Absalom had slept with in his absence, and confined them as widows for the rest of their lives. This was not the best day for women’s rights in the Old Testament. However, David obviously felt a duty of care towards these women. Concubines were often slaves, who had been selected to provide powerful men with pleasure and additional heirs but they did not have the same rights as official wives. It wasn’t until the 14th and 15th centuries that the Christian church outlawed concubinage throughout its territories.

The King told his new army commander, Amasa, to leave and assemble the men of Judah and return within three days. Amasa took longer than this. They couldn’t wait and so sent out David’s personal troops to chase Sheba the rebel before he escaped. Joab, who had recently been replaced as military commander, met Amasa at the great rock in Gibeon. Joab greeted him in a deceptively friendly matter before murdering him with a dagger. Joab was determined to get his old job back.

All the troops then followed Joab in the pursuit of Sheba. They besieged the fugitive in the city of Abel Beth Maacah and started to batter the city wall to bring it down. A wise woman negotiated with Job and persuaded the citizens to cut off Sheba’s head and threw it down to Joab. Another threat to David’s reign was dead. Joab withdrew his troops from the city and they dispersed and went home. Joab went back to king David as commander over Israel’s entire army. I wonder what he told David in regards to Amasa’s death: ‘He slipped and fell on his own dagger’.

There was a famine for three years and David asked God why this was occurring. The Lord replied that it was because of Saul putting the Gibeonites to death. David was not personally responsible but the country was suffering for this historical treachery. During the Exodus, the Israelites had promised to spare the Gibeonites, who were survivors of the Amorites, but Saul had tried to annihilate them. It was up to the present king to make amends.

David asked the Gibeonites how Israel could make amends: (2 Sam.21:4). The Gibeonites asked for seven of Saul’s male descendants to be handed over to them to be killed. The king spared Saul’s grandson Mephibosheth because of his vow to take care of him but handed over seven other sons of Saul. The Gibeonites killed them, and exposed their bodies on a hill. David brought the bones of Saul and his son Jonathan from Jabesh Gilead to be buried in the tomb of Saul’s father and gathered up the bones of the other sons of the Saul who had recently been killed. After that, God started to answer prayer again that was offered to him on behalf of the nation.

This shows the importance of world leaders making reparations for past crimes / genocides and other atrocities. God remembers historical offenses against him and can block communication with countries many years later until they apologise and make amends. Our UK leaders will eventually have to apologise for the six million unborn children killed in this county since the 1967 Abortion act.

David went to war against the Philistines again. David was getting on in years and became exhausted by the battle. He was therefore in no fit state to fight another giant. David had defeated the enormous Goliath in his youth. Goliath had been nine feet nine inches tall and had worn scale armour that weighed 125 pounds. Goliath’s spearhead had weighed a massive 15-16 pounds. Now David faced another giant, Ishbi-benob, who was probably smaller than Goliath as his spear head was half the weight. David had to be rescued by Abishai who struck down the giant and killed him. The giants, who had allied themselves with the Philistines, were descended from the mysterious Nephilim / Anakim. David had been so close to losing his life that his army banned him from fighting with them again (2 Sam.21:17).

https://knowingscripture.com/articles/giants-in-the-land-a-biblical-theology-of-the-nephilim-anakim-rephaim-and-goliath

The Israelites killed another three giants in battles with the Philistines at Gog and Gatha (2 Sam.21:22). The Israelites were gradually completing the extermination of the giants that Joshua had started but had failed to complete. The race of giants may have been formed by an unholy union between fallen angels and human woman and so they needed to be eliminated. I think this was more like IVF / genetical manipulation as I don’t believe demons can create eggs or sperm of their own. However, the genes from the Nephilim / Anakim descendants had infected much of humanity. Another reason why God might have wanted Canaanite tribes to be completely wiped out rather than be allowed to breed with Israelites.

Acts 8:4-40

The persecution of the early Christians resulted in them scattering throughout the known world. They preached the gospel wherever they went and so the church grew exponentially. Philip found himself in Samaria and there was great joy there because people were healed and evil spirits came out of many. Because Philip demonstrated the truth of the word through the powerful healings that accompanied him people paid close attention to what he said (Acts 8:6-7).

Simon the Sorcerer had made himself famous in Samaria through his demonic magic. He believed in Philip’s teaching and was baptized. He followed Philip everywhere (Acts 8:13).

Peter and John were sent to Samaria as well when they heard about the success of Philip’s missionary work. They found that even though Samaritans had been baptized ‘in the name of the Lord Jesus’, the Holy Spirit had not yet come down upon any of them (Acts 8:15-16). Peter and John placed their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:17). This is fascinating because the Mother Church teaches that everyone baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit receives the Holy Spirit and becomes a child of God. However, the great majority of Christians show no outward signs that the Holy Spirit is within them. He might just exist within them as a tiny seed, a little flickering pilot light that is never ignited. We only see evidence of the Holy Spirit when these baptized people fully accept Jesus into their lives, become obedient to God and ask the Holy Spirit to enkindle in them his fire and his gifts. Then people start to become fully alive in Christ and start to show evidence of supernatural gifts such as praying in the Spirit.

Pentecostals typically baptize adults – who have fully accepted Jesus into their lives by earnestly saying ‘The Sinner’s Prayer’. They often exhibit the gifts of the Holy Spirit from the moment they are baptized. Some people have the gift of praying for others to receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit. The evangelist Ros Powell once prayed for a group of people including me at a conference to receive an additional supernatural prayer language. As soon as she prayed and touched us on the forehead, we each started to speak in a new language. Simon the sorcerer wanted this power and offered the apostle’s money so that he could lay hands on people to receive the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:18-19). Simon might have had good motives but he also may have seen this as a money-making opportunity. Even today, religious people still make money selling blessed articles or holy objects which is a grave sin known as ‘Simony’ after Simon the Sorcerer. As Christians, we have been given blessings and power as free gifts and we have to freely pass these onto others. It is fine for churches to sell manmade statues or medals or other mementoes but as soon as they have been officially blessed by a priest or deacon and become imbued with holy power, they can never be sold again. We should stay away from anyone who wants to charge for religious services.

Peter rebuked Simon severely (Acts 8:20-23) and told him to repent. Simon asked Peter to pray for him.

Peter and John returned to Jerusalem after testifying and proclaiming the word of God.

Philip was told by an angel to go South where he met an Ethiopian eunuch. The Holy Spirit instructed Philip to go to the eunuch’s chariot and stay near it. Philip offered to explain the passage in Isaiah that the eunuch was reading which was all about Jesus (Acts 8:32). This scripture reading provided the perfect opening for Philip to tell the Ethiopian the good news about Jesus.

The Ethiopian saw some water and seized the opportunity to be baptized. This is how we should be with every spiritual gift. If someone is offering us the chance to receive a special prayer or a blessing at the altar we should seize it. I met a senior freemason the other day. He was shuffling his way in agony across the car park outside a doctor’s surgery. Satan had riddled his body so badly with arthritis that he could barely move. Every step was agony. I offered to pray for him but he rejected my offer! He said he didn’t have enough time, even though I could have followed behind him and prayed a dozen times before he finished his tortuous journey to the car. Some people are so damaged, they require our prayers just to give them the desire to be prayed for.

Philip baptized the eunuch who went away rejoicing to spread the gospel throughout Ethiopia. Philip was then mysteriously transported by the Holy Spirit to the city of Azotus. The Holy Spirit wanted the gospel to spread so fast that he was in effect teleporting an apostle around the region. Thanks to the blessings of the internet today, our evangelism can be spread throughout the world at the speed of light.

Proverbs 14:25-25

Our respect for our awesome God will give us a secure fortress and is our fountain of life.

‘Envy rots the bones’ – we should try to have a heart at peace (Prov.14:30) that does not lust after our neighbour’s belongings.

The Holy Spirit will give us patience, wisdom and understanding. As Christians we stand up for the truth and a truthful witness can save lives through their testimony.

Jesus made us righteous through his death on the cross and so we have an everlasting refuge in God (Prov.14:32).

Image: Uoaei1, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

David Mourns for his Son / The Stoning of Stephen: June 12th 2021

2 Samuel 18:19-19:43

Ahiamaaz, son of Zadok, was keen to take the news of Absalom’s death to King David. However, Joab, the commander of David’s army, who had organised the killing of David’s son knew this would not be well received. He asked a dispensable Cushite to deliver the news instead. Joab knew that David had executed bearers of similar news on previous occasions and so it wasn’t a desirable task (2 Sam.18:22).

Ahiamaaz outran the Cushite but didn’t plainly tell David about Absalom’s death. The Cushite caught up and told David about his son’s fate. As Joab had predicted. David did not take the news well but at least he didn’t kill the messengers (2 Sam.18:33).

David wept and mourned for his son – the same son who had betrayed him and wanted him dead. Even though they had won a great victory, his army felt ashamed of their actions. Joab was furious and told David that he had humiliated his men: ‘You love those who hate you and hate those who love you’ (2 Sam.19:6-7). He told David to go and encourage his loyal men or there would be terrible consequences for his rule. To his credit, David accepted this valid criticism and realised his ingratitude. His men had loyally risked their lives for him and he sat down in front of his men (2 Sam.19:8).

It had been a very strange attempted coup. Both sides had been quite civil to each other. King David was generally liked as a monarch and there wasn’t an urgent need to replace him apart from his son having better hair and being slightly more popular. King David didn’t want his son harmed even though he had almost lost his throne to him. The whole affair had left the citizens of Israel and Judah very confused and in conflict with each other.

King David won the hearts of all the men of Judah again and they asked him and his men to return. They met him at the ford over the Jordan to welcome him home. Even Shimei, who had previously shouted curses at David, came to apologise. One of David’s retinue, Abishai, wanted to put Shimei to death for his sins but David rebuked him (2 Sam:19:22) in a similar way to Jesus rebuking James and John for wanting to call down fire from heaven on a Samaritan village (Luke 9:54-55). David graciously pardoned Shimei.

Saul’s grandson, Mephibosheth, also came to meet David. He explained that he had wanted to travel with David but had been betrayed by Ziba, his servant. David had earlier given Ziba all of Mephibosheth’s fields but on hearing this version of events ordered that they should be split equally. Mephibosheth said he didn’t want any land. He was just happy to see David home safely.

David wanted to repay his ally, Barzillai, for his support but he wouldn’t allow this. David blessed him instead and allowed him to return home. When David crossed over the Jordan, he was accompanied by all the men of Judah but just half the troops of Israel. This caused a large argument between Judah and Israel over who had more of a claim on David.

David was back in charge over a divided kingdom with the two major divisions bickering with each other. David had shown love for those who cursed and attacked him (Absalom and Shimei), he had demonstrated forgiveness of his enemies (the troops of Israel) and taken on board valid criticism (Joab). David had patiently listened to people’s apologies and excuses (Mephibosheth and Shimei) and he had blessed his friends (Barzillai and Kimham). However, he had punished those who had not followed his instructions. He had appointed the leader of the rebel army, Amasa, as commander of his army in place of Job (2 Sam.19:13). Job had stopped the civil war by killing David’s son but this was in defiance of David’s explicit instructions.

Just as God had punished Saul for not quite following his instructions, David was prepared to remove people who did not show complete obedience. David was a master politician and had managed to negotiate a return to his kingdom but he still had much work to do to reunite the nation.

Acts 7:44-8:3

Stephen finished his history of the Jewish nation with the devastating conclusion: ‘However, the Most High does not live in houses made by men’ (Acts 7:48). God was not confined just to the Jewish temple, with just the religious elite allowed to communicate with him once a year. Ezekiel had demonstrated in earlier scripture that when the Israelites had been exiled by the Babylonians, God had travelled with them. God is everywhere and in everything (Acts 7:50) and now, through the Holy Spirit, he is powerfully active within every individual Christian.

Stephen suddenly launched a verbal assault on the Sanhedrin. He even disowned them, calling their ancestors ‘your fathers’ rather than ‘our forefathers’ as he had done earlier. Their ancestors had persecuted all the prophets and had now betrayed and murdered the Righteous One (Acts 7:52). They had not obeyed the law and so, according to their own laws, should die. They would do so if they carried on being stiff-necked, resisting the Holy Spirit and Jesus’ invitation to eternal life through baptism and belief in him.

The Sanhedrin were furious. Truth is often unpopular. Stephen wasn’t bothered. He was full of the Holy Spirit. God was actually now living in him but his persecutors did not recognise God right in front of their furious faces. Stephen was consoled by a wonderful vision of Jesus standing at the right hand of God. Stephen was soon to join Jesus in heaven as he was stoned to death and became the first Christian martyr. Stephen prayed that their sin should not be held against them (Acts 7:60) just as Jesus prayed ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing’ (Luke 23:34).

A young man, Saul, approved of Stephen’s death. He wanted to persecute and murder all Christians. He would shortly undergo one of the most dramatic transformations in the history of Christianity.

Persecution broke out and all, except the apostles, were scattered (Acts 8:1). Wherever the disciples fled, they preached the gospel and converted many.

God frustrates the plans of evil people. They had hoped to eliminate the church through persecution but their efforts forced the disciples to travel and evangelise; this made the church grow much faster than if they had been left in peace. It must have been distressing for the early Christians to flee from their homes but the miracles, signs, wonders and fruitfulness that the Holy Spirit worked through them brought consolation. ‘We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28).

Psalm 73:1-14

If we are not careful, we can start to ask ourselves why we bother to be Christians. Why do we suffer the abuse, hassle and pain of being ignored? Is it all in vain?

Non-believers can appear to be more prosperous, more confident, carefree and proud about their healthy and strong bodies.

However, envy is a major sin. We need to count the priceless blessings that God has given us throughout our lives. Our treasure is an everlasting treasure in heaven (Matt.6:19-20).

We should not become like the wicked who scoff and speak with malice (Ps.73:8). ‘From their callous hearts comes iniquity; the evil conceits of their minds know no limits’ (Ps.73:7).

Our destinies will be completely different. The wicked are on slippery ground and will suddenly be destroyed (Ps.73:18-19). In contrast, we will enter the sanctuary of God.

No matter how poorly we seem to be faring relative to the secular values of the consumerist world, when the Holy Spirit lives within us we have eternal joy in our hearts which can never be shaken: (Galatians 5:22). We should share with the world our testimony of his glorious deeds.

God will eternally be our refuge and our strength.

Image: ChristianeB, CC BY 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Absalom Returns / Peter Heals with his Shadow: June 9th 2021

2 Samuel 14:1-15:12

King David’s heart longed for his estranged son, Absalom, just as God hopes and contrives for banished people to come back to him from exile (2 Sam.14:14).

Joab hired a wise woman to persuade King David to invite Absalom back from exile. David wisely saw he was being manipulated by Joab but gave in to the suggestion (2 Sam.14:21).

Joab brought Absalom back to Jerusalem but he was not allowed to see his father King David.

Absalom was very good looking, with not a single blemish, with thick luxuriant hair. He had three sons and a daughter and named his daughter Tamar after his sister.

Absalom did not see the king for two years. Joab refused to come to him until Absalom took the drastic step of setting Joab’s field on fire. Absalom demanded to see the king as he was living in limbo. He wanted to face up to any punishment. Then the king summoned his son, who bowed down before him, and the king welcomed him with a kiss (2 Sam. 14:33). We can live in a similar king of non-living limbo when we have not confessed our sins to God and received forgiveness. We might think our sins are too severe to forgive but God is always calling us to him and he will forgive us with a warm embrace.

Even though Absalom had been welcomed home, he started to conspire against his father the king. He woke up early and stood by the road leading to the city gate. He would intercept people travelling to consult the king, tell him that no-one would be available to listen and boast that he would do much better and give them justice if only he were to be appointed judge. He was very charming and approachable. If someone came to bow down before him, Absalom would take hold of him and kiss him. He disloyally stole the hearts of the Israelites through slander and flattery. He did this for years.

He asked permission from his father, the king, to go to worship in Hebron and David blessed him. He invited two hundred guests to accompany him, to make it look like he was assembling an army and he sent messengers throughout the tribes of Israel to say: ‘Absalom is king in Hebron’. He started to steal David’s officials away from him starting with David’s counsellor. Day by day, Absalom gradually weakened David’s grip on power as his following kept increasing.

David was showing himself to be a complacent ruler. He hadn’t dealt with his son Amnon’s crime and now he was letting the kingdom slip away from him.

Acts 5:12-42

The apostles carried on performing miracles (Acts 5:12). More and more people believed in the Lord and joined them. All the believers used to meet together. We need to meet as the body of Christ to praise and worship God and to teach and encourage each other.

Sick people we laid in the street so that Peter’s shadow might fall on them (Acts 5:15). We need to pray for this level of faith, so that just our presence or our shadow can heal the sick and deliver people from evil spirits. Crowds gathered and everyone was healed (Acts 5:16). Jesus had predicted that the apostles would do even greater things than he. Jesus prayed for healing on an individual basis. Peter was now healing people on an industrial scale.

The religious professionals were filled with jealousy and threw the apostles into jail. An angel of the Lord opened the doors of the jail in the night and brought them out. He told them to stand in the temple courts and ‘tell the people the full message of this new life’ (Acts 5:20). Everyday, we should publicly tell people that they can lead a wonderful new life in Jesus Christ.

The full assembly of the elders of Israel (the Sanhedrin) gathered to interrogate the apostles but they were not be found in the jail. Eventually, they found them freely teaching in the temple courts and went to collect them. They didn’t use force against them as the crowds would have defended them.

The Sanhedrin reminded the apostles they had been ordered not to teach in Jesus’ name. Peter reminded them that the apostles must obey God rather than men (Acts 5:29). They, and the Holy Spirit, were witnesses to Jesus’ death and resurrection. God had exalted Jesus to his right hand as Prince and Saviour ‘that he might give repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel’ (Acts 5:31).

It is wonderful to pray in tongues as it confirms the Holy Spirit is living in us because we obey God. The Holy Spirit lives in people who believe and obey God (Acts 5:32).

The Sanhedrin became infuriated and wanted to put all the apostles to death but a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a brilliant teacher of the law who educated Saint Paul, wisely told them to leave the men alone. If they were working for God, they could not be stopped and the Sanhedrin would find themselves fighting against God (Acts 5:38-39).

The Sanhedrin ordered the disciples to be flogged and not to speak in the name of Jesus and then let them go. The apostles left rejoicing because ‘they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name’ (Acts 5:41-42). In public and going from house to house, they never stopped ‘teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Christ’ (Acts 5:42). In this county, it is only the Jehovah’s Witnesses who bother going door-to-door telling people about Jesus. Maybe, we should all be inspired by the early church and start with all the houses in our own roads. Knock on their doors, tell them about Jesus and ask if anyone needs to be healed or delivered so we can pray for them. If people won’t go to church, the church will have to go to them.

Proverbs 14:15-24

We should not believe everything we are told and assess it in light of Biblical teaching. However, we do not want to become so distrusting that we give a Spirit of Unbelief a right to attach to us. I believe most things in news reports unless they are completely against the Word of God. We have to be careful in this country because our foremost channel has such an evil, woke, liberal agenda. They even infect their drama programmes with unchristian influences including pro-abortion propaganda. Once we have our eyes opened to how biased a media channel is, it can be quite entertaining to watch just to spot the recurrent toxic anti-Christians themes but we should try to shun such evil (Prov.14:16).

However, when the news has scientists on it who tell me that it a good idea to have a Covid vaccine to stop the deadly pandemic that has devastated the global economy, I believe them. There is clear clinical evidence that it helps and, as we should love our neighbour as ourselves, we should be vaccinated to protect other people. I have lost respect for the leaders of several smaller Christian denominations who haven’t given clear leadership on this matter and put their congregations at risk. The leaders of the mainstream denominations, the Anglicans and the Catholics, have clearly told Christians that they should be vaccinated and, as we are meant to be people of obedience, this should be good enough for us. If we don’t have a vaccine we are putting God to the test, which Jesus reiterated to the devil that we should not do (Matt. 4:7).

We should wisely weigh up the evidence not entertaining all the crazy conspiracy theories that a simple person might believe (Prov.14:15). The prudent are crowned with knowledge and wisdom. Foolishly rejecting a lifesaving vaccine is folly and will yield foolish deaths. God works through people these days. He will have inspired the scientists to make the vaccine in order to save our society.

It isn’t a holy blessing to be poor and to be shunned by people (Prov.14:20). God likes us to prosper through our hard work and his guidance. If we prosper, we can be even kinder to the needy and God will bless us even more.

Image: Masaccio, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

God makes a Promise to David / Save Yourself from this Corrupt Generation: June 5th 2021

2 Samuel 7:1-8:18

David often reflected on his life and circumstances. He was now settled in his palace and he had been given rest from his enemies but he still couldn’t relax about the ark of the Covenant (2 Sam.7:2).

God spoke to Nathan the prophet. God had taken David from shepherding a flock of sheep to be ruler over his people, Israel. God promised to make David’s name great (2 Sam.7:9). The nation of Israel would have a home of their own and no longer be disturbed. The Lord said that David’s offspring would be the one to build a house for the ark of the Covenant (2 Sam.7:13). David’s house, kingdom and throne would be established for ever, eventually via Jesus (2 Sam.7:16).

David prayed to God and marvelled at how well God treated him: ‘Is this your usual way of dealing with man, O Sovereign Lord? (2 Sam.7:19). There is no God like him and, at the time, no chosen people like Israel (2 Sam.7:23-24). David knew that God was trustworthy and had promised him good things (2 Sam.7:29).

David called himself God’s servant, yet was promised wonderful things for both him and his descendants. As baptized Christians, we are no longer servants; we are God’s adopted children, co-heirs with Christ. How much more will he give his children if we are people, like David, after his own heart.

David’s prayer is a great model for us to follow. He praised God for his greatness and for the awesome wonders he had performed to rescue the Israelites from Egypt. He reminded him that he had become the God of Israel. He asked God to keep his promises so that his name would be great (hallowed) for ever and, only then, dared to ask God to bless him and his family. Then, he proclaimed faithfully that his prayer had been instantly answered.

This shows that we shouldn’t just start our prayers with saying what we want. There should be praise, a reminder of God’s wonders and a reminder of his promises in scripture first.

David enjoyed great success in battle defeating the Philistines, the Arameans, the Edomites and the Moabites. He brutally reduced the numbers of Moabites by two-thirds and the survivors became subject to him. He collected plunder from his wars: chariots, silver, bronze and gold shields. King David dedicated these articles to the Lord (2 Sam. 8:11). The Lord gave David victory wherever he went and he ruled his people justly. It was a great start to his reign. If only he had kept on like this without soon succumbing to serious sin.

Acts 2:22-47

Peter continued to dynamically preach to the crowd now that he had been fired up by the Holy Spirit. Peter explained that God had confirmed Jesus was his son through miracles, wonders and signs.

It was God’s plan that Jesus should be handed over and nailed to the cross. God raised him from the dead ‘because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him’ (Acts 2:23-24). Jesus is always with us and so we should not be shaken. Even when we mourn with those who mourn and weep with those who weep, our hearts are always glad and our tongues are always ready to rejoice because he will not abandon us to the grave (Acts 2:26-27).

King David was a prophet and knew that God would place one of his descendants, Jesus, on the throne forever. David had prophesied that Jesus would not be allowed to see decay. Jesus makes known to us the paths of life and fills us with joy in his presence (Acts 2:28).

Peter told the assembled crowd that the apostles were witnesses to the fact that God raised Jesus from the dead. They were honest people and they had nothing to gain from misleading people. They would suffer horrible deaths holding to the truth of Jesus’ death and resurrection. We should never reject their eye-witness accounts due to our own pride, stubbornness or being misled by the evil spirit of unbelief, that is so prevalent in the world right now.

All Israel needs to be assured that God had made Jesus, who they had crucified, both Lord and Christ (Acts 2:36).

The people were ‘cut to the heart‘ when they realised their crime and asked what they should do. Jesus died because of our past, present and future sins. Our own personal sins carried out today made it necessary for Jesus to die.

Peter told them the remedy for their guilt. They should ‘repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins’. At our baptism, we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Peter was adamant that this would happen not only to the crowd who were present, but also to their children and all those who God would call in the future (Acts 2:38-39).

Adults who repent and are baptized today save themselves from this current corrupt generation through choosing to accept God’s priceless and timeless gifts.

Three thousand new believers were added that day and they lived in unselfish fellowship, with glad and sincere hearts, sharing everything in common and giving to anyone who had need. Many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. There was an atmosphere of awe and praise. They devoted themselves to learning more about God, breaking bread with each other and praying. The believers had glad and sincere hearts. Their new lifestyle was a remarkable contrast to those around them and its joy and exuberance attracted new people each day.

The new believers enjoyed the favour of all people, which is very different to how the church is generally perceived these days. Jewish law and society had given people a baseline of morality and Christianity enhanced this. These days, many people aren’t brought up under a religious code and so they build their lives with no moral foundation. People pick and chose their own morality and modern Christianity with eternal values clashes with a ‘I can do whatever I like as long as it doesn’t hurt someone’ attitude. However, no sin is ever private. God sees whatever we do, wherever we do it. Society rises and falls together based on everyone’s collective actions.

The early church seems idyllic but would soon face persecution. Persecution scattered the new Christian church but God brings good out of every crisis. Scattering led to the growth of the church and the gospel being spread to all known nations.

Proverbs 14:5-14

We should always be truthful witnesses (Prov.14:5). The apostles were truthful witnesses to the death and resurrection of Jesus while their persecutors poured out lies.

Mocking people don’t recognise wisdom even when it is right in front of them. When discerning people reflect on the word of God, knowledge comes easily.

I know rebellious people who have decided in their hearts that there is no God. Yet, I sometimes read their posts on Facebook. The Bible says that I should not bother (Prov.14:7).

As prudent people, we should honestly appraise our lives and the decisions we make and quickly apologise to God for the sins we have committed, making amends to anyone we have hurt. We should have goodwill towards all people. Foolish people deceive themselves that they don’t need to say sorry to a higher power and that they are ‘good people’ relative to some others.

Rebellious people are swayed by today’s society to do things that are lawful but contrary to the intentions of God (Prov.14:12).

When we die, we will be rewarded by God for the good we have done in this life. He will reveal to us what his plans were for us (he prepared good works in advance for us to do) and how much we achieved in relation to them. This could be a very sobering conversation and most of us will rely on the blood of Christ to cover our enormous shortfalls (Prov.14:14).

If we live an upright life, we will flourish both in this life and in our life everlasting (Prov.14:11).

Image: Saint Peter at Pentecost. Public Domain.

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

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