Amnon and Tamar / Ananias and Sapphira: June 8th 2021

2 Samuel 13:1-39

Amnon, the eldest son of King David, fell in love with one of his half-sisters: Tamar. They both had different mothers.

Amnon desired Tamar even though sexual relations between half-siblings was strictly banned under Jewish law (Lev.18:9).

Following the advice of his cunning uncle / friend, Jonadab, Amnon pretended to be sick and asked King David if Tamar could make him some food and feed it to him. David instructed her to do this. Tamar made Amnon bread but he did not eat it, he forcibly raped her. Once this had happened, Amnon’s love changed to hate and he kicked Tamar out. She put ashes on her head and tore her ornamental robe (2 Sam.13:19). She went to live with her brother Absalom as ‘a desolate woman’. King David was furious but did not discipline Amnon. Absalom said nothing but hated Amnon because of what he had done to his sister. Yesterday, we read about David’s adulterous affair that resulted in murder. Sexual sin and violence were running in the family.

King David should have ensured that justice was served. Rulers cannot afford to let serious crimes go unpunished.

Two years later, Absalom invited King David and his officials to a party. David blessed him and sent all of his sons instead. Absalom ordered his men to kill the rapist, Amnon. All of the other king’s sons fled. David received a false news report that all of his sons had been murdered by Absalom, not just Amnon. David did not take this news well (2 Sam.13:31).

Absalom fled and stayed in Geshur for three years. King David mourned for Amnon everyday but still missed Absalom (2 Sam.13:37). If David had acted justly at the time of Amnon’s crime he might not have lost two sons. Rulers cannot neglect discipline even when the guilty person is their own child.

God had disciplined David for his adulterous affair with Bathsheba. David had not disciplined his own son for a different sexual crime and was now suffering for his weak leadership.

Acts 4:23-5:11

Peter and John went back to their fellow disciples and reported how they had been treated by the chief priests and elders. The disciples raised their voices in prayer, praising God for his creation. Many people get their minds tangled up by the theory of evolution thinking that creatures made themselves over billions of years, yet the disciples stated the evident truth: ‘Sovereign Lord, you made the heaven and the earth and the sea, and everything in them’ (Acts 4:24).

It amazed the disciples as to why people try to combat God. Why do people rage / plot in vain and gather together against God? Why bother. He is all powerful, loves us and has our best interests at heart. Why not worship him and be happy? It’s because people have self-will and a rebellious, selfish streak inside them. It is still amazing that people today still worship and work for demons – an evil, totally defeated army that can only ultimately offer eternal death to their followers (Acts 4:25-26).

The disciples prayed that miraculous healing, signs and wonders would be carried out through the name of Jesus. The place where their meeting was held was shaken and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, who enabled them to speak the word of God boldly (Acts 4:31).

‘All the believers were one in heart and mind’ (Acts 4:32). This is God’s vision for the church. That we all act in total unity, not fracture into different denominations. We should always mix with as many different congregations as we can to promote unity, friendship and peace. The disciples shared all their belongings and sold land or houses, bringing the money to the apostles so that it could be distributed for people’s needs (Acts 4:35). Modern economists preach that there is a shortage of resources in the world resulting in haves and have-nots. However, there is just a lack of fair distribution due to selfish greed. It is engrained in us to hand down property and finances to our own family, rather than share with our church family, trusting God that when we need things, they will be provided.

A couple called Ananias and Sapphira were inspired to sell their property by other believers such as Barnabas (the Son of Encouragement) to donate money to the fledgling church. However, they were only lukewarm about it. They kept back some of the money. Compared to many modern Christians – who may only give a bare minimum donation – they were extremely generous but they must have boasted and lied about giving all the money from the sale of their to the church. Peter, through a supernatural word of knowledge from the Holy Spirit, told Ananias that he had kept back some of the money. Ananias heard this, fell down and died. Later, his wife also lied to the disciples that they had given all the money from selling the land to the church and she fell down dead too. Then, ‘great fear seized the whole church’ (Acts 5:11).

If we promise our Pastor a certain sum of money or the proceeds from a certain transaction we should never be dishonest about it. God doesn’t want us to be lukewarm towards the church (Revelation 3:15-16). We should never swindle the church due to our love of money. The best way to cure ourselves from a love of money is to be generous. We should start by tithing at least ten percent of our income to the church. That is the bare minimum, after that will come gifts to charities. How else will we build a thriving community for worship and evangelisation if no-one provides adequate financial resources? We shouldn’t ask ourselves what we can get from the church, we should consider what we can give in terms of time, talent and resources.

Psalm 71:9-18

We should always have hope in God no matter how old and grey we are (Psalm 71:18).

As we look back on a long life, we will be able to proclaim God’s righteousness and the marvellous, mighty deeds he has done in our lives.

God will always come quickly to help us particularly when our enemies think we are past it and our strength is gone. He will renew our strength like that of an eagle.

God will always be our rock and our salvation. With Jesus and the Holy Spirit inside us, we are never away from his awesome presence.

Image: By Raphael – Victoria and Albert Museum, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1718099

David anointed King / Jesus Appears to his Disciples: June 1st 2021

2 Samuel 1:1-2:7

A man escaped from the Israelite camp and told David that Saul and his son Jonathan were dead. The man brought Saul’s crown and his arm-band with him. David and his men mourned, wept and fasted (2 Sam. 1:12). However, David was not comfortable about some aspects of the man’s story. The messenger admitted he was an Amalekite and David had just come back from slaughtering the Amalekites. He also claimed to have finished off the mortally wounded Saul, which was a lie, presumably to win favour with David. Even though Saul had frequently tried to kill him, David still respected God’s anointed king and did not approve of anyone lifting a sword against him (2 Sam. 1:14). David ordered that the hapless messenger should be killed in punishment for allegedly killing Saul.

David lamented the death of Saul and Jonathan: ‘How the mighty have fallen!’ (2 Sam. 1:19). He especially grieved for Jonathan. They had a pure loving friendship, which is exceedingly rare these days (2 Sam. 1:26). Jonathan had loved David as himself (1 Sam. 18:3). Jesus told us that we were to love our neighbour as ourselves (Matt. 22:37-39) and he demonstrated how God extended this type of love to the whole world.

Eventually, David asked the Lord whether he should visit Judah. God told him to go to Hebron. David took his wives and his men there and settled in Hebron and its towns. He was anointed king of Judah (2 Sam.2:4).

David sent an encouraging message to the town of Jabesh Gilead to thank them for burying Saul (2 Sam. 2:6-7).

The king of Israel was dead, long live David the king – just of Judah so far but it was a good start.

John 20:10-31

Mary Magdalene stayed at the tomb crying after Peter and John had gone back to their homes. Earlier in his ministry, Jesus had delivered Mary from a terrible demonic oppression and, as a result, she loved Jesus tremendously and was one of his most devoted followers. She was the sister of Lazarus and Martha and had previously wet Jesus’ feet with her tears (Luke 7:38), drying them with her hair. She had recently anointed his feet again in preparation for his burial in her own house in Bethany (John 12:3). We should all have a tender love for Jesus like Mary Magdalene had, being forever grateful that he has wiped away our sins and longing to spend time with him.

Mary looked inside the tomb and saw two angels sitting where Jesus’ body had been. They did not understand why she was crying. The knew about Jesus’ resurrection and so expected the world to be rejoicing. Turning around, she thought the gardener was standing there but it was Jesus. Jesus’ first word after being resurrected was ‘Mary’ (John 20:16). Jesus knows us all as individuals and calls out our names so we can come to him and be saved.

Jesus reiterated that we can now call God our Father. We are brothers and sisters of Jesus, co-heirs with Christ (John 20:17). Mary joyfully took this good news back to the disciples. She had seen the resurrected living Lord.

The disciples had locked themselves in. They were quaking ‘for fear of the Jews’ (John 20:19). They weren’t going to get far in spreading the gospel with this attitude and so Jesus appeared to them and breathed on them to give them the Holy Spirit (John 20:22). The Holy Spirit at Pentecost would later empower them to become supercharged, powerful apostles. At our baptism, which might have happened to us as infants, we receive both the Holy Spirit and a supernatural seal on our hearts flagging that we belong to God. However, this small deposit of the Holy Spirit may not burst into flames and energise us until we experience our own personal Pentecost – the ‘baptism of the Holy Spirit’. We need to pray directly to the Holy Spirit, in the name of Jesus, on a daily basis and ask him to fire up all his gifts within us so we can be the best witness we can be to the Lord Jesus Christ for the glory of God.

The disciples were overjoyed to see Jesus again. Jesus took away their terror and gave them peace (John 20:19). He was sending them out into the world, once he had empowered them with the Holy Spirit. just as the Father had sent him (John 20:21).

Jesus told them that if they forgave anyone their sins, they would be forgiven (John 20:23). From this comes the tradition of the Mother Church of believers confessing to a priest their sins so that he will grant them absolution on account of his spiritual authority handed down in an unbroken chain from the first apostles through the laying on of hands. It is wonderful to hear these holy words: ‘God the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of his Son has reconciled the world to himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins; through the ministry of the Church may God give you pardon and peace, and I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.‘ It is like receiving a loving embrace from our Father:

Other denominations teach that you can ask God the Father directly for absolution but that would be missing out the human mediation that Jesus stipulated in John 20:23, Matthew 16:19 and Matthew 18:18. The Mother Church teaches that we can ask God directly for absolution in exceptional circumstances – immediate danger of death or a global pandemic – but we have to ask him with ‘perfect contrition’, rather than just a fear of hell, and promise to visit a priest as soon as circumstances allow. Perfect contrition is ‘sorrow for sin arising from perfect love. In perfect contrition the sinner detests sin more than any other evil, because it offends God, who is supremely good and deserving of all human lovehttps://www.catholicculture.org/culture/library/dictionary/index.cfm?id=35519

‘Doubting’ Thomas missed Jesus’ appearance and refused to believe it happened. A week later, though the doors were locked Jesus came again and stood among the disciples. He told Thomas to stop doubting and believe. As full recognition and faith dawned, Thomas uttered the beautiful phrase: ‘My Lord and my God!’ (John 20:27-28). We should be able to say this with heartfelt thanks when we consider how many times God has rescued us during our lives. Jesus will forgive us too for having doubts. He will demonstrate time and again in our lives that it is not fate, karma or good luck that steers our lives. Jesus is walking with us demonstrating his constant love for us.

We are particularly blessed when we believe based on hearing the gospel alone rather than having to see Jesus with our own eyes (John 20:29).

Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples. John listed a sufficient number of major miracles in his gospel for us to believe that Jesus was the Son of God.

Belief is a simple choice. I can turn on the TV, watch the news and choose to believe the newscaster. Similarly, we can choose to believe the Bible and the two thousands years of Christian witness. martyrdom and teaching since it was written or think we know better through foolish pride. Belief leads to eternal life. Choosing not to believe leads to eternal separation from God. It really shouldn’t be a difficult decision but the spirit of unbelief is rampant in the world at the moment – just consider how fairly sensible people have refused to believe scientists about the Covid pandemic and made a fuss about social distancing and wearing masks. God solves problems these days through people. He inspired scientists to produce a miracle vaccine. We just have to choose to believe in his provenance.

By believing, we will have life in his name (John 20:31).

Proverbs 13:20-14:4

We should pick our company carefully (Prov.13:20).

Many of the great heroes in the Bible: Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, David, Daniel were wealthy men. The righteous will receive a reward (Prov. 13:21). We are all righteous in the sight of God due to Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross and so we can claim our reward of prosperity.

Poverty isn’t a blessing. We want to be able to help future generations of our family (Prov. 13:22).

Injustice in the world keeps people poor. We should fight for social justice to lift people out of poverty.

God loves us and so will discipline us and allow us to go through trials to refine us like silver, give us endurance, makes us stronger and build our character. No test, no worthwhile testimony.

Devious people despise the Lord (Prov. 14:2). Christians respect his awesome power and love.

Image: National Gallery of Art, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Death of Moses / The Widow’s Offering: April 21st 2021

Deuteronomy 33:1-34:12

Moses blessed each individual tribe of Israelites before his death. God would ride on the heavens to help them (v.26). The eternal God would be their refuge and drive out their cowering enemies before them (v.27), before trampling down where their enemies worshipped their demonic gods (the ‘high places’ (v.29)).

The nation of Israel was blessed – ‘a people saved by the Lord’ (v.29). God would be their ‘shield and helper’ (v.29).

Moses climbed Mount Nebo and, before he died, God showed him the whole of the promised land. It must have been so emotional for Moses to see the beautiful, fertile land that God had promised his people.

Moses died at the age of one hundred and twenty in remarkably good shape. ‘His eyes were not weak nor his strength gone’ (34:7). That’s what working diligently for God does for you. It’s retirement that will age you. Never retire. Keep doing something positive for God.

Moses was buried in the valley of Beth Poar by God and no-one knows exactly where his grave is. God did not want his tomb to become an idol for the Jews. The book of Jude (v.9) tells of a dispute between Saint Michael, the archangel, and the devil ‘about the body of Moses’. I presume that Michael was arranging the burial for God and the devil was trying to set up Moses’ tomb as an idol. Jude remarked at how polite Michael was during this tense encounter merely saying, ‘The Lord rebuke you!’.

The Israelites grieved for Moses for thirty days. He had been a fantastic leader, a great man of God, willing to put his own life on the line to save his people. The Lord knew him ‘face to face’ (v.10).

Moses had laid his hands on his successor Joshua and imparted to him ‘the spirit of wisdom’ (v.9) i.e. the Holy Spirit. Because he had been given the Spirit, ‘the Israelites listened to him’ (v.9).

He remains the most important prophet for the Jews: ‘For no-one has ever shown the mighty power of performed the awesome deeds that Moses did in the sight of all Israel’ (v.12). However, Jesus said that John the Baptist, who bridged the Old and New Testament was greater: ‘among those born of women there has never risen anyone greater than John the Baptist’ (Matthew 11:11). As baptized Christians justified and made righteous in the sight of God through the death of Jesus, we have all entered the kingdom of God: ‘yet whoever is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he’ (v.11). We have the Holy Spirit actually living within us. God resides in us. Jesus is the greatest prophet, Lord and Saviour. His name is above any other name in heaven or on earth. Hallelujah.

Luke 20:27-21:4

Jesus said that the immortal God’s children, the people of the resurrection, ‘will neither marry nor be given in marriage; ‘for they are like the angels’ (v.35).

He then confirmed that we can pray to the dead to intercede between us and God. Just as we can ask our living priest or pastor to pray for us, we can pray to any historical saint – or even Moses – to pray on our behalf to God because to God they aren’t dead. They are just as alive as when they were on the earth: ‘He is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive’ (v.38). Saints in heaven are just twiddling their thumbs hoping someone will turn to them in prayer and ask them to do something for us. Many people have favourite saints and others are great for specific topics. For example, if we need help as a father, we can pray to Saint Joseph. Some saints have privileged access to the Trinity. Prayers to Mary, Mother of God, are particularly effective as she has such a direct line to her son. Exorcists have a particular devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary as she is so effective at crushing the head of the demonic.

Jesus warned us against ostentatious forms of religiosity, funded by bequests from widows who presumed their money would earn them salvation. Godly people shouldn’t place themselves on a pedestal to be admired. Christians should be mainly undercover, wearing ordinary clothes and mixing with ordinary people. If people ask them to pray for us, we should mainly do this in our private place with God – we don’t need to do it in the open to show off.

The poor widow showed her total trust in God. She gave to the temple ‘all she had to live on’ (v.4). When Jesus taught the disciples to pray he said, ‘Give us each day our daily bread’ (Luke 11:3). Of course, there were wealthy people who followed God: Abraham, David and Solomon (until he went rogue) and they didn’t give away all their wealth. Their ‘daily bread’ must have been more spiritual. They realised that wealth and status weren’t important. They didn’t ‘trust in their wealth or boast of their great riches’ (Psalm 49:6). What mattered was their daily relationship with God, that brought them fresh inspiration, love, comfort and internal joy every new day. They trusted in God, not their money.

The rich people were giving into the treasury: ‘gifts out of their wealth‘ (v.4) These donations were obviously a public spectacle with onlookers able to see what each person was donating. The rich would have got some smug satisfaction from showing off in front of the crowds with their large offerings. However, they should have diverted some of their money to the widow and given the rest in secret. Jesus loves orphans and widows. ‘Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself being polluted by the world’ (James 1:17).

Psalm 49:1-20

We can’t redeem anyone’s life with money (v.7). ‘The ransom for a life is costly, no payment is ever enough’ (v.8).

Even the richest billionaire in the world is going to die no matter what plastic surgery or medical interventions they afford. We can’t take earthly riches with us – there are no pockets in a shroud.

Jesus won for us the priceless gift of eternal life through his death on the cross. When we die, our wealth is left to others. I gave up my secular job so I could write this blog. When I was working I was just building up wealth to leave for others. Of course, I could have carried on working just to give my wages to the poor and maybe I might do that some day – but I would also want to work in a Godly worthwhile job.

We shouldn’t trust in ourselves or our wealth. We should only trust in God to raise us from the dead. The psalmist was confident that, ‘God will redeem my life from the grave; he will surely take me to himself’ (v.15). He must have received this prophetic word of knowledge from the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit living within us raised Jesus and he will raise us as well. The gifts of the Holy Spirit we exhibit, such as praying in other languages, are the initial deposit guaranteeing our resurrection from dead.

It is wonderful to be blessed by God and have a comfortable roof over our heads and food on the table but he has blessed us far more than that. He sacrificed his precious son to give us eternal life. We must not have ‘riches without understanding’ (v.20). Our real riches are the eternal ones we build up in heaven by working for God.

Image: https://www.flickr.com/photos/frted/8186047545/

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