‘You cannot serve both God and Money’: April 14th 2021

Deuteronomy 21:1-22:30

Whenever an Israelite was found murdered out in the countryside and no-one, except God, knew who the culprit was, the priests from the closest town had to sacrifice a heifer (cow) to atone for the crime (v.1-9). It was specified that the neck of the heifer must be broken. However, blood is the universal spiritual currency for atonement and so we can presume that the poor cow’s blood would have been spilled when it died.

When the Israelites waged war against enemy tribes that were not on the total annihilation list (Deut. 20:17), they were allowed to marry women they captured. If the marriage didn’t work out, the women were allowed freedom and were not to be treated as slaves (v.14).

The firstborn son was due a double share of his Father’s inheritance (v.17). The penalty for being a persistently rebellious son, a profligate and drunkard was to be stoned to death. This make the ‘Parable of the Prodigal Son’ – in yesterday’s blog – even more amazing. The Father gave his youngest son his share of the Father’s estate – even while the Father was still alive. This is highly unusual as it would have been considered the height of disrespect for a son to demand an inheritance from a living father. The prodigal squanders all his inheritance i.e. his Father’s property. Yet, instead of being executed according to the law, he is welcomed back with loving arms.

‘Anyone who is hung on a tree’ is under God’s curse (v.23). God had to turn his back on Jesus on the cross, because Jesus had become sin and was hung on a wooden cross (which represents a tree). According to medieval legend, the wood that Jesus’ cross had been fashioned from had grown from a branch of the ‘Tree of Mercy’ originally from the Garden of Eden.

The Israelites were told to care for each other’s property and return straying sheep / lost cloaks etc. Cross dressing was banned (v.5). Health and safety laws were introduced (v.8). Promiscuity, fornication and adultery were regarded as capital crimes (v.20-22). These laws seem harsh by modern standards but when we think of how many thousands of unwanted pregnancies are aborted due to the immoral behaviour of their adult parents, we kill more individuals for sexual sins than the Israelites did.

Mary, Mother of Jesus, would have been stoned to death for becoming pregnant while unmarried (v.23-24). Joseph saved her life by becoming her husband / guardian. Rape is another crime that attracts a death sentence. So it should really have a mandatory life sentence in modern times.

Luke 16:1-18

Today, we have the highly unusual, ‘Parable of the Shrewd Manager‘. This is probably the strangest of all parables when heard for the first time. Basically, non-Christians can be very good at using money wisely, negotiating with their own kind, acting dishonesty for their own gain and planning shrewdly for the future. In this parable the shrewd manager cancels some of the debt people owe his master, so they will owe him friendship / loyalty / new employment in return. The manager helps himself to someone else’s resources to secure his future. Of course we should never emulate his unscrupulous behaviour. We should use the monetary blessings that God provides to further his projects not ours. We should use our money to support worthy Christian projects such as missions abroad. In some countries, Western people can do more harm than good blundering in and trying to evangelise. It is often much better to financially support pastors who know the local language and the culture.

When we spend our money during this life on people with real needs and holy projects – if our beneficiaries pass away before us, they will join in with the welcoming committee when we get to heaven.

If we are a trustworthy steward handling money and aren’t a slave to acquiring it, God will trust us with true riches: faith, revelation, words of knowledge. The Pharisees ‘loved money‘ and sneered at Jesus (v.14). The best way to grow a healthy attitude to money is to give it away with a cheerful heart. Tithing to your local church is an ideal practice to engender generosity.

Jesus clearly said that divorce and remarriage is not allowed for Christians as this would be adultery (v.18). Sex has caused some of the major splits in Christianity over history. Henry VIII started the Church of England so he could commit adultery with Anne Boleyn. Priests flocked to sign up to Henry’s new religion that allowed them to marry and have sex. However, Jesus’ commands never change. Jesus can forgive all our sins but, once we have been forgiven, we then need to stop sinning.

Proverbs 9:13-18

The opposite of wisdom, folly, ‘is undisciplined and without knowledge’ (v.13).

Foolishness is easy to come by and it calls out to us.

Sexual sins such as adultery may seem appealing, ‘Stolen water is sweet, food eaten in secret is delicious’ (v.17) but foolishly indulging in them leads to eternal separation from God, ‘her guests are in the depths of the grave’ (v.18).

My wife banned me from bringing chocolate into the house while she was going through a health phase. I hid some ’emergency’ chocolate bars in cupboards in the garage and helped myself whenever I was passing. Of course, my wife soon sniffed them out like a bloodhound and they were gone. However, I found that after the initial thrill of having a piece of chocolate, it wasn’t any sweeter when I ate it in secret. It is much better for one’s spirituality (and one’s health) to hospitably share treats with others rather than secretly hoarding and selfishly devouring them.

Blood Sacrifice / Jesus rescues Adam from Hell: April 9th 2021

Deuteronomy 11:1-12:32

Israel, the land of milk and honey, was described as ‘a land the Lord your God cares for’ (v.12).

The Israelites were given a choice between a blessing and and curse (v.26). ‘The blessing if you obey the commands of the Lord’ (v.27), ‘the curse if you disobey the commands of the Lord your God’ (V.28) (by following other Gods).

The Israelites must destroy all the places where the heathen nations worshipped their gods (12:2-3). God would specify a place (Jerusalem) ‘from among all your tribes to put his Name there for his dwelling (v.5).

The command not to eat blood was repeated, ‘pour it out on the ground like water’ (v.16).Because the blood is the life’ (v.23). That’s black pudding definitely off the menu.

Blood is the universal currency in the spiritual world. Many non-Christian ceremonies require the shedding of blood. Chickens are commonly sacrificed to provide fresh blood to placate demonic spirits, cast spells and invoke curses. Humans have long sort to placate their local demonic spirits by giving them blood sacrifices. The most powerful blood being innocent blood. Heathen cultures, such as the Mayans, Aztecs or Druids, sacrificed their infant children. These days, our culture kills hundreds of thousands of the unborn.

Jesus saved us by the sacrifice of his perfect blood, which was spotless and without sin. Our Pastor states that when Jesus died, his blood went up the court of heaven where it was examined. When all present agreed it was without sin, mankind was justified and made righteous with God. Our sin was wiped away by Jesus’ perfect blood. I like the old legend that Adam was buried at Golgotha, under Jesus’ cross. Many medieval paintings have the skull of Adam under the cross. Jesus had promised Adam and Eve, after their tearful expulsion from Eden, that he would make everything right again and come to rescue them. While he hung on the cross, Jesus’ blood soaked down into Adam’s dry bones. After his death, Jesus descended into hell ‘to free from sorrow Adam in his bonds and Eve, captive with him’ (CCC, 635). Jesus carried out the most audacious rescue mission of all time, freely choosing to die so he could descend to hell to awake the dead from sleep and raise them to heaven: ‘the dead will hear the Son of God, and those who hear will live (CCC,635). Jesus, holding the keys of death and Hades, fulfilled his promise to rescue Adam and Eve as both their God and the son of Eve. Mind-blowing.

I once told a young man I was subscribed to an online theology degree. He responded that it must be fascinating to learn about different religions around the world. My son interjected, ‘Dad’s only studying Christianity!’ Of course, I am only studying Christianity and I will only scratch the surface in my lifetime. God told us to stick to the Bible, ‘be careful not to be ensnared by enquiring about their (heathen) gods, saying, “How do these nations serve their gods? We will do the same.”‘ (v.30). We should always curb our curiosity about activities that are likely to harm us. Why visit a race-course or a casino?; it might ensnare us into gambling. Why visit a night-club?; it might ensnare us into drunkenness and sex. Why visit a non-Christian shrine or temple when we are on holiday? They are a snare for us, Curiosity has killed more than the cat. If we want a day trip while on holiday, there are hundreds of magnificent Christian shrines, churches and cathedrals.

Luke 12:35-59

Jesus told us to always be ready, ‘because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him (v.40). It will be good if Jesus finds us watching out for him when he returns. So many people in the world have given up waiting and spend their time being greedy, drinking and fornicating. Some have blanked God from their mind so completely, they don’t even contemplate him at all. They are likely to be caught out unawares by the return of Christ and it will be too late to rush to the church. We are always being watched by a cloud of heavenly witnesses and thinking about this fact should help us to keep our behaviour respectable.

It’s morally worse for people baptized as Christians to fall back into bad behaviour than for people, who have not yet received the Holy Spirit, to lead the same kind of immoral life. ‘But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows’ (v.48). Both types of people need to repent and renounce their behaviour. Once we have been baptized as a child of God, we have to use our talents and resources to further God’s agenda: ‘from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked (v.48). Many of us in the West lead such blessed, prosperous and privileged lives that God is expecting a massive amount back from each of us. It would be disastrous for us to sit back and think our cushy lives are due to luck or earnt by our own efforts. God is due our gratitude, our homage and our loyalty.

When one person becomes a Christian in a family of unbelievers, this can cause great division (v.51). However, gradually by their example a dedicated Christian can start to win their family members over to eternal life. We can always offer an olive branch – even if other people refuse to take it.

During our lifetime, we need to judge what is not right in our own life and try hard to be reconciled to God. God is always willing to forgive us and welcome us back. He wants us to have eternal life, not to be cast out and thrown into an eternal prison because of our pride and unbelief (v.58). However, it takes humility on our part to repent of our sins, believe in Jesus and ask him to come fully into our lives as our Lord and personal saviour.

Psalm 43:1-5

King David called on God to vindicate him, rescue him and plead his ’cause against an ungodly nation’ (v.1). Most of us find ourselves living in ‘ungodly nations’ these days, surrounded by disobedience to God.

He asked God to ‘send forth your light and your truth’ (v.3) to guide him. God sent us Jesus, a descendant of David, as light and truth. God remained David’s joy and delight and David vowed to praise him with his harp.

In a very similar verse to yesterday, David interrogated his own soul and asked why it was so disturbed. He gave himself a pep-talk and instructed himself to keep hoping in God, confident that he will praise him as ‘my Saviour and my God’ (v.5).

When we are feeling depressed, we shouldn’t say that we will praise God after he has rescued us, We need to worship and praise him for all his tender care in our past, trusting him completely to save us once again.

Picture: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/c/ce/Fra_Angelico_Crucifixion_with_the_Virgin_and_Saints.jpg

‘Your Eye is the Lamp of your Body’: April 7th 2021

Deuteronomy 6:1-8:20

Here we have the famous command to ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength’ (Deut. 6:1-8:20). The Bible is the greatest love story of all time. We love God because He loved us first. The Jews were instructed to write the Lord’s commandments on the door-frames of their houses and on their gates. Attaching something to the front of your house that proclaims your faith is a great way of bearing witness to our religion. Jews do this today by fixing a mezuzah to the side of the front door. A mezuzah is a decorative case containing a piece of parchment inscribed with passages from Deuteronomy (6:4-9 and 11:13-21). I thought this was a wonderful idea and joined in by attaching a mezuzah to my front door-post, even though I was Christian. My children were of course horrified and begged me to remove it, particularly after a pizza delivery driver implied that he hated it and interrogated me about which religion I actually belonged to. He gave the impression that the next pizza he delivered would come through the letterbox on fire. Unfortunately it is quite common for a mezuzah, and the home to which it is attached, to be vandalised by people who oppose the people of God.

The Jews were told to ‘not forget the Lord’ (v.12) in their conquered territory as they enjoyed all the good things that other people had built. When people are rich and well-fed, they tend to get complacent and lazy. They forget to praise and thank God. What can God do to overfed, prosperous and proud people in the West to get them to pay attention to him? People mistakenly think that it is their own power, effort and strength that has given them prosperity. However, everything is from God, ‘for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth (8:18). God has to take the shackles off the devil and allow illness, cancer and a global pandemic to hit us to make us remember we can’t live independently. We should know in our hearts ‘that as a man disciplines his son, so the Lord your God disciplines you (8:5).

We must never ‘follow other Gods’ for the ‘Lord is a jealous God and his anger will burn against you’ (v.14-15). We must not treat celebrities, sports, careers or created objects as idols to be adored and worshipped. God gave the Israelites a clear warning that if they bowed down to other Gods he would destroy them (8:19-20).

The other nations were ‘seven times stronger’ (7:1) than the Israelites but God would deliver them over to them. It sounds ruthless to our modern ears when the Israelites are instructed to destroy their enemies totally, to make no treaty with them and not to intermarry. But God knows the future. He knew that even Solomon, the wisest man in the whole of human history, would be snared and brought down by his non-Jewish wives.

The Jews were confirmed as ‘people holy to the Lord your God’ and ‘his treasured possession‘ (v.6).

The Lord made amazing promises to Israel if they carefully followed his laws: ‘None of your men or women will be childless’ (v.14), ‘The Lord will keep you free from every disease’ (v.15).

Just as God used creatures such as flies, frogs and locusts to plague the Egyptians, he promises to ‘send the hornet’ (v.20) to finish off any hiding enemy survivors.

God wisely planned for the Israelites to conquer the land little by little (v.22). He is full of common sense. It would have been too overwhelming to take over an entire region in one go.

Jesus quoted 8:3 to the devil after his 40 days of temptation. It is written: ‘man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord’. Not only did God feed the Israelites with manna for forty years, he ensured that their clothes did not wear out or their feet swell (8:4). God cared for the practicalities of daily desert life as well as their spirituality.

Luke 11:33-34

The goal of the Holy Spirit living within us is to gradually sanctify us so that our whole body will be eventually full of light. He slowly drives out all of the darkness, just as God did not let the Israelites conquer the promised land in one go (Deut. 7:22). If all the evil was driven out of us in one go, a vacuum might be created inside us – which could allow even worse evil to flood in and take up residence within us. As evil is gradually drained from us, we need to fill up the conquered territory inside us with more of the Holy Spirit and the word of God. Our promised land, full of milk and honey, is within us. We must kick the evil out of us with no mercy and not leave any surviving remnants.

Jesus said that our eyes are the lamp of the body (v.34). Many exorcists report that people’s eyes give away when they are possessed by evil. Either the normal look in their eyes is suddenly replaced by one of intense evil and rage (caused by an ‘apertus’ demon) or people go into a trance with their eyes closed and their eyeballs roll upwards (an ‘aperti’ demon) (see Fortea, p. 88).

We need to avoid looking at the wrong type or movies or magazines. We can commit adultery just by looking the wrong way. Let us look at wonderful holy things with our eyes to fill our body with inner light and look away from evil things. Unholy people successfully manage to do this the other way around. Many avoid reading the word of God or going to church to prevent light flooding into their darkness. Dark deeds are done in dark places. They prefer darkness to light, they prefer death to life. The Easter Vigil service is a wonderful demonstration of light. Everyone lights their own candle, from the flame of Easter candle, gradually turning a dark church into a blaze of light. The first thing that is done before any church service is to turn all the lights on and also light some candles for good measure. We proclaim that Jesus is the light of the world.

Jesus was going to eat with a Pharisee but before the meal was even served, there was a strong rebuke from Jesus. He said that we must not get so caught up in carrying out religious practices that we ‘neglect justice and the love of God’ (v.42).

Jesus said to ‘give what is inside the dish to the poor and everything will be clean for you’ (v.41). The tradition of tithing to a church helps us to separate us from a love of money, which means we are more likely to give to the poor. Tithing is an Old Testament concept and Christians are not bound by it. A Catholic priest would never instruct his parishioners to tithe but we are expected to support our churches with a realistic proportion of our income. Our priests and pastors do have to buy groceries and the church has got to be heated. God is not a debtor to any man. Whatever we give away to the needy, he will repay more generously. Maybe not in cash, but in love.

Jesus warned the teachers of the Law not to ‘load people down with burdens they can hardly carry’ (v.46) without helping. It is important to teach without hypocrisy and reflect on how we personally needed supernatural help to escape from a mire of sin. Jesus came to give us freedom from sin, not to convict us and condemn us. It is very easy to pontificate that practices such as abortion should be made illegal but that would load people with burdens they can hardly carry. To protect unborn children, we need to all join in wholeheartedly with our love, finances and time to support all pregnant ladies, new mothers and adoption services – not criticise from the side-lines.

To break ranks for a minute, I think this also relates to traditional teaching on contraception. Celibate teachers of the law may not be in the best place to advise legitimately married couples on how to space out their children. The approved ‘natural method’ is as good as not lifting ‘one finger to help them (v.46). I fully accept that it is sinful for a married couple to vow never to have children or to use a method of contraception that prevents a fertilised egg from implanting. However, I can’t personally see a big issue with married couples using condoms to space out the timing of their children or try to avoid having too many of them. My wife and I were habitual condom users when we were first married – we were Anglicans at the time – and my first child still came along. My God is the God who split the Red Sea, He isn’t going to let a little bit of rubber get in the way if He decrees it’s time to have a child.

Jesus referred to the ‘blood of Zechariah, who was killed between the altar and the sanctuary’ (v.51). In non-canonical writings, it is stated that Zechariah, the Father of John the Baptist, was killed by Herod’s troops during the slaughter of the innocent baby boys after Jesus’ birth (Matthew 2:16-18) or he was killed for not removing Mary, Mother of Jesus, from the prayer area reserved for virgins even though she was pregnant (https://detroitcatholic.com/news/gary-michuta/did-john-the-baptist-s-father-die-a-martyr). John the Baptist had been born more publicly than Jesus, and his father had not escaped to Egypt. It is likely that Zechariah would have been interrogated as to where his baby child was.

The experts in law removed the key to wisdom and knowledge: The Holy Spirit. As baptized Christians, we have the key to knowledge living inside the temple of our bodies. The water of baptism not only makes us clean on the outside. By the living presence of the Holy Spirit within us, we start to become clean and full of light on the inside.

Psalm 42:1-6a

This is a beautiful psalm that we can sing along to:

Our soul thirsts for God, the living God to give us life. No matter what we try to distract ourselves with: sex, money, possessions, or power we will never be happy until we give up on our own efforts and hand over control to God.

God loves us and wants to set us free from the bondage of sin. Sin and slavery cling to us, like a sliver of cellophane stuck to our hands that is virtually impossible to shake off. However, the Holy Spirit can purify us from within.

Looking at the state of the world around us, many people could ask: ‘Where is your God?’ (v.3).

The last time I was downcast, it was because an evil spirit was attacking me. God had allowed this to occur because I was being lazy in my faith, attending a non-dynamic church and spiritually treading water. ‘As a man disciplines his son, so the Lord your God disciplines you (Deut. 8:5). I found a new church and began to regularly worship with ‘shouts of joy and thanks giving among the festive throng (v.4). As I worshipped, I felt evil leave and I was cured.

We have to show the world that God is above us, around us and within us. We need to prove this by walking with the Holy Spirit and performing great acts in the name of Jesus.

Jesus heals the paralytic: March 24th 2021

Numbers 16:36-18:32

Grim start. Bronze censers were picked up from among the ‘smouldering remains’ (v.37) of the 250 men who had unwisely burned incense before the Lord and, as a consequence, were burned up by fire for their impudence. Only the descendants of Aaron were allowed to burn incense. Catholics still have some sacraments reserved to the full ordained priesthood today such as the Eucharist, Reconciliation, and the Anointing of the Sick (as this also involves reconciliation). Only a priest, appointed by the Bishop, can carry out a formal exorcism. As lay people, we are also priests, prophets and kings, and can pray informally for healing and deliverance.

Moses faced an even larger rebellion after God killed the 250 rebels and God threatened to to kill the entire assembly of Israelites – all 2 million of them (v.45) – and started a plague among them. I have heard some pastors say that God will never give someone a disease but this passage disproves that. Some don’t preach an omnipotent God – which He is. Anything that happens to us is because God has allowed it to happen. God can do what He likes and we should always show him love and respect. Jesus pointed out: ‘Be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28). Sometimes, God uses death and disease to get our attention. Jesus took the wrath of God for us so that now We call him our Father. I think today some people contract diseases to bring them to God. If normal methods of evangelisation don’t work, it’s only by having our body affected that we might start to consider if God can help us. God might directly give us the disease or He might reduce the spiritual protection He gives us which allows the devil to give us the disease or He may just allow the rogue bacteria or virus to spread to us. This is splitting hairs, dropping our protection so that we catch a diseases is the same as giving us one. People can contract a disease or a disability so that a miraculous cure can bring them and others to God and increase the faith of direct witnesses and those who hear the resultant testimonies, ‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned,’ said Jesus, ‘but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him’ (John 9:3). This is a good reason to evangelise and pray for healing. It might be our destined mission to pray for someone at a defined place and time for them to be healed. If we don’t listen to the prompting of the Spirit to go there and do that, that person may miss their healing but hopefully God has a back-up plan. When we go to heaven we might be shown the healings we missed by not being in the right place at the right time.

Moses and Aaron rushed to make atonement for all the Israelites – just as Jesus made atonement for us on the cross. They had to hurry as the plague had already started. The plague bacteria may already have been present in the desert soil or on the skin of the people and it was only God’s protection that had stopped the Israelites catching it before. Once God lifted this protection, as a righteous punishment for rebellion, the bacteria was able to grow and spread. Aaron offered incense, made atonement, and stood between the living and the dead and the plague stopped Another 14,700 people were dead. When were the Israelites going to understand the necessity to be obedient?

God was keen to stop the rebellions and the deaths and did this by proving Aaron, representing the house of Levi, is the appointed priest by making his wooden staff sprout, bud, blossom and produce almonds (17:8). This was meant to be a sign to the rebellious. The Israelite switched from being rebellious to being terrified worrying that they were all going to die. It is easy to understand how God became so exasperated with them. It was only the Levites who were allowed to perform duties near the Tent of Meeting and only an even smaller group, Aaron and his sons, could be priests.

God himself selected the Levites to do the work at the Tent of Meeting (v.6). They didn’t select themselves. They were paid with all the tithes of Israel (18:21). All the Israelites had to give them a tenth of whatever they produced / earnt and the Levites had to give a tenth of this – the best part of it – to the priests. We aren’t obliged to tithe our money anymore but it is good practice. However, for obvious reasons, many Pastors would prefer this Old Testament tradition to continue and it does seem to confer spiritual benefits. When we freely give away money in a cheerful manner, God will always look after us even though that shouldn’t be the motive behind giving. We should all freely give a realistic proportion of our money to the church. If we value the work of our priests / pastors and want to worship in a building that isn’t falling apart – we have to support in a generous way. Tithing and freely donating generously on other occasions builds up a health attitude to money. We are just custodians of money and our task is to give away excess to worthy causes and support our church.

Luke 5:17-32

‘And the power of the Lord was present for him to heal the sick’ (v.17). Even though Jesus was both God and Man and filled completely with the Holy Spirit, it seems that some days were better than others for healing. We know from Matthew 13:58 that the faith of people around Jesus was sometimes necessary for miracles to take place, ‘And he did not do many miracles there because of their lack of faith’.

Jesus heals the paralytic lowered through the roof. Our pastor says this happened at Jesus’ own house. That makes the story even more incredible. I love praying for healing but might get a little concerned if people started dismantling my roof. At least Jesus was a carpenter to fix the damage and one hopes that the men responsible helped. It’s marvellous that Jesus isn’t concerned about his roof – he is concerned with forgiving the paralytic’s sins and healing him. Maybe it’s immediately after this that Jesus just walks away from his house – maybe tossing the keys to the healed paralytic – and starts to travel. He never goes back to his previous possessions. ‘Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head’ (Luke 9:58).

Psalm 37:10-20

The meek will inherit the land and enjoy great peace’ (Psalm 37:11). (Also see Matthew 5:5). Won’t it be great to have peace? If the wickedness, greed, anger and sin could just go away. That could happen if everyone become a ‘born-again’ Christian. When you visit a dynamic, spirit-filled church where everyone is loving each other and joining in – you don’t ever want to leave. But we have to take that joy and co-operation into the world. Unfortunately, it soon gets diluted by the work of the wicked. However, church can give us a glimpse of paradise – a place where everyone loves God and their neighbour as themselves.

‘The wicked plot against the righteous’ (v.12). We see this in modern day society with the wicked trying to ban campaigners standing near abortion clinics to save the lives of the unborn or parliamentary attempts to try to remove bishops from the House of Lords. It’s not just a reaction against new religious ideas, people actively seem to wrack their minds to try to dismantle any religious influence on the state. There is often a smoke screen of reasonableness stating that ‘all people are all equal before the law and parliament’ – but unborn people are not regarded as equal at all and targeted for destruction in the womb with enthusiastic support for abortion. Abortion isn’t a specific religious topic and so should not form part of a secularist agenda. All good people should agree that killing the defenceless unborn and trying to systematically eliminate people with conditions such as down’s syndrome is bad. However, the wicked cannot help but plot against any ideals that religious people should sign up to. We have to trust in God that wicked schemes will be foiled and the wicked themselves will perish and vanish: ‘Their swords shall pierce their own hearts, and their bows will be broken’ (v.15).

Jesus heals a man with leprosy: March 23rd 2021

Numbers 15:1-16:35

But anyone who sins defiantly, blasphemes the Lord, and that person must be cut off from the people‘ (15:30).

It’s wonderful that we can now confess defiant sins to God and receive absolution thanks to the blood of Jesus. However, we do need to stop sinning. Regularly praying in tongues throughout the day (through the Gift of the Holy Spirit) will build us up, edifying, sanctifying and enabling us to resist temptation.

In verses 32-36, the Israelites caught a ‘sabbath breaker’ gathering wood and he was stoned to death. Many Christians still insist that everyone should still ‘keep the Sabbath’ on Saturdays without remembering how stringent this is. To keep the Sabbath properly, no-one can do any work at all. The Sabbath was a stipulation between God and Israel to stop the Israelites working themselves to death. It is virtually impossible, since the advent of electricity, to keep all the strict requirements of the Sabbath. This is because there is a stipulation not to light any fires on the Sabbath – and this means not driving (due to the sparks involved) or turning on any lights or electrical appliances. We couldn’t even open a fridge – because the interior light will go on. It is thus virtually impossible for anyone in the modern world to completely ‘follow the Sabbath’. We would have to live in a tent in the middle of the desert and leave all our mod-cons behind. We would then probably find one of our children had smuggled their mobile phone with them and we would have to theoretically stone them to death.

Christians worship on the Sunday because it’s the ‘Day of the Lord’ when Jesus was resurrected. We must come together as a community to worship and spend time with God but it’s also a day for us to enjoy, eat together, to rest and relax, to help elderly relatives, to spend time on relaxing pastimes and ‘marital relations’. It’s a day to forget the rat race, the pursuit of money and the other ‘lusts of your own hearts and eyes’ (v.39). God wants us to rest one day in seven for our benefit (and also to remember his creation of the earth). Enjoying a worship filled, family-based and charitable Sunday covers the moral obligation to make one day more special than the other 6 working days. And let’s be honest, with offices opening up on Mondays in most of the Western world Sunday is the 7th day of the week according to the vast majority of the population. Jesus nailed the old requirement to ‘obey the (Saturday) Sabbath’ on the cross. We Christians are new creations and no longer slaves to the Old Testament Law. Jesus said, ‘For my yoke is easy and my burden is light’ (Matthew 11:30). Everyone has a right to go with their own conscience and convictions but I find life a lot less exhausting if I am just obedient. If the leaders of all the major churches and 3 billion Christians are celebrating Jesus’s resurrection on a Sunday, I am am not going to rebel and start my own traditions. I am just going to join the party.

God stipulated blue tassels should be displayed on the corners of everyone’s garments (v.39). Blue is the holy colour (see March 16th). It’s useful to have an object permanently in view to remind us of God’s commands. My wedding ring reminds me not to prostitute myself by going after the lusts of my eyes. People often accuse Catholics as being idol worshippers but pictures and statues in Catholic churches are just reminders – like these blue tassels remind the Jews of God – of the people portrayed in them. Catholics honour a Holy image but the honour rendered to an image passes to the person portrayed in it. If we venerate a picture of Jesus, it’s not the picture itself that is being honoured, the honour passes to Jesus. ‘The honour paid to sacred images is “respectful veneration”, not the adoration due to God alone (CCC, 2132). God stipulated blue tassels on garments to help the Israelites remember him. He also specified a whole collection of Old Testament images from: the staff of Aaron; to the bronze serpent; to the ark of the covenant; the jar of manna within it; the cherubim on top of the ark and a whole host of holy objects. They were to be respected but not adored. Jesus, in becoming incarnate as a visible man, ‘introduced a new “economy” of images (CCC, 2131).

There was then a rebellion. The revels were either swallowed in an earthquake or consumed by fire from the Lord. Moses predicted the earthquake to show that ‘the Lord has sent me to do all these things and that it was not my idea’ (v.28). This is a good lesson in obedience. I am not going to try to overthrow the priesthood and take over. I am going to fully accept and enjoy my layperson role as a spirit-filled evangeliser.

Luke 4:38-5:16

After Jesus had been in the synagogue he ‘went to the home of Simon’ (v.38). Presumably, Simon had been in the synagogue and invited Jesus or did Jesus just turn up, led by the Spirit? I like to think that Simon had listened intently to Jesus in the synagogue, watched him carry out the exorcism and wanted to hear more. When I was a new Christian convert, my wife and I would often invite priests and religious people around for dinner. It is surprising how many Christians shun priests socially. Jesus healed Simon’s (Peter’s) mother-in-law from a high fever. ‘They asked Jesus to help her’ (v.38). So even though Jesus had barely started his ministry, his disciples sensed he could ease suffering. He actually ‘rebuked’ the fever i.e. he spoke to it, which implies that either fevers / bacteria / viruses can hear and respond to authoritative commands or that a demonic spirit was causing the illness. Simon’s mother-in-law instantly recovered from the healing / deliverance and began to wait on them. Jesus didn’t say, ‘ You rest and put your feet up and recover some more’. This lady had been totally healed and so could immediately carry out her full workload to support his ministry. In these day of covid, we would be wary of someone who has just recovered from a high fever serving us. We would want them to stay in a different room or even a different house, while we all wore masks, sanitised all the surfaces and washed our hands. Jesus knew that the problem had entirely gone.

Jesus then healed all who had varied kinds of sickness. He laid hands on them and healed all of them. Some people not only had a sickness, they also had one or more demons in them and so they received both healing and deliverance. Jesus commanded the demons not to speak. It was too early for his cover to be blown and for everyone to know he was the Son of God.

The people in Capernaum don’t want Jesus to leave. He would be a useful insurance in case anyone became ill in the future but he insisted he had to visit other towns as well.

The work of Jesus sounds fantastic and miraculous but, as his death enabled all of us to be filled with the Holy Spirit and become adopted children of God, he is doing nothing we can’t do if we have enough faith. We can teach, heal and deliver through the power of the Holy Spirit, in Jesus’s name for God’s glory.

Simon, James and John made a miraculous catch of fish by showing obedience despite tiredness and world-weary low expectations. God loves to astonish us with a miracle when we have been unsuccessful through our own efforts and are feeling low in confidence.

‘Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!’ (v.8) says Simon but this tactic doesn’t work. We are all sinners and so no-one would be converted unless God were persistent. He will always call and invite us to love him in return.

The man with leprosy in verse 12 shows faith in Jesus’ ability to heal but isn’t sure of Jesus’ willingness. God is always willing to heal us both physically and spiritually but he sometimes allows the devil / rogue bacteria or viruses to make us ill because he wants good to come out of it,

Despite Jesus’ fame growing, he still makes time to withdraw to lonely places and pray. We need to spend time alone with God without the distractions of noisy crowds. I seem to get most of my inspiration when I am in the bathroom, one of the few places I can be alone and quiet in a family house.

Psalm 37:1-9

We should just forgive and forget when evil deeds are committed against us. Evil people won’t prosper for ever, they will soon wither. Don’t fret about their temporary successes. Forgiveness enables us to ‘delight ourselves in the Lord’ (v.4) without being bitter and distracted.

We are told to ‘commit your way to the Lord‘ (v.5). It’s a brave prayer to say to God, ‘I don’t know what I should be doing and what path my life should take. Please be absolutely clear God and shut down situations you do not want me to be in and open up new avenues you want me to take, in Jesus name, Amen.’

Expect God to act in a totally unexpected way. For example, God might stop restraining the evil people you work with, who have been champing at the bit for years to persecute a Christian, and you might find yourself engineered out of a company if it’s not where God wants you to be. Don’t fret. Trust God with your future. ‘In all things, God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose’ (Romans 8:28).

If we are patient and trust and hope in the Lord, we will inherit the land and shine like the noonday sun (v.6). God will give us the desires of our heart (v.4) and we can delight in him.

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

Refusing to enter the Promised Land and Jesus, the Chief Exorcist: March 22nd 2021

Numbers 13:26-14:45

The spies returned from the promised land after 40 days and gave a truthful report to Moses. Caleb was all for going in and taking possession of it. He wasn’t afraid of any giants.

The other spies were scared. They didn’t believe that God would keep to his promises and help them to conquer the current inhabitants: ‘We can’t attack those people; they are stronger than we are (v.31)’

All the spies, except Caleb and Joshua, told blatant exaggerations and lies about the land to the Israelites, ‘The land we explored devours those living in it. ‘All the people we saw there are of great size’ (v.32). Lies can be very powerful when they are exaggerations of the truth. Some of the people they saw were of great size, but not all.

The mysterious Nephilim were mentioned (v.33) from which the giants are descended – see also Genesis 6:4, where they are describe as ‘heroes of old, men of renown‘. The enormous Philistine, Goliath, who fights David (1 Samuel 17) is thought to have descended from this race of giants.

The whole community rebelled again showing just how quick they were to disbelieve God’s promises.

The Israelites proposed going back to Egypt – where they lived in bondage and their baby boys were being executed. They wanted to go back to certain slavery instead of even testing God’s promise of freedom.

Moses, Aaron, Joshua and Caleb tried to persuade them how fantastic the land was and that they will ‘swallow‘ up the current inhabitants of the promised land because ‘their protection is gone, but the Lord is with us’ (v.9). There was no reason for the Israelites to be afraid with God on their side.

The moaning of the Israelites annoyed the Lord again even though he is ‘slow to anger, abounding in love and forgiving sin and rebellion’ (v.18) and He was going to strike them down with a plague and destroy them. Moses told him that this would be bad for his image. People would say that God was not able to bring the Israelites into the promised land and so slaughtered them instead.

Moses asked God to forgive the grumbling Israelites, which he quickly did but they still had to face punishment. None of the current adult Israelites (twenty years old or more) – apart from Caleb (and Joshua) would be allowed to see the promised land due to their contempt and disobedience. Caleb ‘has a different spirit and follows me wholeheartedly’ (v.24), said God. We should all try to have a ‘Caleb-spirit’ and enthusiastically follow and obey the Lord. Everyone was sentenced to be suffering shepherds in the desert for 40 years (including poor Joshua and Caleb).

The spies who had spread the bad report about the land were struck down with a plague and died.

When Moses told the Israelites about their 40 year sentence they mourned, realised they had sinned and headed off towards the promised land. Too late! We have to learn to seize the gifts of God when they are offered, not throw them back in His face, later regret our actions and then try to take them in our own time.

The disobedient Israelites refused to turn back to the Red Sea and headed off into the promised land without Moses, the ark and (most importantly) God’s help even though they were warned it would end in disaster. They were duly attacked and defeated. It’s easy to understand why God was so annoyed with them but I am sure we have all blundered around in our own lives, been disobedient and ungrateful to God and later tried to do things all by ourselves. We need to listen to God, follow him exactly when he wants us to and rely on his promise to help and deliver us.

Luke 4:14-37

‘Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit’ (v.14). His ministry starts out so well, ‘everyone praised him’ (v.15).

Jesus predicted that he won’t get much of a reception in his home town with reference to the difficult ministries of Elijah and Elisha. We can find preaching to our own friends and relatives the most difficult task of evangelisation. If we have been born again after a secular childhood. they may think we are still the old sinful people they grew up with and were comfortable with. They can become furious with the suggestion that they too can turn their lives around and confront their own sins.

We are meant to proclaim good news (the gospel) to the world as anointed, baptized, confirmed, Baptized in the Spirit, born-again Christians, having received the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus used ‘gracious words’ (v.22). It can be tempting to become heated when people simply do not acknowledge the greatness of love of God. We should just sow little gracious seeds in their hearts and show patience and kindness.

The crowd want to throw Jesus off a cliff, ‘But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way’ (v.30). Jesus was under supernatural protection up until the time of his crucifixion. His guardian angel was the captain of the angelic army, Saint Michael and Jesus was also fully filled with the Holy Spirit. If we are working on God’s business, the Holy Spirit can make us invisible / not noticeable to our enemies or He can throw our enemies into total confusion meaning that we, as servants of God, can slip by, crossing borders / passing through checkpoints with impunity. Our pastor thinks nothing of visiting countries in the midst of civil wars as she firmly believes that machine-gun toting rebels simply won’t notice her.

Jesus is instantly recognised by a demon ‘I know who you are – the Holy One of God’ (v.34)‘. Trendy theologians might try to suggest the ‘possessed man’ was mentally ill but this not correct. The man was possessed by a fallen angel who knew full well who Jesus was. Jesus lovingly created all the angels (‘through him all things were made’ John 1:3). Each individual angel forms its own unique species and they all ‘have intelligence and will; they are personal and immortal creatures, surpassing in perfection all visible creatures’ (CCC. 330). The fallen angel recognised his creator, which most humans fail to do today. However, angels are a lot smarter than we are and have been around since creation (CCC, 332). Jesus in his role of Chief Exorcist swiftly delivers the possessed man. We can do the same if we invoke the name of Jesus in faith: ‘Be quiet! Come out of him, in Jesus’ name!’

(Incidentally, what directions should be give to an exorcised Spirit? Where should they go? We don’t want them hanging around or coming back. ‘Go to the foot of the cross for Lord Jesus to judge you as you are, in Jesus’ name’). Jesus is the judge, not us.

People were amazed at Jesus’ authority and power as they should be amazed today at God’s power wielded through Holy Spirit filled Christians delivering people through the name of Jesus for the glory of God.

Psalm 36:1-12.

We have to pray to the Holy Spirit to reveal to us how we have sinned and continue to sin otherwise there is a danger of flattering ourselves and not detecting or hating our sin. The Holy Spirit wants to continuously sanctify us – making us holy enough to enter heaven and once we have asked Him into our lives, He will nudge and guide us to give up habits we might be unaware were a problem. We can’t earn a place in heaven by being holy but God hates sin and if we want to hear from him in this lifetime we want to have clean hands and a pure heart. Since praying for longer period of time in the Spirit, I have been nudged to give up secular music, most films and most newspapers and I receive more frequent flashes of inspiration / words of knowledge as I purify my life.

God loves us just as we are (‘how priceless is your unfailing love!’ v.7) and salvation is a priceless gift from God that cannot be earned – but the more we try to become like his Son the more the Holy Spirit communicates and works through us.

We should lie on our beds and plot good, committing ourselves to un-sinful courses. God allows the devil to tempt us but always gives us enough grace to conquer all temptations, rejecting that is wrong.

King David marvels at God’s love. faithfulness, righteousness and justice. There is no favouritism with God, ‘Both high and low among men find refuge in the shadow of your wings’ (v.7).

When Jesus fed the 5,000, there were baskets of food left over. There is always an over-abundance of provision from God: a ‘feast’ (v.8), a ‘river of delights’ (v.8) and a ‘fountain of life’ (v.9).

Image by falco from Pixabay

Temptation of Christ: March 21st 2021

The Israelites started to crave food other than manna. The NIV says they ‘started wailing‘. The plethora of recipe books in my kitchen testify that I often long for variety in my diet. However, I usually can’t be bothered to consult a recipe or gather any exotic ingredients and so permanently exist on a handful of tried and tested recipes. I have some sympathy with the wailing Israelites as I once tried replacing all my lunches with a food replacement drink. All I had to do was add water to a powder and shake it. The drink was advertised as containing exactly the right balance of nutrients and vitamins. I thought it would save loads of time and money. It was horrible. I gave it away and went back to normal food. Manna sounds relatively delicious, ‘It was white like coriander seed and tasted like wafers made with honey‘ (Exodus 16:31). However, it is in our human nature to seek novel experiences, which often don’t work out well.

The complaints about the constant diet of manna seems to be instigated by non-Jews tagging along with them: ‘The rabble with them began to crave other food’. We have to be careful of the company that we keep and reject bad influences.

The Lord became exceedingly angry at their complaint that they were ‘better off in Egypt (v.18)‘. Back in Egypt, they were living in slavery and their new-born sons were being executed. The Israelites had a very short memory if they thought that was a good price to pay for some cucumbers and melons.

Moses was allocated 70 leaders to help him share the burden of leadership. Intriguingly, the Lord says: ‘I will take some of the Spirit that is on you and put the Spirit on them‘. When the Spirit rests on each one of the leaders they prophesied, ‘but they did not do so again’ (v.25). This is typical of the action of the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament. The Holy Spirit rests on someone for a specific purpose, for a specific length of time and gives someone a supernatural ability for a limited period. These days, as baptised Christians, we have the Holy Spirit living permanently within us.

Two of the named 70 leaders hadn’t even gone to the Tent of Meeting, where God had come down in the cloud, and yet they still received the Spirit and started prophesying. This indicates that we don’t have to go on a pilgrimage to any particular site to receive the Spirit. God will give Him to us wherever we are, if we ask.

Joshua, Moses’ assistant, thought that these two leaders should be stopped from prophesying. Moses replied that he wished all the Israelites would receive the Spirit and prophesy. His speech reminds me of Jesus, ‘for whoever is not against us if for us’ (Mark 9:40). Many traditional Christians exhibit a lack of understanding or even spiritual envy towards charismatic Christians, such as Pentecostals, who publicly demonstrate gifts of the Holy Spirit such as speaking in tongues. We should be inspired by their example and ask for these gifts ourselves. I started praying in tongues as a Catholic when I prayed to the Holy Spirit in my bathroom to come into my life fully. I didn’t have to go to a particular church or meeting place to receive this supernatural gift. It is fantastic that the Holy Spirit could simultaneously give all 2.3 billion Christians in the world all His supernatural gifts if each one knew about them and asked Him for them.

Moses questioned whether the Lord can provide enough meat for 600,000 men for a whole month. Considering that God was already cross, Moses got away lightly with doubting God’s power.

God sent the Israelites a prodigious quantity of quail. Some of the Israelites probably complained, ‘These aren’t very big!

Even while they were still eating, ‘the anger of the Lord burned amongst the people, and he struck them with a severe plague (v.33). What kind of plague? A severe plague. By the time of Jesus’s public ministry, the habit of striking people with plagues seems to have stopped. There is no record of Jesus either giving someone an illness or taking the shackles off the devil to allow him to do it. God, in the Old Testament, shows all the emotions that us humans, made in his image, can demonstrate including righteous anger and retribution. Jesus, as the Creator who constantly intercedes for us, is the personification of God’s love. In the New Testament, Jesus said God would willingly send more than twelve legions of angels to defend him – who would then annihilate his attackers – but only if Jesus asked him to (Matthew 26:53). Jesus is the one who comes between us and the wrath of the Father. God, the Father, ‘showed his love among us: he sent his one and only Son into the world that we might love through him’ (1 John 4:9).

Mirian and Aaron, Moses’ elder brother and sister, started to gossip about Moses because of his wife, who wasn’t an Israelite. God instantly summoned all three to the Tent of Meeting. It is always best to deal with management problems as soon as possible and not let them fester. God explained to them that he has a special relationship with Moses. He speaks to other prophets in visions or dreams but ‘With him I speak face to face, clearly and not in riddles (v.8).’ When Jesus taught he often taught in parables, which even the disciples failed to understand – and he had to explain them clearly afterwards.

The anger of the Lord burned against Aaron and Miriam. Miriam became leprous in punishment for her behaviour whereas Jesus went around curing lepers. Aaron apologised and pleaded for his sister and Moses, even though he was the one wronged by his siblings, also interceded for her healing. God agreed to heal her, but only after she is confined outside the camp for seven days in disgrace. God obviously found Miriam more guilty of gossip and slander against her Cushite sister-in-law than Aaron.

Twelve Israelite leaders were sent as spies to explore the promised land of Canaan. These included Moses’ trusty assistant, Joshua, who we discover used to be called ‘Hoshea son of Nun’ (13:16) prior to Moses renaming him. Joshua basically means ‘ the Lord is salvation’ and is very similar in meaning to the name Jesus.

Moses gave them a detailed list of the facts they are to gather on their spying mission and also said ‘Do your best to bring back some of the fruit of the land’ (v.20). Moses was an excellent manager. He specified exactly what he needed but also gave them them free rein to do their best and improvise.

The spies explored for 40 days and found that the grapes were so enormous that two of them were required to carry a single cluster of grapes on a pole (v.23). Not only were there giant grapes, there were actual giant people, ‘the descendants of Anak’ (v.22). The promised land certainly looked fruitful and productive and worth taking over, as long as the Israelites were not scared of giants.

Luke 3:23-4:13

Here we have the family tree of Joseph, Jesus and Mary’s human guardian. At first glance, if one were asked to read out this list of names in church, it doesn’t look particularly inspiring. It looks like a bit of a chore. However, this list of names is another one of the most mind-blowing bits of the Bible.

It basically gives you the age of the earth. It gives you the timeline from creation until Jesus was born. It is an unbroken list of descendants from Adam, who God created on the sixth day of creation.

There are some mighty and familiar names on this list of Josephs ancestors including God / Adam / Seth / Enoch / Noah / Abraham / Isaac / Jacob / Judah / Boaz / Jesse / David / Joseph.

The Bible gives the ages at which some of these mighty men of God died, e.g. Noah lived for 950 years, and so it’s easy to roughly calculate for ourselves how old the world is. However, we don’t need to bother because the Jews have been meticulously counting for us. They don’t need scientists measuring residual radioactivity in rocks and pronouncing the world is billions of years old, the Jews have simply been counting from the time of creation.

When it is Jewish New Year (Rosh Hashanah) in 2021, between the 6th and 8th September, the world will be 5,782 years old (the world was 3,761 years old at the birth of Jesus). Jewish tradition maintains that something very interesting will happen by the year 6,000 as they assign 1,000 years to each of the 6 days of creation and so we will be entering the 7th day – the Sabbath / Day of rest in the year 6,000 with a thousand years of rest before us.

I find that I can’t reconcile the prevailing notion that the world is old and that living creatures evolved with Christianity. It is plain to me that God clearly told us He created the world in 6 days (and rested on the 7th) in numerous places in the Bible. This list of names confirms this. It is plain to me that no animal has ever evolved – they just stay as the same species and they have only had 5,782 years to change anyway. What did angels and demons evolve from? God created them out of nothing and their existence is a fact for all Christians.

Believing in the literal words of the Bible, where they plainly make sense, is the only way for a Christian to live and it doesn’t hamper you in any way at all. I worked as a professional scientist for 30 years and not believing in the fable of evolution didn’t hamper me one bit – because clearly it isn’t true. As Christians we believe in the virgin birth, miracles, angels, demons and resurrection from the dead. Non-believers are already going to think we’re crazy. Christians might as well go all in and believe what God has plainly told them about the Creation of the earth. God doesn’t like cowards. If you believe the world was created billions of years ago by a random big bang and that creatures made themselves through evolution then the God you believe in isn’t big enough. God created and owns everything. He is mighty and awesome beyond our imagination and we should believe He has done what He claims.

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, was led by the Spirit into the desert. It’s a convenient modern opinion that Jesus didn’t carry out any miracles until after his baptism (when the Holy Spirit descended on him). However, Jesus was entirely filled with the Holy Spirit from the moment of his conception. It’s really interesting that the Son of God, one person in the Trinity of God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit is also filled with the Holy Spirit. As John 14:11 also says: ‘Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me’ so Jesus has the two other members of the Trinity with him. Saint Patrick explained, using the 3 leaved shamrock as a visual aid, the mystery of one God in three persons. “The Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity, is God, one and equal with the Father and the Son, of the same substance and also of the same nature …. Yet he is not called the Spirit of the Father alone,… but the Spirit of both the Father and the Son. (CCC,245). In the creed, we say that the Spirit “proceeds from the Father and the Son“.

However, when Jesus came to earth he emptied himself ‘who being on his very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness’ (Philippians 2:6-7). Jesus laid aside any independent desire to act independently of God and performed his miracles through the power of the Holy Spirit. Don Stewart explains that: ‘Jesus emptied Himself in at least three different ways. First, He voluntarily accepted the limitations of being a human being. Second, His glory was hidden from the people. Third, He gave up the independent use of His relative attributes’. (all-knowing, all-powerful, everywhere present, etc.). (https://www.blueletterbible.org/faq/don_stewart/don_stewart_795.cfm).

Jesus laid aside his godliness in order to demonstrate that any humans can carry out the signs and wonders he did, if we call on the Father in faith-filled prayer and are filled with the Holy Spirit.

Jesus was tempted by the devil for 40 days. Then the devil asks him a series of questions all containing the Satanic ‘if‘. Watch out for the Satanic ‘if‘ when people quiz you about your Christian faith. ‘If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread(v.3). The devil already knows that Jesus is the son of God. Jesus doesn’t need to prove anything to him. Jesus has laid aside his godly power and won’t use it for his own advantage. He could call on the Holy Spirit – as we can do – for a miracle but wouldn’t do so just for his own benefit. As believers today, we can call on the Holy Spirit for supernatural gifts of deliverance or healing. We wouldn’t call on the Holy Spirit to help us with bread creation miracles.

Jesus counteracts all the Devil’s evil ‘if’ questions with ‘it is written‘. There is no better spiritual weapon against the devil than quoting the scriptures: ‘Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God’ (Ephesians 6:17). That’s why daily Bible study is so important.

In response to the challenge about throwing himself off the temple, Jesus replies ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test’ (v.12).

I think this summarises whether we should attend church during the Covid-19 crisis. The Catholic churches in our area sensibly closed down and moved services online – even though they are the most dogmatic about it being compulsory to attend Sunday Mass in normal times. However, the evangelical churches kept going and happily ignored the regulations stipulating no singing and no mixing. With over 400 priests and clergy having lost their lives to the virus just in Europe I couldn’t say that I was holier or had more faith than them to survive an attack by the disease (https://www.agensir.it/europa/2020/09/29/400-priests-have-died-from-covid-19-stories-of-heroes-that-helped-everyone-keep-hope-alive/). It seemed like practical common sense to follow the medical advice and to limit exposure to crowds – while trying to support elderly people in the community. Keeping the churches opened did provide people with a valuable source of support and worship but it put pressure on nervous members of the community to attend and caused major friction in large households if the residents had different perceptions of the risk.

It’s interesting that as soon as Jesus started his public ministry he was instantly targeted by the devil. As soon as I had converted and become a confirmed Catholic, I began to get really sick. I lost my memory and my weight plummeted. I really thought I was dying. By the grace of God, my parish priest was a charismatic man of God who prayed a healing / deliverance prayer over me. I could feel the heat from his hands on my head as he prayed. I honestly think that the devil was trying to snuff me out. Nicky Gumbel (167) warns Christians who have invited the Holy Spirit into their lives, that they will have to fend off increased temptations from the devil for a while afterwards.

When we become a light of God on a lampstand for all to see – we become noticeable and a target. Fend off the evil one with the word of God.

Proverbs 7:21-27

Stay away from the adulteress or she will trap you. ‘Do not let your heart turn to her ways or stray into her paths’ (v.25).

Stay away from temptation. If we have got a problem resisting women, we shouldn’t go to nightclubs. If we have a problem resisting alcohol, we shouldn’t go near pubs or bars or have any booze in our houses. My wife has banned me from bringing chocolate into the house so she doesn’t have to resist temptation throughout the day. I bought a multipack off crisps yesterday and there is just one packet left, which I am going to have for lunch.

‘Her slain are a mighty throng (v.26). ‘Her house is a highway to the grave, leading down to the chambers of death’ (v.27).

Once someone has sinned once – it’s easy for it to become a habit. If a married man or woman is chatting you up, you probably aren’t the first person to have enjoyed their adulterous attention. It isn’t a wise choice ‘to be led astray’ (v.1), and taken ‘down to the chamber of death (v.27).

Picture: By Ivan Kramskoi – Google Cultural Center, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=38344996

Fire from the Lord and the Baptism of Jesus: March 20th 2021

Numbers 9:15-11:3

At God’s command, the Israelites set out and at his command, they encamped. It’s wonderful for whole nation to follow God’s directions on a daily basis. When God indicated it was time to move, they moved. Do we tune into God every morning to find out his plan for our day?

The Israelites never knew when God’s cloud would lift over the Tent of Testimony indicating it was time to leave. So the Israelites could never afford the luxury of getting too comfortable or burdening themselves with too many possessions – even when the cloud stayed over the tent for a whole year. God kept them on their toes ready to become mobile.

God instructed that the priests should sound a blast on the trumpets whenever the Israelites were going into battle (v.9). God would then remember and rescue them. So we need to pray to God, make a loud noise and attract his attention through prayer whenever we are ‘going into battle’. I tried to learn the trumpet recently but didn’t really get to grips with it. I am now learning the saxophone instead, which is endlessly amusing. I must remember to tell God I am not calling on him for assistance whenever I practice the saxophone. I am not actually in distress – it just sounds like I am.

The tabernacle was to be set up before the holy things arrived (v.21). This shows God’s practical love of organisation and good order and the respect that was to be shown to the articles that were dedicated to Him.

Moses pleaded with his father-in-law (Reuel / Jethro) not to leave him and promised him a share of ‘whatever good things the Lord gives us’ (v. 31-32). Reul is valued for his local knowledge of where to camp. Moses wanted him to be ‘their eyes’. Reul is from the land of Midian and is not an Israelite. This looks promising for future harmony between the nations and makes us appreciate our own in-laws. Reul was an important man in Midianite society – both a prince and a priest. The Midianites didn’t worship God alone, which implies we can ask for help from people from other backgrounds / religions. We can work as partners on Godly projects and be grateful for their help and practical assistance Unfortunately, the relationship between the Israelites and the rest of the Midianites completely breaks down by Numbers 31 and there is an enormous battle between the nations.

The Israelites made the Lord angry by complaining and ‘fire from the Lord burned among them‘ (11:1). The Israelites weren’t enjoying unpredictably packing up and trudging through the desert with their belongings. They weren’t enjoying simple obedience even though their needs were all being taken care of. My family aren’t a great fan of camping either. We have a huge tent in the loft, which we have used once and will shortly be selling on eBay. It would have been easier and less burdensome to travel through the desert if an Israelite family had minimised the possessions they were carrying. So if a family had donated all their heavy gold to furnish the Tabernacle, they wouldn’t have to carry it now. The people cry to Moses for help. He intercedes for them and the fire dies down. It is always best not to complain to God. We can remind him of his promises but He is due our gratitude for guiding, protecting and feeding us on a daily basis.

Disciplining the Israelites through terrors such as fire and plagues doesn’t work in the end, Even though the Israelites are often punished for disobedience, it didn’t make them love God. They steadfastly refuse to enter the Promised Land when they get there and God wants to kill them all. Gradually God realises that threats and punishments don’t work. His ultimate goal is for people to love him by their own volition and for this he has to just show them his loving side through the public ministry of Jesus.

God can ‘kill’ anyone he likes because he created us and owns us and when we are ‘killed’ by God, we are just moved from place to place. Our immortal souls are still alive eternally in God’ eyes – for ‘all are alive to God’ (Luke 20:38). There is a striking difference between the behaviour of God, the Father, in the Old Testament (who frequently struck people with lethal floods, plagues and fire) and Jesus, the Son, in the New Testament. We will explore this in a separate post.

Luke 3:1-22

John was inspired to start his ministry, ‘preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins’ (v.2). Luke, with his scientific background, accurately documented when in history this took place. It actually happened. The historical evidence for the gospels makes atheism an untenable position. John the Baptist and Jesus were actual historical figures carrying out their ministry at a defined time. Multiple eye-witnesses and independent historians confirming they existed. Jesus proved he was the Son of God through the miracles he performed – which were witnessed by thousands of people. It is thus completely illogical to deny the existence of God. We clearly see the ‘Spirit of Unbelief’ working in other areas at present. A significant number of people believe that coronavirus / covid 19 is not a thing even though scientists have proven its existence, hundreds of thousands of people have died and new vaccines work against it. Unbelief is a choice but once you have persisted in illogical unbelief for long enough, you give ‘a spirit of unbelief’ a legal right to take up residence making it even harder for you to turn to the truth.

People sensed that they needed what John was offering even though he was a colourful character and spoke his mind, ‘You brood of vipers!’ (v. 7). I am sure he said this in a loving way but it isn’t the way we treat new visitors to a church these days.

John the Baptist gave some simple practical advice on how to live a virtuous life: share your possessions and food; don’t defraud people; don’t be a false witness or extort money and be content with what you have without lusting for more.

Just being descended from a great friend of God, Abraham, would not help the people unless they repented through faith and produced ‘fruit in keeping with repentance‘ v.8). We should act honestly, be generous and live contentedly. Jesus would come to ‘baptise you with the Holy Spirit and with fire(v.16).

Speaking the truth can make powerful people your enemies. John’s ministry was cut short by Herod after John rebuked him for his adultery and for ‘all the other evil things he had done’ (v.19).

Jesus was baptized – ‘and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove‘ (v.22). Baptism is necessary for Christians to enter heaven. It gives us a supernatural life as an adopted child of God. We receive an indelible stamp on our soul from being baptized that shows we are part of the family of God. It’s strange that Protestants can be much more strict and ‘religious’ about baptism that Catholics. Many denominations insist that a baptism has to involve full immersion under the water to be ‘valid’ when of course, the desire to be baptised and the ‘Spirit’ by which it is carried out are the important elements. It’s great if a baptism can be full immersion but it’s not always practical. Even when people aim for full immersion they often use baths in people’s houses and there are always elbows or knees sticking out of the water. Not even the most litigious demon is going to stand at the gate of heaven and argue that someone can’t go in because their elbow didn’t go under the water. All Christian baptisms – even those with just a sprinkling of water are fully valid as long as the person carrying out the baptism pronounces the words: ‘I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit’. When it comes to eternal life, I am not taking any chances and so I have enthusiastically embraced baptism, confirmation, ‘baptism in the spirit’ and faithfully prayed the ‘sinner prayer’ to be ‘born again’. I feel that the Holy Spirit only really started to work within me to cut unholy things out of my life after I started to spend longer periods ‘praying in the Spirit’. Allowing the Holy Spirit more access to my life, allowed him to progress with His work of sanctification (making me holier ready for heaven). Baptism is a massive topic, which we concentrate on in a separate article

God confirmed that Jesus was his Son, with whom he was well pleased. I love the Hillsong Worship song, which allows us, due to Jesus’s sacrifice on the cross and our own baptism to shout: ‘I’m a child of God. Yes I am!‘.

Psalms 35:19-28

People often devise false accusations against those who live quietly (v.20). They can actively gossip and plot against people who are minding their own business. We should always avoid gossip.

People either make up slanderous stories or look out for wrong and delight when they think they have found it, ‘Aha! Aha! With our own eyes we have seen it’ (v.21) Tragically, there is a lot of accusatory behaviour amongst Christians. I have read blogs where writers heavily criticise other Christians for practicing in a different way from them, using a different Bible translation from them or even enjoying their lives and making jokes. Pope Francis calls us all to be ‘joy-filled evangelists’ and that does include a healthy sense of humour. Anyone who is a Christian is our sister and brother. A sign of the Holy Spirit is being ‘ecumenical’ (delighting in the company and teaching of all other Christians). Evil spirits delight in trying to split Christians into different factions and there are evil spirits named ‘anti-Catholicism’ or ‘Sectarianism’. If you have an aversion to any other Christian denomination, you need to bind up the spirit that might be contributing to your feelings in Jesus’ name and pray for God’s forgiveness, renouncing and repenting your behaviour, ‘for whoever is not against us is for us’ (Mark 9:40).

Jesus taught us to pray for blessings for our enemies. Interesting that David, a man after God’s own heart, often prayed for harm to come to his enemies; that they may be ‘put to shame and confusion’ or ‘clothed with shame and disgrace’ (v.26).

We can leave righteous justice to the Lord and proclaim to the world everyday how great and good He is.

Awake, and rise to my defence. Contend for me, O Lord

The boy Jesus at the Temple: March 19th 2021

Numbers 7:66-9:14

The Lord spoke to Moses ‘from between the two cherubim above the atonement cover on the ark of the Testimony‘, (v.89). The atonement cover, made of solid gold, was also known as ‘the mercy seat’. This is where God’s glory appeared when he talked to Moses.

Once a year, the Israelite High Priest conducted a special ceremony of forgiveness and dedication at the mercy seat. This is now celebrated as ‘Yom Kippur’, the Day of Atonement.

The Levites were made ceremonially clean so they can work for the priests at the Tent of Meeting and ‘to make atonement for them so that no plague will strike the Israelites when they go near the sanctuary’ (8:19).

Since Jesus died for us on the cross and atoned for our sin with his perfect blood, we can approach ‘the mercy seat’ of our heavenly Father at any time without fear or trepidation.

God sets fifty as the retirement age for the Levites (v.25). Most religious people I know today are in at least their Seventies and still doing a wonderful job. They have no intention of stepping back from their leadership positions. However, it is important to also give the next generation opportunities to build up their ministry skills.

God shows that religious rules can be flexed for practical reasons. Moses consults God about when ceremonially unclean people may celebrate the Passover and God allows them to celebrate a month later. If we don’t know the answer to a question – particularly about an aspect of religion – we can find the accumulated wisdom of thousands of years on the internet but God, through an intimately, close relationship with Him also loves to give us ‘new wine’, fresh sparks of revelation that we can share with the world.

Luke 2:41-52

Jesus, at the age of twelve, stays behind at the temple.

The reading shows that young children at this time were given a remarkable amount of freedom. His parents didn’t miss him for a day and assumed he was among their relative and friends.

They found him ‘sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions’ (v.46). This shows that Jesus had temporarily set aside his all knowing (omniscient) powers as the Son of God, when he took on a human soul. He was politely listening and learning. We should never think that we know it all, every day is a learning opportunity.

However, Jesus learnt very fast and the Holy Spirit had gifted him an extraordinary amount of wisdom, ‘Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers (v.47).

Jesus never sinned and even though he had alarmed his parents, he had not intended to and was innocently following his mission, ‘Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house (v.49).

His mother forgave him and ‘treasured all these things in her heart’ (v.51).

Jesus continued to grow ‘in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and men’ (v.52). God supplied him with wisdom and Jesus demonstrated his unwavering faith to the Father. We can grow in favour with God by growing in faith.

Psalm 35:11-18

King David is besieged by ruthless witnesses. Even though he has been extremely good to them, ‘they repay my evil for good’. Jesus told us to forgive fellow disciples ‘seventy-seven (or seventy times seven) times (Matt. 18:22) even when they are behaving ‘like the ungodly’ (v.16).

We were told to ‘love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray to for those who ill treat you (Luke 6:27-28). At least today, David isn’t praying for harm to come to those who have betrayed him. He is simply asking God to hurry up and rescue him (v.17).

Even though God doesn’t need our payment, David promises to give a testimony after he is rescued; praising and thanking God ‘among throngs of people’ (v.18). Testimonies can be very powerful in building up both ourselves and the living body of the church. God loves thanksgiving, praise and worship and giving it to God makes us feel terrific as well.

Picture: https://www.flickr.com/photos/21678559@N06/2540114075

Presentation at the Temple: March 18th 2021

Numbers 7:1-65

Moses finished setting up the tabernacle. He anointed and consecrated it along with all its furnishings and the altar. My local church had a replacement altar a few years ago and it was consecrated in a beautiful ceremony by our bishop. The new altar was lovingly anointed with sacred oil (chrism) making it a symbol of Jesus Christ ‘The Anointed One’. Jesus was anointed by the Holy Spirit and became our High Priest so that on the altar of his body he might offer the sacrifice of his life for the salvation of us all.

Incense was burned on the new alter to signify Christ’s sweet sacrifice ascending to God and the people’s prayers rising up to the throne of God. The altar was dressed and adorned as the table of the sacrificial banquet for the memorial of Christ’s death and resurrection. It was lit with candles reminding us of John 8:12, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life’ and today’s reading from Luke (2:32). Jesus is ‘a light of revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel‘.

It was traditional for relics of saints to be cemented inside an altar, which recalls the early Christians meeting secretly in the catacombs, for fear of persecution, and using the tombs of martyrs as their altars. John 6:9, ‘I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained’. https://jasonbermender.wordpress.com/2016/09/30/the-rite-of-consecrating-a-fixed-altar/.

The leaders of Israel donate six covered carts and 12 oxen, which are given to the Levites. These must have made the work at the Tent of Meeting much easier. It’s great to give good quality, practical gifts to the church. Every pastor needs a car – why not give them one if you have spare cash or help them with the running expenses of their one.

Each of the Israelite leaders brought the same comprehensive list of offerings. No-one tried to sneak in an extra lamb to try to gain more favour for their own tribe.

Luke 2:21-40

Jesus was inducted into the Jewish religion on his 8th day by being named and circumcised (v.21). I was baptised into the Christian church when I was a year old. Baptism makes an indelible supernatural stamp on your soul proclaiming you belong to God. Several Christian denominations don’t baptise young children and wait until someone is past the age of reason when they can then declare their own belief in Jesus and desire baptism. Jesus told us the two requirements for receiving eternal life, ‘Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned’ (Mark 16:16). We don’t get into heaven by performing charitable works. We can’t buy our salvation from God, it is priceless. ‘The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent’ (John 6:29).

If we have been baptized as infants, which purified us from all our sins, made us adopted children of God and gave us a new birth in the Holy Spirit (CCC, 1262) I think it is also vitally important as adults to make a heart-felt proclamation of our own faith and belief and ask the Holy Spirit to ignite our faith within us.

Mary and Joseph consecrated Jesus to the Lord according to custom by offering a pair of doves or pigeons (v.24). This demonstrates that they were not particularly wealthy as otherwise they would have offered a lamb, ‘But if she cannot afford a lamb, she is to bring two doves or two young pigeons, one for a burnt offering and the other for a sin offering’ (Lev. 12:8). So, we as humans gave a token gift of doves and got a priceless lamb back from God in return. Jesus, the spotless lamb of God. God works like that. He multiples whatever we offer him.

A righteous and devout man, Simeon, was moved by the Spirit to visit the temple on the day that baby Jesus visited and through the gift of knowledge announced that Jesus would be our salvation and ‘a light of revelation to the Gentiles’ (v.32).

Simeon put a damper on the day by telling Mary, ‘And a sword will pierce your own soul too’ (v.35). That can be a problem with prophets – they are honest and don’t really care for people’s feelings. Did it do Mary any good to know a sword would pierce her soul? Did she wake up each day wondering if today would be that day? I don’t think so – she just got on with trusting God that he was looking after everyone’s best interests in the long run.

Anna, a prophetess, never left the temple and adds to the excitement speaking ‘to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem’ (v.38). Anna is labelled as a prophetess and Mary is ‘full of grace’. Women are receiving a fair share of supernatural blessings.

The Holy Family returned to live in Nazareth, which fulfilled the prophecy mentioned in Matthew 2:23 ‘So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets, that he would be called a Nazarene’. It’s not exactly sure which Old Testament prophecy this relates to. Most people think it is Isaiah 11:1 – see this link (https://www.gotquestions.org/Matthew-2-23-Jesus-Nazarene.html). People from Nazareth were often discriminated against, ‘Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?’ Nathanael asked’ (Matthew 1:46). I suffer similar discrimination having been brought up in Essex.

It’s amazing that Joseph lived in Nazareth but was called to Bethlehem for the census, just as Jesus was born, neatly fulfilling that our saviour would be born in one place and brought up in the other.

We don’t hear anything else about Jesus’ childhood until he was twelve. Many people say that he didn’t perform any miracles until he started his adult ministry after his baptism, when the Holy Spirit descended onto him. However, the Holy Spirit was always with Jesus. Jesus was conceived of the Holy Spirit ‘his whole life and his whole mission are carried out in total communion with the Holy Spirit whom the Father gives him ‘without measure” (CCC,1286). ‘From his conception, Christ’s humanity is filled with the Holy Spirit, for God gives him the Spirit without measure (CCC,504). Jesus took on a rational, human soul to be incarnated on earth and thus was endowed with a true human knowledge that could not be unlimited (CCC, 472). He had to learn from wisdom, experience and words of knowledge from the Holy Spirit. To become a human, the Son of God emptied himself and ‘made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness (Phil, 2.7). There are infancy gospels describing various miracles that Jesus was alleged to have performed in his childhood. They are non-canonical and thus can’t be trusted. However, we know that Jesus was a bit of a rebel when it came to doing good, as demonstrated by healing people on the Sabbath. I think that if he had come across one of his school friends, who had died in a sudden accident, he wouldn’t walk by on the other side – setting aside his healing power until his adult ministry – I think he would have stepped in when required as he started to exercise his unlimited quantity of gifts from the Holy Spirit.

Psalm 35:1-10

King David calls for God to fight with him and disgrace his enemies. This is rather in contrast to the New Testament where Jesus tells us to bless our enemies. However, our lives are probably a lot easier than King David, who had powerful enemies who wanted to depose and kill him.

King David’s enemies were trying to trap him without cause and he simply asks that they sow what they have reaped; that they are suddenly overtaken by ruin and fall into their own pit. This doesn’t seem unreasonable.

Sometimes we have to pray an aggressive prayer. If you have a boss who is making you miserable at work and trying to unfairly trap you, use your authority in Christ to bind them (in Jesus’ name) and pray for them to be moved on. Also pray for them and their families to be blessed in every way and come to a full measure of faith in Christ.

We can pray both an Old Testament prayer to foil our enemies and a New Testament one to bless them.

Picture: Giovanni Bellini, CC BY 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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