‘Leave the dead to bury the dead’ and ‘Satan Shoes’: April 4th 2021

Deuteronomy 1:1-2:23

Moses commanded the Israelites to break camp, move from Horeb and take possession of the promised land; over forty years after leaving Egypt.

Moses recalled how he had appointed leaders and judges to help him govern over the two million Israelites. The judges had been instructed to be impartial and not to be intimidated, ‘for justice belongs to God (v.17). Moses was always there to support his assistants, ‘Bring me any case too hard for you, and I will hear it’ (v.17). Moses was happy to admit when decisions were too hard even for him and referred them up to God. Moses was an excellent leader and excelled in humility.

The Israelites failed to trust that God would fight for them in the promised land. Their rebellion even damaged Moses, ‘Because of you the Lord became angry with me’ (v.37). The Israelites were terrified they would be defeated by the resident tribes and their children would be captured. God decided that only these innocent children who did not ‘yet know good from bad‘ (v.39) would grow up to eventually inherit the land. Their disbelieving parents would die in the desert.

The Israelites were told not to provoke the descendants of Esau (their ancestor Jacob’s twin brother) to war (2:5). Even though God had favoured Jacob over Esau, he had still richly blessed Esau and was preserving his territory for ever. Similarly, the Lord had given Ar to the descendants of Abraham’s nephew, Lot, as their possession (v.9). God remained faithful to his historical promises made to his servants.

Luke 9:57-10:24

Jesus was by now an itinerant preacher with no fixed abode, ‘Foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head’ (v.58). It is striking how mobile modern preachers of the gospel can be. Our local Pastor can be in Burundi one week and then think nothing of flying out to Indonesia the next. I flew to Lourdes on a Catholic pilgrimage and was amazed at how slick elderly Catholic priests were at getting through customs. They were seasoned travellers and skipped through the airport with hand luggage. Covid lockdown has scuppered a lot of travelling and so we need to pray that the world will open up again soon. In the meantime, the internet will have to suffice.

One potential disciple wanted to bury his father first. ‘Let the dead bury their own dead’ (v.60), said Jesus. He could see a spark of life in this man. The man had recognised that Jesus was the source of eternal life and that by following him, he would be truly alive. Once we have found Jesus, we can leave secular tasks to people who haven’t yet found faith – the spiritually dead. We should critically analyse our secular jobs. If they are filled with ‘dead tasks’ such as completing useless forms or spreadsheets or attending worthless meetings, leave the dead people to carry out the dead tasks.

Jesus sent out the ‘seventy-two others’ (10:1) to heal the sick and to proclaim that the kingdom of God was near. It’s fantastic that the power and authority he had previously just given to his 12 apostles were now being distributed to an even larger group. His group of spiritually empowered assistants was expanding at an exponential rate.

It shouldn’t cost much to be a travelling evangelist as people should be eager to feed and shelter you, ‘for the worker deserves his wages’ (v.7).

It is amazing how many people won’t listen to or even acknowledge the gospel message. Many people actively avoid it and become angry when confronted by it. If I uploaded a cute picture to Facebook of my dog cavorting in Spring flowers, I would probably get dozens of ‘likes’. People feel unthreatened by such a post. A cute dog picture is acceptable in modern culture as people don’t like to be confronted by the uncomfortable truth, that they have to critically look at their own lives and their personal relationship with God, realise if they are heading in the wrong direction, turn and be healed. If I wrote a short, inspiring post about Easter – I might not get any ‘likes’, even from my Christian friends. In not responding to the gospel, people reject God himself, ‘He who listens to you listens to me; he who rejects you rejects me; but he who rejects me rejects him who sent me’. (v.16).

Luke 10:18 is referenced on the side of the ‘Satan shoes’ that have recently been on sale, ‘I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven’. Consulting Twitter, it’s amazing to see how many people think these shoes are desirable. Many teenagers seem to have a secret, secondary Twitter account, that their family members do not know about, which allows them to support unsavoury projects from the privacy of their dark bedrooms. Some young people have bought the shoes as they are fans of the ‘art collective’ who made them and also cynically think they are making an investment. The obvious controversy over such objects will push the price up. Other people feel marginalised by society / religion due to their lifestyle choices and rush to sign up to other alternative cultures. However, this unsavoury commercial stunt reminds me of the punk rock movement in the Seventies. People were duped into following an alternative to the mainstream, thinking they were being individualistic, but the punk music scene was manipulated / controlled by marketing men making punks more in bondage to commercialism than everybody else.

Luke 10:18 is a strange verse to adorn the side of the Satan shoes as it is about the first defeat of Satan – when the army of loyal angels under the command of Saint Michael fought the rebelling angels (the demons) and kicked them out of heaven. Eventually Satan and the demons were totally defeated by Jesus’s death on the cross and so the shoes could simply have had ‘Loser’ inscribed on them. Tradition is that Satan fell from lightning out of heaven on the 29th September (Michaelmas) and landed in a blackberry bush. In the UK, we don’t eat blackberries after the 29th September because they become bitter after this date (allegedly because the devil has urinated on them in revenge). So we can imagine the purchaser of these shoes falling headfirst into a blackberry bush and getting stuck in the brambles with their little Satan Shoes kicking about in the air. It is hard to find a complementary passage in the Bible to adorn such shoes. They could have used John 8:44, ‘You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies’.

I fully support Nike bringing a copyright infringement against the Satan shoes creators. Ironically, Nike is itself named after a demonic entity – the winged Greek Goddess of Victory.

Jesus gave us the true reason for rejoicing on a daily basis, ‘Rejoice that your names are written in heaven’ (v.20).

Jesus gave us authority. How much of the power of the enemy can we overcome? All the power of the enemy (v.19).

Jesus was overjoyed that his plan to send disciples throughout the world was working. He was learning both from experience and by revelation from the Holy Spirit on the daily basis. I love reading the gospel because I have never grown up, nor do I plan to. I still feel like a little child and take a childish delight in wonderful stories and legends. This attitude is a tremendous blessing because God has ‘hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children’ (v.21). I pray that I keep my childlike enthusiasm and delight in God forever.

We are blessed by the fact we can go to church, read the Bible ourselves and read commentaries on the gospel. Prophets and kings wanted to ‘hear what you hear’ and ‘see what you see’ (v.24).

Psalm 41:1-6

Those who have regard for the weak are ‘blessed’ (v.1). Mary, Mother of God, had regard for the child she was carrying, Jesus. She is the most blessed of all women because she nurtured God, when he was at his most vulnerable as a tiny unborn child in her womb.

There is an enormous list of benefits if we care for the weak. We will be delivered from trouble (v.1), our life will be protected and preserved, we will be blessed and not surrendered to our foes (v.2). We will be sustained on our sick bed and healed from illnesses.

Our enemies will speak nicely to us, while gathering evidence to malign our name (v.6). Tabloid newspapers are full of political gossip. People falsely gain the confidence of world leaders, just to slander them.

King David’s enemies wanted to know when he would die and his name perish (v.5). However, because David was a man after God’s heart and cared for the poor, his name will live forever thanks to his descendant, Jesus.

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

The Transfiguration: April 3rd 2021

Numbers 35:1-36:13

The Lord commanded Moses to give the Levites forty-eight towns from the territory the Israelites ‘will possess’ (v.2). As far as God was concerned, the conquering of the Promised Land with his help was a done deal. None of the resident tribes in their walled cities could have prevented this from happening. ‘If God is for us, who can be against us? (Romans 8:31).

Cities of refuge‘ had to be created where a person, who had accidentally killed someone, could flee and remain safe before their fair trial. God loves justice. Today, we recognise the difference between accidental manslaughter and intentional murder in our modern justice system. God mandated the death penalty for murder but only on the testimony of multiple witnesses. No-one was to be put to death on the testimony of only one witness (v.30). Life imprisonment wasn’t practical when the nation was wandering around the desert for forty years.

In the New Covenant post Jesus, we shouldn’t support the death penalty. We have been told to forgive and bless our enemies – not to kill them. Justice has to be served and so life-time imprisonment is appropriate for unrepentant / dangerous offenders. We cannot risk killing the innocent due to a miscarriage of justice.

If a person committed accidental manslaughter, they had to live in a city of refuge ‘until the death of the high priest, who was anointed with holy oil’ (v.25). We still utilise ‘holy oil’ today. It is known as Chrism. It is used to: anoint priests or bishops; consecrate churches, holy vessels, and altars; and as part of the baptismal rite. Chrism cleanses, strengthens and sets people and objects apart for God’s service. At confirmation, the Bishop traces the Sign of the Cross with chrism on the forehead of the one being confirmed and says, “[Name], be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

To consecrate holy chrism oil, normally an annual event on the Wednesday of Holy Week, a bishop mixes aromatic balsam with olive oil, breathes on the mixed oil to signify the presence of the Holy Spirit, and says a prayer over it.

“Do not pollute the land where you are, Bloodshed pollutes the land, and atonement cannot be made for the land on which blood has been shed, except by the blood of the one who shed it’, (v.33). During Covid lockdown, we currently have the horrors of home abortion. Pregnant women are sent two sets of abortion pills through the post having had no scan to show them their developing baby or check how old it is. These poor women are aborting their child, often by themselves, in their own showers or bedrooms. It is a horrific process with their bed mattress and carpets becoming permanently stained with blood to remind them of what they have done. They also have to dispose of their dead, unborn baby. Even prior to this, some people were taking home their aborted child and burying it in their own garden. Homes in the UK are gradually becoming polluted with bloodshed and this could cause real spiritual problems for the current inhabitants and anyone who may purchase these properties in the future. https://www.spuc.org.uk/News/ID/384421/The-day-SPUCs-worst-fears-on-remote-abortions-were-realised

The book of Numbers dramatically finishes with an order from God, ‘Do not defile the land where you live and where I dwell, for I, the Lord, dwell among the Israelites’ (v.34).

In the current New Covenant, since our Father and Jesus sent us the Holy Spirit, our Lord dwells inside all baptized Christians.

Luke 9:28-56

Yesterday, Jesus said, ‘I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God’ (Luke 9:27). Many people incorrectly think this referred to the end of the world, final judgment and the righteous going to heaven and that Jesus’ prophecy was therefore wrong. However, Jesus was referring to the event known as ‘The Transfiguration’, which occured ‘about eight days later’ (v.28). All Jesus’ prophecies happened on time.

The ‘some who are standing here’ means Peter, John and James who were taken up a mountain and saw Jesus’ face changed and his clothes becoming ‘as bright as a flash of lightning’ (v.29).

Two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared ‘in glorious splendour’ (v.30) to talk to Jesus. The text doesn’t say, ‘two dead men’. Moses and Elijah are perfectly fit and well. In fact, they appeared to be in much better shape (in glorious splendour) than they were when previously seen. This is because, ‘He is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive’ (Luke 20:38). This shows the validity of praying to ‘dead’ saints and asking for them to intercede for us. Moses often talked to God, on behalf of the Israelites, often begging God not to kill them for their disobedience. If God listened to Moses when he was on earth, how much more would He listen to Moses, when he is up in heaven with Him. Praying to the Blessed Virgin Mary and asking for her to intercede for us – exerting her motherly influence on her son, Jesus, is if course particularly effective and biblical. If Mary interceded at the wedding at Cana resulting in Jesus making bounteous quantities of new wine, she will intercede for us now she is installed in heaven. A host of wonderful saints sit up in heaven in the cloud of witnesses, watching all our daily work, just waiting for us to ask for their assistance. Praying to Saint Joseph, the role modal of good fathers, is also particularly effective. If you have ever asked for a pastor or a priest to pray for you on earth, asking a holy person in heaven to pray for you works on exactly the same principal.

Peter wanted to preserve the transfiguration by building shelters for the three great prophets to stay on the mountain (v.33) but this was just to be a fleeting vision of the kingdom of God. They were going to have to descend the mountain and get back to their work. However, these three disciples would have carried this vision of our transfigured Lord in their hearts forever. It would strengthen them during troubled times in their future.

After descending the mountain, they are soon back in the thick of the action as the remaining disciples have failed to exorcise a young boy, who was suffering from a dramatic case of demonic possession. It looked like a case of epilepsy, but the symptoms were caused by an evil spirit. This was a serious case: ‘it scarcely ever leaves him and is destroying him (v.39). Demons can’t resist making people suffer. They ultimately want to kill their hosts if they are allowed to.

In Matthew 17: 20, Jesus told the disciples they failed to cast out the demon ‘because they have so little faith’. In Mark 9:29, Jesus said, ‘This kind can come out only by prayer’. So even though the disciples had been successful on previous occasions, they eventually came across a demon that was so powerful and had become so entrenched in a person, the small amount of faith they had so far accumulated was not sufficient. Perhaps they were commanding the demon to leave in the name of Jesus, without also praying to God for it to leave. Today, we can combine commanding a demon to leave in Jesus’ name with the perfect prayer – by allowing the Holy Spirit to pray through us by praying in tongues.

The story shows us that when we come across a person with a spiritual problem, we should not give up after one attempt at deliverance. We are on the Victory Side and all demons are part of a defeated army. Their only hope is to try to remain undetected and destroy their hosts from within. Once, we know that someone has a demon, it has lost the battle. It is like a trapped rat in a barrel. We simply have to keep hitting it with a variety of spiritual baseballs bats until it leaves. If our prayers are ineffective initially, we can pray and fast before having another attempt. If it still won’t shift, we ask for help from someone with more faith, a higher degree of spiritual authority or a supernatural gift of deliverance. We just keep going, trying different approaches, wear it down and win through perseverance.

Jesus tells us to welcome everybody – even a little child with little knowledge, influence or money. We should welcome everybody with no thought as to what we can get from them.

Jesus told the disciples not to stop a man driving out demons in Jesus’ name, ‘for whoever is not against you is for you’ (v.50). This is a call for Christians of all denominations to work together. We are all family and should love each other and not quibble about slight differences in doctrine. I am a Catholic, yet spend the majority of time with lovely Pentecostals. I have learnt a lot from them and I hope I complement their worship in some way.

Jesus was not welcomed in a Samaritan village ‘because he was heading for Jerusalem’ (v.53). Maybe, he would have had a different reception if he had gone specifically to their village to teach them the gospel. Samaritans had ‘urged him to stay with them’ in John 4:40. They had acknowledged that Jesus really was the Saviour of the World. James and John suggested cataclysmic retribution for rejecting Jesus and were publicly rebuked. Jesus remained gentle, loving, forgiving and patient in the face of rudeness and rejection.

Psalm 40:9-17

King David speaks publicly about the righteousness of God (v.9) He does not hide the truth about God, he speaks of his love, truth, faithfulness and salvation (v.10). We should confidently proclaim our faith in God in all public forums.

David is in anguish surrounded by troubles, overtaken by sin, with his heart failing within him but he is still generous to others in prayer, ‘But may all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you’ (v.16).

David is King but is not proud. He fully recognises his dependence on God, ‘Yet I am poor and needy; may the Lord think of me (v.17). Even though he urges God not to delay, David fully trusts that God will will save him in the end, ‘You are my hope and deliverer’ (v.17).

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

Jesus feeds the Five Thousand: April 2nd 2021

Numbers 33:1-34:29

‘At the Lord’s command Moses recorded the stages in their journey’ (v.2). Trendy, modern theologians sometimes try to suggest that the first five books of the Old Testament were written by different authors other than Moses. I think this is complete nonsense and agree with Jewish history. Moses wrote the Torah (the Pentateuch or ‘Five Books of Moses’). To justify the irritating multiple author theory, some theologians rudely suggest that Moses couldn’t even write. As he had been brought up with Pharaoh’s son in the Egyptian royal palace, Moses would have received a fantastic education. Today, we see some more clear evidence of Moses’ journalistic skills.

The Egyptians ‘were burying all their firstborn’ – when the Israelites had set out from Rameses – ‘for the Lord had brought judgment on their Gods (v.4). Humans can get caught in the crossfire as the one true God, our Father, shows his omnipotence over all other pretenders to his throne.

‘Aaron was a hundred and twenty-three years old when he died’ (v.39). Servants of God can live fruitful and long lives. Aaron even had to climb up a mountain to die (Mount Hor) implying he was still relatively mobile up until the end. Aaron had a long and fascinating life, seeing wonders and tragedies. He had witnessed all the miracles of God in Egypt and the Exodus. However, he had seen two of his sons die before the Lord due to their disobedience (Lev. 10:1-3). He hadn’t complained about this, he kept silent. Silence is a great strength as exemplified by Saint Joseph in the New Testament. Aaron kept the faith until the end. He gave a magnificent example of how to support a brother in their ministry.

When the Israelites invaded Canaan they were meant to destroy ‘all their carved images and their cast idols, and demolish all their high places’ (v.52). Many Western people bring back carved images from Eastern religions as souvenirs from their travels and install them in their houses – often in pride of place. God will not appreciate that type of behaviour. If we are Christians, we should only have Christian objects in our houses.

God advised them to drive out all the inhabitants of the land or they ‘will become barbs in your eyes and thorns in my your sides (v.55). It’s easy to watch the wrong type of films or click on the wrong type of news website and see unsuitable images – in the secular world we have to be be on our guard against ‘barbs in our eyes’, which can hook us into sin.

Joshua, Eleazar (the priest) and Caleb were among the familiar names that God appointed to carve up the entire promised land between the nine and a half tribes. God will continue to use us for bigger and bigger projects if we show him we are reliable.

Luke 9:10-27

Jesus fed the five thousand. It is wonderful how Jesus assigns this task to his disciples, ‘You give them something to eat’ (v.13). He expects his followers to learn from him and then demonstrate practical, fruitful results.

At Jesus’ instruction, they organised the crowd. Splitting the five thousand up into groups of about fifty. Just because a miracle is about to take place doesn’t mean there has to be disorganised hysteria. Miracles can take place in a calm setting. The five loaves and two fish were multiplied by the power of God and when God provides, He provides generously. There was far more food left over than they started with. I wonder if everyone commented that it was the best fish and bread that they had ever tasted – like the fantastic wine Jesus produced at the Cana wedding.

Peter won ‘Disciple of the Year’ for correctly identifying Jesus as ‘the Christ of God’ (v.20). Peter was starting to demonstrate one of the supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit – the Gift of Knowledge.

Jesus warned us about pursuing empty careers – just to gain money or prestige, ‘what good is it for a man to gain the whole world and yet lose or forfeit his very self? (v.25). So many jobs are a total waste of time and life. We need to critically assess our careers. If a job is just to gain money and we spend our lives filling out spreadsheets or performing other meaningless tasks, we should change our career. If no-one needed us to do our job during the Covid pandemic (apart from the vital hospitality industry that supports travel) it must be questionable if anyone really needs us to restart the same career once everything returns ‘to normal’. Even many of the backroom jobs in ‘key’ industries are a total waste of effort and wouldn’t be missed. Often, the more senior (and better paid) roles in a company, are some of the most pointless. Many of the best paid managers spend most of their day hampering and distracting their subordinates from carrying out useful work. We need to all be key workers serving the public carrying out one or more of the corporal acts of mercy: feeding the hungry; giving drink to the thirsty; clothing the naked; giving shelter to travellers; visiting the sick; visiting the imprisoned or burying the dead.

The imprisoned don’t have to be officially detained at her Majesty’s pleasure. Any lonely person living by themselves counts.

Proverbs 8:22-31

Wisdom was the first of God’s works (v.22). We know from John 3:3 that Jesus created the world, ‘Through him all things were made’ and so wisdom, from the Holy Spirit, accompanied Jesus as the heavens were set in place, ‘when he marked out the foundations of the earth (v.29).

Wisdom was ‘filled with delight day after day rejoicing always in his (Jesus’) presence’ (v.30).

How can we welcome wisdom into our lives?

‘The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom’ (Psalm 9:10). Jesus is ‘the power of God and the wisdom of God’ (1 Corinthians 1:24).

Wisdom is waiting to help us out. We just have to ask for it to come into our lives. It rejoices in Jesus’ presence (v.30) and delights in mankind (v.31).

Picture: https://www.flickr.com/photos/paullew/7667661950/

Jesus brings a child back to life: April 1st 2021

Numbers 31:25-32:42

The spoils from the battle with the Midianites were divided between the soldiers and community. Tributes from each portion were given to the Lord. It’s amazing how frequently God gave detailed advice to Moses to help rule the fledgling nation. Not a single Israelite soldier had been lost in the battle (v.49). The commanders of the army were so amazed by this that they donated the gold they had acquired to Moses and Eleazer (the priest) ‘to make atonement’ for themselves (v.50).

The Reubenites and Gadites wanted to stay in the newly conquered territory, Gilead – on the wrong side of the Jordan river, with their livestock and not cross to the promised land. Moses wasn’t impressed with this idea and reminded them about the last forty years wandering in the desert after the spies had discouraged the Israelites from crossing the Jordan. The Reubenites and Gadites negotiated and promised to help the rest of the Israelites conquer the promised land first before they then returned to their wives and children. Before helping, they wanted to ‘build pens here for their livestock and cities for our woman and children (v.16). This sounds like quite a long endeavour but Moses allowed this compromise. They could obviously build cities in less than the time it would take us to get planning permission. However, there were already cities in the area that they had conquered (v.33) and so it was more of a refurbishment / fortification project rather than a completely new build (v.34-38).

Luke 8:40-9:9

Jesus felt power go out of him (v.46) as the woman with the haemorrhage touched him. This lady demonstrated the difference between belief and faith. Many people believed that Jesus could heal people. But this lady’s faith was a blend of belief with action. Her faith told her that if she touched the edge of Jesus’ cloak, she would be healed. Faith often involves the risk of looking foolish if nothing happens. We have to step out and take the risk. If she hadn’t been healed, she would have fought to touch his cloak for no result. God responds to faith, ‘Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace’ (v.48).

There is a classic joke that illustrates the difference between belief and faith:

A man falls off a very high cliff. Halfway down, he manages to grab a branch sticking out from the cliff and is left swinging there. He has temporarily saved himself from certain death but needs to be rescued.

He thinks to himself: ‘I believe in God. I will pray to him to rescue me.’

He prays and God immediately responds.

A loud voice comes from heaven, ‘Let go of the branch and I will catch you. Have faith’.

The man responds, ‘Is anyone else there?’

To demonstrate faith, we actually have to step out and do something that could put us at risk. We can’t just sit back expecting God to do all the work for us. We have to participate.

‘For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved’ (Romans 10:10).

Jesus felt something physical when the lady’s healing occurred. When we pray over someone for healing, it is wonderful when we feel something ourselves – perhaps a supernatural sensation of warmth. However, all prayers to God are answered in time and so we don’t actually need a physical manifestation to confirm that some type of healing has or will occur.

Jesus healed Jairus’ daughter. He only took three close disciples and the little girl’s parents into the room with him as witnesses to her resurrection. He had already faced ridicule from the crowd by declaring she was only asleep and so Jesus had publicly ‘put his money where his mouth is’. If the little girl didn’t come back to life, Jesus’ ministry would have been disgraced but he had total faith in the Father and the Holy Spirit and knew the miracle would take place. Jesus gives the command and ‘her spirit returned’ (v.55). Just as Jesus will give the command at the end of time and our spirits will return to our bodies to instantly animate our glorified, resurrected bodies.

Jesus sent out the Twelve on a preaching / healing and deliverance mission (9:2) This would have included Judas. It’s shocking that someone so close to Jesus, trusted with power and authority and successfully carrying miracles in his name could still betray him. It took faith to head out with no bag, spare clothes, money or food. Just being close to Jesus and carrying out his work does not mean we are saved. We have to allow God to place a new faithful heart inside us and accept Jesus fully into our lives as our Lord and Saviour, once we have renounced and repented of our sins

Psalm 40:1-8

God has often ‘lifted me out of the slimy pit’ (v.2). From the slimy pit of unbelief to the slimy pit of unfulfilling secular work, I have been rescued ‘out of the mud and the mire’ (v.2). ‘He set my feet on a rock (Jesus) and gave me a firm place to stand (v.2).

It’s my ambition for many to ‘see and fear and put their trust in the Lord (v.3).

I do have a new song of praise in my mouth (v.3) particularly when I sing in the Spirit.

We can’t trust proud secular leaders puffed up with their own importance, ‘those who turn away to false Gods (v.4). We are blessed by trusting in the Lord.

He doesn’t want sacrifice or offerings from us. Jesus has already given Him the ultimate sacrifice, once and for all. God just wants our love and for us to to ‘desire to do your will’ (v.8). God has written his law within all our hearts, which is why non-believers still do great acts of justice and charity, even though they refuse to acknowledge where their inbuilt social conscience has come from.

God has planned many wonderful things for us to do in this lifetime. We just have to listen to him and then cooperate.

Picture: Eduard Bendemann, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Pledges / Vengeance and the Exorcism of Legion: March 31st 2021

Numbers 29:12-31:24

This lists the complicated list of sacrifices required for each day of the Feast of Tabernacles.

Chapter 30 concerns vows. When a man makes a vow to the Lord or ‘binds himself with a pledge, he must not break his word but must do everything he said’ (30:2).

Similarly, if a young woman makes a vow and her father does not nullify it, or, when she gets married, her husband says nothing to her about it, then her vows and pledges ‘by which she bound herself will stand’ (v.5).

I think this is what happened to the Virgin Mary. According to legends / non-canonical texts she was dedicated to the temple and lived there between the ages of 3 and 12. She had made a vow to be a Holy Virgin for her whole life, dedicated to God. Being a virgin was her job and vocation. ‘How can this be since I am a virgin?’ (Luke 1:34).

The priests in the temple arranged for Mary to be looked after by the elderly widower, Joseph, as soon as she reached puberty. He respected her vow of chastity and did not nullify it as her husband. Mary remained a virgin for her own life.

In Chapter 31, the Lord told Moses to take vengeance on the Midianites. The Israelites killed every man including the colourful character, Balaam. Here we find evidence as to why Balaam is so unpopular when later mentioned in the New Testament. He was a sorcerer, paid for his divinations, curses and blessings. He was able to hear from God but he did not worship God alone, He was instrumental in the Israelites starting to worship demonic entities after the Moabite women had seduced them at Peor. Only the virgin Midianite women were allowed to live. This seems harsh by today’s standards but this was a matter of life and death. The survival of the entire nation was at stake. Moses could not risk the Israelite men being seduced into worshipping other Gods again because this would result in another plague at the very least. God would be justified in destroying all the Israelites if they were seduced away from him again.

Because the Midianites worshipped demonic entities, all the bounty that the Israelites had captured had to be cleansed before it could be brought into the camp. Anything that could go through fire was put through it but it ‘must also be purified with the water of cleansing’ (v.23). See Numbers 19 for details about the ‘water of cleansing’. Demonic spirits can attach themselves to objects either by their own will or by spells / curses. It is very unwise to bring back souvenirs from different cultures such as African masks and display them in your house as havoc might ensue. You can even buy ‘cursed dolls’ on Ebay, which have one of more evil spirits attached to them.

Be very careful about what you introduce to your home. The Holy Spirit can give people knowledge about which articles in their house may have been cursed and need to be disposed of. Amorth gives practical advice on how to dispose of cursed objects, They should never be flushed down the toilet as this can cause all the drains in the house to block. The traditional method of disposal is to sprinkle them with holy water – which can be obtained from any Catholic church – and then the item must be burnt (it is very important that prayers are said while the object is burned to protect against spiritual backlash) and then the ashes are thrown into running water – the sea or a river. Then pray to God for forgiveness for having introduced such an object to your home.

Luke 8:19-20

Here we have a reference to ‘Jesus’ mother and brothers’ (v.19). Everyone who is born again is a brother or sister of Jesus.

It is a long-held Christian tradition that the ‘brothers’ mentioned in verse 19 are relatives of Jesus but born to another Mary (Mary the wife of Cleopas (see John 19:25)). The Eastern church has an even simpler explanation that these were children from Joseph’s previous marriage (he was an elderly widower when he married Mary). So they neither have the same mother as Jesus (Mary) nor the same father (God / The Holy Spirit). If they were actual sons of Mary, they would have taken Mary in after Jesus died on the cross rather than ‘the disciple whom he loved’ (John 19:26-27).

Jesus calmed the storm (v:22-25). ‘Where is your faith?’ he asked his (frightened disciples)’ (v.25). Looking back over the last year of Covid lockdowns, I think my wife’s and my faith has kept us remarkably calm. We have taken sensible precautions as we are scientists as well as believers. However, we have still risked frequent exposure to the virus as we gathered provisions for elderly people. I wouldn’t have wanted to face a global pandemic without having God to pray and put my trust in.

Our Pastor tells an amazing story of a church situated in an area, which was forecasted to be hit by a tsunami. The local pastor urged his parishioners to flock into the church and lock the doors. The pastor stood on the porch outside and prayed that they would not be harmed. When the tsunami arrived it wiped out the town, except it split and went around the church. The pastor reported that the tsunami looked like a cobra’s head as it reared up over the town. All the Christians in the church were unscathed. In the face of natural disasters, show the people around you your faith.

In verse 27, we find out that the storm in the lake may have not been such a ‘natural’ hazard. Jesus was met by a demon-possessed man as soon as he stepped ashore. Jesus performed his most spectacular exorcism, allowing a legion of exorcised demons to enter a herd of pigs who then rush down a steep bank and drown themselves in the lake.

This makes me suspect that the storm on the lake was whipped up by demonic spirits, who had seen that Jesus was en route to exorcise Legion and tried to drown him and his disciples before he got there. Exorcists find that they are often attacked during a journey to an exorcism with cars or aircraft breaking down or engines going on fire. Amorth reports a demonic plot to overturn a carriage containing an exorcist was foiled when the carriage driver was given a blessed medal of Saint Benedict to carry. I never travel without one. This isn’t superstition or idol worship – it’s what the church calls a ‘sacramental’. When I pick up a blessed medal of St. Benedict, I am calling down the protection of God through the intercession of St. Benedict.

The fact that there was a herd of pigs next to the lake indicates that the people living in this region were not Jews. No Jewish farmer can keep pigs as God declared them unclean (Lev. 11:7-8). So Jesus has basically gone onto an exorcism excursion into the land of the Gentiles. The poor possessed man ‘had been driven by the demon into solitary places’ (8:29). The demons didn’t want him to meet an exorcist before he died and certainly not Jesus, the chief exorcist.

Sending the demons into ‘unclean’ pigs, who were then destroyed, shows that salvation comes from the Jews and we, as Gentiles, should recognise the superiority of the Jewish law over our historical, heathen practices. The swineherds weren’t being very sensitive to their Jewish neighbours by keeping massive herds of pigs next to Jewish territory. Jesus may have thought it was highly appropriate sending ‘unclean spirits’ into ‘unclean animals’. Demons can possess animals as well as people but people are first choice as a demon’s key aim is to stop us turning to God with faith and accepting His priceless offer of eternal life. God loves animals but demonstrated that saving one human life is worth thousands of animals. We are all uniquely precious to God.

The demons begged Jesus repeatedly not to order them ‘into the Abyss’ (v.31). Demons are terrified of being sent down into hell to await the end of time as they will suffer for ever and can never receive forgiveness.

The man, who had been exorcised, longed to go with Jesus but he is sent back to his own town as the first travelling disciple to the Gentiles. Jesus knows where each disciple can do his best work. This is long before Peter converts Cornelius in Acts 9-10 and Paul starts his travels as apostle to the gentiles. Maybe some of the Gentiles that the exorcised man spoke to travelled back across the lake and tracked down Jesus seeking their own healing and deliverance.

In other gospels, the area is describe as Gadara with the pigs called the ‘Gadarene swine’. From this comes the adjective ‘Gadarene’ describing a headlong rush. For example, ‘Today, there was an unwise Gadarene stampede to the hairdresser as soon as Covid lockdown ended’.

Psalm 39:1-3

King David kept his tongue from sin ‘as long as the wicked are in my presence’ (39:1). Any type of leader, pastor or even a lay Christian is constantly under minute scrutiny from the wicked to see if they slip up and reveal themselves to be hypocrites. We have to be on our guard as to what we say and do. However, when he stopped speaking completely ‘not even saying anything good’ (v.2), he found his anguish increased. We need to keep talking to God.

David reflects on how short our life is and how pointless piling up wealth is just for someone else to inherit it. As soon as I had calculated that God had delivered sufficient funds into my pension pot I retired from my secular job. There was no point heaping up extra riches; my children are more than capable of looking after themselves. Our lives are so fleeting, we need to dump secular concerns as soon as we can and get on with the work of God. Covid lockdown taught me how little money we need to live happily and how worthless most possessions are.

God will ‘rebuke and discipline men for their sin’ (v.11) but each time he does this, we can withstand it more easily and come out happier and healthier each time. I was last rebuked and disciplined for becoming too lazy in my Catholic faith. I was attending a church where the power of the Holy Spirit was not being displayed. I could see no miracles or healings taking place. God allowed me to become ill and to be attacked by the wicked. In desperation for spiritual help, I met local Pentecostals and, under their joyful care, God healed me, instructed me and strengthened me in order to bring back more of the good news to my Catholic brethren. I have had several major trials from God, the first two nearly killed me but the last one I stormed through, keeping both my sanity and my sense of humour, because I handed myself over to God for him to sort everything out. Praise be to God for my salvation.

Picture: Katolophyromai, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0&gt;, via Wikimedia Commons

Moses appoints Joshua / Parable of the Sower: March 30th 2021

Numbers 27:12-29:11

The Lord instructed Moses to ascend a mountain, to view from afar the land that had been given to the Israelites. Moses was destined to die there because of his earlier disobedience (Numbers 20:9-12).

Moses didn’t plead with God for an even longer life but asked for God to provide a new leader ‘so that the Lord’s people will not be like a sheep without a shepherd’ (27:17). It’s wonderful that Moses’ concern was not for himself but for the Israelites to have a worthy leader as his successor. God has lined up Moses’ assistant Joshua ‘a man in whom is the Spirit (v.18) to become leader. It was quite rare in the Old Testament for the Holy Spirit to be in someone permanently. Normally, the Spirit came to rest on someone temporarily for a specific purpose / prophesy. These days, all baptized Christians can benefit from the priceless help and comfort of the Holy Spirit inside them permanently. We just have to invite him to come into our lives fully, giving us all his gifts and fully ignite our faith.

Ministry was passed on by the laying on of hands (v.18 and v.23). Moses was instructed to officially ordain Joshua in front of the entire assembly so everyone was clear about the identity of the authorised leader. It was extremely important to appoint a spiritual man to such an important role. His decision making would mean either prosperity or disaster for the entire Israelite nation.

Joshua would have help making decisions in that he could ask the priest to consult the mysterious ‘Urim’ (v.21). The Urim was a supernatural object which allowed God to communicate decisions. The Urim usually went together with the Thummim (see Exodus 20:30) and resided in the ceremonial breast piece worn by the Chief Priest. It may possibly have been a way of casting lots, or the priest might have looked through it to see a vision / answer. Either way, it is lost now – judging by the quality of many world leaders’ decisions (https://bible.org/question/how-did-urim-and-thummim-function). Maybe they were destroyed or reside in Ethiopia with the Ark of the Covenant. One suggestion is that these objects only functioned when the early Israelite priests had the Holy Spirit residing in them. Later on, the Holy Spirit withdrew from the priests and gave temporary power to certain prophets by resting on them. God doesn’t like to make things too easy. He created multiple languages after Babel in Genesis (Genesis 11:7) so we couldn’t understand each other and could possibly have removed the Urim and Thummin to make us pray to him as individuals for advice rather than letting a priest find out from God what our decisions should be.

The rest of today’s reading covers the complicated list of offerings required daily, monthly, on the Sabbath day and on specific feast days. As Christians, these don’t apply to us but it is fascinating to see how specific God was for each occasion.

Luke 8:1-18

Jesus travelled from place to place. We hear about ‘Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out’ (v.2). When multiple demons infest someone they will obey the most senior / powerful demon present, who may prevent the lower powered demons from leaving during an exorcism. There is a power hierarchy for the nine different choirs of angels / demons with the seraphim at the top and ordinary angels at the bottom. Jesus, as the Chief Exorcist, had the authority to bind and cast out the most senior demon in Mary, along with all the others (see Matthew 12:29 – ‘How can anyone enter a strong man’s house and carry off his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man? Then he can plunder his house’).

Jesus and his disciples had financial support from women who had been cured of diseases and exorcised (v.3). It’s significant that Joanna was the wife of the manager of King Herod’s household. This Herod’s full name was Herod Antipas and he was the son of ‘Herod the Great’ who had attempted to murder baby Jesus. Joanna was a member of the upper class of Jewish society and if she was subsidised by her husband’s wages, Jesus would have been indirectly using money from the King for his ministry. Joanna may have contracted a serious diseases or demonic oppression because her husband worked for the evil King. She turned to Jesus for her cure.

We then have the famous parable of the sower. When my children were growing up, I can really relate to ‘the seed that fell among thorns’. This signifies those who hear but ‘as they go on their way they are choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature’ (v.14). It has only been after my children grew up and started to do their own thing that I started to feel I could begin to produce a crop through perseverance. So the different types of soil may represent different stages of our lives. I might cycle through the different examples that Jesus gives us weekly or daily. I may go to church on one Sunday as ‘good soil’ and hear the word and retain it. The very next week, I might be distracted by worldly cares and then I am thorny ground. The place we don’t want to be is the path, which is where most people are. We must believe and be saved. Do not let the devil take away the joyful gospel from your hearts. Believe and be saved.

After we receive the Holy Spirit at our baptism, we should shine his light to everyone through the joyful and charitable way we lead our lives. We must be lights for all the world. When we have the Holy Spirit, we will be given more of his gifts and wisdom if we ask God for it. If people reject coming to Christ in baptism and live an empty, superficial life without searching for God, ‘even what he thinks he has will be taken from him (v.18).

Psalm 38:13-22

King David show us that no matter how we are feeling we can be confident that God will eventually answer us (v.15).

We can be surrounded by hostile, evil people who ‘repay by good with evil’ (v.20). Many Christians find they are slandered by friends, family and acquaintances just for trying to follow the Christian faith. They ‘slander me when I pursue what is good’ (v.20).

We know that if we confess our sins and believe in Him, God will not be far from us. Praying in tongues demonstrates that God is actually within us at all times. The Holy Spirit is always there to help us, we just have to hand over control to Him and He will build us up to confound our enemies.

Jesus anointed by a Sinful Woman: March 29th 2021

Numbers 26:12-27:11

Here we read a long list of the clans of Israel. This must be fascinating if you are of Jewish heritage and can trace your family line all the way back to one of these biblical clans. The total number of the fighting men of Israel was 601,730 (v.51) and the land was allocated in proportion to the number of people in each clan. This makes sense in terms of ecology / population density but one hopes that a small tribe, such as the Simeonites with 22,200 men, was happy at receiving a third of the land that the clans of Judah (76,500 men) were given. God told us all to ‘Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth’, (Genesis 9:1). The clans who been the most fecund were rewarded with the most land.

We learn the names of Moses’ father and mother, Amram and Jochebed (v.59-60).

There were now 23,000 male Levites (over a month old) – a veritable army to carry the Tabernacle and the Holy Things into the promised land (v.62).

This census was taken after the 40 years of wandering around the desert that God had mandated after the Israelites refused to enter the promised land. All the adults that had refused to go in had now perished apart from Moses, Caleb and Joshua.

In chapter 27, there are early champions for women’s rights: the daughters of Zelophehad. Their father had died in the desert without a male heir and so they petitioned Moses that they should inherit property and keep their father’s name going. Moses didn’t give an answer off the top of his head but represented them before the Lord, who agreed with them and dictates: ‘If a main dies and leaves no son, give his inheritance over to his daughter’ (v.9). It’s a long way from full equal rights but revolutionary at the time.

We see that Noah can be a female name as well as male. I am particularly taken with the name of one of her sisters, Hoglah. I think that this should be far more popular than it currently is.

Luke 7:36-50

A lady of the night wets Jesus’ feet with her tears, wipes them with her hair and pours perfume on them (v.38).

Sounds very relaxing – my feet are aching after slogging around the town with my miniature dachshund on her extensive lockdown walks.

The Pharisee looks down on Jesus for accepting this attention, even though the Pharisee had obviously let the lady into his house. He was prepared to have her around but obviously kept himself guarded and apart from her, which prevented her from changing her way of life sooner. Jesus was actually prepared for her to touch him and this intimate contact with holiness helped her to heal.

The woman proves her faith by her deeds in ministering to Jesus. Without her actions, Jesus wouldn’t have been able to say, ‘Your faith has saved you; go in peace’ (v.50).

Jesus came to call sinners, not the righteous to repentance (Luke 5:32). It is marvellous when you meet people who appear to have been righteous throughout their live, particularly Christian students starting at university. They do stand out as wonderfully meek ‘aliens’ in a foreign land, surrounded by their fellow students who are drinking and fornicating. I think it’s a challenge for the righteously meek to show overt joy. As a forgiven sinner, I have this great feeling of joy and happiness in my heart all the time. I know what it was like to be in the depths of despair and to be rescued by Jesus. Who loves more? The person who has been forgiven more. ‘But he who has been forgiven little loves little’ (27:47). I think it’s more challenging for people who have never had to be forgiven of grave sin to demonstrate such a high level of gratitude. They tend to look on in quiet, calm bemusement at the dreadful behaviour going on around them. Whereas, children of the Eighties such as me can look at today’s fleshly people and remember that we were once like that.

Even righteous people, who have behaved themselves all their lives, will still have carried out small sins. No-one is sinless apart from Jesus (and, particularly if you’re Catholic, the Virgin Mary (CCC,493)). So Jesus still suffered and died terribly even for people who appear to show exemplary behaviour and we all need to reflect on this. We can schedule a daily reflection time to consider that no-one is righteous before God without the sacrifice of Jesus. We all needed rescuing by the priceless gift of Jesus’s precious blood and even if we didn’t experience an exhilarating pardon from decades of accumulated sin, we should all exhibit huge amounts of joy, gratitude and love.

Proverbs 8:12-21

Wisdom is associated with prudence, knowledge and discretion (v.12). A very powerful combination.

If we are in awe (fear) of the Lord, we hate evil, pride, arrogance and perverse speech (v.13). As a result, I can’t stand watching most politicians on TV debate shows.

However, a few rare rulers do possess wisdom allowing them to make just laws (v.15) and giving them counsel and sound judgement (v.14).

We are guaranteed wisdom if we ask God for it. ‘Those who seek me find me’ (v.17). I would much rather hire someone with wisdom, with a degree in common sense, then an unwise person with a raft of formal qualifications.

Wisdom is better than gold and silver (V.19). It makes us love justice and righteousness. If we seek wisdom and love it, it will bestow ‘wealth on those who love’ it and make ‘their treasuries full’ (v.21).

Picture: Artus Wolffort, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Moabite Women and Jesus raises the dead: March 28th 2021

Numbers 23:27-26:22

The Moabite King, Balak, took the prophet Balaam to a third location overlooking the Israelites hoping this would change God’s mind to curse the Israelites rather than to bless them. People can be very persistent when trying to pursue evil. Balaam had the sense to continue to obey God and blessed them, ‘May those who bless you be blessed and those who curse you be cursed!” (v.9).

The King was furious and refused to pay Balaam. It is interesting that he didn’t harm or imprison the prophet. Balaam was respected and feared as the King knew that Balaam did receive genuine words and visions from God. Balaam confirmed that however much money he was offered, he couldn’t go against Gods commands. He even gave a final prophecy for free, which must have really ruined the King’s day, by predicting the Israelites would conquer Moab and several other nations.

The Moabites might not have been able to win in battle but they had other ways to scupper the Israelites. The Israelite men start to have sex with Moabite women in the picturesque town of Shittim. I live in North Wales and we have hundreds of villages named after places in the Bible: Bethel, Nebo, or Carmel. We even have a little village called Sodom, in the county of Denbighshire. However, the name ‘Shittim’ does not seem to have been adopted even though it means something innocent like ‘acacia trees’. Once, the Moabite women had seduced the men, they ‘invited them to the sacrifices to their gods. The people ate and bowed down before these Gods’ (v.2). Of course, God was going to be infuriated by this unfaithful behaviour. The devil knows today that women can easily corrupt men through the power of sex and turn them from God and so exorcists report that far more women than men are oppressed or possessed by the devil. It’s the ‘Eve Principle’. A woman working for Satan can turn far more men away from God, than a man can turn women away. If Adam had been alone in Eden, he would have continued to ignore the tree that he had been banned from eating from. It was Eve’s persuasive power and Adam’s weakness to resist her that pulled down the entire human race.

Amorth states that women are far more often demonised than men because they go to fortune tellers more, which gives demons a legal right to attach to them. Our Pastor reported that once when she carried out a village baptism session in Africa, 14 out of the 40 women who came to be baptised were heavily demonised. None of the men showed similar signs. The baptisms had to be carried out in a large oil-drum full of water and when a demonised women was dunked under the water, the demons would not let them come back up. They tried to drown the women and the women started to squirm like snakes under the water as the demons manifested. Possession by snake demons is still common in many parts of the world. It took a lot of physical effort to drag the women back to the surface, finish the baptism and deliver them from the demons. The golden rule of carrying out baptisms in the field is always to baptise the largest men first, then they can physically wrestle any demonised women back to the surface.

The Israelites have to put to death anyone who has worshipped the demonic God of the Moabites and another plague breaks out among them killing 24,000. The son of the Chief Priest spears an Israelite man and his new Midianite wife, and God gives him a covenant of peace and an everlasting priesthood. This must have been a bit awkward for Moses, who of course was married to a Midianite woman, Zipporah (see my blog for 27th March).

A second census taken totalling all the men over twenty years old and this comes to 601,730. At the last census there was 603,550 but this new census was taken after 40 years of wandering in the desert, so numbers haven’t really gone up due to the elderly Israelites dying in the desert, fighting with indigenous tribes, earthquakes swallowing rebels and several plagues as punishments for disobedience.

Luke 7:11-35

Jesus was touched with compassion at the grief of a widow over her dead son, ‘When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her and he said, ‘Don’t cry’ (v.13).

Jesus raised the dead son and ‘gave him back to his mother’ (v.15).

John the Baptist, in prison, wondered if Jesus was the promised Messiah. Jesus told John’s disciples to report back to him the miracles that were taking place. When people come to our churches they should expect to see miracles taking place through the power of the Holy Spirit working through us. We should all be witnessing miraculous cures / miracles / prophecies and words of knowledge. At the Pentecostal church I attend, there are often testimonies about medical miracles that have occurred after prayer. For example, members of the congregation have had fibroids that required an operation or a skin cancer – only for the patients to be miraculously cured by the time they came to the hospital for treatment. There are scans, medical records and baffled doctors to prove this. Every week, people bring prophecies and words of knowledge from God. This should be a weekly occurrence in all churches. How else do we prove that the word of God is true and powerful? If we don’t see miracles happening on a regular basis in our churches, it is because our priests / pastors and fellow parishioners do not have enough faith, are not sufficiently filled with the Holy Spirit and are not praying to God for miracles because they don’t believe He can do what He says He will do. This is disobedient, rebellious unbelief. I would suggest that we should all move to a place where we will see some miracles and pray for the Holy Spirit to fully come into our bodies and ignite it with fire and power so that we can carry out miraculous healings for the glory of God.

The baptism that John had carried out for the forgiveness of sins had changed peoples hearts so they were able to acknowledge Jesus’ words. The hard-hearted, like the Pharisees, who had resisted John’s call to repentance, which would have prepared them to receive and accept Jesus, rejected God’s purpose for themselves. Baptism is a legal requirement for us to go into God’s Kingdom. We should be desperate to receive it. Baptism removes all traces of sin and puts a permanent supernatural seal stamped on our hearts that we belong to God. If you call yourself a Christian, yet haven’t been baptized you should be earnestly desiring it and must arrange it as soon as possible. You might not feel you need to do it if you have been ‘born again’, but it’s a legal requirement to enter heaven after you die and the demons, who will formally argue against you entering heaven, are extremely legalistic. You ‘might not feel’ you need a passport to enter a foreign country like Australia but you will not be allowed in without one. Similarly, we should desire our baptismal passport to enable us to enter the presence of God.

Unlike John the Baptist, Jesus enjoyed a party and drank wine. Whatever people in the public eye do, they are going to be criticised. People didn’t like John’s abstinence but they also criticised Jesus mixing with sinners and enjoying a drink with them. I think the key rule, when it comes to alcohol, is constant moderation. I like to avoid obvious temptations and so I don’t normally have crisps, chocolate or alcohol in the house. I also don’t like clutter. I would never have a wine cellar or even a wine rack in my home as I would set myself a challenge to empty it. In lockdown, I have diligently consumed all the food from our enormous chest freezer and cleared out our huge loft. Once I start on a challenge to tidy something, it will get done. But if friends were coming to dinner, I might buy a single bottle of wine and wouldn’t feel guilty about drinking several glasses. However, I work much more efficiently if I haven’t been drinking, I sleep more soundly and I seem to get more inspiration about what to write about. There are plenty of scripture readings about how alcohol might hinder us if we let it take over:

‘And these also stagger from wine and reel from beer: Priests and prophets stagger from beer and are befuddled with wine; they reel from beer, they stagger when seeing visions, they stumble when rendering decisions’ (Isaiah 28:7).

‘Wine is a mocker and beer a brawler; whoever is led astray by them is not wise’ (Proverbs 20:1).

Psalm 38:1-12

Poor King David is in a miserable state. He pleads with God to not rebuke or discipline him (v.1). God’s wrath has descended on him, because of his sin, and ‘there is no health’ in his body (v.3).

He is completely distraught: feeble, utterly crushed and he groans in anguish (v.8).

People avoid him (v.11) but his enemies are still setting traps for him. The same Psalm finishes with David calling out to God, ‘Come quickly to help me, my Lord and my Saviour’ (v.22).

However, we know today that Jesus will never leave us: ‘And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age’ (Matthew 28:20). If we have have been baptized, we have the Holy Spirit dwelling within us and are adopted children of God.

We will face tests and trials in our life but positive things will come out of all of them. They help to make us strong.

‘And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose, (Romans 8:28).

‘See, I have refined you, though not as silver. I have tested you in the furnace of affliction’ (Isaiah 48:10).

We can look back on previous issues and reflect on how God brought us through them. We can shrug off new trials – that would previously have floored us – with confidence, while retaining our internal joy.

‘We also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope’ (Romans 5:3).

God will rescue us in the end if we keep faith

‘And the God of all Grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast’ (1 Peter 5:10).

Picture: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/f/f8/Christ_raises_the_widow%27s_son_from_the_dead._Wood_engraving_Wellcome_V0034858.jpg See page for author, CC BY 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Balaam’s Donkey / Building on Rock: 27th March 2021

Numbers 22:21-23:26

Balaam saddled his donkey and went with the princes of Moab. God was very angry, even though He had told Balaam to go with them (22:20). An angel stood in his way to block him, because his path ‘is a reckless one before me’ (v.32). Maybe God thought Balaam was still just pursuing a large payment for his services and can’t be trusted to listen to God’s advice. This reminds me of when God met Moses at a lodging place on the way back to Egypt (Exodus 4:24) and ‘was about to kill him‘ even though God had just told Moses to return to Egypt. Moses is saved by his wife, Zipporah, carrying out an emergency circumcision on their baby boy and furiously flinging the bloody foreskin onto Moses feet, ‘Surely you are a bridegroom of blood to me’ (Exod. 4:25). Moses is saved by the spilled blood. This is a very strange story.

Moses had been chosen by God to be the leader of the currently enslaved Israelite nation, yet had failed to carry out the most important act of the Old Testament Blood Covenant – circumcising his son. From his wife’s fury, we can guess that she was the one who had refused to have their son circumcised but Moses had been weak, failing to insist that it must be carried out. Zipporah only relented when Moses was about to be killed. Even more disturbingly, is that if you believe that all actual physical encounters with ‘the Lord’ in the Old Testament are actually with Jesus (known as Christophanies) – as he is the only incarnate person of the Trinity and no-one can see God without dying – this would have been Jesus ‘about to kill Moses’ (4:24), who then lets ‘him alone’ (Exodus 4:26) only after his son’s blood touches Moses’ feet. Moses is spared and forgiven through the shedding of blood, just as we are justified and made righteous through the shedding of Jesus’ precious blood on the cross.

So, in summary we have Jesus arriving as an assassin to kill Moses because he wasn’t fit to the lead the Israelites, having failed to have his son circumcised. However, it is easy to forget about the time travelling abilities of God. God can move around time and knows the past, present and future. So God knew that if Moses was threatened with death, Zipporah would finally relent to having her son circumcised and Moses wouldn’t be killed. God knows the future and the choices people will make under pressure. It just shows how radical God is prepared to get in order to make people obey some foundational rules. We know today that a basic requirement to get into heaven is to be baptized. The indelible supernatural stamp you receive on your soul from baptism is like a passport with a valid visa allowing you entry into a country. If someone has refused to become baptized, when they have been told this fact, God may start doing some radical things in their life to get them to comply.

Amazing stories like this demonstrate the truth of the Bible. People haven’t just included the easy, ‘God is love’ stories. They have included the hard to digest, tough-love stories. Moses wrote the first five books of this Bible and he doesn’t hold being nearly killed by God against Him in any way. So Exodus chapter 4 is basically Moses saying, ‘Yes, God was about to kill me, but he didn’t. I deserved it, because my wife and I failed to respect his covenant. Nothing to see here, let’s move on with the story’.

It’s very similar to Abraham very nearly sacrificing his son Isaac in Genesis 22. These days, if we heard a voice in our heads saying, ‘Sacrifice your family as a burnt offering‘, we can reply, ‘It is written, thou shalt not kill. Get behind me, Satan.’ However, Abraham was sure it was actually God that had given him the instruction to slay his beloved son. Maybe the command had come from Jesus, if God had actually appeared to Abraham in physical form. Abraham was so full of faith that he was actually going to kill Isaac. Yet, God knew he was going to be stopped at the very last minute and no-one was going to die.

God sent an angel to oppose Balaam and it stood in the road. The donkey that Balaam was riding tried to avoid the angel repeatedly – despite being beaten for its troubles – and eventually lay down and refused to move. We then have the fascinating line, ‘The Lord opened the donkey’s mouth’ (v.28) and she started to speak. We learn from this that: animals can potentially talk (however, God has closed their mouths so they normally don’t); they can see angels when we can’t; they can try to save us through their actions; they have a memory, a sense of belonging to someone and a sense of justice, ‘Have I been in the habit of doing this to you?’ (v.30). Presumably God let all the animals in the garden of Eden talk (hence Eve’s conversation with the serpent wasn’t considered unusual) and perhaps they were all still talking on Noah’s ark up until the flood receded and the fear and dread of humans fell upon them (Genesis 9:2). This should make us treat the creatures in our lives with even more respect. If God opens their mouths, what are they going to say about us? I hope the birds in the garden will testify on my behalf, ‘He spent an awful lot on peanuts’.

Eventually, the Lord opens Balaam’s eyes so he can see the angel too (v.31). This means that there is a gift of seeing / discerning spirits that God can turn on and off in us as he pleases. We can pray to the Holy Spirit to be given this gift as it is both useful and fascinating. The evangelist, Ros Powell, https://www.rospowell.com/, told me how she was once at a Christian conference in Blackpool queueing up to receive prayer ministry and she could see a demonic spirit attached to a pretty girl in a line of people parallel to hers. The spirit was giving off clouds of scent / pheromones which made every woman that walked past gravitate towards this girl. Ros said this was fascinating to watch. It wasn’t Ros’s conference so she couldn’t march over and offer to deliver the girl. She left it to the designated prayer leaders. However, later in the week, Ros, accompanied by her husband, decided to go on a trip into town for lunch and this same girl got on the bus (with the same demonic spirit still attached to her). She was, of course, accompanied by a female friend. Ros was ‘on holiday’ but prayed to the Lord ‘If you want me to do something, you will have to show me a sign.‘ Eventually, Ros and her husband reached their destination and got off at the bus stop in the centre of Blackpool only for the demonised girl and her friend to get up and follow them. Ros felt she was directed to go up to the girl in the bus stop, explain what she could see and ask if the girl wanted God to deliver her from it. The girl willingly agreed. She must have sensed that something was amiss which is why she had attended the conference. Ros prayed for deliverance while they were all still standing in the Blackpool bus stop and the spirit detached itself and left. . The gift of spiritual discernment is a powerful weapon for the urban prayer warrior.

The angel was going to kill Balaam if he had continued – and spare the innocent donkey – but Balaam apologises and offer to go back home. The angel confirms he can continues but can only say what he is told to say.

Perhaps Balaam had started to brag to the Moabite princes about what he was capable to doing to the Israelites and needed clear guidance that he ‘must speak only what God puts in his mouth’ (Numbers 22:38).

Balaam and Balak built seven altars for sacrifices of bulls and rams and twice Balaam met with God and delivered God’s messages back to Balak. Balaam confirms the Israelites cannot be cursed, as God has not cursed them (23:8) and that ‘There is no sorcery against Jacob, no divination against Israel’ (23:23). Balak’s plot has been completely foiled. He has brought Balaam to curse the Israelites who, at Gods command, continues to bless them. Employing Balaam has damaged his plan to defeat the Israelites and now he desperately wants Balaam to shut up before even more blessings are imparted to them, ‘Neither curse them at all nor bless them at all!’ (23:25).

We can all learn the lesson that if we plan evil against righteous people it can harm us more than it harms them.

Luke 6:37-7:10

Here we have important lessons on not judging (or condemning). If we forgive, we will be forgiven (v.37). We should generously give and ‘it will be given back to you’ (v.38). There is the warning against a blind man leading a blind man (v.39-40) and a warning not to be hypocrites (v. 41-42).

Recognise a good tree by it’s good fruit, ‘The Good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart’ (v.45). I pray that this blog is populated by the overflow of good stories and reflections that have built up in my heart as I have attentively listed to dozens of teachers from a multitude of denominations over the years,

We should lay our foundation on rock like the wise builder (6:48). We can take this as basing our lives on the words and commands of Jesus and we have to put his teachings into practice. As Peter (the rock) was the first Pope I base my life on the 2,000 years of sound foundational teaching curated by the Catholic church, which will keep me safe when floods come. I am under the church’s authority, which gives my reflections validity. If the church points out any errors, I will apologise and correct them accordingly. The Centurion recognised, from his own experience of being under authority, the valid power that Jesus possessed.

The gentile Centurion demonstrated great faith, ‘But say the word, and my servant will be healed’ (7:7). The elders pleaded with Jesus asking him to help because the Centurion had given to the Israelites. He loved them and had built a synagogue (v.5). This goes back to 6:38 ‘Give, and it will be given back to you’. The Centurion could not have predicted that when he freely gave to build a synagogue, his generosity would later help persuade the Son of God to give him back the priceless life of his valued servant.

Psalm 37:32-40

‘The wicked lie in wait for the righteous’ (v.32). If you are a Christian in a modern secular workplace, you will be surrounded by wicked people, probably even your own boss, who will be looking for any opportunity to persecute you. However, the Lord will not leave us in their control ‘or let them be condemned when brought to trial(v.33).

Many wicked and ruthless managers get shifted around or promoted from job to job ‘flourishing like a green tree in its native soil (v.35) and so we usually just have to be patient for their future to be cut off, ‘he soon passed away and was no more’ (v.36). ‘All sinners will be destroyed’ (v.38).

God will be our stronghold in times of trouble while we wait for his deliverance, because we take refuge in him. ‘The salvation of the righteous comes from the Lord’ (v.39).

Picture: Miguel Hermoso Cuesta, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Bronze Snake and ‘Love your enemies’: March 26th 2021

Numbers 21:4-22:20

The Israelites stepped up their complaining. Previously, they had just moaned about God’s representative, Moses, and God hadn’t appreciated that. This time they also ‘spoke against God’ (v.5). They were even ungrateful for the manna that was sustaining them in the desert, without which they would all be dead: ‘And we detest this miserable food!” (v.5).This wasn’t going to end well and ‘the Lord sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died’ (v.6).

God hates ingratitude so we need to make sure the first thing on our agenda each morning is to praise and be grateful to him. It’s interesting that God was using his created fauna, this time snakes, to plague the Israelites. He used a menagerie of frogs, flies, gnats and locusts against the Egyptians. The snake was an interesting choice, The last time we heard about the serpent was when Satan deceived Eve in the guise of a snake and it was then cursed to crawl on its belly. God has rehabilitated these reptiles to do his work for him.

The Israelites again asked Moses to rescue them / interceding through prayer to God. They just wanted the snakes to go but God didn’t make it that easy for them or they would soon forget the lesson. When they were bitten, they actually had to do something. They had to go and look at a bronze snake on a pole – then they would live, There is often a debate in Christianity whether we are saved through faith or works of a combination of both. Here, an Israelite is cured if they go and look at the snake. It doesn’t say they have to believe this will happen or to have faith in God. However, all the Israelites were operating at a much higher level of faith then our society does. They saw miracles on a daily basis – being led by the cloud descending or ascending from the tabernacle. They knew God existed, that he could prevent them from dying from snakebite and that Moses relayed his instructions faithfully. However, they were still saved by works – in that they had to go and find wherever the snake was in camp and look at it. We are saved by faith (belief) and baptism. However, faith and believe are still ‘works” as we have to choose to do them. We aren’t passively saved, we have to choose to accept God’s gracious and priceless gift of salvation. We have to work to be baptized – finding a minister to do it, going to church, agreeing to climb into the water. We work in a partnership with God for our salvation. God does all the supernatural heavy lifting of course. He is only too pleased to do the majority of the work for us if make a tiny effort. However, the fact remains is that we do have to make a conscious effort to accept God’s freely offered gift of salvation.

Making a bronze snake on a pole is highly unusual because it could easily become an idol that is worshipped instead of God. By the time Hezekiah become king of Judah, the Israelites have named the bronze snake and are burning incense to it. However, the snake on the pole represents Jesus on the cross, ‘Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life. (John 3:14-15).’ The serpent in Eden was punished by God for its transgressions. Jesus on the cross, took on our transgressions and punishment, so that if we turn to him we can live.

Hezekiah (2 Kings 4) broke the bronze serpent into pieces as the Israelite were worshipping it, instead of God. It should have been broken up and destroyed as soon as the venomous snakes had gone – if they ever did – but by now the Israelites were starting to collect a a large collection of holy objects – from the ark, altar and lampstand to the stone tablets, jar of manna and Aaron’s staff. They just added the bronze snake to the collection.

The Israelites politely asked Sihon, King of the Amorites, if they could pass through his country. He refused and attacked them. Israel killed him and took over a large number of settlements. Sihon probably mistrusted the Israelites and thought that they would have stripped the resources from his country. However, it would have been a lot better to trust in their word and take a risk rather challenging more than half a million fighting men. This victory allowed the Israelites to settle in the area and God assured them that they could also defeat Og, King of Bashan, and his whole army. They take possession of his land too. Things are going well for the Israelites – as long at they always trust in God to fight for them.

The Israelites settled across from Jericho and Balak, the King of Moab, realised that they are so many of them that he will require supernatural assistance to defeat them. He hired a professional ‘prophet’ called Balaam to curse the Israelites ‘For I know that those you bless are blessed and those you curse are cursed’, (Numbers 22:6). Even though Balaam charges a fee for his services, which religious people are not allowed to do ‘freely you have received, freely you give’ (Matthew 10:8), he did seem to have some sort of relationship with God. He was confident that the Lord would give him an answer during the night and, indeed, God did come to him and asked ‘Who are these men with you? (Numbers 22:9). It’s fascinating that a professional gentile prophet is making a living amongst a pagan population and regularly communicates with God. However, Balaam is condemned in the New Testament (2 Peter 2:15) as no-one should curse people professionally for money. As God knows everything, he already knew who Balaam’s visitors were and so he must have been testing Balaam with the question to check his honesty and motives. God instructed Balaam that he must not put a curse on the Israelites – as they are blessed and that he must not go back with the Moabite delegation. Balaam obeyed completely. However, the king does not take ‘no’ for an answer and sent even more distinguished visitors with the promise of a higher fee. This time, God permitted Balaam to go with the Moabites but to ‘do only what I tell you (22:20).

This shows we should continuously ask God for guidance as he may change his advice when circumstances change.

Luke 6:12-36

After a night praying to God, Jesus called all his followers and chose twelve to be apostles. The list is in order of importance with Simon (now called Peter) at the start and Judas Iscariot at the end. The Holy Spirit must have advised Jesus to make this selection. Judas had been working devoutly to be elevated from a disciple to ‘an apostle’ and would have healed people and delivered them. The Holy Spirit knew what traitorous decisions he would make in the future but still included him because God turns all bad things to good for those who love him.

Power came from Jesus and healed all the people who come to see him. All those troubled by evil spirits were cured. Jesus gave a list of ‘blessings and woes’ which are similar to the beatitudes in Matthew 5 but seem a bit more physical. In Luke, Jesus says ‘blessed are you who are poor’ (v.20) ‘ but Matthew says ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit‘ (Matthew 5:3). Luke says ‘blessed are those who hunger‘ (v.21) but Matthew has ‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness‘ (Matthew 5:6).

‘Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment (1 Timothy 6:17). Prosperity pastors point out that people such as Abraham, Joseph, David and Solomon were rich and still enjoyed favour with God. However, we are commanded to ‘do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share’ (1 Timothy 6:18). The poor are often relatively more generous than the well-off and shame us by giving more generously than we do, like the widow in the temple (Mark 12:41-44). Luke 6:24-36 clearly implies that those who are rich, well fed, laugh and well regarded in this life will not have such a great reward in heaven as those who were poor, hungry and wept. It’s warning to the majority of us who sit in warm houses with plenty of food in the fridge. while other people in the world are starving. We should be grateful to God for all he richly provides for us but we should share. This reading encourages us to love more and give more generously. Obviously, we can’t give richly to the poor unless we are blessed by God with resources in the first place. God does not forsake the righteous and richly provides for us in order that they can be generous (Psalm 37:25-26). Even when we live in a nice house, with food for dinner we can still ‘hunger’. Many celebrities find that their lives are still missing something despite wealth, comfort, shallow laughter and the adoration of their fans. We can decide that our comfortable and cossetted life doesn’t satisfy us and it’s only by looking to Jesus and asking him to come into our life that we can be satisfied.

Our house and bank balance will just be left to others when we die. We possess nothing for eternity other than our relationship with God.

Jesus’ next radical teaching is that we should love our enemies and show mercy to all. It is such a blessing to forgive people who have wronged us rather than carry around hate, bitterness and unforgiveness, which will harm our relationship with God. Lack of forgiveness can also harm us both physically and spiritually. I spoke to a friend this week who said she used to suffer with constant throat problems and painful tonsillitis. When she went for prayer, the pastor told her, through a word of knowledge, that she needed to forgive a certain person. She thought she had forgiven them in her mind, but the pastor advised her to ‘say it out loud’ as Satan needed to hear it too. As soon as she forgave a certain person out loud, she felt something shift from her throat. her medical problems instantly cleared up and she never suffered again. Forgiveness is a decision and one we need to make as soon as possible after an issue, rather than letting unforgiveness fester in our hearts turning them hard and giving certain spirits a legal right to take up residence within us.

Psalm 37:21-31

If we are ‘righteous’ our children will not have to beg for bread (v.25). We can give generously (v.21) and utter wisdom (v.30). If the Lord blesses us, we will inherit the land (v.22) and the Lord will uphold us with his hand (v.24).

If we turn from evil and do good, we will not be forsaken as God loves the just and faithful (27-28). We will be protected for ever (v.28).

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

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