The Lost Sheep / Coin and the Prodigal Son: April 13th 2021

Deuteronomy 19:1-20:20

Moses dictated that the Israelites must set up three Cities of Refuge – that any Israelite could flee to if they accidentally killed someone. Lethal accidents must have been surprisingly common back then if they required three cities to accommodate those accused of manslaughter. Actual murderers, who killed someone with malicious intent, would not be allowed refuge, ‘You must purge from Israel the guilt of shedding innocent blood, so that it may go well with you (v.13). Things aren’t going well with us here in the UK in terms of the pandemic, national debt and social unease. We kill over 200,000 unborn children a year in state-sponsored abortion clinics. When that much innocent blood is shed, no-one can expect their country to thrive.

There had to be more than one witness to bring about a conviction and perjury was punished severely. For the third time in the Old Testament, Moses decrees an ‘eye for an eye, tooth for tooth’ (Deut.19:21). This time it applies to false testimony. If someone falsely accused another of a crime that warranted the death penalty, then the false witness deserved death. Jesus quoted this phrase in Matthew 5:38-42 and called us to forgiveness. If someone insults us, we shouldn’t retaliate. We should forgive immediately and not hold a grudge.

When going into battle, even against armies much greater than them, the priest would remind the Israelites that the ‘Lord your God is the one who goes with you to fight for you against your enemies to give you victory’ (20:4). Anyone who was afraid or faint hearted was allowed to avoid battle – ‘so that his brothers will not become disheartened too’ (v.8). Lack of faith is infectious. When we are waiting on God to provide a great victory, we need people of faith standing alongside us.

The Israelites were told to completely annihilate the tribes who lived in the cities they were to inherit or they would lure them into idol worship, a grievous sin against the Lord. It is interesting that the Israelites were not told to convert the local natives into Jews. That was obviously impossible. Since the resurrection of the Jesus and the coming of the Holy Spirit, we aren’t told to conquer and destroy other countries, we are told to preach the gospel to that they can turn to Jesus and be saved. Through the name of Jesus, we now have power to evangelise and to save rather than to destroy and kill.

God cares for the environment and instructed the Israelites not to wantonly cut down precious fruit trees to use their wood for war. We should preserve our food-chain and the natural environment for generations to come.

Luke 15:1-32

‘There will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent’ (v.7). Fifteen years ago, I woke up on the morning of Easter Saturday, the day I was scheduled to be confirmed and join the Catholic church and was stunned by what I found outside. As I stepped out of my back door and walked around the side of my house, there was a carpet of pure white feathers on the ground (‘there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents (v.10)’). I have never seen such a thing before or since. A whole flock of owls would have been hard pressed to provide this many feathers. An entire duvet would have had to have been disembowelled. I have heard pastors pour scorn on the popular notion that a feather could be sign that an angel has been near. However, as with all supernatural occurrences we shouldn’t judge and mock things we haven’t personally witnessed. I take this as a clear sign that my Guardian Angel had been rejoicing in celebration that finally, as a repentant sinner, I was going to be saved.

We are each assigned a Guardian Angel at the time of our conception to protect us and guide us to conversion. He does this by gentle promptings, arranging for us to meet people or encounter situations that will invite us to confess our sins, freely accept Jesus into our lives, believe and inherit eternal life. I was baptized as an infant and, if I had died soon after, I would have gone to heaven. However, as a teenager and a young adult I freely started to sin. My sins were frequent and, on reflection, serious. Even though I was a baptized Christian and had a tiny seed of the Holy Spirit within me, I think I was being led by the enemy ever so gently into hell. It just felt normal because all my peers were leading the same sort of life. I do think that as adults we have to freely make a choice to repent, say sorry to God and accept Jesus into our lives as our personal saviour. We have to believe in our heart and confess with our mouth. As a Catholic, this can be done by choosing to go through the Sacrament of Confirmation – which gives us an ‘indelible spiritual mark’ indicating that Jesus Christ has marked us ‘as a Christian with the seal of his Spirit by clothing him with power from on high so that he may be his witness (CCC,1304)’. A Protestant could also become confirmed or say the ‘Sinner’s Prayer’. The supernatural gift of Praying in the Spirit is wonderful evidence to show that we truly believe and that our repentance had been accepted by God, that we are fully adopted as God as his son or daughter and the Holy Spirit is now supernaturally activated within us. If we ask for it, we can experience the constant, live presence of the Holy Spirit edifying us and sanctifying us – illuminating areas of sin in our lives and empowering us to overcome them.

‘Confirmation is the special outpouring of the Holy Spirit as once granted to the apostles on the day of Pentecost‘ (CCC,1302). Following confirmation, I asked for the Holy Spirit to fully activate his gifts with me (a process known as ‘Baptism in the Spirit’) and a few weeks after doing this, I received the supernatural gift of Praying in Tongues (Praying in the Spirit).

I used to be lost – like a lost sheep or the prodigal son – because I had chosen to be lost. I had been safe with my heavenly Father and could have stayed with him all my life without straying but, of my own free will, I wandered off and became lost / submerged in the sin of the world. When I repented and came back into God’s embrace, there was joy and celebration. Jesus lifted me up and placed me on his shoulders for all to see. Both the Lost Sheep and the Lost Coin shows that God is actively looking for the lost. The lost sheep is so far away, it can’t get back by itself. The shepherd has to go and look for it, calling it but its name. The parable of the lost coin shows that someone can become lost simply by not doing anything. We can simply chose to ignore God’s gift of eternal life and not bother to become baptized and accept Jesus into their lives. We can just fall into the dust and dirt of the world and become lost. The coin didn’t wander off. It simply fell off people’s radar. However, God always knows where we are and will actively come looking for us, driving away the darkness from our lives with his light and sweeping away the sins that have covered us, that are hiding us from his face.

I have been a lost and prodigal son. I know what it was like to be far from God, mired and enslaved in sin and squandering my inheritance prior to being joyously welcomed back. It is wonderful that our Father watches out for us to return and sees us from a long way off. He will come running to us and embrace us. God doesn’t wander away from us. We always know where He is and how to find him. He is always present and overjoyed to see us return to him. The bitter older brother in the parable is an intriguing character. People who have been devout Christians from the cradle sometimes have a problem with prodigals. They can’t see why such a fuss needs to be made when one returns. Proud and self-righteous Cradle Christians can demonstrate little joy in their lives when a fellow Christian repents and returns to church even though we are called to be joy-filled evangelisers of the gospel. We all need to reflect that Jesus died for us. We all have an enormous amount to be grateful for and ensure we have made a personal conscious adult decision to repent, ask Jesus fully into our lives and for the Holy Spirit to give us a full measure of all his spiritual gifts. If heaven rejoices when a lost prodigal son or daughter is found, then so should we.

The Pharisees had repeatedly complained when Jesus ate with sinners or healed people on a Sabbath. The Pharisees should have been rejoicing – along with the angels in heaven – when they witnessed conversions, repentance and healings.

Psalm 45:1-9

The king has been richly blessed by God. His ‘lips have been anointed with grace’ (v.2).

He rides forth victoriously to uphold justice and loves ‘truth, humility and righteousness’ (v.4). The Queen of Great Britain exemplifies these virtues and we extend our condolences to her on the death of her husband, Prince Philip.

We can see why God has blessed our Queen with such a long life. She is not embarrassed to profess her faith in Jesus Christ. Our National Anthem is a prayer for God to save her and give her long life. Even though she has experienced many public and personal tragedies, deep inside her she has the deep rooted joy of the gospel.

Jesus’ dominion will last for ever. He loves justice and righteousness. He hates wickedness (v.7). His name is above all other names.

The Holy Spirit anoints Christians with his everlasting joy.

‘Therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions by anointing you with the oil of joy’ (v.7).

The Parable of the Great Banquet: April 12th 2021

Deuteronomy 16:21-18:22

The Israelites were told not to erect any sacred stones, ‘for these the Lord your God hates’ (v.22). Here in Wales, they always used to erect a permanent circle of standing stones whenever they held a National Eisteddfod – a annual gathering for Welsh poetry, prose and music. We have one down the road, a Gorsedd circle. I can see it down in a field as I walk my dog. It is a dodgy looking structure with a flat altar in the middle, just right for blood sacrifices. I avoid getting in close proximity to it. The ancient druids sacrificed thousands of innocent children to placate the demonic spirits they revered. A according to the Roman writer Tacitus: ‘they considered it a pious duty to slake the altars with captive blood and to consult their deities by means of human entrails‘, https://resourcesforhistory.com/celtic_druids.htm. When the Romans invaded a territory, they added the local native gods into their assortment (pantheon) of deities that it was permissible for Roman citizens to worship. The Romans only deemed it necessary to ban two religions: druidic practices and Christianity as both were considered too powerful – even if located at the opposite end of the holiness spectrum. Nowadays, the ‘druids’ of the modern Eisteddfod have toned down the heathen roots of their celebration so much that a former Archbishop of Canterbury allowed himself to be sworn in as a bard. They only set up fake stones today. Presumably, real stones are too expensive.

The Israelites were told to be zealous in purging evil from among them, putting to death anyone found worshipping other gods or celestial bodies (17:1-7). They were also instructed to have respect for the verdicts of judges and priests (17:8-13).

Moses predicts that the Israelites will appoint a king when they eventually settle in the promised land. He must be chosen by God and not obsessed with horses, women or wealth. Several of our modern royal family seem pretty keen on collecting horses. He predicts the fall of Solomon who took on too many wives, who lured him to worship other Gods,. ‘He must not take many wives, or his heart will be led astray (v.17). Kings are called to humility and must read the law of God all the days of his life.

The whole tribe of Levi, which includes all the priests, were to live on offerings from the other Israelites. Moses listed detestable practices that the Israelites must not inherit from the tribes they conquered such as child sacrifice. The list includes divination, sorcery, interpreting omens, witchcraft, casting spells and consulting the dead. When Harry Potter came out, the local children in our small Welsh village used to ride up and down our street shouting spells from the books at the top of their voices. ‘While he was still a cardinal in 2003, the future Pope Benedict XVI described the books as “subtle seductions which act unnoticed and by this deeply distort Christianity in the soul before it can grow properly”’, https://www.theguardian.com/books/2019/sep/02/harry-potter-books-removed-from-catholic-school-on-exorcists-advice

Instead of listening to sorcery or divination which comes from the evil one, the Israelites must only listen to a prophet, like Moses, who God will raise up from among their own brothers. Jesus was the new Moses. All of his prophecies came true such as the Jerusalem temple being destroyed (by the Romans) with no stone left on top of another.

Luke 14:15-35

Jesus told ‘the Parable of the Great Banquet’. The Jews are all invited to God’s banquet of forgiveness and eternal life but they all make poor excuses for not attending. I once heard someone say they couldn’t possibly get to Sunday worship because it would interfere with them cooking the lunch! The people making the excuses have all been highly blessed by God. God has given them abundant wealth so that one man can buy a field and another one five young of oxen. He has provided a wife to another man. They still won’t take time to join in a communal celebration, witness to how blessed they were and give thanks to God.

The poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame were all welcomed instead – the people considered ‘unclean’ by the Pharisees – but there was still room. Finally, all the Gentiles were brought in to be with God. It is a tragedy to turn down God’s priceless invitation due to the cares of the world.

The danger is that if we refuse God’s invitation when we are thoroughly blessed. If we refuse to acknowledge him and give him an offering in return, He might have no alternative other than to take the shackles off the devil and allow him to make us poor, crippled, blind or lame. It might only be when we are brought down to a desperate state that we will respond to God’s invitation. That is why God still allows suffering, disease and death in the world. How else can He get some people’s attention? God will only allow suffering if a greater good will come out of it. The Lord will give us a way out of any affliction if we turn to him.

There is a real cost to being a disciple of Jesus – but it’s a cost worth paying. We might be abused by our family, ignored by the public and have to give up well-paid secular professions. If we work in a secular workplace, everyone around us may be living lives completely opposed to gospel principles. It can be terribly draining to be constantly surrounded by non-belief. It is wonderful to regularly attend a church with a supportive and loving congregation and charge up each other’s batteries and hope for humanity with our shared faith.

Psalm 44:13-26

Sometimes, we can be the only practicing Christian on our street. We are meant to share the gospel with our neighbours. This might intrigue some of them but others will hate us for it, ‘you have made us a reproach to our neighbours (v.13).

Many Christians around the world are still being persecuted and murdered for their faith. We suffer more from mental abuse in the West. Most of society try to side-line us, revile us or, more commonly, ignore us and try to pretend we don’t exist. If I type any Christian sentiment on my brother’s Facebook page, he simply deletes it. We can expect regular scorn and derision from our family, friends and neighbours.

King David called on God to rouse himself and not to reject the Jews for ever. God roused himself in spectacular fashion by sending his only son to die for our sins. God rose up and redeemed the entire world because of his unfailing love (v.26).

Be Generous and Gather God’s Chicks: April 11th 2021

Deuteronomy 15:1 – 16:20

The Israelites were instructed to cancel debts to each other every 7 years (v.1). A commendable system, which would make many people’s lives much better if we applied it today to mortgages. The promised land was going to be so productive, God expected there to be no poor among them ‘if only you fully obey the Lord your God and are careful to follow all these commands I am giving you today. (v.4).’

By the time Jesus arrived, there were many poor people indicating how far away from God’s intentions the people had come. Jesus said, ‘the poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me (Matthew 26:11).

God decreed how financially secure the Jews would become, ‘you will lend to many nations but will borrow from none (v.6).

God called the Israelites to be generous to their less fortunate brothers and ‘freely lend him whatever he needs (v.8)’. They should do so ‘without a grudging heart’ (v.10) then God would bless them in everything they did. God states there will ‘always be poor people in the land’ (v.11). He may have been predicting the Israelites would not carefully follow all his commands or He was referring to widows, orphans and newly-arrived migrants who would rely on the charity of others.

Hebrew servants had to be freed in the seventh year (v.12) and supplied liberally with provisions. The Israelites must remember how they were liberated from Egypt and were given riches by the Egyptian on departure. Slaves could chose to stay with their master if they loved them and were well treated.

The Jews were to eat the firstborn of their herds and flocks in the presence of the Lord (v.20). At Passover, they were to eat unleavened bread – because they had to leave Egypt in haste. No yeast must be found in their possession for seven days (v.4). Yeast also represents sin. It starts as just a tiny amount, grows its tentacles into everything, making problems rise and grow. I read an article in which people complained that supermarkets had run out of yeast in lockdown. This amused microbiologists who pointed out the world can never run out of yeast. To get some, you just have to leave out an uncovered bowl of flour and water and the yeast will find you. The Israelites would have been eating sourdough, with natural yeast cultures blown to them by the desert winds. If we leave ourselves uncovered by the blood of Jesus, sin will also infect and start to grow in us.

‘No man should appear before the Lord empty-handed’ (16:16). We should all give to the Lord in proportion to the way we have prospered.

Justice must be a top priority. Officials must judge fairly with no partiality and must not accept bribes. The kingdom of heaven has the the most honest courts in creation. We would have been condemned for all eternity as sinners if Jesus’ death had not justified us in the sight of God.

Luke 13:31-14:14

Some Pharisees still had enough respect for Jesus that they warned him about Herod. Jesus was not intimidated by Herod wanting to kill him (v.32), even though he knew he was a cunning adversary. Jesus was used to people trying to kill him. Herod’s father had plotted to kill Jesus as soon as he was born. Jesus knew his Father would protect him until exactly the right moment he chose to lay down his life.

Jesus mourned over the spiritual state of Jerusalem. Its people had long rebelled, killing all God’s messenger sent to gather them back to him. Jesus longed to tenderly gather its children together ‘as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings’ (v.34). However, God does not make it compulsory for us to love Him. He gave us free will so that we can freely choose to love, because He loved us first. A hen will give up her life for her chicks and defend them against danger, but it can’t run after each chick. They have to be aware of where she is and run to her at the slightest hint of trouble. It is heart-breaking that churches can offer such a wonderful place of refuge for people, but the great majority chose not to go. We should give the warmest, genuine welcome to both old and new visitors to our church to make them feel they have been gathered under the protective and living wings of God.

Jesus would make a glorious entrance to the city on Palm Sunday, prior to Calvary. The people of Jerusalem would praise him for a day, before turning on him.

Jesus healed on the Sabbath again. He pointed out that the Pharisees would always rescue one of their children or animals on a Sabbath. Why shouldn’t Jesus rescue the people he created if they were in distress? The Pharisees were using the Sabbath regulations as a way to trap and criticise people rather than following the spirit of this day of rest.

We should always take a seat of low importance at a function. We can always be moved to a more prestigious one. Jesus came to serve, not to be served and we should emulate his humility.

We will be blessed if we host people who have no means of paying us back. If we just provide hospitality to our prosperous neighbours and they host us in return, we have given nothing. We need to help the poor and the needy in imitation of Jesus.

Psalm 44:1-12

King David recalled how God helped the Israelites conquer the promised land. The stories had been faithfully handed down by previous generations. God helped them because He loved them (v.3).

David did not trust his own strength or weapons to win battles (v.6). He relied on God.

All victories are due to God’s assistance and for the glory of God. Thanks be to God.

Parable of the Mustard Seed: April 10th 2021

Deuteronomy 13:1-14:29

We must not listen to any ‘prophet’ or ‘dreamer’ who suggests following other Gods. God can allow the devil to tempt us to see whether we love him with all our heart and soul (v.3).

It could be our closest friend who tries to entice us to accompany them to a yoga class with them or visit a non-Christian temple while on holiday, We should just say ‘no’!

Moses listed which meats the Israelites could eat and which types were banned. Rabbit and pork are strictly off the Jewish menu. It is sensible from a public health point of view to ban pork, because pig metabolism is so close to humans that living closely to domesticated pigs could enable one of their animal viruses to jump over to us and cause another deadly pandemic.

Moses reminded the Israelites to tithe – to give a tenth of their wealth every year to the Lord. This is Old Testament and does not apply to Christians. However, it is a very worthwhile practice. It breaks an unholy love of money and engenders a spirit of generosity within us. Pastors need a salary and church buildings need to be maintained. If everyone tithed, think what a difference this could make to the environment where you worship. A church should be full of life, beautiful, warm and welcoming to non-believers and some of this requires adequate funding.

The Jews were instructed to provide tithes (every three years) to the Levites, migrants, orphans and widows (v.29). Generosity gives us many spiritual benefits. The Lord promised to those who tithed that He would, ‘Bless you in all the work of your hands’ (v.29).

Luke 13:1-30

In the Easter readings, Pontius Pilate was desperate to release Jesus as he knew he was innocent. However, he succumbed to constant pressure and permitted Jesus to be executed. He was a weak judge, prepared to sacrifice the sinless to placate a hostile crowd. Here we see that Pilate had a fearsome reputation. Any Roman Commander would have been responsible for the deaths of many people. People told Jesus about ‘the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices (V.1). Jesus knew he would have to face this formidable man in the end. Jesus’ perfect blood was the ultimate once and for all sacrifice.

Jesus told us to repent so we would not perish (v.3). God spares us year after year hoping we will repent / convert and bear fruit. Eventually, time will run out for us. It could be today, so we need to make sure we are right with God through repentance, baptism and fully accepting Jesus into our lives. We can follow God’s example in being patient with people as we help them and pray for them to bear fruit.

We can allow the word of God to ‘fertilise’ us so that we will begin to blossom and bear fruit.

Jesus healed a woman on the Sabbath (v.13). Jesus points out the hypocrisy of the rulers in that they deliberately untied their domestic animals on the Sabbath to allow them to drink (v.15), but they disapproved of humans being unbound from their illnesses. Jesus showed he was the Lord of the Sabbath. It is perfectly permissible to spend the day looking after people or even catering, if we do it in love for other people. We shouldn’t spend it in a selfish secular pursuit of money.

The crippled woman had been crippled by a spirit (v.11) that was working for Satan (v.16).

Christianity has grown to be the world’s most followed religion and is spreading through virtually every nation. However, this has taken over two thousand years. Just like a tiny amount of yeast can change a whole bowl of flour to risen dough if we place it in the correct environment and wait patiently, it only takes one effective missionary to eventually change a whole country. Early missionaries would always try to convert rulers first, who could then lead their subjects to faith. Just one tiny seed of faith, can grow into an enormous living church where every believer can find their home.

Jesus confirmed that not all people will be saved. We need to enter heaven through the narrow door – which is Jesus. In the West, many people suffer from complacency. We can think we live in a vaguely Christian city and that possibly might be enough so save us. Just being in the same town as some Christians isn’t going to save us, ‘you taught in our streets (v.26), ‘Away from me, all your evildoers (v.27). We all need to work out our own individual salvation with fear, trembling and positive action. We each need to make a decisive decision to repent, become baptized and personally ask Jesus fully into our own lives as our Lord and Saviour, accepting his priceless gift of salvation.

Proverbs 9:1-12

Wisdom calls out to us that we should leave our ‘simple ways and you will live’ (v.6).

Correcting people who mock Christianity is a painful process as they will insult and hate us. However, we will receive a reward in heaven for putting up with this type of abuse. It isn’t worth getting into a Twitter or Facebook war with mockers, we must always reply calmly and with love.

Instructing, correcting and teaching wise and righteous people is a much more pleasant process.

As mockers do not fear the Lord, they lack wisdom for ‘The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding (v.10).

Wisdom will add years to our life (v.11) and reward us (v.12).

Sarcasm and mockery only harms the person who engages in it (v.12).

Once we have asked the Holy Spirit for wisdom, we should thirst for knowledge of God to increase our learning and make us even wiser. Wise Christian teachers deserve our love and gratitude for their efforts.

Picture:

Sheila Sund from Salem, United States, CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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

The Parable of the Rich Fool: April 8th 2021

Deuteronomy 9:1-10:22

The Lord was going to fight for the Israelites against the formidably tall Anakites. However, this was not because of the righteousness of the Israelites; it was because their enemies were wickedly evil. Similarly, Jesus did not die for us because of any righteousness on our behalf for we are also ‘a stiff-necked, disobedient people’ (v.6). Jesus died to destroy the works of the devil. He died to conquer the wicked kingdom that had taken up residence in the world. Jesus died for us while we were still sinners and gave us righteousness by his death on the cross. He redeemed us with the sacrifice of his perfect blood.

Moses recalled how the Lord wanted to destroy the Israelites after they had made an idol to worship – the Golden Calf. He had left them for forty days and forty nights while he received the two tablets on which were written the Ten Commandments, ‘inscribed with the finger of God’ (v.10). Moses went through real physical hardships. He hadn’t eaten bread or drunk water for forty days before he was horrified by the idol worship of the Israelites. He immediately started another fast. He didn’t eat or drink anything for eighty days, forty of which were spent prostrated before the Lord. He must have been supernaturally sustained by the presence of God. Moses gives a great example of the benefit of fasting. By fasting for so long, he persuaded God not to kill his brother, Aaron, and the rest of the Israelite nation. If we want God to answer a specific prayer, fasting is a tried and tested way of bringing us closer to God. It is hugely beneficial to fast just one day a week – just drinking water. Consult with a doctor beforehand if you have any underlying medical conditions. Fasting regularly for 24-36 hours also sharpens our minds, brings us closer to suffering people in the world and delivers some real health benefits – normalising our sugar metabolism and fighting off type 2 diabetes.

It must have been heart breaking for Moses to come down from the blazing mountain, full of positivity, hope and faith to find his people had so quickly gone astray. He deliberately smashed the stone tablets that been inscribed by God. He probably didn’t think his fellow Israelites deserved them. The same shock happened to Peter, James and John when they come down the mountain after the Transfiguration. They had briefly experienced the glory of God but, as soon as they got back to society, they are exposed to failure, with the other disciples failing to exorcise a demon (Luke 9:37-40).

Moses gave an example of how to dispose of a cursed object – in this case, the Golden Calf. He crushed it, ground it to powder and threw the dust into a stream (v.21). Exorcists recommend that if we have to dispose of cursed objects, they must be burnt outside (preferably after being sprinkled with holy water) while we pray intently for protection and then the ashes must be thrown into running water.

The Israelites were repeat offenders at making God really angry with them at: Horeb, ‘Taberah, at Massah and at Kibroth Hattaavah’ (v.22). They repeatedly rebelled and didn’t trust or obey God. Moses successfully interceded for them by reminding God of the promises he had made to the patriarchs: Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and pointing out that God’s reputation would be damaged if he killed them all. God listened to Moses. God loves a difficult challenge. It would have been too easy to conquer the Promised Land with an obedient and trusting people. He showed his greatness by helping wicked, stubborn and sinful people to do it.

God wrote the Ten Commandments on a second set of stone tablets to keep in the ark of the covenant. I always thought the Ten Commandments were written on rather dull grey stones with rounded tops. It turns out, according to ancient Jewish tradition, that they were rectangular and written on blue sapphire. Blue is God’s favourite colour. The original sapphire tablets may have been from God’s throne and the second set that Moses chiselled out came from a convenient sapphire mine that God told Moses was under his tent. The writing was engraved through the stones, visible on both sides but miraculously legible right to left on both sides. https://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/1114513/jewish/What-Did-the-Tablets-Look-Like.htm

The tribe of Levi had been set apart to: ‘carry the ark of the covenant’, to ‘stand before the Lord to minister‘ and to ‘pronounce blessings in his name’ (10:8).

Moses gave us a perfect summary of the nature of God: ‘For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the alien, giving him food and clothing’ (v.17-18).

We are called on to be hospitable and generous to migrants and refugees. We are encouraged to never neglect orphans and widows and prioritise them over empty religious practices: ‘Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world’ (James 1:27).

Notice that Moses acknowledges that there are other gods and other lords. Ancient peoples did not make up all the demonic entities that they tried to appease with blood sacrifices. There were dozens of demonic minor gods around the world with preternatural powers. However, our Lord God is ruler of all of them as he originally created all the other pretenders to his throne – before they rebelled. God loves everything he created – even the demons. However, they still face justice and have chosen eternal separation from him. God loves them so much He respects their free will to have chosen their own final destiny.

Moses acknowledged that the normal type of circumcision is not producing obedient people who love God. He called on the Israelites to ‘circumcise your hearts‘ and not to be ‘stiff-necked any longer‘. There are billions of stiff-necked unbelievers in the world today, even though God has written his rules on our hearts. We need to pray for him to soften our hearts of stone and make us realise we have a heart of flesh.

God had been good to the Israelites. There were now over two million of them about to enter the promised land ‘as numerous as the stars in the sky’ (v.22), they had prospered and exceedingly multiplied from their seventy forefathers who had gone down into Egypt.

Luke 12:1-34

Jesus was so popular that people in the massive crowd trampled on one another. He warned us against hypocrisy (v.1) and predicted today’s tabloid press that loves to dig up the dirt on celebrities, particularly those that have an ‘holier than thou’ attitude, ‘there is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known (V.2).

It is always best to be careful about what we say as the devil will remember our unkind words and use them to prosecute us. The devil can’t read bad thoughts going through our minds – only God can do that – but as soon as we verbalise something, it can be used in evidence against us. Best to vocally praise God as much as we can throughout the day.

Jesus told us to fear God not men, ‘Fear him who, after the killing of the body has power to throw you into hell’ (v.5). Humans are the pride of his creation. He has tattooed our name on the palm of his hand and numbered all the hairs on our head. We are ‘worth more than many sparrows (v.7).

We must always be proud to acknowledge Jesus in front of men (v.8). Jesus gave a very worrying warning about blaspheming against the Holy Spirit. It can never be forgotten. If we count ourselves as a Christian we are in the clear, we haven’t committed this sin. Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is defined as ‘final impenitence’: ”blasphemy’ does not properly consist in offending against the Holy Spirit in words; it consists rather in the refusal to accept the salvation which God offers to man through the Holy Spirit, working through the power of the the cross” https://www.ewtn.com/catholicism/library/unforgivable-sin-1164. Demons can never be forgiven, because even though they knew God face to face, they rejected him and persisted in impenitence.

Jesus told us not to worry when facing synagogues as the Holy Spirit will teach us what to say (v.12). I had prepared some notes when I stood in front of 5,000 people at a union conference to say it would be wrong to condone abortion. However, the chair person just turned my microphone off. So much for freedom of speech.

Jesus refuted the prosperity gospel with a clear warning against greed, ‘“Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist on the abundance of his possessions”’ (12:15). God will give us what we need, not always what we want. Greed is responsible for most of the mess we have made of this planet: wars, famines, pollution and destitution. There are enough resources for everybody. Economists are wrong to think only a few can prosper at the expense of the poor. The antidote to greed is generosity. We must learn to be cheerful givers. ‘Sell your possessions and give to the poor’ (v.33). I have spent some time during lockdown emptying items from the loft (‘where the moth destroys’ (v.33)). It’s amazing how dusty, dirty and shabby stored items are when they are dragged back out into the light. The items in our loft possessed my family, rather than us possessing them. They were stopping us from moving and downsizing to a smaller house, they were taking up our time and energy as we shuffled them around and they were a fire hazard. I am completely sold on minimalism. The fewer items I possess, the more time I have to spend on projects such as this one.

The parable of the rich fool (v.14-21) inspired me to give up my secular job. I worked out that I had stored exactly enough money to give me a pension, through the grace of God. No more, no less. I could have stayed in my well-paid job and built bigger financial barns but I could have died the very next week and then ‘who will get what you have prepared for yourself?(v.20). I should have left earlier and relied on God to supply my daily bread. However, I am still relying on him to prevent the stock market from crashing too badly, which would evaporate my pension. I can now spend every day building barns of knowledge within me, reading the rich word of God. Halleluiah.

It’s very difficult not to worry about our lives and how to provide for our families. Looking back, I can see that God provided everything I needed at exactly the time I needed it and so, I must assume he will continue to do this. We can’t add a single hour to our life by worrying (v.25). In fact, worry and stress is likely to take years off our lives. Praying in Tongues can help massively by building us up internally and distracting us from our issues. Hand over control of your mouth to the Holy Spirit, whenever you are in a stressful situation. You will feel the benefit.

We need to seek the kingdom of our Father first and He will then look after all our practical, daily needs. ‘Our Father, give us our daily bread’. This great prayer doesn’t say, ‘Give me a year’s worth of bread, so I can store it in the freezer’. It encourages us to come daily to the Father and ask for our needs.

As we receive our Father’s generosity from his inexhaustible supply in heaven, it encourages us to reach out in generosity to others, particularly orphans and the widows.

Jesus told us not to worry. Cue a great song to practice one’s whistling to.

Psalm 42:6b-11

King David is still having issues, ‘my soul is downcast within me’ (v.6b).

We respond to people’s testimonies when we see that God’s love and care has touched someone emotionally deep inside them themselves: ‘Deep calls to deep’, (v.7).

He acknowledges that God is still his rock (v.9) even when he feels forgotten.

David speaks to his own soul and encourages it to hope in God.

David has full confidence, ‘for I will yet praise him, my Saviour and my God’ (v.11).

This reminds me of ‘doubting’ Thomas’ exclamation to the risen Jesus, ‘My Lord and my God!’ (John 20:28).

‘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.

‘He who does not Gather with me Scatters’: April 6th 2021

Deuteronomy 4:15-5:33

No-one, apart from Jesus, knows what God, the Father, looks like. ‘You saw no form of any kind the day the Lord spoke to you at Horeb out of the fire’ (v.15). Therefore, we aren’t meant to make an image of God and then worship the object we created. When Jesus became incarnate, we could see an image of God. The church allows us to make a painting or sculpture of Jesus, but we must not worship the actual created object, we must worship through it towards Jesus himself. It’s the same for any photograph that we might take on a phone. We wouldn’t worship the actual image of our children or spouse, the image would remind us of them and assist us in directing loving thoughts towards them.

Moses once again said, ‘The Lord was angry with me because of you,’ (Deut. 4:21). We can seemingly work hard all our life for God or an employer but can be destroyed by the unfaithful actions of those around us. However, God was just. Moses was actually responsible for his downfall in that he hit the rock at Meribah with a staff rather than speaking to it as God had instructed. Moses served the quarrelling people but didn’t fully follow God’s instructions. We need to always remember who we are working for.

We need to be careful not to ‘worship man-made gods of wood or stone, which cannot see or hear or eat or smell’ (Deut.4:28). I watched a documentary about a famous chef who appeared to be in love with his car, an Aston Martin. He lovingly polished it and agonised over every new stone-chip that it collected. We need to have a healthy lack of regard for created objects. I appreciate my car – but I never wash it and it is covered with little scratches and dents from other people’s supermarket trollies. As long as it starts when I need it and is safe to drive, that’s all I need and I will trade it in without a moment’s thought when it is near the end of its life. We also need to avoid the cult of celebrity. We don’t need to follow celebrities careers and lives on sites such as Instagram. There is a danger of putting famous people on a pedestal and starting to idol worship them. If we spend more time on social media than we do working on our relationship with God, we have a serious problem.

However, God is merciful (v.31). Even if we have worshipped idols he will accept us back and we will find him if we, ‘look for him with all your heart and with all your soul’ (v.29).

Moses asked the Israelites to reflect on the wonderful things they have experienced and how special they are as a nation. No other God has rescued his people from another nation by such mighty signs and wonders. God rescued them because, ‘he loved your forefathers and chose their descendants after them’ (v.37).

Moses reminded the Israelites of the Ten Commandments. God had given these to them at Horeb speaking to the Israelites face to face ‘out of the fire of the mountain’ (v.4).

Jesus taught that the entire Ten Commandments are based on love for God and love of our neighbour. There are hundreds of different ways we can show our love for our neighbour each individual day.

Our modern society breaks the Ten Commandments in a myriad of different ways and, as Christians, we must not join in with their deadly ways. I found it impossible to consistently follow all the Ten Commandments until I started to speak in tongues for an extended period of time on a daily basis. Handing over control to the Holy Spirit allowed him to progress with my sanctification and the temptation to carry out habitual sins started to evaporate.

As well as condensing the commandments down into two themes: loving God and loving other people. Jesus also cut the ten commandments down down to six in Mark 10:19, ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honour your father and mother’.

We still need to be careful to do what the Lord, our God, has commanded us to do in regards to Jesus’ six commandments. We must ‘not turn aside to the right or to the left’ (5:32). If we obey God’s commandments, believe in Jesus and become baptized we can live and prosper and prolong our days.

Luke 11:5-32

Jesus taught us about persistence in prayer. If we ask our Father for something, it will be given to us. If we seek God, we will find him and he will open the door to us (v.9). Some people worry when they start to pray in tongues, whether the gift comes from God or whether it is a counterfeit evil version from the devil. If we pray to God for a good gift from the Holy Spirit, he will give us a good gift, ‘how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!’ (v.13).

We can judge a good gift by its fruits. If we routinely exercise a supernatural gift like Speaking in Tongues and we become calmer, more self-controlled, more patient and demonstrate other fruits of the Holy Spirit, we know it’s a good gift.

Jesus drove out ‘a demon that was mute’ (v.14). The demon was mute and it actually made the man it was residing in mute as well. The demon’s ‘muteness’ over-ruled the man’s natural ability to speak. The man spoke as soon as the mute demon had been cast out. Possibly the man had previously got into a habit of not speaking, of not offering praise and thanks to God and this sinful behaviour had given this demon a legal right to latch onto this behaviour and make it permanent. Some physical issues can be cured instantly through prayer if they are being caused by an evil spirit.

Jesus confirmed that there were other Jewish exorcists, ‘by whom do your followers drive them out?'(v.19). After the tower of Babel, mankind was dispersed to the four corners of the earth and subjected to demonic tyranny. In every continent, some holy and righteous people preserved and exercised knowledge of how to exorcise demons to prevent their compatriots from being slaughtered. Some of these holy people were taught by angels. God didn’t abandon indigenous people to their fate. Primitive exorcists could carry out deliverance work in the name or God or carry out what we might call spells. For example, in the book of Tobit, in a Catholic Bible, the Archangel Raphael instructs Tobias on how to drive away an immensely powerful and persistent demon, by burning a specific fish’s heart and liver: ‘the reek will rise, the demon will smell it and flee, and there is no danger that he will ever be found near the girl again’ (Tobit 6:17-18). Some commentators think the fish may have been a pike.

Jesus was able to exorcise with a simple command. We can command demons to leave through deliverance prayers, ‘in the name of Jesus’. Official church exorcists exert the power and authority of the church, in the name of Jesus, to exorcise the most evil and powerful demons – the Biblical big hitters with personal names.

When someone is exorcised from a demon, it is vital that they receive prayers to fill them with the Holy Spirit and they continue to live a holy life. They must not leave a spiritual vacuum inside them or they can be demonised again, ‘and the final condition of that man is worse than the first’ v.26).

We live in a particularly wicked generation. Bibles are readily available. there are first class commentaries available on the internet and most have heard the gospel. Yet, familiarity breeds contempt. Many of us, in the West, can easily access a church but so many people still don’t bother accessing the truth and teaching of God. We have to be wholeheartedly on the side of God, ‘He who is not with me is against me, he who does not gather with me, scatters (v.23). We need to critically look at our lives and behaviours? Are we fully with Jesus or are you against him? Are you the enemy of God?

We are blessed if we ‘hear the word of God and obey it’ (v.28).

Proverbs 8:32-36

We must not ignore the voice of wisdom (v.33). We are blessed if we listen and watch out for wisdom on a daily basis (v.34).

If we find wisdom, we find life because we will realise we need God, we will turn to him and receive favour from him (v.35).

All who hate wisdom, will, as a result, hate God and love death (v.36).

After all, what is wisdom?

‘The fear of the Lord – that is wisdom, and to shun evil is understanding’ (Job 28:28).

If people reject holding God in reverence and awe, they hate and reject wisdom, they turn down God’s blessings and love death.

Turn away from death, love life.

Picture: Didgeman, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Good Samaritan and The Lord’s Prayer: April 5th 2021

Deuteronomy 2:24-4:14

God started to make all the nations fear the Israelites (2:25). By the time the Israelites invaded the promised land and approached Jericho, the inhabitants were terrified of their formidable reputation (Joshua 2:11).

God acted on Sihon’s heart (the Amorite king of Heshbon) to make his spirit stubborn and his heart obstinate in order that he would challenge the Israelites and suffer defeat (Deut. 2:30). This is similar to God making Pharaoh so stubborn, back in Egypt, that he wouldn’t let the Israelites leave until the 10th plague. It is fascinating that Jesus said, ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God (Matt, 5:9)‘ but God didn’t want peace between the Israelites and the Amorites. He wanted Sihon’s kingdom to suffer total defeat with no survivors.

Moses pleaded to be allowed to go into the promised land (Deut. 3:23-23) but God stuck to his previous ruling and would not listen. Due to his previous disobedience, Moses would only be allowed to look at the promised land from a high place. Joshua would be commissioned to lead the Israelites from there. A ‘no’ from God can really mean ‘no’. He obviously knew that it was time for Joshua to step up and Moses had finished his race. Moses was expected to swallow his disappointment, commission Joshua, and ‘encourage and strengthen him‘ (v.28). All leaders must know when it is time to hand over the baton to the next generation.

As Christians, we are a new species, a new creation. a new international nation with God actually living inside each one of us. We are much more privileged than the Israelites, who were blessed for their time, ‘What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way our God is near us whenever we pray to him?’ (Deut. 4.7).

We must not forget the wonderful things of God we have heard and seen. How awesome it must have been for the Jews to stand ‘at the foot of the mountain while it blazed with fire to the very heavens with black clouds and deep darkness’ (4:11) and receive the covenant of God.

Luke 10:25-11:4

An expert in the law stood up ‘to test Jesus’ (v.25). It took extreme arrogance for an academic to try to trick the Son of God. He thought he already knew the answer and, it turns out, he did. Jesus got him to answer his own question and he condensed the ten commandments into two. The academic gets the credit in this gospel of Luke, but Jesus himself said this in Matthew (22:37-40).

Jesus then told the very famous ‘Parable of the Good Samaritan’. It’s wonderful that Jesus selected a Samaritan to be the hero of the story when recently a Samaritan village had rejected him (9:51-56).

Jesus never ‘passed by on the other side‘ (v.32) Throughout his ministry, he was constantly distracted and diverted his attention to whoever was in need. I like to write this blog first thing in the morning, but I have to be prepared to instantly drop it if someone genuinely needs my help. The priest and the Levite may have been hurrying to carry out their holy duties – forgetting that ministering to the needy, trumps all other worthy tasks.

Jesus visit the home of Martha and Mary. I used to get confused about who got tied up with the housework. It’s a simple rule. We all want to be like Mary – either as Mary, Mother of God, the number one disciple, or as Mary, sister of Lazarus, sitting at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. If a famous preacher is in town, forget the housework and spend quality time with them. Go to a restaurant with them or get a takeaway delivered, leave the washing up – everything else can wait. Listen intently to what they are say. Their words could change your life.

This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t enthusiastically help with the housework on every other occasion. Saint Theresa of Avila said, ‘God walks among the pots and pans’. It is a blessing to serve others and we can pray in tongues while we wash up – offering the perfect prayer to God. However, we should not confuse hospitality – actually being present for our guests, listening to them and making them feel cherished – with being background skivvies in the kitchen. We constantly have to assess each moment, to make sure that people are prioritised over chores. Martha could have just given a fish and a loaf to Jesus and asked him to multiply it.

Jesus taught his disciples ‘The Lord’s prayer‘ in chapter 11. It gives the perfect format for our prayers. It was a revelation that we can start praying to God by addressing him as ‘Father’ (v.2). We should always ‘hallow’ God’s name (v.2) and, in keeping with Jewish tradition, refuse to say his most holy formal name. The name beginning with a ‘Y’. When I first started praying in tongues, I asked the Holy Spirit whether I would ever say the name beginning with a ‘Y’ while he was directing my prayers. He categorically confirmed to me that it should never be said. I cringe and apologise to God, when I hear someone else read out the holy name in church. We should always say ‘The Lord’ instead.

Each day, we need to ask God for ‘our daily bread’ (v.3). We shouldn’t stock up and try to live each day off our own resources. When I started this blog, I thought I could write it a few weeks in advance. Then I could take the odd day off for holidays / lack of inspiration. That didn’t work at all. I now just work on one day at a time – scheduling it in the evening, to be posted at 06:00 the next day. I trust God to give me something to write about each day as I read his word – my daily bread.

‘Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us’ (v.4). When we are baptised, all our sins up until that point are wiped out, including the ‘original sin’ we have inherited from our forefather, Adam. However, you probably have noticed that this is not the end of sinning. The more time we spend praying in tongues, the less sin we will commit. The Holy Spirit works on sanctifying us, steering us away from old sinful habits and inspiring us to live better lives. However, Jesus obviously says that we should assess our lives on a daily basis and ask forgiveness for the sins we have committed in the last 24 hours. If we were to die immediately after being baptized, as a creature born again through water and the Spirit, we would go straight to heaven. However, immediately we start to carry out serious sins again, we are destined for hell. We can’t carry on living in sinful ways and expect our baptism to cover it. We have to continually ask for forgiveness and move away from sin.

We ask God to ‘lead us not into temptation’ (v.4). God doesn’t tempt us, that’s the work of the devil and his demons but nothing happens without God’s permission. God will always give us sufficient grace to resist any temptation but he might want to test our willpower at times. Resisting temptation can require some emotional, spiritual work and so avoidance is always the easiest route.

Psalm 41:7-13

King David’s enemies thought he was defeated and even his closest, trusted friend had betrayed him.

King David continued to survive. His enemies had not triumphed and so he knew that God was pleased with him and would raise him up (v.10-11). God upheld David in his integrity and was ever present to him.

We should give praise to our everlasting God throughout the day. He will also have mercy on us, uphold us and raise us up.

Picture: Accademia Ligustica di Belle Arti, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

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