‘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?

β€˜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 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, β€œ[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

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

Jesus heals a man with leprosy: March 23rd 2021

Numbers 15:1-16:35

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

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

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

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

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

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

Luke 4:38-5:16

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Psalm 37:1-9

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

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

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

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

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

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

Numbers 13:26-14:45

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Luke 4:14-37

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Psalm 36:1-12.

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

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

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

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

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

Image by falco from Pixabay

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