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

Deuteronomy 21:1-22:30

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

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

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

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

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

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

Luke 16:1-18

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

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

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

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

Proverbs 9:13-18

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

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

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

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

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).

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

‘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

Jesus feeds the Five Thousand: April 2nd 2021

Numbers 33:1-34:29

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

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

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

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

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

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

Luke 9:10-27

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

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

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

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

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

Proverbs 8:22-31

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

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

How can we welcome wisdom into our lives?

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

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

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

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

Numbers 31:25-32:42

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

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

Luke 8:40-9:9

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

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

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

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

He prays and God immediately responds.

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

The man responds, ‘Is anyone else there?’

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

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

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

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

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

Psalm 40:1-8

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

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

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

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

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

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

Picture: Eduard Bendemann, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

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

Numbers 29:12-31:24

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Luke 8:19-20

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Psalm 39:1-3

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

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

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

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

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