Marriage / Divorce and Jesus’ Disciples Baptize: May 3rd 2021

Joshua 23:1-24:33

Joshua gave a farewell speech to the leaders of the Israelites before he died. He reminded them that the Lord, their God, would drive out the tribes before them so they could conquer all of the promised land. They must be ‘very strong‘ and obey all that was written in the book of the law ‘without turning aside to the right or to the left’ (v.6).

They must not associate with the nations that remain and not invoke the names of their heathen gods, swear by them, serve them or bow down to them (v.7). Just like us now, they must ‘hold fast to the Lord your God’ no matter what temptations they face.

As the Lord God will fight for them, just one Israelite will be able to rout a thousand enemies. If they turn away, ally themselves with the survivors of their enemies, intermarry and associate with them, this will bring them down (v.12). God will no longer drive their enemies out and their pagan associates will ‘become snares and traps for you, whips on your back and thorns in your eyes, until you perish from this good land, which the Lord your God has given you’ (v.13).

The instructions are all very clear. However, in the future, sex is going to bring down the entire nation. Lusting after Pagan women will result in intermarriage leading to Israel and Judah being defeated by the Assyrians and Babylonians and led into exile. Even Solomon, the wisest man in history, will be brought down by his hundreds of Pagan wives tempting him to worship other deities.

Sexual temptation is still a massive problem for Christians today. Christians can’t divorce and get remarried. God hates divorce. Yet, we find many Christians, including those who would regard themselves as ‘born again’ divorcing and getting remarried or marrying a divorcee. This is a grave sin that will bar people from heaven. Marriage is permanent and lasts until one of the partners is deceased, The only way a Christian can ‘marry’ for the second time is if their partner dies or they prove that the first marriage didn’t actually exist through an annulment process (for example, proving the first marriage wasn’t consummated).

Christians cannot divorce and get remarried like Pagans do. Christian marriage is for life. Of course, this truth can be very painful but it shouldn’t put people in danger. If people are in abusive relationships they can separate and live apart but, until one of the partner dies or the marriage is annulled, there is meant to be no sex with different people / no extra marriages. If married people fall in love with other people, they can live with them but only as brother and sister. Sex isn’t allowed. This is massively difficult for the modern world to accept. Most people do not believe they can live in a celibate relationship.

This is why marriage should not be entered into without a lot of care and consideration. We must try to ensure we have found our true, lifelong partner before we commit to them. The prophet Ezra had to lead all the Israelites in separating themselves from their Pagan marriage partners in order to make the nation right with God again (Ezra 9:1-44). When we come to God after repenting our past mistakes, we are meant to stop sinning. If we are in an illicit marriage, we wake up each day in a state of grave sin. We have to choose which is more important, obeying God or sex.

The model for a happy celibate marriage is the Holy Family: Joseph and Mary, Mother of God. Mary was a temple virgin – a lifelong vocational virgin – and the temple elders asked the elderly widower, Joseph, to be her guardian to remove her from the temple before she started menstruating. Mary stayed a virgin all her life because she had been dedicated to God.

Joshua pointed out that all of the good promises that God had made had been delivered. God is faithful to us. However, he is also faithful to the threat that his anger will burn against us and we will perish if we serve other gods. It’s a mystery why we haven’t all been wiped out already when we look at the state of the world today. God is being patient with us to save as many as possible but eventually judgement day will fall. ‘He is a holy God; he is a jealous God’ (24:19) Before Jesus made us righteous with God, God would not have forgiven our rebellion and our sins and he still won’t if we don’t approach him through the precious blood of his son by confessing our belief in the death and resurrection of Christ.

Even Abraham’s father, Terah, worshipped pagan gods. We can be the first generation in our family to convert to Christ. If our parents are still living, we can be an example to them and pray for their salvation. Part of your mission on earth might be saving your own family as you also preach to others.

Choose who you serving today. Are you going to worship pagan entities, demons, yourself or celebrities? Are you going to worship at the altar of consumerist capitalism? As for me, I will serve the Lord.

Joshua made the Israelites witness to themselves that they had chosen to the Lord and would throw away all foreign gods but, with the luxury of the rest of the Bible, we know a terrible fate is awaiting them due to their inability to be faithful.

Joshua set up a stone as a witness against them under the oak tree near the holy place of the Lord: ‘It has heard all the words the Lord has said to us’ (v.27). All of creation seems to be able to record events and play them back, Jesus is in all created matter. Interestingly, some paranormal investigators think that ghosts more frequently occur in old stone-built cottages because the stones record past events and play them back like a DVD player. Jesus preached that objects we generally regard as inanimate do have their own interior life. This probably explains the fascination with rocks and crystals in the New Age movement. Engineers know that crystals such as quartz oscillate at an incredibly precise frequency, which is why they are built into watches. Mountains will fling themselves into the sea if we have enough faith and stones would have cried out on Palm Sunday when Jesus entered Jerusalem (for his cataclysmic showdown with the devil) if the crowds had not shouted ‘Hosanna’ (Luke 19:40).

Joshua sent the people away to their own inheritance and died (at the age of a hundred and ten) (v.29). The nation of Israel had served the Lord during his lifetime and the lifetime of the other elders who had been direct eye-witnesses of God’s miracles. However, Joshua had not appointed a single successor to keep the whole nation unified. The Israelites had all split into their different tribes. Since Moses had come back to Egypt, having a single leader who could communicate with God and, most importantly, intercede for his people to stop God’s wrath at their disobedience had been vital. The only clear successor they had was Eleazar the Priest’s son, Phinehas, taking over the priesthood. The last few verses of Joshua clear the decks of the older generation – with the bones of Joseph finally being laid to waste. A new chapter in Israel’s history is just about to start.

John 3:22-36

Jesus and his disciples spent some time in the countryside and his disciples baptized people (4:2). People started to flock to Jesus’ disciples rather than John the Baptist who didn’t mind his ministry dwindling: ‘He must become greater; I must become less’ (v.30). This is why the church celebrates John the Baptist’s birthday on the 25th June after the longest day of the year on the 21st June in the Northern hemisphere – the nights are just starting to become longer. Jesus’ birthday is the 25th December – after the shortest day on the 21st – to mark the coming of the light.

The church is the bride of Jesus. He is the bridegroom. John the Baptist was the friend who was full of joy when he heard the voice of the bridegroom (v.29). Jesus came from heaven and is above all. John the Baptist was filled with the Holy Spirit from his conception and the Holy Spirit will also live in us when we become baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. We are greater than John the Baptist, because the precious blood of our Lord Jesus Christ has made us justified and righteous in the eyes of our heavenly Father.

‘Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him’ (v.36).

Psalm 55:12-23

It is particularly hurtful to be betrayed by a friend or close colleague.

When King David called out to the Lord, he was always saved (v.16). God ransomed him unharmed from the battle waged against him.

Jesus ransomed us from judgement for our sins by the shedding of his precious blood. He will always save us if we renounce and repent of our sins and turn to him with belief.

Many people are slick orators but their words are evil weapons. They plan war and disaster. Many will never change their ways and will have no fear of God until their death and the eternal separation from God they have chosen.

We should trust in God and cast our cares on him. He will sustain us.

If we have any worries in our life, we should praise, worship and speak in tongues. This perfect prayer from the Holy Spirit will build up our inner self to know that God ‘will never let the righteous fall’ (v.22).

Image: Image by Gabriel Ballerini from Pixabay

The Word Became Flesh / John the Baptist Denies being the Christ: April 29th 2021

Joshua 15:1-16:10

The captured areas of the promised land were allotted to the tribes of Israel. Some of the land had very evocative names: ‘The Salt Sea, crossed south of the Scorpion Pass’ (v.2).

Caleb drove out three Anakites (giants) from Hebron named Sheshai, Ahiman and Talmai (v.14). Caleb was very assertive when he claimed Hebron as his inheritance. He had seen the area forty-five years ago and had made Moses promise to give the territory to him. He had dreamed about it ever since. We need to have a Caleb-like attitude to our faith. We have all been told about what Jesus did for us on the cross, so we need to grab from him the gift of eternal life through our faith in him. We have been told about the supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit so let us grab all of them / snatching them in the name of Jesus. There are sufficient gifts for all – Jesus will multiple the gifts so there will be hampers left of them after everyone is satisfied. We won’t be depriving anyone else. When it comes to receiving the gifts of God, we need to take action, we don’t want to be meek and mild.

The tribe of Judah were allocated dozens of towns and villages as their inheritance. However, they ‘could not dislodge the Jebusites, who were living in Jerusalem’ (v.63). So even their future capital city could not be cleansed from people who worshipped demonic entities. The Jebusites lived there with the people of Judah. It was going to prove impossible for the Israelites not to be influenced by their new neighbours. Several important Biblical characters: Zadok the Priest, Nathan the Prophet and Bathsheba, the mother of Solomon were Jebusites. King David committed adultery with Bathsheba and conspired for her husband to be killed. Having a Canaanite tribe living with the Israelites opened them up to so many temptations that even their God-fearing King succumbed.

The same thing happened to the other tribes. The tribe of Ephraim, descendants of Joseph, was not able to dislodge the Canaanites living in Gezar (v.10). The Canaanites continued to live among them but were ‘required to do forced labour’ (v.10).

John 1:1-28

Jesus existed as God, the second person of the Trinity, from the beginning of all time. He created the earth and everything on it: ‘Through him all things were made’ (v.3). He is our life and our light that shines in the darkness. People who choose to live in darkness still do not understand him.

The world does not recognises its creator (v.10). Even famous naturalists today, like Sir David Attenborough, have totally failed to recognise or acknowledge the creator despite being blessed with an extraordinary life and privileged access to the wonders of the natural world.

If we choose to receive him, he gives us the right to become children of God (v.12).

Jesus became flesh and lived among us. He lived a life full of grace and truth (v.14). The law was given through Moses but Jesus is the new Moses, the ultimate representative of God being truly God himself, to reveal the nature of the Father to us. He revealed truth to us.

Nicky Gumbel (p.249) writes: ‘The purpose of John’s gospel is to lead you into an experience of communion with God through friendship with Jesus. John wrote that: ‘No-one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only (Jesus), who is at the Father’s side, has made him known’. Exodus states that: ‘The Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks with his friend (Exod. 33:11). This means that it must have been Jesus meeting with Moses in the tent of the meeting, who made Moses’ face shine with light. Jesus wants to be our best friend, to meet with us, empower us with the gifts of the Holy Spirit to do his work and lead us into everlasting communion with our heavenly Father. It is wonderful to have a friend who is always with him. Without the constant presence of Jesus we would literally fall apart: ‘He is before all things, and in him all things hold together’ (Colossians 1:17).

If we refuse to acknowledge Jesus, we are hiding from the truth. Demons are liars and refuse to acknowledge the truth except when they are compelled to in the name of Jesus. When they are expelled by the solemn Rite of Exorcism, it’s as if the truth of the resurrection of Christ is poured down their throats (https://spiritualdirection.com/2021/04/27/exorcist-diary-we-won-he-didnt-rise).

John the Baptist issued in the new age of truth by freely confessing, ‘I am not the Christ’ (v.20). He prepared the way for Jesus by baptising people for the repentance of sins (Matthew 3:11). Repentance and confession are fabulous but many people do not ‘feel any different’ after confessing their sins. If they have made a sincere confession, they will have had God’s priceless forgiveness and received his grace. However, many people soon commit the same selection of sins again and months later find themselves confessing in exactly the same way. Jesus came to baptise us with the Holy Spirit and fire (Matthew 3:11). The Holy Spirit will build us up / edify us and strengthen us so that our old sinful habits lose their attraction. We won’t feel like turning to drink or having illicit sex. Our interior person will be stronger. Once baptized, we simply need to pray to the Holy Spirit to come powerfully into our life and activate his gifts within us. The longer we pray in the spirit / pray in tongues each day, the more we will be strengthened and led away from sin. Resisting sin by ourselves is virtually impossible. When we hand over our prayer life to God, we will receive supernatural strength.

Psalm 53:1-6

The fool says in his heart, “There is no God”. Rejecting God is the most foolish and illogical thing that anyone could ever do. Many people buy lottery tickets despite there being an infinitesimal chance of winning a substantial sum. There is no logic or sense to buying one. However, many of the same people don’t take a chance on Jesus being the universal saviour. Even if there were a one in a million chance of spending everlasting life in heaven, should Christians actually be telling the truth, rather than everlasting torture in hell then we all should take a chance and believe. In the worst case scenario, we would spend our life being generous and nice to people before degrading into compost. If the gospel is true and thousands of martyrs have died to demonstrate that it is, we would become children of God and rise to life everlasting.

Most of our society is corrupt and vile ways are acceptable to our secular society – as long at ‘they don’t hurt anybody else’. However, all sin hurts everybody else. There is no such thing as a private sin. We are all sinners and deserve death but through believing in Jesus we can become sinless in the eyes of God, because of the perfect righteousness of Jesus. We can commune with God through being friends with Jesus.

When God looks down from heaven, let us stand up and be counted as people who seek God.

Image: By Anton Raphael Mengs – 1. ngHjvgNHHmV4zA at Google Cultural Institute, zoom level maximum2. Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, online collection, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=78613515

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

Numbers 23:27-26:22

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

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

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

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

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

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

Luke 7:11-35

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Psalm 38:1-12

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God will rescue us in the end if we keep faith

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

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

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

Numbers 9:15-11:3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Luke 3:1-22

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Psalms 35:19-28

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

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

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

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

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

Sea Cows and the Birth of John the Baptist: 16th March 2021

Numbers 4:1-5:10

In today’s reading, there is plenty more counting. However, this book is called ‘Numbers’ and so we can hardly sue Moses for false advertising.

In Chapter 4, God specifies exactly how the most holy things and the Tabernacle are to be wrapped and transported. My wife has a virtually fulltime eBay job disposing of unwanted articles from the loft. She carefully wraps items in scraps of bubble wrap and recycled Amazon packaging. However, God wants all of his Holy Things lovingly covered in pristine blue cloth before hides of ‘sea cows’ are laid on top (see also Exodus 26:14). If you want a leather that’s really waterproof, I don’t suppose you can choose anything much better.

Why are the Israelites commanded to use blue cloths?

Blue in iconography represents transcendence, mystery, and the divine. It is the colour of the sky and as a result is viewed as a heavenly colour‘ (https://aleteia.org/2017/06/24/why-is-the-blessed-virgin-mary-always-wearing-blue/). A blue cloth in modern times might sound like a more modest request than a sea cow hide but in Biblical times it might have been even more difficult to procure. Blue dye was extremely rare. It was painstakingly extracted from sea snails. Thousands of the little critters were required to dye a single garment (https://www.latimes.com/world/la-fg-israel-blue-20180910htmlstory.html#:~:text=Wool%20dyed%20in%20various%20colors%20extracted%20from%20the%20Murex%20trunculus%20snail.&text=Forty%2Dnine%20times%20the%20Bible,all%20but%20impossible%20to%20describe).

When it comes to the sea cow hides, why, in the middle of the desert, would God specify such a strange material? ‘The Layman’s Bible‘ came to my rescue: https://laymansbible.wordpress.com/2014/02/26/hides-of-what-now/comment-page-1/#comment-19361

It’s not as if the wandering Israelites could order sea cow hides from Amazon and have them delivered. They couldn’t go to a convenient shop: Costcow or the Cow-Op. We wouldn’t be able to obtain sea cow hides now as they are most likely a protected species. Yet, in the middle of a dry desert, far away a sea cow’s natural habitat, God asks for them.

However, there is no sign that this strange request phased Moses in any way. We can presume that he simply went to the couple of million Israelites camped around him and asked. As the request was circulated, plenty of people had sea cow hides to donate. In fact, they had already been donated, along with all the rest of the materials required for the Tabernacle, after God asked for them in Exodus 25: 1-7. They were so plentiful that Moses had to order the Israelites to stop donating materials (Exodus 36:5-7) because they had more than enough. There was a deluge of sea cow hides from the eager and helpful Israelites.

We might think it would be impossible to find sea cow hides in a desert but God only asks for what He can provide. Some of the Israelites might have carried sea cow hides since they left Egypt and were only too glad for the Levites to carry them instead. Perhaps, the Israelites dispatched hunters to the Persian Gulf to bring back the skins; they could also fetch the sea snails for the blue dye while they were there. Maybe, when God split the Red Sea, a herd of sea cows became stranded in the shallow water and the Israelites harvested them thinking ‘They’ll come in handy!’

The moral of the story is that if God asks for some specific items for a project, He will have already lined up people who can provide them. Our Pastor often says, ‘The money is in the house’. If God tells her to do a project, she just has to believe that her congregation or other contacts have the funds at their disposal and will willingly donate them. God won’t ask you to use any exotic materials that He hasn’t already lined up for you.

Aaron and his sons were the only people permitted to cover the holy articles with blue cloth prior to transportation. Other Levites couldn’t ‘go in to look at the holy things, even for a moment, or they will die’ (4:20). People would have died either because they were disrespecting God or the holy things may have retained some of the awesome power of God that would overwhelm non-ordained people. This reminds me of 2 Kings 13:31 when a dead man was placed in the tomb of the deceased prophet Elisha. The dead man came back to life when he touched Elisha’s bones. Some of the healing power of God had remained stored in the prophet’s bones.

It is fascinating that the actual Ark of the Covenant is now said to reside in the Ethiopian city of Aksum, having been carried back by Menelik, the illegitimate son of the Queen of Sheba and King Solomon (https://www.smithsonianmag.com/travel/keepers-of-the-lost-ark-179998820/ ). The Ark is guarded by a single virgin monk who prays, lights incense and pays tribute to God day and night and who can never leave the compound until he dies. God allowed the Ark to be relocated without destroying Menelik’s retinue and He now permits an individual to guard it without lethal consequences. It must be afforded the proper level of respect.

Numbers 8:48 reminds us not to try to do everything ourselves and to help out in our church and community. Many hands make light work. It must have been intimating to think of transporting the heavy Tabernacle, the Ark of the Covenant and all the tent materials and coverings. However, there were 8,580 people to do it, which would have made it very bearable. ‘My yoke is easy and my burden is light’ (Matthew 11:30).

Numbers 5: 1-4 specifies that anyone with an infectious skin disease or who is ceremonially unclean must leave the camp, away from where God dwells. This is in contrast to Matthew 4:23-24 ‘people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases …. and he healed them.’ Only a very few ordained priests could approach God in the Israelite camp. In contrast in the New Testament, all people could come to Jesus to have their sicknesses healed. God’s awesome power flowing through a man (Jesus) becomes approachable and healing, just as the remnant of God’s power in Elisha’s bones was still able to raise the dead.

God sets out the law for confession in 5:5-8. If someone wrongs another they are also unfaithful to God and are guilty. They must confess the sin and make full financial restitution (plus a fifth extra) to the person they have wronged. This is a sound practice we can carry on with today.

Luke 1:57-60

Elizabeth’s neighbours and relatives shared her joy after God had blessed her and removed ‘her disgrace’ of not having a child. Some people will turn up for a party only when things are finally going well having failed to reassure us that we were valued and loved when we were facing emotional challenges.

Elizabeth wanted to call her baby son John but no-one listened to her. Similarly, no-one believed Mary Magdalene when she reported that Jesus had risen from the dead (Mark 16:11).

Zechariah confirmed that their son would be called John which means ‘God is Gracious’. I was christened ‘Jonathan’, which is another great biblical name that means ‘Gift of God’. I recommend that all babies are given biblical names or, at the very least, the name of a saint. However, if a child is given a secular name, they can have the ambition, through the grace of God, to be the very first saint with that name. Maybe Elon Musk’s little boy will grow up to be the first ever Saint X Æ A-12.

In verses 67 – 70, we have the magnificent song of Zechariah, known as ‘The Benedictus’. Zechariah, like John and Elizabeth, is ‘filled with the Holy Spirit’. He predicts John’s role as a prophet preparing the way for Jesus and predicts that Jesus will rescue us and bring salvation. We will be able to serve him without fear in holiness and righteousness. No-one predicted how he would become our saviour (through his death on the cross) and how his blood would make us justified and righteous before God.

We are all called to shine our light on those living in darkness and quaking in the shadow of death (v.79).

Psalm 34:11-22

Don’t tell lies, do good, seek and pursue peace.

(v.17). The Lord hears the righteous and delivers them from all their troubles. How many troubles does he deliver them from? Yes, correct. All their troubles.

(v.18) ‘The Lord is close to the broken-hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit’. The last time I was crushed in Spirit, the Lord inspired me to walk down the High Street on a Saturday morning. Here I found a small choir from the local Pentecostal Church singing in public – as they do once a month. It was perfect timing – engineered by the Lord. They took me in and enabled God to un-crush my Spirit and heal my broken heart. (v.19) ‘A righteous man may have many troubles, but the Lord delivers them from them all.’

Through his precious blood, Jesus has redeemed us. (v.22) ‘No-one will be condemned who takes refuge in him‘.

Praise the Lord!

Mary visits Elizabeth: March 15th 2021

Number 2: 10-3:51

The Tent of Meeting (where Moses could talk to God) and the camp of the Levites (who were to take care of the tabernacle) were placed right in the centre of the Israelite camp (2:17) and what an awesome camp it must have been. The census counted 603,440 men over 20 years in age and so adding women and children there must have been over 2 million people in the Israelite camp. I don’t think any modern-day logistics experts could supply provisions to a mobile group this large. No wonder, they had to rely on God’s miraculous daily provision of food (manna) and water.

Aaron and his sons were to serve as priests and were given special access privileges. ‘Anyone else who approaches the sanctuary must be put to death‘ (3:10). We are amazingly blessed today that we can have the Holy Spirit permanently dwelling within us and address God as ‘Father’, after the death of Jesus allowed us all to be God’s adopted children.

God had earlier stipulated that all Israelite first born males belonged to him but he now swaps them for the Levites. He is God, he can change his mind and do what he wants. Unfortunately, there weren’t quite enough Levites (22,000) when compared to 22,273 firstborn males. So 5 shekels (worth 10 dollars at today’s price of silver) had to be paid to redeem each of the additional 273 firstborn. This money was given to the priests. Even in the middle of the desert, hard cash is obviously necessary to keep a religious enterprise going.

Luke 1:39-56

Mary goes to visit her relative Elizabeth. The jury seems to be out on exactly how they were related. Elizabeth may have been Mary’s aunt (due to the age gap) or cousin. If she was a cousin this would have made Elizabeth’s son (John the Baptist) Jesus’ second cousin.

When I first started attending Church weekly, verse (41), ‘When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb‘ absolutely stunned me. The fact that baby John (the Baptist) in the womb (filled from conception with the Holy Spirit) leaped with joy when the foetal Jesus came into the house is stunning. And here we have a second person in the New Testament (Elizabeth) being ‘filled with the Holy Spirit‘. The Spirit didn’t ‘come upon her’ as happened temporarily to prophets in the Old Testament, it actually filled her – as we can be filled today, if we just ask. She instantly displayed one of the supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit, a word of knowledge, identifying that both Mary and Jesus were blessed and that Jesus was ‘Lord’. The Holy Spirit gives this supernatural gift to some believers today and it’s a powerful weapon in converting people. When I first visited a Pentecostal church, I was overwhelmed with emotion when a church elder (with his back to me at the front of the church) pinpointed the agony I was currently going through and reassured me that God would deliver me. Which He did. Alleluia.

Elizabeth also recognises Mary’s outstanding level of faith. Mary fully believes that what God has said to her will come true.

The meeting between the two holy foetuses and their mothers is one of the most joyous occasions in the Bible. This is the last time I will use the word ‘foetus’ because I never use the word normally. I use the term ‘unborn child’ or ‘unborn baby’. The word ‘foetus’ has been hijacked by the Devil to sanitise the horrific practice of abortion. Modern society sorts unborn children into either ‘babies’ when they are wanted and ‘foetuses’ when they are to be disposed of. For I believe that someone else was watching this joyous meeting of the unborn. Someone who was intensely interested in the upsurge in activity in the angelic realm and was tracking both Mary and Elizabeth. Satan himself. He would have loved to have murdered Jesus and John in the womb but they were protected by powerful guardian angels. Saint Michael, the Prince of the Angels, had been assigned to permanently guard Jesus during his life on earth. Satan had been defeated by Saint Michael before (Revelation 12:7).

Satan has been waging war on the unborn ever since in revenge for not managing to kill the greatest prophet and the Son of God in the womb. According to the World Health Organisation, at least 42.6 million unborn children were killed in 2020 (https://www.spuc.org.uk/News/ID/384687/426-million-abortions-in-2020-the-leading-cause-of-death-worldwide). 22% of pregnancies in the USA are aborted and abortion is now the leading cause of death worldwide. The numbers are increasing.

When it comes to supporting abortion, adults tend to be too sophisticated. Very few adults would label themselves as ‘pro-death’ or even ‘pro-abortion’, they try to take a more nuanced approach and come up with the most twisted scenarios to try to convince themselves that sometimes it is a ‘necessary evil’ particularly if babies are conceived in terrible, tragic circumstances. However, God is much more straightforward. In matters of morals, there is no wriggle room. We have to look at the situation through the eyes of a child. I would hope that the vast proportion of children if asked about a baby growing in a mother’s womb would agree that it cannot be killed deliberately under any circumstances. So should we. Killing an unborn child is a grave sin. Of course, God will always forgive and welcome back the perfectly contrite from any circumstances but if people don’t repent and renounce this practice, there are everlasting and terrible consequences for them.

Christians can’t be smug and theoretically disapprove of abortion, while failing to publicly voice this opinion or do anything about it. Lack of action, against a global outrage, is a sin. You don’t have to stand outside an abortion clinic yourself – even though this has saved many lives. At the very least, write to your MP whenever there is a debate about abortion and express your opinion about the universal right to life. Join an organisation like the ‘Society for the Protection of Unborn Children‘ (https://www.spuc.org.uk/). If you don’t do something positive to fight this practice, you are morally complicit in it.

Back to the positive. Mary’s song ‘The Magnificat‘ is beautiful and echoes Hannah’s prayer in (1 Samuel 2:1-10). Trendy theologians – from which you should run a mile – come out with terrible slurs about Mary and ask how could a illiterate, teenager write such a magnificent prayer? Maybe it was written later by someone else? However, I agree with the legend that Mary had been raised in the temple from the age of 3 to at least 12. She had an intimate knowledge of the scriptures and was extremely eloquent and well educated. Who do you think Jesus learnt all his scripture from?

Nicky Gumbel makes the touching observation that half of Jesus’ DNA came from Mary and so he probably looked like her in some ways. Maybe when we look into Jesus’ eyes, we will recognise his mother in them.

I want this song at my funeral (not a morbid thought when you are born again)

Psalm 34:1-10

I was in such a good mood from the Magnificat that I found every single verse of this psalm beautiful.

Those who look to him are radiant‘ (v. 5). I watched a cookery competition the other day, ‘Junior Bake-off‘. The competitors had to bake something to represent their ideal future career. One girl baked a cross as she said her father was a Pastor and she wanted to be one too. We all cheered at home in delighted surprise but looking at her we could have guessed. Her face radiated love, peace and joy. If all the contestants had lined up and we had been asked to choose the really Christian child, we would have selected her. The other contestants were of course beautiful in their own ways but ‘slightly less radiant’.

Moses always had a radiant face after communing with God and had to wear a veil to damp down the brightness. I remember reading at church once from a high pulpit (which is rare in trendy modern churches) and I could feel my face glowing afterwards. You really can tell joyous Christians from their radiant faces. My Pastor says that bitterness and unbelief makes lines on your face. People don’t need to spend money on expensive face-creams (especially if they are made from foetal cells https://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2009/nov/3/aborted-fetus-cells-used-in-anti-aging-products/ ) they just have to accept Jesus and the Holy Spirit fully into their lives. They will make us beautiful both internally and externally.

I have been ‘saved out of all my troubles’ (v.6) by the Lord. How many troubles is the poor man saved from? All his troubles! Shout it out loud.

The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them‘. Amazing. Give thanks to your Guardian angel. He is your best friend and protector, leading you and willing you to eternal life. Show him some gratitude.

Those who seek the Lord lack no good thing‘. If you’re seeking the Lord, you probably won’t win the lottery or be given a sportscar but, by definition, these things can’t have been good for you. Because, if they were good for you, you wouldn’t lack them. In contrast: ‘those who fear the Lord lack nothing‘. By the time you have stopped seeking the Lord, found him and now fear him (have awe and respect for him) you have realised that an expensive car will just get scratched, depreciate and rust and winning the lottery would present quite a few difficulties. Your definition of needs and wants will have evolved and worthless consumerist desires will have dropped away. Blessed is the man who takes refuge in the Lord and not in his possessions.

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