The Gibeonites avenged / Simon the Sorcerer / Philip and the Ethiopian: June 13th 2021

2 Samuel 20:1-21:22

Another rebellion started. The fickle men of Israel deserted David again. This time, to follow Sheba, son of Bicri. The men of Judah stayed loyal to King David.

King David returned to his palace in Jerusalem. He took the ten concubines, whom Absalom had slept with in his absence, and confined them as widows for the rest of their lives. This was not the best day for women’s rights in the Old Testament. However, David obviously felt a duty of care towards these women. Concubines were often slaves, who had been selected to provide powerful men with pleasure and additional heirs but they did not have the same rights as official wives. It wasn’t until the 14th and 15th centuries that the Christian church outlawed concubinage throughout its territories.

The King told his new army commander, Amasa, to leave and assemble the men of Judah and return within three days. Amasa took longer than this. They couldn’t wait and so sent out David’s personal troops to chase Sheba the rebel before he escaped. Joab, who had recently been replaced as military commander, met Amasa at the great rock in Gibeon. Joab greeted him in a deceptively friendly matter before murdering him with a dagger. Joab was determined to get his old job back.

All the troops then followed Joab in the pursuit of Sheba. They besieged the fugitive in the city of Abel Beth Maacah and started to batter the city wall to bring it down. A wise woman negotiated with Job and persuaded the citizens to cut off Sheba’s head and threw it down to Joab. Another threat to David’s reign was dead. Joab withdrew his troops from the city and they dispersed and went home. Joab went back to king David as commander over Israel’s entire army. I wonder what he told David in regards to Amasa’s death: ‘He slipped and fell on his own dagger’.

There was a famine for three years and David asked God why this was occurring. The Lord replied that it was because of Saul putting the Gibeonites to death. David was not personally responsible but the country was suffering for this historical treachery. During the Exodus, the Israelites had promised to spare the Gibeonites, who were survivors of the Amorites, but Saul had tried to annihilate them. It was up to the present king to make amends.

David asked the Gibeonites how Israel could make amends: (2 Sam.21:4). The Gibeonites asked for seven of Saul’s male descendants to be handed over to them to be killed. The king spared Saul’s grandson Mephibosheth because of his vow to take care of him but handed over seven other sons of Saul. The Gibeonites killed them, and exposed their bodies on a hill. David brought the bones of Saul and his son Jonathan from Jabesh Gilead to be buried in the tomb of Saul’s father and gathered up the bones of the other sons of the Saul who had recently been killed. After that, God started to answer prayer again that was offered to him on behalf of the nation.

This shows the importance of world leaders making reparations for past crimes / genocides and other atrocities. God remembers historical offenses against him and can block communication with countries many years later until they apologise and make amends. Our UK leaders will eventually have to apologise for the six million unborn children killed in this county since the 1967 Abortion act.

David went to war against the Philistines again. David was getting on in years and became exhausted by the battle. He was therefore in no fit state to fight another giant. David had defeated the enormous Goliath in his youth. Goliath had been nine feet nine inches tall and had worn scale armour that weighed 125 pounds. Goliath’s spearhead had weighed a massive 15-16 pounds. Now David faced another giant, Ishbi-benob, who was probably smaller than Goliath as his spear head was half the weight. David had to be rescued by Abishai who struck down the giant and killed him. The giants, who had allied themselves with the Philistines, were descended from the mysterious Nephilim / Anakim. David had been so close to losing his life that his army banned him from fighting with them again (2 Sam.21:17).

https://knowingscripture.com/articles/giants-in-the-land-a-biblical-theology-of-the-nephilim-anakim-rephaim-and-goliath

The Israelites killed another three giants in battles with the Philistines at Gog and Gatha (2 Sam.21:22). The Israelites were gradually completing the extermination of the giants that Joshua had started but had failed to complete. The race of giants may have been formed by an unholy union between fallen angels and human woman and so they needed to be eliminated. I think this was more like IVF / genetical manipulation as I don’t believe demons can create eggs or sperm of their own. However, the genes from the Nephilim / Anakim descendants had infected much of humanity. Another reason why God might have wanted Canaanite tribes to be completely wiped out rather than be allowed to breed with Israelites.

Acts 8:4-40

The persecution of the early Christians resulted in them scattering throughout the known world. They preached the gospel wherever they went and so the church grew exponentially. Philip found himself in Samaria and there was great joy there because people were healed and evil spirits came out of many. Because Philip demonstrated the truth of the word through the powerful healings that accompanied him people paid close attention to what he said (Acts 8:6-7).

Simon the Sorcerer had made himself famous in Samaria through his demonic magic. He believed in Philip’s teaching and was baptized. He followed Philip everywhere (Acts 8:13).

Peter and John were sent to Samaria as well when they heard about the success of Philip’s missionary work. They found that even though Samaritans had been baptized ‘in the name of the Lord Jesus’, the Holy Spirit had not yet come down upon any of them (Acts 8:15-16). Peter and John placed their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:17). This is fascinating because the Mother Church teaches that everyone baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit receives the Holy Spirit and becomes a child of God. However, the great majority of Christians show no outward signs that the Holy Spirit is within them. He might just exist within them as a tiny seed, a little flickering pilot light that is never ignited. We only see evidence of the Holy Spirit when these baptized people fully accept Jesus into their lives, become obedient to God and ask the Holy Spirit to enkindle in them his fire and his gifts. Then people start to become fully alive in Christ and start to show evidence of supernatural gifts such as praying in the Spirit.

Pentecostals typically baptize adults – who have fully accepted Jesus into their lives by earnestly saying ‘The Sinner’s Prayer’. They often exhibit the gifts of the Holy Spirit from the moment they are baptized. Some people have the gift of praying for others to receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit. The evangelist Ros Powell once prayed for a group of people including me at a conference to receive an additional supernatural prayer language. As soon as she prayed and touched us on the forehead, we each started to speak in a new language. Simon the sorcerer wanted this power and offered the apostle’s money so that he could lay hands on people to receive the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:18-19). Simon might have had good motives but he also may have seen this as a money-making opportunity. Even today, religious people still make money selling blessed articles or holy objects which is a grave sin known as ‘Simony’ after Simon the Sorcerer. As Christians, we have been given blessings and power as free gifts and we have to freely pass these onto others. It is fine for churches to sell manmade statues or medals or other mementoes but as soon as they have been officially blessed by a priest or deacon and become imbued with holy power, they can never be sold again. We should stay away from anyone who wants to charge for religious services.

Peter rebuked Simon severely (Acts 8:20-23) and told him to repent. Simon asked Peter to pray for him.

Peter and John returned to Jerusalem after testifying and proclaiming the word of God.

Philip was told by an angel to go South where he met an Ethiopian eunuch. The Holy Spirit instructed Philip to go to the eunuch’s chariot and stay near it. Philip offered to explain the passage in Isaiah that the eunuch was reading which was all about Jesus (Acts 8:32). This scripture reading provided the perfect opening for Philip to tell the Ethiopian the good news about Jesus.

The Ethiopian saw some water and seized the opportunity to be baptized. This is how we should be with every spiritual gift. If someone is offering us the chance to receive a special prayer or a blessing at the altar we should seize it. I met a senior freemason the other day. He was shuffling his way in agony across the car park outside a doctor’s surgery. Satan had riddled his body so badly with arthritis that he could barely move. Every step was agony. I offered to pray for him but he rejected my offer! He said he didn’t have enough time, even though I could have followed behind him and prayed a dozen times before he finished his tortuous journey to the car. Some people are so damaged, they require our prayers just to give them the desire to be prayed for.

Philip baptized the eunuch who went away rejoicing to spread the gospel throughout Ethiopia. Philip was then mysteriously transported by the Holy Spirit to the city of Azotus. The Holy Spirit wanted the gospel to spread so fast that he was in effect teleporting an apostle around the region. Thanks to the blessings of the internet today, our evangelism can be spread throughout the world at the speed of light.

Proverbs 14:25-25

Our respect for our awesome God will give us a secure fortress and is our fountain of life.

‘Envy rots the bones’ – we should try to have a heart at peace (Prov.14:30) that does not lust after our neighbour’s belongings.

The Holy Spirit will give us patience, wisdom and understanding. As Christians we stand up for the truth and a truthful witness can save lives through their testimony.

Jesus made us righteous through his death on the cross and so we have an everlasting refuge in God (Prov.14:32).

Image: Uoaei1, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

God makes a Promise to David / Save Yourself from this Corrupt Generation: June 5th 2021

2 Samuel 7:1-8:18

David often reflected on his life and circumstances. He was now settled in his palace and he had been given rest from his enemies but he still couldn’t relax about the ark of the Covenant (2 Sam.7:2).

God spoke to Nathan the prophet. God had taken David from shepherding a flock of sheep to be ruler over his people, Israel. God promised to make David’s name great (2 Sam.7:9). The nation of Israel would have a home of their own and no longer be disturbed. The Lord said that David’s offspring would be the one to build a house for the ark of the Covenant (2 Sam.7:13). David’s house, kingdom and throne would be established for ever, eventually via Jesus (2 Sam.7:16).

David prayed to God and marvelled at how well God treated him: ‘Is this your usual way of dealing with man, O Sovereign Lord? (2 Sam.7:19). There is no God like him and, at the time, no chosen people like Israel (2 Sam.7:23-24). David knew that God was trustworthy and had promised him good things (2 Sam.7:29).

David called himself God’s servant, yet was promised wonderful things for both him and his descendants. As baptized Christians, we are no longer servants; we are God’s adopted children, co-heirs with Christ. How much more will he give his children if we are people, like David, after his own heart.

David’s prayer is a great model for us to follow. He praised God for his greatness and for the awesome wonders he had performed to rescue the Israelites from Egypt. He reminded him that he had become the God of Israel. He asked God to keep his promises so that his name would be great (hallowed) for ever and, only then, dared to ask God to bless him and his family. Then, he proclaimed faithfully that his prayer had been instantly answered.

This shows that we shouldn’t just start our prayers with saying what we want. There should be praise, a reminder of God’s wonders and a reminder of his promises in scripture first.

David enjoyed great success in battle defeating the Philistines, the Arameans, the Edomites and the Moabites. He brutally reduced the numbers of Moabites by two-thirds and the survivors became subject to him. He collected plunder from his wars: chariots, silver, bronze and gold shields. King David dedicated these articles to the Lord (2 Sam. 8:11). The Lord gave David victory wherever he went and he ruled his people justly. It was a great start to his reign. If only he had kept on like this without soon succumbing to serious sin.

Acts 2:22-47

Peter continued to dynamically preach to the crowd now that he had been fired up by the Holy Spirit. Peter explained that God had confirmed Jesus was his son through miracles, wonders and signs.

It was God’s plan that Jesus should be handed over and nailed to the cross. God raised him from the dead ‘because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him’ (Acts 2:23-24). Jesus is always with us and so we should not be shaken. Even when we mourn with those who mourn and weep with those who weep, our hearts are always glad and our tongues are always ready to rejoice because he will not abandon us to the grave (Acts 2:26-27).

King David was a prophet and knew that God would place one of his descendants, Jesus, on the throne forever. David had prophesied that Jesus would not be allowed to see decay. Jesus makes known to us the paths of life and fills us with joy in his presence (Acts 2:28).

Peter told the assembled crowd that the apostles were witnesses to the fact that God raised Jesus from the dead. They were honest people and they had nothing to gain from misleading people. They would suffer horrible deaths holding to the truth of Jesus’ death and resurrection. We should never reject their eye-witness accounts due to our own pride, stubbornness or being misled by the evil spirit of unbelief, that is so prevalent in the world right now.

All Israel needs to be assured that God had made Jesus, who they had crucified, both Lord and Christ (Acts 2:36).

The people were ‘cut to the heart‘ when they realised their crime and asked what they should do. Jesus died because of our past, present and future sins. Our own personal sins carried out today made it necessary for Jesus to die.

Peter told them the remedy for their guilt. They should ‘repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins’. At our baptism, we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Peter was adamant that this would happen not only to the crowd who were present, but also to their children and all those who God would call in the future (Acts 2:38-39).

Adults who repent and are baptized today save themselves from this current corrupt generation through choosing to accept God’s priceless and timeless gifts.

Three thousand new believers were added that day and they lived in unselfish fellowship, with glad and sincere hearts, sharing everything in common and giving to anyone who had need. Many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. There was an atmosphere of awe and praise. They devoted themselves to learning more about God, breaking bread with each other and praying. The believers had glad and sincere hearts. Their new lifestyle was a remarkable contrast to those around them and its joy and exuberance attracted new people each day.

The new believers enjoyed the favour of all people, which is very different to how the church is generally perceived these days. Jewish law and society had given people a baseline of morality and Christianity enhanced this. These days, many people aren’t brought up under a religious code and so they build their lives with no moral foundation. People pick and chose their own morality and modern Christianity with eternal values clashes with a ‘I can do whatever I like as long as it doesn’t hurt someone’ attitude. However, no sin is ever private. God sees whatever we do, wherever we do it. Society rises and falls together based on everyone’s collective actions.

The early church seems idyllic but would soon face persecution. Persecution scattered the new Christian church but God brings good out of every crisis. Scattering led to the growth of the church and the gospel being spread to all known nations.

Proverbs 14:5-14

We should always be truthful witnesses (Prov.14:5). The apostles were truthful witnesses to the death and resurrection of Jesus while their persecutors poured out lies.

Mocking people don’t recognise wisdom even when it is right in front of them. When discerning people reflect on the word of God, knowledge comes easily.

I know rebellious people who have decided in their hearts that there is no God. Yet, I sometimes read their posts on Facebook. The Bible says that I should not bother (Prov.14:7).

As prudent people, we should honestly appraise our lives and the decisions we make and quickly apologise to God for the sins we have committed, making amends to anyone we have hurt. We should have goodwill towards all people. Foolish people deceive themselves that they don’t need to say sorry to a higher power and that they are ‘good people’ relative to some others.

Rebellious people are swayed by today’s society to do things that are lawful but contrary to the intentions of God (Prov.14:12).

When we die, we will be rewarded by God for the good we have done in this life. He will reveal to us what his plans were for us (he prepared good works in advance for us to do) and how much we achieved in relation to them. This could be a very sobering conversation and most of us will rely on the blood of Christ to cover our enormous shortfalls (Prov.14:14).

If we live an upright life, we will flourish both in this life and in our life everlasting (Prov.14:11).

Image: Saint Peter at Pentecost. Public Domain.

The Ark Brought to Jerusalem / The Holy Spirit comes at Pentecost: June 4th 2021

2 Samuel 5:6-6:23

David attacked the Jebusites and captured Jerusalem. He took up residence there and called it ‘the city of David’ (2 Sam. 5:9).

David built up the area around Jerusalem and became more and more powerful because ‘the Lord God Almighty’ was with him (2 Sam. 5:10). Hiram, king of Tyre, sent craftspeople to build a palace for David. David felt secure in his reign (2 Sam. 5:12).

The Philistines came to attack David and he enquired of the Lord whether they would be handed over to him (2 Sam.5:19). David defeated them with the help of God: (2 Sam 5:20). The Philistines abandoned their useless idols and David and his men carried them off – hopefully to be safely disposed of.

The Philistines came for war again and this time the Lord gave David a battle strategy (2 Sam. 5:23). The Lord sent what presumably were legions of angels marching in the tops of the balsam trees to strike the Philistine army ahead of David’s troops. Due to David’s obeying God’s plan, he was successful (2 Sam. 5:25).

David set out to retrieve the ark of the Covenant (2 Sam. 6:2). It was still a dangerous object, to be treated with reverence. One man reached out to steady it when the oxen pulling it on a cart stumbled and he was struck down dead (2 Sam. 6:6-7). David was then too frightened to take the ark to Jerusalem and so stored it for three months in the house of Obed-Edom the Gittite. His house was so blessed by the ark’s presence that David tried again to move it (2 Sam. 6:12).

As the ark travelled, David danced before it with all his might (2 Sam. 6:14-15). His first wife, Michal daughter of Saul, despised David in her heart for dancing in such a vulgar and undignified way (2 Sam. 6:20). There is always a family member ready to put a damper on any celebration. David was unrepentant and vowed to be even more undignified in the future. He knew that God had chosen him rather than Michal’s father, Saul, to be king (2 Sam. 6:21-22). God liked the way that David behaved. Michal had no children all her life to ensure that none of Saul’s descendants would gain the throne.

David sacrificed to the Lord and generously gave food to all the Israelites (2 Sam. 6:19). When we rejoice and celebrate out of our love of God, it gives us the desire to be generous and hospitable.

Acts 1:23-2:21

The disciples prayed, cast lots and chose Matthias to be added to the eleven disciples. There had to be twelve apostles at the birth of the church as there were twelve tribes of Israel.

Pentecost was a traditional Jewish feast, fifty days after Passover but this year it became the birthday of the Christian church. A sound like a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where the disciples had gathered. What seemed to be tongues of fire separated and came to rest on each of the disciples. All were filled with the Holy Spirit and they began to speak in other languages (Acts 2:2-4).

Speaking in other tongues / languages is a supernatural gift that all Christians can pray for today. It is the initial gift of power unlocking all the other gifts of the Spirit. It often comes when adults are baptized by Pentecostal Christians, because they are obedient to the Spirit and faithfully pray for his gifts to be unlocked. It is a marvellous gift and everyone should desire it as it brings wonderful benefits. It builds us up internally. It edifies us to be a powerful soldier for Christ. To receive this gift we have to believe, be baptized, and faithfully ask the Spirit to give us this gift. God will not refuse to give good gifts to his children. We are always in total control of this gift and can start it / stop it whenever we like. I feel that it is like a broadband prayer connection to God, instead of trying to communicate with him via a faltering dial-up connection. In my heart, I can feel the Holy Spirit broadcasting prayer to God twenty-four hours a day – to pray in tongues I just have to open my mouth and start to move my vocal chords, giving the Spirit permission to vocalise my prayers. It is extremely powerful. The more we pray in tongues, the more the Holy Spirit will be able to mould us, change us, sanctify us, through us the Holy Spirit speaks the perfect prayer to God.

The Holy Spirit also helps us pray when we don’t know what to say. He will pray the perfect prayer whatever the circumstances and, when we pray in tongues over other people, he will discern the prayer that they need and speak it through us. It is a powerful spiritual weapon used for delivering ourselves and others from evil and for healing.

The more we pray in tongues, the more other gifts will be unlocked. I love to sing in tongues as well. The Holy Spirit will give me a new praise or worship song each day, which I sing aloud as I take my dog for it’s daily walk. I love to record these on my phone and play them later on a keyboard as these are new tunes – written by God. I have never composed music before so I find it delightful that the Holy Spirit uses me to do this. The next gift we might receive is the ‘interpretation of tongues’. This allows us or the people around us to translate tongue languages into our native language. Tongue languages can be supernatural languages – used in heaven or by angels – or it could be one of the seven thousand earthly languages used around the world. My pastor prayed for a lady in Pakistan to receive the gift of tongues and she started speaking in perfect English, even though she had never been taught any.

At Pentecost, the Holy Spirit gave all the ‘God-fearing ‘Jews’ who could hear the apostles in Jerusalem the gift of interpreting tongues as they were all able to understand them in their own native language. ‘We hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!’ (Acts 2:11-12). God loves it when we declare his wonders, particularly the wonder of how he rescued the Israelites from the Egyptians and he will bless us greatly as a result. Pentecost reversed Babel, when God made life more difficult by creating different languages (Gen. 11:1-9). Now, people could understand visitors from foreign lands making it much easier to spread the gospel.

Some people made fun of the apostles (Acts 2:13) and said they were drunk. Two thousand years later there are many people – even so-called Christians – who will make fun of this supernatural gift. Some Christians seem to regard their religion as just an academic exercise, they don’t expect to see someone demonstrate supernatural abilities or for prayers to actually achieve anything but it is they who are missing out. Without the empowerment of the Holy Spirit, we will never make much progress in our journey towards God.

After the Holy Spirit descended on Peter, he instantly became a powerful and persuasive preacher and quoted from the prophet Joel (Acts 2:17-21). God will pour out his Spirit on all people in the last days. He has poured it out on thousands of people from all denominations over the last few decades giving them supernatural charismatic gifts. We can thus conclude that we are now in the end times. Young men will see visions and old men will dream dreams. I pray daily that elderly members of my family who have so far been resistant to God will experience such a dramatic, intense dream that it will instantly convert them. The evangelist, Ros Powell, wrote a beautiful article about how her atheist husband was converted through a dream: https://www.rospowell.com/my-old-man-dreamed-a-dream/

Through regularly practicing the gift of Tongues, the Spirit may then give other gifts such as a the gift of prophesy, which is far more useful in public if no-one present can interpret our tongue language.

The gift of tongues enables us to call out perfectly to the Lord through the intercession of the Holy Spirit. ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved’ (Acts 2:21).

Psalm 69:29-36

God loves praise and thanksgiving more than sacrifices (Psalm 69:30-31).

The Lord hears the needy and the poor. He has a special regard for prisoners. Prison can be a blessed place where people turn their lives around and can find God. Apostles, like Peter and Paul regarded prison as an opportunity to loudly praise and worship, write Godly letters that would change the world and convert other prisoners and guards. Wherever we find ourselves, we can loudly give thanks to God.

God brought the Jewish people back to their land to rebuild it (Psalm 69:35-36). He has gathered them from around the world as he will always be faithful to his covenants.

God will save us and protect us. Even we are in pain and distress, we know that ‘in all things God works for the good of those who love him’ (Romans 8:28).

Image: Distant Shores Media/Sweet Publishing, CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

David Destroys the Amalekites / Jesus’ Empty Tomb: May 31st 2021

The Philistine commanders questioned the loyalty of David. He had killed many Philistines in his time from their champion, Goliath, to the two hundred he had slaughtered just to harvest their foreskins. Achish, the Philistine king, was pleased with David (1 Samuel 29: 9) but instructed him not to go into battle with them and turn back to the land of the Philistines. This was fortuitous. David was destined to be the ruler of Israel and so it was sensible for him not to have the blood of Israelites on his hands.

David returned to the Philistine town where he lived, Ziklag, only to find that the evil Amalekites had raided it in his absence, set it on fire and carried off all their families including David’s two wives. David’s men talked about stoning him because he had left their families unprotected.

David asked the Lord, utilising the ephod (priestly apron), whether he should pursue the Amalekites and God told him he would be successful in this rescue mission. David and his six hundred men set off in pursuit but he had to leave two hundred men at a ravine because they were exhausted. David found an escaped slave, gave him food and drink and he then led them to the Amalekite raiders.

David fought the Amalekites, rescued all his people and took their flocks and herds. Some of his men did not want to share the spoils of their battle with the two hundred exhausted men who had not fought but David over-ruled them and gave everyone an equal share (1 Samuel 30:24-25). David also shared some of the plunder with the elders of Judah and all the other places who had been kind to David while he roamed in the desert.

In summary, God stopped David from attacking the Israelites which would have looked very bad on his CV. David then started acting in a much more regal and responsible fashion. He asked God what he should do. He bravely went off to rescue his subjects. He fed and sheltered a refugee. He nearly wiped out one of God’s least favourite nations. He was kind to all his people – even the exhausted ones who could not fight. He was generous with his resources in order to forge closer alliances with friendly neighbours. This was a very promising chapter in David’s gradual development just as Saul is about to meet his demise.

The Philistines fought against Israel and all Saul’s sons were killed, including David’s best friend Jonathan. Saul was critically injured and fell on his own sword. The Israelites abandoned their towns and fled. It was a total slaughter, which God had sensibly kept David from participating in. The Philistines put the armour of Saul in the temple of their demonic fertility deity. They fastened his headless body, and the bodies of his sons, to the wall of a town called Beth Shan. Despite the danger, the Israelites from Jabesh Gilead were not prepared to accept this final insult to their king and they valiantly journeyed through the night to retrieve the bodies, cremate them and bury them. They then fasted seven days out of respect.

The first king of Israel, Saul, had died. He had started well but fell out with God due to his disobedience and eventually plunged to a new low in spiritual relations by consulting a witch. However, even people he unjustly persecuted, like David, had still respected him. The Israelites were grieved to see him go despite his faults. Both Saul and his son Jonathan were tremendous warriors and they were loved and gracious (2 Sam. 1:23). Israel would now enter a period of civil war to determine the next unifying king of Israel.

John 19:28-20:9

Jesus, while suffering on the cross, was given a drink of vinegar, which fulfilled the prophecy in Psalms 69.21.

When Jesus died, he made us righteous in the sight of God by taking all our past, present and future sins on him. He became sin for our salvation and broke its power: ‘It is finished’. Jesus breathed out his spirit as he died (John 19:30). Jesus’ spirit now lives within all baptised and believing Christians.

To check he was dead, the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side and there was ‘a sudden flow of blood and water’ (John 19:34). Crucifixion is a horrible death and during the process: ‘the decreased oxygen (due to the difficulty in exhaling) causes damage to the tissues and the capillaries begin leaking watery fluid from the blood into the tissues. This results in a build-up of fluid around the heart (pericardial effusion) and lungs (pleural effusion)’. Jesus probably literally died from a broken heart as the lack of oxygen in the body of a victim of crucifixion can cause the heart to burst. Jesus had been betrayed by the people he had come to save. Even though he revealed God to us as the God of love and he never sinned, he died due to our sin / envy / jealousy and hatred.

https://www.apu.edu/articles/the-science-of-the-crucifixion/#:~:text=When%20they%20came%20to%20Jesus,surrounding%20the%20heart%20and%20lungs.

The blood and water from Jesus’ side fell onto the ground of Golgotha and soaked Adam’s buried bones. Jesus’ life was in the blood. Jesus told us the Holy Spirit, now living within us, would give us streams of living water. ‘The water flowing from the heart of Jesus will heal, cleanse and energise us all’ (NG, p.317) Jesus would then descend into hell and rescue his old friends, Adam and Eve, from their chains.

Jesus’ body was taken by his uncle, Joseph of Arimathea. He and Nicodemus wrapped Jesus’ body with spices (myrrh and aloes) in strips of linen and laid his body in a new tomb.

On the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene found that the stone had been removed from the entrance to the tomb. She told Simon Peter and John and they both ran to the tomb.

Simon Peter saw the strips of linen that had covered Jesus’ body lying there as well as ‘the burial cloth that had been around Jesus’ head’ (John 20:7). This cloth has been preserved through the millennia as a holy relic and is known as the ‘Sudarium of Oviedo’. Both the Shroud of Turin – the cloth that wrapped up Jesus’ body and the Sudarium – the cloth that covered his head prior to the shroud – have been proved to have been in contact with each other and both have traces of myrrh and aloes on them.

Simon Peter ‘saw and believed’ (John 20:8). We are especially blessed these days when we believe without seeing (John 20:29).

Psalm 68:28-35

When we pray with faith and pray in the Spirit, God will show us his healing and delivering strength.

As the gospel has spread to the ends of the earth, the global faithful have sung praise to God.

We need to continue to proclaim God’s awesome power (Psalm 68:34).

The awesome Holy Spirit resides inside of us on account of our baptism. He gives power and strength to us, his people. To release his power through us, we must pray he blesses us with a full measure of gifts and pray in faith for others (Ps. 68:35).

Image: https://pixabay.com/photos/empty-tomb-nazareth-israel-3326100/

Saul and the Witch of Endor / Jesus is Flogged and Crucified: May 30th 2021

1 Samuel 26:1-28:25

Saul started chasing David around the countryside again. Saul could not resist the temptation to try to kill David just as we can return to the same habitual sins if we don’t ask the Holy Spirit to lead us and strengthen us.

David and one of his brave soldiers, Abishai, crept into Saul’s camp at night, while everyone was sleeping and took Saul’s spear and the water jug that was near his head. David was protected on this mission ‘because the Lord had put them all into a deep sleep’ (1 Samuel 26:12). David steadfastly refused to kill a king, who had been appointed by God.

David shouted to Saul and his men from a wide distance away and asked Saul why he was pursuing him again. Saul admitted he had sinned again and blessed David.

David wisely escaped to the land of the Philistines as Saul clearly could not be trusted. David and his men would go on raiding parties from there to acquire livestock and other goods. He ruthlessly exterminated all the men and women in the areas he raided for fear they might inform on him. It was a horrendously blood-thirsty time to live. It would have been nice to read that David granted people mercy but the sheer horror of some sections of the Bible demonstrates its truth. All the unpleasant bits that might make us question the morals of some of the main characters have been left in. However, God really didn’t like the Amalekites and, in his wrath, wanted them all dead. God had completely turned away from Saul for sparing just a single Amalekite, the king. Presumably, they were impenitent child-sacrificing monsters worshipping evil demonic entities and had broken so many of God’s laws they could not be redeemed in this Covenant. God needed them to die so that Jesus could come to preach to them in hell after his crucifixion.

The Philistine king, Achish, trusted David because he thought that the Israelites hated him so much that he would be his servant for ever. He even made David his bodyguard when the Philistines were preparing to fight against Israel.

Saul had previously followed God’s law (Exodus 22:18) and ‘expelled all the mediums and spiritists from the land’ (1 Samuel 28:3). However, he was now terrified of the Philistine invasion and none of the approved methods of communicating with God were working (1 Sam. 28:6). God had withdrawn the Holy Spirit from Saul and was allowing him to be plagued by an evil spirit. The primary occupation of an evil spirit is to tempt people and Saul was now tempted to consult a medium. It is a fundamental breach of God’s law to consult practitioners of the occult. If we do this, demons gain a legal right to oppress and even possess us and it may take a person with a very high level of spiritual authority and / or faith to deliver us from them. Dabbling in the occult attracts the big-hitting Biblical demons with personal names and they don’t usually travel alone.

The medium that Saul consulted brought up the recently deceased spirit of the prophet Samuel. Samuel was not happy at being disturbed. He reminded Saul that God had turned away from him and become his enemy. The Lord had torn the kingdom from his hands and given it to David. Samuel prophesied the loss of Israel to the Philistines and Saul’s own death (1 Samuel 28:19).

The witch made Saul eat something before he left. He had fallen full length on the ground in fear and his strength had gone. She was probably worried he might never leave and change his mind about not killing her. She slaughtered her fattened calf and baked bread for him and his men. He was an honoured guest in her house and part of her occult club now that she had conducted a séance for him. She only had to worry about him until the next day according to Samuel’s proclamation of his impending demise.

John 19:1-27

Pilate had Jesus flogged. I only realised the full horror of this experience when I watched ‘The Passion of the Christ’. This event is of particularly significance in Pentecostal belief because it is preached that all of our illnesses became embedded into the bloody grooves that were scourged into our Saviour’s back: Isaiah 53:5. See also, 1 Peter 2:24 which the NIV Bible translates as ‘by his wounds you have been healed‘, which sounds like the wounds of crucifixion, but other Bibles proclaim: ‘by whose stripes you were healed’ (NKJV). We can boldly pray for healing by virtue of Jesus’ taking all our our infirmities and diseases into the stripes / bloody thumps / grooves on his back. Jesus not only conquered death, but by being scourged he also conquered sickness and infirmity.

Pilate desperately tried to set Jesus free but the hostile crowd gave him no room for manoeuvre. He finally gave into their demands. He should have stood up for justice and released Jesus no matter what the consequences. He was a weak judge. These days, many biased people bay for blood to forward their own political agendas. We are so fortunate if we live in a land with a relatively impartial and just legal system, with a right to appeal our sentences. We must pray for our lawyers and judges that they are not tempted to deny justice to the innocent.

Jesus was crucified at the place of the skull, Golgotha. Jesus’ cross, according to legend, was right on top of where Adam’s skeleton (and skull) was buried. The blood and water from Jesus’ side would fall down onto the ground and soak Adam’s dry bones. When Jesus died, he descended down into hell on the most audacious rescue mission ever to rescue his old friends and ancestors, Adam and Eve, and lead them to heaven. Jesus had walked with Adam and Eve in the cool of the evening in the Garden of Eden. They were his friends and he had promised them, when they were expelled from Eden, that he would make things right. Jesus rescued them as both their creator and their descendant.

The sign on Jesus’ cross proclaiming him as ‘King of the Jews’ was written in the three different Biblical languages. Up to September 2020, the full Bible has been translated into 704 languages and the New Testament translated into another 1,551 languages. New ones are being added all the time. My wife’s Godfather has recently finished translating the original Hebrew Bible into Cornish. When we are given the supernatural gift of speaking in tongues, we might start speaking in an earthly or a heavenly language. People can be given the supernatural gift of understanding what we are saying or they might recognise their native language. Some people have English as their supernatural language – despite never having been taught any it.

John 19:25 mentions Jesus’ ‘mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas’ standing near the cross. Saint Jerome (347-420), argued that the so-called brothers of Jesus (James, Simon, Jude and Joses or Joseph) were children of Mary of Clopas making them first cousins of Jesus. I prefer the Eastern church’s tradition that the ‘brothers of Jesus’ were older sons of the widower Joseph from his deceased first wife. Either way, Mary, mother of Jesus, never had any other children as her vocation since birth was to be a temple virgin. Joseph, her elderly husband, was her strong, silent protector.

Even though Jesus was being crucified, he still cared for others. He ensured that his mother, Mary, would always be looked after by John – the disciple whom he loved (John 19:26-27). Mary, as the mother of God, is mother to all of us in the church. She is still our number one intercessor with privileged access to her son and our saviour. Praying to Mary is the same as asking your Pastor / Priest to pray for you but usually far more effective. Jesus remains the one mediator between human and God bridging the gulf between heaven and earth and opening up heaven for the righteous but both the living and the dead can pray for us. No-one is ever dead in God’s eyes, we are all living to him (Luke 20:38). The saints are twiddling their heavenly thumbs waiting for us to call for help. Demons are terrified of Mary as her prayers are so effective. She often intervenes in exorcisms to wrestle people from Satan’s grasp. It is the tragedy of the fractured and splintered church that so many people do not know they can request her powerful prayers.

Psalm 68:21-27

We should loudly praise God in all of our congregations (Psalm 68:26).

Sin and the devil are the enemies of us all. Jesus wiped out punishment for our sins by his death on the cross. He became incarnate to destroy the works of the devil. By her prayers, his mother Mary crushes the heads of the devil and the demons under her heel.

God will always be triumphant.

Image: Salvator Rosa, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

David Escapes from Saul / Jesus Prays for all Believers: May 27th 2021

1 Samuel 19:1-20:42

‘(King) Saul told his son Jonathan and all his attendants to kill David’ (1 Samuel 19:1). However, Jonathan was very fond of David and advised him to go into hiding while he pleaded his case. David had risked his life fighting Goliath to save Israel. He was a national hero and did not deserve to be persecuted. Saul listened to the intercession of his son and promised not to put David to death (1 Sam19:6).

David was reconciled to Saul. David successfully fought the Philistines again but before long Saul tried to kill him again, when an evil spirit ‘came upon Saul as he was sitting in his house with his spear in his hand’ (1 Sam 19:9). It isn’t wise to have weapons in the house. If people are being oppressed by evil spirits and they can easily get their hands on a lethal weapon, terrible events can occur.

David fled to the prophet Samuel and told him the king was trying to kill him. Whenever Saul’s men approached their location, the Spirit of God came upon them and they prophesied. This happened to Saul himself when he travelled there. Even though Saul’s thoughts were on murder, the Spirit temporarily gave him a supernatural gift of prophesy.

David went to his friend Jonathan and asked why Saul was trying to assassinate him again. Jonathan endeavoured to find out at the New Moon Festival. However, Saul guessed that Jonathan was working with David and tried to spear him too. Jonathan sent a pre-arranged signal to David by firing arrows to confirm that his life was definitely in danger. Jonathan and David met up, said goodbye and wept together. They had sworn friendship between them and their descendants forever.

David left. He was a wanted man. He had friends in high places, Jonathan and Saul’s daughter, but the king wanted him dead. However, God was on his side and so these stressful trials would refine him and make him stronger. We can sometimes face persecution even though we are loyal and innocent. God has great plans for us. He will develop our character so that we can achieve great glory for God in the future.

John 17:6-26

As Christians, we are a different species from other humans. We have been pulled out from the world by Jesus. Everyone, believers and non-believers belong to God. He can do with us what he wants. However, believing Christians have been taken out of the world and given to Jesus. He now owns us and wants us to be with him for eternity (John 17:24).

The words that Jesus spoke came from God the Father. We believe for certain that God sent Jesus.

Jesus prayed for us that we will be protected from the evil one. Jesus knew that the devil could even attack the people closest to him. Judas was the one doomed to destruction ‘so that scripture would be fulfilled’ (John 17:12).

We are made holy (sanctified) by the word of God, which is truth. Through our baptism, the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth sets up home within us.

We need to have close friends from all different denominations and work together on projects / evangelisation. All churches need to be warm and welcoming and ready to learn from and love each other. I love to attend churches of all different denominations and go weekly to both a Catholic and a Pentecostal church. If you are a Protestant, make sure you regularly go to a Catholic church and vice versa. Jesus wants all Christians to be together as one, in complete unity (John 17:23).

God loved Jesus, his son, before the creation of the world. Jesus spreads the love that the Father has for him into us. Jesus himself lives within us by the Holy Spirit (John 17:26).

Let us unite to spread his full measure of joy to the whole world.

Psalm 68:7-14

When God marches out before his people the earth shook and the heavens poured with rain (Psalm 68:7-8).

God is so generous that his bounteous world can provide for the poor. We just need to rein in our greed and selfishness in order to share our resources.

We are in a great company of billions of other Christians when we proclaim the world. Pagan kings and armies have fled in haste before the truth of God’s word.

The Holy Spirit shines within us, even while we are sleeping. He watches over us, protects us and prays for us.

Image: Public Domain https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jonathan_(1_Samuel)

David and Goliath / The Work of the Holy Spirit: May 26th 2021

1 Samuel 17:38-18:30

David tried on Saul’s tunic and armour but they were too cumbersome. He couldn’t move around freely because he wasn’t used to them. When we start a ministry we can’t let other people lay their burdens and expectations on us to weigh us down. We can’t impersonate others – we need to do what authentically suits our individual minds and bodies. People respond to truth and integrity.

David went to attack Goliath in his normal light-weight tunic, with his shepherd’s bag and his sling. Goliath despised him on sight and was insulted that such a young man had been sent to challenge him. Goliath cursed David by his Pagan gods but David came against him: ‘in the name of the Lord Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied’ (v.45). David had total faith that ‘the Lord will hand you over to me’ (v.46) and that the whole Philistine army would be defeated so that everyone would know there is God in Israel.

David killed Goliath with a perfect shot from his sling and then chopped off Goliath’s head with his own sword. The Bible doesn’t say whether Goliath even got a chance to throw his enormous javelin at David. If David had tried to fight Goliath with just a sword, he would have been easily defeated. However, servants of God have superior weapons and we can defeat evil at a distance. Exorcists had successfully deliver people via a telephone conversation. David had a slingshot – basically a forerunner of a rifle – and had honed his skill with it over many years under the guidance of God. When we are fighting evil these days, we can put on the full spiritual armour of God to be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Our sword is ‘the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God’ (Ephesians 6:10-17).

After Goliath was dead, the Israelites were able to chase and slaughter the Philistines and plunder their camp. David brought the head of Goliath to Saul.

Saul’s son, Jonathan, ‘became one in spirit with David, and he loved him as himself’ (18:1). There was mutual love between Jonathan and David. When Jonathan eventually died in battle (1 Samuel 1:26), David grieved for his dear friend: ‘Your love for me was wonderful, more wonderful than that of women’. One reason it was more wonderful than that of women was that David and Jonathan’s relationship was pure celibate, friendship love (know as ‘philia’) rather than romantic love (known as ‘eros’). Pure friendship is extremely rare in the modern world. Men, in particular, can sometimes just have acquaintances based on shared experiences such as school or college or from mutual interests such as sport, drinking or hobbies. Many men have never had a lasting spirit bond with another male. Jesus will always love us whatever we do but, if we obey his commands, we will not be his servants, we will be his friends (15:14).

In contrast to friendship, a romantic / sexual love complicates relationships and David got into terrible trouble with God over his adulterous (eros) affair with Bathsheba. When we have sex with someone our soul gets supernaturally tied to theirs (a ‘soul-tie’) and anything that affects one of the pair spiritually can get transferred over to the other party. This is why you should never have sex with someone tied up with the occult. Their soul is likely to get ensnared by demonic forces which can transfer over to you. Soul ties are broken by prayer and people should always pray to break all soul-ties with others before they get married.

David and Jonathan were one in spirit and in love, yet they were purely friends. The most pure kind of love is to ‘love another as we love ourselves’. Sex does not have to go with love, which is a very difficult concept for modern society to live with. We can love people of either sex and never dream of having sex with them – we just have to live in the Spirit and pray to maintain a natural state of chaste friendship. Jesus never had sex with anyone, yet he loved us all so much he laid down his life for both men and women while we were still sinners. He loves us with unconditional selfless love (know as ‘agape’). If we live in union with the Holy Spirit and allow the Spirit to pray through us, he will show us the truth and lead us into a natural and pure way of life.

David was so successful in all his military missions that Saul gave him a high rank in the army (18:5). However, the Israelites started to revere David more than Saul. This made Saul jealous and he hurled a spear at David twice (v.11). Saul sent him on dangerous missions expecting the Philistines to kill David but, in everything he did, David had great success. He was seemingly invincible. Saul tried to give his older daughter to David in marriage but David was too humble to accept. Saul tried again with his daughter, Michal, and David was then happy to comply with Saul’s risky challenge to provide a hundred Philistine foreskins as a price for the bride. David and his men daringly killed two hundred Philistines so that he might become the king’s son-in-law (v.27). David had a great work ethic, even when it came to gruesome tasks. He was a formidable foe.

Saul became even more jealous when both the Lord and his own daughter loved David. He feared David’s popularity and became David’s enemy. However, this loathing was totally one-sided. David had no intention of seizing Saul’s crown and was a loyal subject. He was an asset, not a threat. Similarly, the Chief Priests and Pharisees envied Jesus, even though he was no threat to them. The Lord was with Jesus and people he helped loved him. The Pharisees should have embraced Jesus and celebrated his miracles rather than plot his death to assuage their own fear, jealousy and envy.

John 16:4-17:5

It was for our own good that Jesus died and returned to the Father. He was then able to send the Holy Spirit, the Counsellor and Comforter, to reside in each one of us. Jesus, as an incarnate man, could only be in one place at one time. The Holy Spirit is omnipresent and can fill the hearts of each of the seven billion inhabitants of the earth – if they believe. The Holy Spirit points out to us that unbelief is sin. When we believe, he activates his gifts in our heart. None of us can earn our righteousness through good deeds. We could never get to heaven by our own efforts. We are only made right with the Father through the sacrifice of Jesus’ precious blood. The devil and all his demons are condemned forever. God cannot stop loving any of his creatures but the demons knew God existed, they had full knowledge and yet still chose to rebel and so they can never be reconciled to their creator. They freely chose separation for eternity.

The Holy Spirit guides us into all truth. He will guide us into making the right decisions. We will feel unsettled internally when we are considering making an unwise decision. Jesus had much more to say to us, more than the disciples could bear (v.12). This is why we should not just rely on the Bible but also pay attention to the truths that the Holy Spirit has revealed to the saints over the last two thousand years.

No-one can take away our joy at the resurrection of our Lord. The Secular world might try to lessen Easter by making it about chocolate, chicks and rabbits but true Christians know the wonder of the risen Lord. Our Good Friday grief was turned into everlasting Easter Sunday joy.

God will give us anything we ask in Jesus’ name. There is immense power in the name of Jesus. Jesus overcame the world so that we might have inner peace no matter what issues we may be facing. Praying in Tongues to God through the Holy Spirit when we feel stressed is a gift from God that restores our inner calm and builds up our strength and defences. The Holy Spirit facilitates our intimate relationship with God our loving Father.

God, the Father, was always with Jesus until Jesus was dying on the cross. Jesus took on all our sins and became sin: ‘My God, my God, what have you forsaken me?’ (Mark 15: 34). God cannot look upon sin and so he had to turn his back on his son as he died, bearing all our past, present and future sins.

God showed his glory through Jesus’ life, miracles, death and resurrection. All we have is his and we should use all our talents and resources for the glory of his name.

Psalm 68:1-6

The wicked will melt like wax and be blown away like smoke by the wind. The rebellious will be ‘sun-scorched’ (v.6). and won’t be refreshed by streams of living water.

We are made righteous through the perfect sacrifice of Christ and so we should be happy and glad to rejoice joyfully before God. We sing praise to his name and pray to him: ‘Hallowed be your name’. I agree with the Jews that God’s formal name should never be vocalised. It is too holy. We should use ‘The Lord’, ‘God’ or ‘Father’ instead.

God is ‘a father to the fatherless’ and ‘a defender of widows’ (v.5). He gives the lonely a family. The church should provide a loving and welcoming family to us all. We can never have enough friends. We have all been prisoners locked in sin. God will release us from spiritual chains and lead us out singing through the supernatural grace afforded by our baptism.

Image: Nicolas Régnier, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Samuel anoints David / The Vine and the Branches: May 25th 2021

1 Samuel 16:1-17:37

The Lord sent Samuel to Jesse of Bethlehem. God had chosen one of Jesse’s sons to be king, instead of Saul.

Samuel wondered which of Jesse’s multiple sons the Lord had chosen but he could not work it out: ‘Man looks at outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart’ (v.7).

Samuel knew that the Lord had not chosen any of the seven sons he had already seen and asked if there were any more. David, the eighth and youngest, was still out tending the sheep and so he was sent for. God clearly told Samuel that David was the chosen one and he should be anointed.

‘From that day on, the Spirit of the Lord came upon David in power’ (v.13). In the New Covenant, baptized Christians all have the Holy Spirit permanently living within us. He will give us power if we fully accept Jesus into our lives as our Lord and Saviour and ask the Holy Spirit to enkindle the fire of his gifts within us. We can also be commissioned / receive additional gifts by being anointed / prayed over by holy individuals. The evangelist, Ros Powell, once prayed over me to instantly receive an additional prayer language. She went around a circle of volunteers and briefly touched each one of us on our head as she prayed for us. We all started to pray in a new language as soon as she touched us, a machine-gun-like deliverance language for fighting the enemy. Some people have been given a gift of imparting supernatural gifts onto others.

The Spirit of the Lord was now resting on David but had departed from King Saul and instead: ‘an evil spirit from the Lord tormented him’ (v.14). It must have been very sad for King Saul to lose the Spirit of God. When I first started praying in tongues, I was fascinated about how I was in control of exercising this gift. When I opened my mouth and allowed the Spirit of God to speak, he did; and when I wanted to stop, he stopped. Sometimes during corporate prayer in a church, when many people are speaking in tongues, the Holy Spirit will synchronise everyone and people will all gently grind to a halt at the same time. It’s a perfect union when we work together with God to pray what has to be be prayed. I was given the gift of tongues one evening but the very next morning while in the shower, I opened my mouth to practice this new gift and nothing came out. I was bereft and nearly in tears that this beautiful gift of God had temporarily come and then disappeared. A couple of hours later, it was back. I was so happy. I think God was demonstrating how much of a genuine supernatural gift this was and I could do nothing without him. I couldn’t pray in tongues by myself. He was testing me to see how much value I placed on having the Holy Spirit active within my heart. I discussed this with a charismatic priest and he said, in the New Covenant, God never permanently removes his gifts once they have been gifted. I am slightly wary of 1 Corinthians (13:8): ‘Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where they are tongues, they will be stilled’ but reassured by 2 Corinthians (1:21-22): ‘He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come’ and Ephesians 1:13-14: ‘When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession – to the praise of his glory’.

Saul’s servants discerned that if someone played the harp when the evil spirit was present, then Saul would feel better. Evil spirits hate beauty of all kind and so beautiful music can chase them away. They of course, absolutely hate praise and worship songs. When it comes to sounds repelling evil spirits, there is a long tradition of using bells. Church bells are exorcised and blessed with an official rite: ‘Bless, O Lord, this water with a heavenly benediction, and may the power of the Holy Ghost come upon it, so that when this vessel, prepared to call together the children of the Holy Church, has been washed with it, there may be kept far away from wheresoever this bell may sound, the power of those lying in wait, the shadow of spectres, the ravages of whirlwinds, the stroke of lightning, the damage of thunder, the disaster of tempests, and every breath of storm’ https://www.newliturgicalmovement.org/2013/08/compendium-of-1961-revision-of_14.html#.YKuJlqhKg2w

One of Saul’s servants had seen David, son of Jesse, play the harp. He also had many other qualities. He was brave, a warrior, spoke well and was good-looking. He became one of Saul’s armour-bearers. Whenever the ‘spirit from God came upon Saul’ (v.23), David would play his harp, Saul would feel better and the evil spirit would leave. It is interesting that it is ‘an evil spirit from the Lord’ that tormented Saul. These days we would say that an evil spirit reports to the devil as part of the hierarchy of evil spirits. However, nothing is allowed to happen unless God permits it. So if someone is oppressed or even possessed by a demon, even though it is under the day-to-day command of the devil, it is only allowed to perform evil because God has permitted it to. God doesn’t want any creature to carry out evil but he will permit it if greater good will come out of it. By allowing this spirit to torment Saul, David now had access to the ruler of Israel.

The Israelites were once again at war with the Philistines. Each day for forty days, the nine-foot-tall giant Goliath, came out from the Philistine ranks and challenged the Israelites to send one man to fight him instead of an all-out battle. Saul and all the Israelites were dismayed and terrified by his size and weaponry (17:11).

David had come to the army camp to bring his brothers, who were in the Israelite army, some provisions. David saw Goliath offer his daily challenge and was very interested to know what the reward would be for killing this uncircumcised Philistine, who was defying and disgracing the armies of the loving God.

David offered to risk his life to fight shrugging off the disrespect of his oldest brother and the doubts of Saul. Unkind members of our own families are often our harshest critics. We should just turn away from their hurtful remarks without retaliation while praying that they will be saved in the end. David pointed out he was an experienced lion and bear killer thanks to his normal day job as a shepherd. David could hardly have imagined when he was fighting an enormous bear that God was training him to fight a giant Philistine in the future. God likes to make use of our secular experience and skills, once we start working for him.

David was so confident that the Lord, who had delivered him from both the lion and the bear, would also deliver him from this Philistine that Saul agreed he could fight: ‘Go, and the Lord be with you’ (v.37). Saul must have been impressed with David’s self-confidence and attitude. When Samuel had tried to announce Saul as king, Saul had hidden himself amongst the Israelites baggage. In contrast, David, a young shepherd, had marched into the king’s presence and volunteered to fight a heavily armed giant in front of two armies. He was heroically bold.

Just like David, when an opportunity to work for God comes up that matches our skillsets we should seize the chance with full faith. When we have been anointed by God and have the Holy Spirit living within us, we too can carry out mighty deeds.

John 15:1-16:4

Jesus is the ‘true vine’. The people of Israel are often also described as ‘the vine’ in the Bible. We can only bear fruit if we remain in Jesus. God will cut off any branch that does not bear fruit. If we do bear fruit, he will prune us so we become even more fruitful. Being ‘pruned’ by sickness, unemployment, disappointment etc. is painful but it will give us endurance and endurance will give us character.

Jesus told his disciples that they were ‘already clean’ (v.3) because of the word he had spoken to them. They were now his friends, rather than disciples. Following Jesus, believing in him and listening to his words can make us clean.

If we choose to cut ourselves off from Jesus, God will respect our freewill. However, we will wither and then be picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. When we remain in Jesus, obey his commands and his words remain in us, we can ask whatever we wish and it will be given to us so that God can be glorified.

We show ourselves to be disciples by joyfully bearing much fruit for the glory of God.

Jesus commanded us to love each other as he loved us. ‘Greater love has no-one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends’ (v.13). Jesus laid down his life for us, even while we were still sinners. He has appointed us to ‘go and bear fruit – fruit that will last’. When we bear lasting fruit ‘then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my (Jesus’) name (v.16).

As baptized, believing Christians, we no longer belong to the world. The world will hate us and persecute us as it hated and persecuted Jesus without reason. Persecution doesn’t have to be violent. Many people would like simply to silence Christians and ignore them. Non-believers have no excuse for their lack of faith because Jesus performed miracles to demonstrate he was the Son of God. If they hate Jesus, they also hate God and God will allow them to remain separate from him for eternity. If they should turn to him in this life, he will always be willing to forgive and embrace them but they must do this before it is too late.

The Holy Spirit is our Counsellor. He is the Spirit of truth who goes out from both God, the Father, and Jesus. The Holy Spirit testifies to us about Jesus and we must, in turn, testify to others. The Holy Spirit turns us into a bold soldier in God’s army, fearlessly testifying to the truth.

Saint Paul, before his dramatic road to Damascus conversion, thought that he was offering a service to God by arresting and killing Christians. When Jesus spoke to him, Paul recognised that up until that moment he had never known the Father or Jesus.

Psalm 67:1-7

It is wonderful to be blessed by God, when he is gracious to us and his face shines upon us. The Gospel message has been spread among the nations by wonderful, empowered missionaries, under the guidance and care of the Holy Spirit.

True Christians are glad and sing for joy despite any trials and tribulations they may be facing. When we know God’s ways that lead to salvation we will forever praise him.

When all the peoples of the earth praise God in reverent fear, then we will really see a harvest of blessings.

Image: Paolo Veronese, CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Jonathan attacks the Philistines / Jesus Predicts Betrayal and Denial: May 23rd 2021

1 Samuel 13:1-14:23

Saul reigned over Israel for forty-two years from the age of thirty (v.1).

The Israelites attacked a Philistine army outpost and so, in retaliation, a massive Philistine army advanced on them. Saul waited for the prophet Samuel at Gilgal for seven days, while his troops quaked with fear, and, in the end, made the disastrous mistake of offering up the burnt offering to God in place of Samuel. Of course, Samuel arrived just as he finished. Samuel was not pleased and informed Saul that because he had not kept God’s command, Saul’s kingdom would not endure. Saul should have been more concerned with obedience to God rather than his army starting to scatter. The process to replace Saul had already started and the Lord had now ‘sought out a man after his own heart’ (v.13) and appointed him leader instead.

I feel sorry for Saul at this stage in the story. If Samuel had been on time, the sacrifices would have been carried out by him, a priest, in accordance with the law. Saul was under a lot of pressure and feeling desperate prior to a major battle. However, God demands faith, patience and obedience. There are many sacraments today that can only be carried out by fully ordained priests: Holy Eucharist, Reconciliation and formal exorcisms. Lay people are allowed to carry out other informal private prayers including prayers of deliverance due to our baptismal roles as priests, prophets and kings. However, we are not allowed to start presiding over one of the priestly functions just because a priest is late. We have to wait / delay until a fully ordained minister is present.

Saul had a tiny army (six hundred men) and only he and his son, Jonathan, had a sword or a spear. The Philistines had wisely not allowed any blacksmiths to work in Israel for fear that the Israelites would arm themselves.

Jonathan and his armour bearer walked towards a Philistine outpost and Jonathan prophesied that if the Philistines invited them to climb a cliff to fight them, then the Lord would deliver them into their hands. The Philistines shouted: ‘Come up to us and we’ll teach you a lesson’ (v.12). Jonathan and his assistant climbed up and killed twenty of them. Jonathan was full of faith that the Lord had given them into the hand of Israel.

The rest of the Philistine army panicked as the ground shook. ‘It was a panic sent by God’ (v.15). Saul and his men assembled and joined the battle and found the Philistines ‘in total confusion, striking each other with their swords’ (v.20). God had rescued the Israelite army that day but it took one man, Jonathan, to start the battle with great faith. Only then did God join in and decisively alter the course of history. If Jonathan had not attacked first, the Israelites may well have been defeated. To win victories, we need to step out in faith believing that God will hold to his promises and back us up, giving us a seemingly impossible victory for his everlasting glory.

John 13:18-38

When we accept our fellow Christians sent by Jesus, we also accept Jesus himself and God the Father. We should strive to work with, love and respect Christians of all denominations. We all have so much in common. A mark of being filled with the Holy Spirit is a desire to create a single unified church and mix with all other types of Christians.

As soon as Jesus gave a dipped piece of bread to Judas Iscariot ‘Satan entered into him (Judas)’ (v.27). Jesus fed the very one who would betray him into death. Judas was sitting next to Jesus, the Chief Exorcist, yet the most evil creature in history was still able to set up home in him. Jesus could have exorcised him but only if Judas wanted him to. We cannot deliver people who willingly give themselves over to demons and don’t want to be helped. Judas went outside into the night where he probably felt a lot more at home. He now had the ultimate darkness within him and wanted to be as far away from Jesus, the light of the world, as he could.

People will know we are Jesus’ disciples if they can see we love everyone. We prove this by deeds not just words. We must love one another as Jesus loves us. Attend churches where people show genuine love and are pleased to see each other and bring this love to other churches you visit. Don’t stick to one denomination, go and make friends with Christians of all varieties. We all need each other and have different strengths and weaknesses. Together we make up the complete body of the church. Imagine our journey to God as a bicycle wheel. We start out on the outer rim and move inwards on our own individual spoke towards God in the centre. As we move in closer to God, we also get closer to other Christians, travelling on their own spokes, as they make their own journeys towards God.

Jesus predicted that Peter would deny him three times that very night. Peter had just said: ‘I will lay down my life for you’ (v.37).

Eventually, they were both right. Peter did deny Jesus three times but wept bitterly afterwards and was personally forgiven by Jesus. After being filled with the power of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, becoming one of the most dynamic Christian evangelists of all time, Peter would eventually lay down his life for Jesus. He was crucified upside-down on the orders of the evil emperor, Nero, in Rome.

Psalm 66:13-20

If we make vows to God while we are in trouble, we have to honour and fulfil them when he rescues us.

We must tell others our testimonies of what our Father has done for us. Faith comes from hearing.

When we cry out to God, we need to do it against a background of regularly praising him. If we cherish sin in our heart, our prayers will not be listened to (v.18). It is especially important to forgive and love all who have wronged us. Pray for them and ask that God’s blessing will descend upon them and their families and that they will be filled with the Holy Spirit and led to eternal life.

If we continually live in God’s grace, he will not reject our prayer or withhold his love from us.

Praise be to God!

Image:  https://pixabay.com/photos/maundy-thursday-last-supper-6145303/

Jesus Anointed at Bethany: May 20th 2021

1 Samuel 5:1-7:17

The Philistines took the captured ark of the Covenant to the temple of their demonic deity, Dagon, in Ashdod. The next day, their statue of Dagon had fallen on its face. They put it back up, only for it to fall down the next night and smash into pieces. Dagon’s head and hands were broken off – showing the superiority of our one true God.

God brought devastation on the people of Ashdod and affected them with tumours. The Philistines moved the ark to Gath. Usually, people other than Levites are struck down dead for merely going near the ark and so God was allowing the Philistines to move it around, to fall into his trap and demonstrate his power. The city of Gath was thrown into panic and both young and old broke out in tumours (v.9). They then moved the ark to Ekron.

In Ekron, those who didn’t die were afflicted with tumours. All the Philistines wanted to send the ark back to Israel. After seven months with the ark they sent it back to Israel along with five gold tumours and five gold rats. This implies the tumours may have been a type of bubonic plague – spread by the fleas from an invasion of rats. There were five of them because five Philistine cities had been devastated by the presence of the ark.

The Philistines loaded the ark onto a new cart with two cows that had never been yoked. The Philistine diviners said that if the driverless cart went to the Israelite town of Beth Shemesh, this would confirm that the Lord had brought the disasters on them. The cows went straight for Beth Shemesh and the Israelites, harvesting wheat in their fields, were delighted to see the ark coming towards them. However, seventy of he villagers disrespected God by looking inside the ark and were struck down dead. They sent a message to the town of Kiriath Jearim and asked them to take it. The men of Kiriath Jearim finally gave the ark the respect it deserved, setting it up in the house of Abinadab and consecrating Eleazar his son to guard it (7:1).

These days, the ark of the Covenant is said to reside in a chapel in the Ethiopian city of Aksum, guarded by a single monk who, once appointed as the ark’s guardian, is never allowed to leave the chapel’s grounds. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/travel/keepers-of-the-lost-ark-179998820/

The ark stayed at Kiriath Jearim for twenty years and the Israelites ‘mourned and sought after the Lord’ (7:2).

Samuel, the prophet, told them to rid themselves of all their demonic idols and commit themselves solely to the Lord. His prophesied with faith that the Lord would then deliver them from the Philistines. All of Israel assembled at Mizpah.

They ‘poured water before the Lord’, fasted and confessed they had sinned. Samuel was their leader (v.6). The Philistines came to attack them but Samuel told them not to stop praying to God while he offered a suckling lamb as a burnt sacrifice to God. As the Philistines drew near, the Lord threw them into panic with loud thunder and the Israelites were able to slaughter them (v.11). Samuel set up a stone as a memorial.

We have in this story familiar elements of communing with God. They used water as a symbol of washing away sin / rebirth. Samuel sacrificed a lamb – similar to the Passover lambs that had saved the Israelites in Egypt and prefigured Jesus, the holy lamb of God. Samuel set up a memorial stone and an altar in Ramah – the Israelites had set up stones and altars during their Exodus years to remember and worship the saving deeds of God.

Samuel was judge over Israel all the days of their life and during this time, the Israelites recaptured their towns from the Philistines.

John 11:45-12:11

‘Many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, put their faith in him’ (v.45). If Mary (of Bethany) was indeed Mary Magdalene and also the sinful woman mentioned in Luke – these men may well have been ‘interesting’ characters. Converting a sinner, who has a lot of intimate connections to other sinners, can reap a great harvest.

The high priest, Caiaphas, prophesied that Jesus would die as one man to save the entire Jewish nation. So even someone plotting evil can be a mouthpiece for God. Thanks to the mercy of God, sacraments from priests who may be themselves living in grave sin are still valid. From that day, the chief priests and the Pharisees plotted to arrest and kill Jesus. They did not want to lose their power and control and be further subdued by the Romans. If Jesus went around raising everybody from the dead, people would have no choice but to believe in him. It is amazing that religious leaders can feel so envious and threatened by witnessing the truth and power of God. God can use evil people to bring about a greater good in the end. By allowing the Sanhedrin to arrest and kill Jesus, God would allow us into heaven because of the sacrifice of his precious son.

Jesus visited Bethany again – where Lazarus, Mary and Martha lived. Mary poured expensive perfume on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair (12:3), just as she may have done in the house of Simon the Pharisee in Luke (7:37-38). At that earlier encounter, she had been weeping because of her many sins. This time, she anointed Jesus in anticipation of his burial. She would later accompany the other women to Jesus’ tomb expecting to anoint his dead body – only to experience the joy of his resurrection.

Judas was annoyed at this use of expensive perfume. He was a thief, like his father the devil. If they had sold the perfume, he would have helped himself to some of the proceeds. Jesus predicted that we would always have the poor among us, ‘but you will not always have me’ (v.8). We do still have the poor among us, principally because of greed and exploitation. There is no shortage of food and other resources, we just need to stop selfishly hoarding and share equitably. Jesus gave us permission to hold the occasional guilt-free party. Life is for joyous living as well as helping the needy.

The dramatic testimony of Lazarus, having been raised from the dead, was converting many people to Jesus and so, the chief priests made plans to kill him too. There are many legends about what might have subsequently happened to Lazarus. As Lazarus had died once and already seen life after death, he wouldn’t have been frightened by his second death. He would have known Jesus, his friend and saviour, would be there to rescue him from death once again and this time give him eternal life. One legend is that Lazarus, Martha and Mary were put into a leaking boat by the Jews at Jaffa but still miraculously landed safely in Cyprus. There Lazarus died peacefully after serving as bishop for 30 years. Later, his relics were transferred to Constantinople. https://www.franciscanmedia.org/saint-of-the-day/lazarus

Proverbs 12:18-27

The Lord delights in the truthful (v.22). God doesn’t like lying, foolishness or laziness.

He wants us to bring healing with our words, to be prudent, diligent, righteous and joyfully promote peace.

We can be weighed down with anxiety but kind support from others can cheer us up. Jesus will take away our burdens. One of my favourite passages is Matthew (11:28-30): ‘Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light’.

A yoke is a wooden beam that joins two oxen side by side when working in a field. Jesus is saying he will walk step by step with us throughout our life, teaching us, connected to us and doing the heavy lifting to give us rest.

Image: National Library of Wales, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

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