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

Deuteronomy 4:15-5:33

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Luke 11:5-32

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Proverbs 8:32-36

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

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

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

After all, what is wisdom?

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

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

Turn away from death, love life.

Picture: Didgeman, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Jesus anointed by a Sinful Woman: March 29th 2021

Numbers 26:12-27:11

Here we read a long list of the clans of Israel. This must be fascinating if you are of Jewish heritage and can trace your family line all the way back to one of these biblical clans. The total number of the fighting men of Israel was 601,730 (v.51) and the land was allocated in proportion to the number of people in each clan. This makes sense in terms of ecology / population density but one hopes that a small tribe, such as the Simeonites with 22,200 men, was happy at receiving a third of the land that the clans of Judah (76,500 men) were given. God told us all to ‘Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth’, (Genesis 9:1). The clans who been the most fecund were rewarded with the most land.

We learn the names of Moses’ father and mother, Amram and Jochebed (v.59-60).

There were now 23,000 male Levites (over a month old) – a veritable army to carry the Tabernacle and the Holy Things into the promised land (v.62).

This census was taken after the 40 years of wandering around the desert that God had mandated after the Israelites refused to enter the promised land. All the adults that had refused to go in had now perished apart from Moses, Caleb and Joshua.

In chapter 27, there are early champions for women’s rights: the daughters of Zelophehad. Their father had died in the desert without a male heir and so they petitioned Moses that they should inherit property and keep their father’s name going. Moses didn’t give an answer off the top of his head but represented them before the Lord, who agreed with them and dictates: ‘If a main dies and leaves no son, give his inheritance over to his daughter’ (v.9). It’s a long way from full equal rights but revolutionary at the time.

We see that Noah can be a female name as well as male. I am particularly taken with the name of one of her sisters, Hoglah. I think that this should be far more popular than it currently is.

Luke 7:36-50

A lady of the night wets Jesus’ feet with her tears, wipes them with her hair and pours perfume on them (v.38).

Sounds very relaxing – my feet are aching after slogging around the town with my miniature dachshund on her extensive lockdown walks.

The Pharisee looks down on Jesus for accepting this attention, even though the Pharisee had obviously let the lady into his house. He was prepared to have her around but obviously kept himself guarded and apart from her, which prevented her from changing her way of life sooner. Jesus was actually prepared for her to touch him and this intimate contact with holiness helped her to heal.

The woman proves her faith by her deeds in ministering to Jesus. Without her actions, Jesus wouldn’t have been able to say, ‘Your faith has saved you; go in peace’ (v.50).

Jesus came to call sinners, not the righteous to repentance (Luke 5:32). It is marvellous when you meet people who appear to have been righteous throughout their live, particularly Christian students starting at university. They do stand out as wonderfully meek ‘aliens’ in a foreign land, surrounded by their fellow students who are drinking and fornicating. I think it’s a challenge for the righteously meek to show overt joy. As a forgiven sinner, I have this great feeling of joy and happiness in my heart all the time. I know what it was like to be in the depths of despair and to be rescued by Jesus. Who loves more? The person who has been forgiven more. ‘But he who has been forgiven little loves little’ (27:47). I think it’s more challenging for people who have never had to be forgiven of grave sin to demonstrate such a high level of gratitude. They tend to look on in quiet, calm bemusement at the dreadful behaviour going on around them. Whereas, children of the Eighties such as me can look at today’s fleshly people and remember that we were once like that.

Even righteous people, who have behaved themselves all their lives, will still have carried out small sins. No-one is sinless apart from Jesus (and, particularly if you’re Catholic, the Virgin Mary (CCC,493)). So Jesus still suffered and died terribly even for people who appear to show exemplary behaviour and we all need to reflect on this. We can schedule a daily reflection time to consider that no-one is righteous before God without the sacrifice of Jesus. We all needed rescuing by the priceless gift of Jesus’s precious blood and even if we didn’t experience an exhilarating pardon from decades of accumulated sin, we should all exhibit huge amounts of joy, gratitude and love.

Proverbs 8:12-21

Wisdom is associated with prudence, knowledge and discretion (v.12). A very powerful combination.

If we are in awe (fear) of the Lord, we hate evil, pride, arrogance and perverse speech (v.13). As a result, I can’t stand watching most politicians on TV debate shows.

However, a few rare rulers do possess wisdom allowing them to make just laws (v.15) and giving them counsel and sound judgement (v.14).

We are guaranteed wisdom if we ask God for it. ‘Those who seek me find me’ (v.17). I would much rather hire someone with wisdom, with a degree in common sense, then an unwise person with a raft of formal qualifications.

Wisdom is better than gold and silver (V.19). It makes us love justice and righteousness. If we seek wisdom and love it, it will bestow ‘wealth on those who love’ it and make ‘their treasuries full’ (v.21).

Picture: Artus Wolffort, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

New Wine into New Wineskins: March 25th 2021

Numbers 19:1-21:3

Today, we read about a strange ceremony involving ‘cleansing water’ containing the ashes of a red heifer. We are cleansed today by Jesus’ blood, shed to atone for our sins.

Moses made a grave faux pas and is banned from ever entering the promised land (v.12). God had instructed him to speak to a rock to make it pour out water for the thirsty, grumbling Israelites. Instead, Moses hit it with Aaron’s miraculously flowering staff after claiming credit for the forthcoming miracle, ‘Listen, you rebels, must we bring water out of this rock?(v.10). Rather than, ‘I will pray to God so that He will produce water for you from this rock.

Water gushed from the rock. Jesus established the church on Peter (the rock) and so we can go to the church (the bride of Christ) for spiritual refreshment and renewal for the glory of God.

The Israelites mourned for Aaron for 30 days (v.29) after he died. Even though the Israelites were constantly grumbling and rebelling, they did recognise that Aaron had done a lot for them and deserved their respect and gratitude. His son, Eleazer, must have felt a massive burden of responsibility in addition to grieving for his father.

The Canaanites proactively attacked the Israelites and captured some of them. The Israelites wisely made a vow to the Lord before they retaliated and are able to completely destroy them. One tribe destroyed, plenty more to go.

Luke 5:33-6:11

Jesus was asked why his disciples don’t fast. He says they will in the future once he has left. Fasting is a tremendously beneficial spiritual practice. We know that some evil spirits can only be exorcised through a combination of prayer and fasting. Whenever, you want God to do something special it is wise to make an effort to fast – don’t make a big song and dance about it – it should just be between you and the Lord.

I had my first even prophetic ‘picture’ in my mind in regards to the ‘new wineskins’ passage. Jesus said that new wine shouldn’t be poured into old wineskins or they will burst. I could clearly see in my mind an old wineskin. In fact, it was so old, rutted and encrusted it looked like a wrinkled, white and grey nut. However, cracks started to appear on the surface and the old brittle and hard surface shattered. From within the wineskin came a new fleshy wine skin, young, supple, health and flexible and the pink / purplish colour of fresh liver. It unfurled and expanded to be four to five times the size of the old skin. My wife and I are always praying for the conversion of our elderly relatives and I take this to signify that people are never too old to be saved. The power and glory of God will burst out in their lives and renew them, shattering their former old, hardened shell.

I love the beautiful ‘New Wine’ song from Hillsong Worship.

In verse 39 we read, ‘And no-one after drinking old wine wants the new, for he says, ‘The old is better.” I find this with my fellow Catholics particularly the older ones. They can be resistant to new teaching on the Holy Spirit. Catholics can pray for the Holy Spirit, who took up residence in them at the time of baptism and should have been fully activated at the time of their confirmation, to become fully active in their lives. Many never seem to bother. The Holy Spirit carries on as a small pilot light in their heart rather than igniting into an all-engulfing flame allowing the supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit to flow through their lives, We should all pray:

‘Come Holy Spirit, and fill my faithful heart. Kindle in me the fire of your love and give me a full measure of all your precious gifts, pressed down, shaken and overflowing so that I can be the most effective witness for the Lord Jesus Christ. Send forth your Spirit, O God, and let me be recreated. And You shall renew the face of the earth.’

Jesus disciples picked and ate corn on the Sabbath even though this is unlawful. They are under minute scrutiny from the Pharisees who spot this infringement. However, even the Pharisees seem to have given up on anyone totally complying with the Sabbath law, they just moan about it rather than trying to stone them. It is strange that so many Christians still want to ‘keep the Sabbath’ on a Saturday when Jesus has demonstrated it is impossible and it can be broken to do good / lessen hunger. We are no longer slaves to impossibly rigid laws after Jesus’ death on the cross. We must come together as a Christian community each week to give God communal praise and worship but for Christians, this is now on a Sunday to commemorate Jesus’ resurrection on ‘The Lord’s day’.

Proverbs 8:1-11

Wisdom and understanding are always calling out to us. We should continually ask God for them for a full measure of them to gain prudence and understanding.

Once we have wisdom we have ‘worthy things to say‘ and we ‘speak what is right’ (v.6). Our mouths ‘speak what is true‘ (v.7) and ‘just‘ (v.8).

Choose wisdom and knowledge more than money or precious stones. ‘Nothing you desire can compare can compare’ (v.11).

There is a vast distinction between ‘worldly wisdom’, which might help people success in business or politics and Christian wisdom – which comes from Jesus.

‘For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate (1 Corinthians 1:18-19)”.’

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

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