Gideon / Life through Jesus: May 7th 2021

Judges 6:1-7:8a

The Israelites once again committed evil and so were handed over to the Midianites for seven years. Reading Judges becomes pretty frustrating wondering how a whole nation could so persistently annoy God over and over again. The Israelites faced terrible consequences for their disobedience on a cyclical basis: sin, punishment, grieving / crying out to God, and deliverance. However, I used to commit exactly the same sins on a cyclical basis, I would be washed clean by confession but, within a few weeks, even though I rejoiced when I was forgiven by God, I was doing the same things again. My constant cycle of sinning and repentance was only broken when I handed myself over to the Holy Spirit for him to pray through me and build me up, edifying and sanctifying me. Sometimes, sinful thoughts start to creep back in but these can be batted away and not engaged with. The more we Pray in Tongues, the more we can stay on the straight and narrow path.

The Israelites had to hide in mountain clefts and caves because the Midianites were so oppressive. Moses’ father-in-law and wife had been a Midianite. The Israelite’s crops and livestock were repeatedly plundered leaving them so impoverished that ‘they cried out to the Lord for help’ (v.6). God tried to get them to return to him by hitting them in the pocket. A lack of finances and food can clarify people’s attitude to their provider.

The angel of the Lord went to speak to an Israelite called Gideon while he was surreptitiously threshing wheat in a winepress to hide it from the Midianites. Gideon questioned his greeting: ‘The Lord is with you, mighty warrior’ (v.12). The dire straits that the Israelites were in did not concur with the Lord being with them.

Here we might have another Christophany – an actual appearance of Jesus in the Old Testament. Because the text turns from ‘the angel of the Lord’ speaking to Gideon, to saying it was actually God holding the conversation: ‘The Lord turned to him and said’ (v.14)’. This encounter is similar to the one with Abraham (Genesis 18:1-33). Abraham had a visit from Jesus and two angels. Whereas, Gideon had a visit from Jesus and one angel. The Lord / Jesus promised to be with Gideon as he struck down all the Midianites together (v.16). This seemed like an unlikely feat because Gideon’s clan was the ‘weakest in Manasseh’ and he was the least in his family (v.15). However, God can use seemingly weak, ordinary people living in obscurity to do wonderful things just as he chose the virgin Mary, an unmarried teenager, to be the mother of our Saviour.

The Lord / Jesus promised to stay while Gideon went to fetch an offering (v.18). Gideon wanted proof that it really was the Lord speaking to him and seemed to get away with this unwise impertinence. Jesus was in a peaceful mood and full of forgiveness. Gideon was told to place his offering on a rock. ‘The angel of God’ touched the meat and unleavened bread with the tip of a staff and fire flared from the rock consuming the offering. This is similar to the covenant that God made with Abraham (Genesis 15:17-20) when God gave the promised land to Abraham and his descendants. It was now time for Gideon to reclaim the territory given to them by God.

Gideon was told by the Lord to cut down his father’s altar to the evil Canaanite deity Baal and the pole that signified worship of his alleged mother, Asherah. These were the Canaanite demonic fertility gods that the surviving inter-marrying pagans had persuade the Israelites to worship begging for agricultural success. Gideon was to recycle the wood from the pagan altar to make a proper sacrifice to the one true God. Gideon did this but at night, because he was afraid of his family and the men of the town (v.27).

The men of the town wanted to execute Gideon for his actions but his father, Joash, defended him. He was obviously feeling guilty about worshipping pagan gods. He pointed out that if Baal really is a god, he can fight for himself. As a result, Gideon is renamed ‘Jerub-Baal’ meaning ‘Let Baal contend with him’ (v.32).

The Spirit of the Lord came upon Gideon and he blew a trumpet calling the Israelites to arms (v.34).

Gideon tested the Lord twice more to see if he really would save Israel – asking him to make a sheep’s fleece wet with dew one night (while the ground stayed dry) and then to keep a fleece dry (despite heavy dew) the next night. God loves using water for miraculous purposes and happily complied. Considering that Zechariah, father of John the Baptist, was struck dumb for querying the angel Gabriel just once (Luke 1:20), Gideon really seemed to be pushing his luck.

Gideon assembled thirty-two thousand Israelites to fight for freedom but that would have been too easy for them. God wanted to demonstrate that it was his strength that brought the victory. He whittled the army down to just 300 by telling Gideon to only select fighters who lapped water ‘with their hands to their mouths’ (7:5). God promised that he would save Gideon and defeat the Midianites even with this meagre fighting force.

Gideon didn’t require any more reassurance now that the fight was approaching. God had proven three times that it was him who had commissioned Gideon for this battle. Gideon had finally found his faith.

John 5:16-30

Jesus carried on performing miracles on the Sabbath and calling God his Father. The Jews tried even harder to kill him (v.18). We must ensure that we never become legalistic, blinkered and prejudiced, failing to discern and appreciate the holy work of God going on around us.

Jesus said that he could do nothing by himself, he could only do what he had seen his Father doing (v.19). Jesus’s Father loves him and ‘shows him all he does’ (v.20).

Jesus confirmed that his Father can raise the dead and so Jesus will give life ‘to whom he is pleased to give it’ (v.21). All judgment has been entrusted to Jesus. Anyone who does not honour Jesus, does not honour God who sent him (v.23). We will cross over from death to life if we hear Jesus’ words and believe in him (v.24). We will not be condemned. Jesus predicted that soon the dead would hear his voice and live. Jesus descended into hell after his death on the cross to rescue the righteous and allow them to enter heaven: ‘those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned’ (v.29).

In just a few verses we find some confusion as to whether our salvation is based on faith alone or a combination of faith and deeds. Jesus said that if we believe in him, we will cross over into life. However, he also clearly says that the dead will be fairly judged on their deeds. It is true that we can never earn salvation by our own efforts. Only Jesus’ death could wipe away our sin and make us righteous in the eyes of God. This is a gift. However, there is also a judgement in regards to whether we have done good or evil. We are justified by faith, but we also have to live well. We should spend our days trying to please God rather than ourselves. ‘You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone’ (James 2:24).

‘As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead’ (James 2:26).

Psalm 57:7-11

King David has cheered up today. He has a steadfast heart (v.7). He will sing and make music. He will play music so loudly he will awaken the dawn (v.8).

We need to steadfastly praise God among the nations and sing of him among the peoples. We should try to awaken the dawn with our worship. God’s love for us is so great it reaches to the heavens. His faithfulness reaches to the skies (v.10). King David knew he was dearly loved by God despite the sins he had committed.

We must exalt God’s most holy name above the heavens. His formal name is too holy for us to utter. His glory shines all over the earth and, after we are baptized and the Holy Spirit takes up residence in our hearts, within us.

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Gideon,_the_Biblical_judge,_wrings_the_dewy_fleece._Autotype_Wellcome_V0034411.jpg

Be Generous and Gather God’s Chicks: April 11th 2021

Deuteronomy 15:1 – 16:20

The Israelites were instructed to cancel debts to each other every 7 years (v.1). A commendable system, which would make many people’s lives much better if we applied it today to mortgages. The promised land was going to be so productive, God expected there to be no poor among them ‘if only you fully obey the Lord your God and are careful to follow all these commands I am giving you today. (v.4).’

By the time Jesus arrived, there were many poor people indicating how far away from God’s intentions the people had come. Jesus said, ‘the poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me (Matthew 26:11).

God decreed how financially secure the Jews would become, ‘you will lend to many nations but will borrow from none (v.6).

God called the Israelites to be generous to their less fortunate brothers and ‘freely lend him whatever he needs (v.8)’. They should do so ‘without a grudging heart’ (v.10) then God would bless them in everything they did. God states there will ‘always be poor people in the land’ (v.11). He may have been predicting the Israelites would not carefully follow all his commands or He was referring to widows, orphans and newly-arrived migrants who would rely on the charity of others.

Hebrew servants had to be freed in the seventh year (v.12) and supplied liberally with provisions. The Israelites must remember how they were liberated from Egypt and were given riches by the Egyptian on departure. Slaves could chose to stay with their master if they loved them and were well treated.

The Jews were to eat the firstborn of their herds and flocks in the presence of the Lord (v.20). At Passover, they were to eat unleavened bread – because they had to leave Egypt in haste. No yeast must be found in their possession for seven days (v.4). Yeast also represents sin. It starts as just a tiny amount, grows its tentacles into everything, making problems rise and grow. I read an article in which people complained that supermarkets had run out of yeast in lockdown. This amused microbiologists who pointed out the world can never run out of yeast. To get some, you just have to leave out an uncovered bowl of flour and water and the yeast will find you. The Israelites would have been eating sourdough, with natural yeast cultures blown to them by the desert winds. If we leave ourselves uncovered by the blood of Jesus, sin will also infect and start to grow in us.

‘No man should appear before the Lord empty-handed’ (16:16). We should all give to the Lord in proportion to the way we have prospered.

Justice must be a top priority. Officials must judge fairly with no partiality and must not accept bribes. The kingdom of heaven has the the most honest courts in creation. We would have been condemned for all eternity as sinners if Jesus’ death had not justified us in the sight of God.

Luke 13:31-14:14

Some Pharisees still had enough respect for Jesus that they warned him about Herod. Jesus was not intimidated by Herod wanting to kill him (v.32), even though he knew he was a cunning adversary. Jesus was used to people trying to kill him. Herod’s father had plotted to kill Jesus as soon as he was born. Jesus knew his Father would protect him until exactly the right moment he chose to lay down his life.

Jesus mourned over the spiritual state of Jerusalem. Its people had long rebelled, killing all God’s messenger sent to gather them back to him. Jesus longed to tenderly gather its children together ‘as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings’ (v.34). However, God does not make it compulsory for us to love Him. He gave us free will so that we can freely choose to love, because He loved us first. A hen will give up her life for her chicks and defend them against danger, but it can’t run after each chick. They have to be aware of where she is and run to her at the slightest hint of trouble. It is heart-breaking that churches can offer such a wonderful place of refuge for people, but the great majority chose not to go. We should give the warmest, genuine welcome to both old and new visitors to our church to make them feel they have been gathered under the protective and living wings of God.

Jesus would make a glorious entrance to the city on Palm Sunday, prior to Calvary. The people of Jerusalem would praise him for a day, before turning on him.

Jesus healed on the Sabbath again. He pointed out that the Pharisees would always rescue one of their children or animals on a Sabbath. Why shouldn’t Jesus rescue the people he created if they were in distress? The Pharisees were using the Sabbath regulations as a way to trap and criticise people rather than following the spirit of this day of rest.

We should always take a seat of low importance at a function. We can always be moved to a more prestigious one. Jesus came to serve, not to be served and we should emulate his humility.

We will be blessed if we host people who have no means of paying us back. If we just provide hospitality to our prosperous neighbours and they host us in return, we have given nothing. We need to help the poor and the needy in imitation of Jesus.

Psalm 44:1-12

King David recalled how God helped the Israelites conquer the promised land. The stories had been faithfully handed down by previous generations. God helped them because He loved them (v.3).

David did not trust his own strength or weapons to win battles (v.6). He relied on God.

All victories are due to God’s assistance and for the glory of God. Thanks be to God.

Parable of the Mustard Seed: April 10th 2021

Deuteronomy 13:1-14:29

We must not listen to any ‘prophet’ or ‘dreamer’ who suggests following other Gods. God can allow the devil to tempt us to see whether we love him with all our heart and soul (v.3).

It could be our closest friend who tries to entice us to accompany them to a yoga class with them or visit a non-Christian temple while on holiday, We should just say ‘no’!

Moses listed which meats the Israelites could eat and which types were banned. Rabbit and pork are strictly off the Jewish menu. It is sensible from a public health point of view to ban pork, because pig metabolism is so close to humans that living closely to domesticated pigs could enable one of their animal viruses to jump over to us and cause another deadly pandemic.

Moses reminded the Israelites to tithe – to give a tenth of their wealth every year to the Lord. This is Old Testament and does not apply to Christians. However, it is a very worthwhile practice. It breaks an unholy love of money and engenders a spirit of generosity within us. Pastors need a salary and church buildings need to be maintained. If everyone tithed, think what a difference this could make to the environment where you worship. A church should be full of life, beautiful, warm and welcoming to non-believers and some of this requires adequate funding.

The Jews were instructed to provide tithes (every three years) to the Levites, migrants, orphans and widows (v.29). Generosity gives us many spiritual benefits. The Lord promised to those who tithed that He would, ‘Bless you in all the work of your hands’ (v.29).

Luke 13:1-30

In the Easter readings, Pontius Pilate was desperate to release Jesus as he knew he was innocent. However, he succumbed to constant pressure and permitted Jesus to be executed. He was a weak judge, prepared to sacrifice the sinless to placate a hostile crowd. Here we see that Pilate had a fearsome reputation. Any Roman Commander would have been responsible for the deaths of many people. People told Jesus about ‘the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices (V.1). Jesus knew he would have to face this formidable man in the end. Jesus’ perfect blood was the ultimate once and for all sacrifice.

Jesus told us to repent so we would not perish (v.3). God spares us year after year hoping we will repent / convert and bear fruit. Eventually, time will run out for us. It could be today, so we need to make sure we are right with God through repentance, baptism and fully accepting Jesus into our lives. We can follow God’s example in being patient with people as we help them and pray for them to bear fruit.

We can allow the word of God to ‘fertilise’ us so that we will begin to blossom and bear fruit.

Jesus healed a woman on the Sabbath (v.13). Jesus points out the hypocrisy of the rulers in that they deliberately untied their domestic animals on the Sabbath to allow them to drink (v.15), but they disapproved of humans being unbound from their illnesses. Jesus showed he was the Lord of the Sabbath. It is perfectly permissible to spend the day looking after people or even catering, if we do it in love for other people. We shouldn’t spend it in a selfish secular pursuit of money.

The crippled woman had been crippled by a spirit (v.11) that was working for Satan (v.16).

Christianity has grown to be the world’s most followed religion and is spreading through virtually every nation. However, this has taken over two thousand years. Just like a tiny amount of yeast can change a whole bowl of flour to risen dough if we place it in the correct environment and wait patiently, it only takes one effective missionary to eventually change a whole country. Early missionaries would always try to convert rulers first, who could then lead their subjects to faith. Just one tiny seed of faith, can grow into an enormous living church where every believer can find their home.

Jesus confirmed that not all people will be saved. We need to enter heaven through the narrow door – which is Jesus. In the West, many people suffer from complacency. We can think we live in a vaguely Christian city and that possibly might be enough so save us. Just being in the same town as some Christians isn’t going to save us, ‘you taught in our streets (v.26), ‘Away from me, all your evildoers (v.27). We all need to work out our own individual salvation with fear, trembling and positive action. We each need to make a decisive decision to repent, become baptized and personally ask Jesus fully into our own lives as our Lord and Saviour, accepting his priceless gift of salvation.

Proverbs 9:1-12

Wisdom calls out to us that we should leave our ‘simple ways and you will live’ (v.6).

Correcting people who mock Christianity is a painful process as they will insult and hate us. However, we will receive a reward in heaven for putting up with this type of abuse. It isn’t worth getting into a Twitter or Facebook war with mockers, we must always reply calmly and with love.

Instructing, correcting and teaching wise and righteous people is a much more pleasant process.

As mockers do not fear the Lord, they lack wisdom for ‘The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding (v.10).

Wisdom will add years to our life (v.11) and reward us (v.12).

Sarcasm and mockery only harms the person who engages in it (v.12).

Once we have asked the Holy Spirit for wisdom, we should thirst for knowledge of God to increase our learning and make us even wiser. Wise Christian teachers deserve our love and gratitude for their efforts.

Picture:

Sheila Sund from Salem, United States, CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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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