Bible in One Year

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January 23 Day 23

You Have the Keys

On 15 January 2009, US Airways flight 1549 hit a flock of geese. Both engines failed. The plane was flying over New York. Potential disaster loomed. Not only were the 155 occupants on board in danger, but thousands more could have been killed had the plane hit one of New York’s skyscrapers. Captain Chesley Burnett ‘Sully’ Sullenberger III guided the crippled US Airways plane with immense skill and courage. He performed a successful emergency landing on the Hudson River. Not a single passenger died, nor were there any serious injuries. The Mayor of New York City gave to the heroic pilot, who had saved them, the keys to the city.

To give someone the keys to a city is an immense privilege. They symbolise access and authority. Keys are usually given in recognition of some great service to the city. In the New Testament, we see that Jesus is the key holder. The risen Christ says, ‘I hold the keys of death and Hades’ (Revelation 1:18). Jesus has brought about a far greater salvation than any other person could achieve. The authority he holds is also the greatest there could ever be – he holds the keys of life and death.

Amazingly, Jesus gives to Peter and the church (that is, to us) ‘the keys of the kingdom’ (Matthew 16:19). Many Christians feel powerless, lacking in any kind of spiritual authority. They do not seem to realise what Jesus has given to them. You are not powerless. You have the immense privilege of having been given ‘the keys of the kingdom’.

January 22 Day 22

How Long, O Lord?

Have there ever been times in your life when you have found yourself wondering, ‘How long, O Lord?’ How long will these struggles and disappointments last? How long will we have these financial difficulties? How long will these health issues persist? How long will the difficulties in this relationship last? How long will I struggle with this addiction? How long will these intense temptations last? How long will it take me to get over this loss?

Pippa and I sometimes visit St Peter’s Brighton, one of our church plants. At the end of one service, a woman came up to us and told us that for thirty-seven years she had been praying for her husband to find faith in Christ. For all those thirty-seven long years, she had cried out, ‘How long, O Lord, how long?’ (Psalm 13:1).

When St Peter’s reopened in 2009, her husband decided he would like to start coming to church with her. The moment he walked into St Peter’s, he felt he had come home and had been ‘reborn’. Now he loves the church and comes every week. Throughout our conversation she kept repeating, with a huge expression of joy on her face: ‘How long, O Lord, how long?’ God had heard. At last, her prayers were answered.

Four times in quick succession David cries out, ‘How long…?’ (vv.1–2).

There are periods when it appears that God has forgotten us (v.1a). It seems that he has hidden his face (v.1b). For some inexplicable reason, we don’t sense his presence with us. Every day seems to be a struggle – wrestling with our thoughts (v.2a). Every day brings sorrow (v.2b). We seem to be losing the battle and the enemy seems to be triumphing over us (v.2c).

How should you respond in times like these?

January 21 Day 21

Be Honest With God

After much discussion, debate and research, the Oxford dictionaries word of the year for 2016 was post-truth. It had shown a 2000% increase in usage during the year, spiking during the Brexit and US Presidential debates. In a ‘post-truth’ era, objective facts appear less influential than appeals to emotion. There is a tolerance for dishonest, inaccurate allegations and outright denial of facts. Blatant lies become routine.

But if you buy a car, you want to know the truth about that car. In a relationship, you want to know the truth. We hunger for honesty and truth.

We see in our passages for today that God hates lies and deception. David says, ‘People all lie to their neighbours; their flattering lips speak with deception’ (Psalm 12:2). Jesus quoted Isaiah, ‘These people honour me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me’ (Matthew 15:8). Although Joseph’s brothers had deceived their father about the fate of Joseph (Genesis 37:31–35), they knew in their hearts that they could not deceive God: ‘Surely we are being punished because of our brother’ (42:21).

God wants you to be honest with him. He likes candour. He wants to hear what is on your heart today.

January 20 Day 20

How to Navigate Life

Our car has many scratches on both sides. I suspect (although my memory is conveniently vague about this) that I am responsible for most of them. They come as a result of the difficulty of steering through the very narrow entrance on one side of the grounds of our church.

Wisdom has been defined as ‘the art of steering’. As you go through life, you will need to navigate many tight situations that require great wisdom in order to avoid damaging yourself or others.

January 19 Day 19

Your Most Valuable Possession

Raj was one of six children born into a wealthy Brahmin family - the highest caste in the Indian caste system.

At the age of twenty-three, Raj encountered Jesus. His family disinherited him. They cut him off. As far as they were concerned he was dead. They even held a funeral service for him. Neither his parents, nor his brothers and sisters have ever spoken to him again.

For several weeks he wandered around the streets of Bangalore. He had virtually no food to eat. He walked all day and slept in the park at night.

He started a new life. He began to speak about his new-found faith. Through him, many other people encountered Jesus. For several years he was the National Director of Alpha in India. He says that he has had a blessed life and that God has more than compensated for his losses. Although he left ‘everything’, in Jesus Christ he found the ‘pearl… of great value’ (Matthew 13:45–46).

Relationships are our most valuable possession. But there is one special relationship for which you were created. This is the most valuable pearl of all. It is worth selling ‘everything’ in order to get hold of it.

January 18 Day 18

Your Kingdom Come

Her Majesty the Queen, Elizabeth II, has ruled the United Kingdom for over sixty-five years. She is now by far the longest reigning British monarch. Each year, on Christmas Day, the Queen gives a message to the nation. In her 2018 address she said, ‘Only a few acknowledged Jesus when he was born. Now billions follow him. The message of Jesus is never out of date and is needed as much as ever.’

In a previous year, she said of Jesus, ‘billions of people now follow his teaching and find in him the guiding light for their lives. I am one of them.’

The Queen of the United Kingdom was pointing to another kingdom, a kingdom that Jesus came to establish, and which he will come again to rule. Jesus taught us to pray, ‘Your kingdom come’ (Matthew 6:10). The kingdom of God is the rule and reign of God.

January 17 Day 17

Five Ways to Fulfil Your Potential

In life, many people do not reach their full potential. We can become so caught up in the everyday that it is easy to continue in old patterns rather than change. Yet, we all have a God-given desire to live to our full potential. Perhaps you remember this celebrated biography:

‘Solomon Grundy… Born on a Monday…
Christened on Tuesday… Married on Wednesday…
Took ill on Thursday… Grew worse on Friday…
Died on Saturday… Buried on Sunday…
And that was the end of Solomon Grundy.’

For some people, that just about sums up their life. And yet, all of us feel deep down ‘there must be more to life than that’. Jesus says, in effect, ‘Yes, there is!’. The potential for every human being is great.

Jesus wants you to live a highly productive life. He wants you to produce ‘a crop – a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown’ (Matthew 13:8). The minimum is a thirty-times multiplication. The key to that potential lies in your relationship with Jesus – a relationship that can be as close as that of a brother or sister or mother (12:50). You can live a life of real purpose that will make a difference to the world, because of what you receive from him (13:11,12,16).

Your potential is not about being driven by ambition or success; it is about recognising who you are in God. As you seek him and live your life according to his purposes, you will bear much fruit. The more you begin to fulfil your God-given potential, the more he entrusts to you. He wants you to live a life of abundance (v.12).

The potential for Israel was very great (Genesis 35:11). God intended that Israel would not only be blessed, but also be a blessing to other nations. You have the potential to live a life of even greater blessing than those you read about in the Old Testament. Jesus says, ‘Blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear. For I tell you the truth, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it’ (Matthew 13:16–17).

Jesus warns that although there is great potential in each of us, there are pitfalls ahead. How can you avoid the pitfalls and fulfil your potential?

January 16 Day 16

The Overflow of the Heart

For many years I wanted to meet the great evangelist Billy Graham (1918–2018). I felt deeply honoured when I discovered he was following me on Twitter! Of course, I followed back! He is one of my heroes of the faith. He spoke to more people about Jesus than anyone else in human history.

I heard Billy Graham speak many, many times. Every single time I listened to him, I felt inspired. He said that before he spoke he liked to fill his heart. He would prepare enough material for five talks so that he could speak ‘out of the overflow’.

According to Jesus, the heart really matters: ‘… out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks’ (Matthew 12:34). How do you store up good things in your heart?

January 15 Day 15

God is Just and God is Merciful

Media headlines frequently express outrage at judges who are ‘soft on crime’ and fail to impose the appropriate penalty for the offence committed.

When I worked as a barrister, I noticed that the legal profession did not respect judges who were regarded as too lenient. We expect judges to execute justice. We do not expect them simply to be merciful.

On the other hand, we do expect mercy in our personal relationships. A loving parent will be merciful to their child. We expect friends to be merciful to one another. Justice and mercy do not normally go together. We tend to see them as alternatives. We expect either justice or mercy, but not both at the same time.

Yet God is both a God who judges with justice, and also a God of mercy. How can he combine these two apparently contradictory characteristics? The answer is that the sacrifice of Jesus has made it possible for God to combine both justice and mercy.

When I first encountered Jesus, the following illustration helped me to understand what Jesus achieved for you and me on the cross: Two people went through school and university together and developed a close friendship. Life went on and they went their separate ways and lost contact. One went on to become a judge, while the other’s life spiralled downwards and he ended up as a criminal. One day the criminal appeared before the judge. He had committed a crime to which he pleaded guilty. The judge recognised his old friend and faced the dilemma, which, in effect, God faces.

He was a judge so he had to be just; he couldn’t simply let the man off. On the other hand, he wanted to be merciful, because he loved his friend. So he fined him the correct penalty for the offence. That was justice. Then he came down from his position as judge and wrote a cheque for the amount of the fine. He gave it to his friend, saying that he would pay the penalty for him. That was an act of mercy, love and sacrifice.

The illustration is not an exact one. Our plight is worse – the penalty we face is death. The relationship is closer – your Father in heaven loves you more than any earthly parent loves their child. And the cost is greater. It cost God far more than money – he came himself, in the person of Jesus, and paid the penalty of sin.

God is not soft on crime. In his justice, God judges us because we are guilty. Then in his mercy and love he comes down in the person of his Son, Jesus Christ, and pays the penalty for us. Through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, God is both just and merciful.

January 14 Day 14

Just Relax and Let God Be God

Joyce Meyer tweeted, ‘Just relax and let God be God.’ It is a great comfort to know that a loving God is ultimately in control of everything that happens.

Bishop Sandy Millar often says in the face of some tragedy or when things have gone badly wrong: ‘The Lord reigns.’

Many times throughout the Bible, God is referred to as the Sovereign Lord. Both Joyce Meyer and Sandy Millar are expressing, in different ways, absolute confidence in the sovereignty of God.

If God is sovereign and ultimately in control, does that mean that you are absolved of responsibility for your actions? Does it mean that you do not have ‘free will’? The Bible teaches both – the ultimate sovereignty of God at the same time as human responsibility and free will.