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November 24 Day 328

Your Example

Pope Francis paused for a moment after one of his general audiences to pray, embrace and lay hands on a man with neurofibromatosis, a severely disfiguring disease. The man’s face was covered in tumours. The image of the Pope’s embrace in St Peter’s Square went viral on social media, inspiring millions by his poignant example of the love of Christ.

Photo of Pope for 24th November

There is great power in example. It is hard to improve if we have no other model than ourselves to follow. A good example is not only inspirational, it also gives us a pattern to copy and learn from.

Not only do you benefit most from following the example of others, but your example is vital if you are to have any influence on other people. Albert Schweitzer, the French theologian, philosopher and physician said, ‘Example is not the main thing in influencing others – it is the only thing.’ More depends on your walk than on your talk, what you practice than what you preach, what you do than what you say.

What people see is far more important than what they hear. People do what people see. As John Maxwell writes, ‘Eighty-nine per cent of what people learn comes through visual stimulation; ten per cent through audible stimulation and one per cent through other senses... What they hear they understand. What they see they believe!’

As we read yesterday, you are called to follow Jesus’ example in your life (1 Peter 2:21). Today we see some of the implications of this.

November 23 Day 327

Where is God?

Elie Wiesel was born into a Jewish family in Romania. He was only a teenager when he and his family were rounded up by the Nazis and taken first to Auschwitz, and then to Buchenwald. In his book, Night, he gives a terrifying and intimate account of the increasing horrors he endured – the death of his parents and eight-year-old sister, and the loss of his innocence by barbaric hands.

In the foreword to the book, François Mauriac writes of his encounter with Elie Wiesel: ‘On that most horrible day, even among all those other bad days, when the child witnessed the hanging (yes!) of another child who, he tells us, had the face of a sad angel, he heard someone behind him groan: “For God’s sake, where is God?” And from within me, I heard a voice answer: “Where He is? This is where – hanging here from this gallows.”’

François Mauriac goes on, ‘And I, who believe that God is love, what answer was there to give my young interlocutor... What did I say to him? Did I speak to him of that other Jew, this crucified brother who perhaps resembled him and whose cross conquered the world?

‘Did I explain to him that what had been a stumbling block for his faith had become a cornerstone for mine? And that the connection between the cross and human suffering remains, in my view, the key to the unfathomable mystery in which the faith of his childhood was lost... That is what I should have said to the Jewish child. But all I could do was embrace him and weep.’

His words point to the most profound answer to the question, ‘Where is God?’ God is in Christ. He was on the cross bearing our sins in his body. Now the crucified is among his people. Not only has he suffered for you, but he now suffers with you.

In the Old Testament, the tabernacle (and later the temple) was the place where people went to meet with God. This was God’s home as we see in our Old Testament passage for today (Ezekiel 43:5).

The message of our New Testament passage though is that the glory and presence of God is to be found supremely in Jesus. It is at the very moment that Jesus is rejected and crucified that God’s presence among people is finally and fully realised. From that point on there is no need for a physical temple. The only church building the New Testament speaks about is a building made of people (Ephesians 2:20–22), founded and built upon Jesus, the chief cornerstone. The holy temple in the New Testament is one made of ‘living stones’ (1 Peter 2:5) – in other words, people like you and me. This is God’s new home.

November 22 Day 326

How to Grow Up Spiritually

I remember that first night so well. Every time we heard the slightest sound, we leapt out of bed and picked him up. He was so tiny – not that much bigger than a hand. This was a new life. Our first child had been born. We were so proud. Three or four times a night, he would wake craving milk. Pippa would feed him regularly. Of course, he grew up. Now as I look at him, almost twice the size of Pippa, it is hard to believe that he was once so small.

New birth is an exciting moment. So is new spiritual birth. Jesus said, ‘No one can see the kingdom of God without being born again’ (John 3:3). In our passage for today, Peter writes about ‘a new birth’ (1 Peter 1:3). ‘Because Jesus was raised from the dead, we’ve been given a brand-new life and have everything to live for’ (v.3, MSG).

This spiritual birth is contrasted with natural birth, which led only to a ‘dead-end, empty-headed life you grew up in’ (v.18, MSG).

New birth means you can now call God your Father (v.17). In fact, the whole Trinity is involved: ‘God the Father has his eye on each of you, and has determined by the work of the Spirit to keep you obedient through the sacrifice of Jesus’ (v.2, MSG).

Physical birth will one day end with physical death. But spiritual birth leads to eternal life – ‘a future in heaven – and the future starts now!’ (v.3, MSG). Physical life is like grass that withers. But this brand new life is conceived by God himself and goes on and on for ever (vv.23–25, MSG).

In today’s passages, we see the implications of this new birth, the various stages of spiritual growth as a son or daughter of God and how ‘you may grow up in your salvation’ (2:2).

November 21 Day 325

How to Pray with Power

I received a call from someone in our church. He wanted me to go and pray for his wife who had suddenly been admitted to hospital for an operation.

As it happened, I myself had an appointment nearby to have an injection in my shoulder. I’d had a ‘frozen shoulder’ for almost two years. However, in the previous couple of days, it had suddenly got better. I explained what had happened to the consultant. He looked at me and said, ‘It’s a miracle!’ I said, ‘Don’t frozen shoulders suddenly get better?’ Over and over again, he repeated, ‘No, it is a miracle.’ Here was a secular doctor trying to persuade a rather faithless pastor that what had happened could only be explained by the supernatural power of God!

I thanked him very much for raising my faith, as I was about to go and pray in the hospital. As I walked through the corridors, I passed a hospital porter who was singing (quite loudly!), ‘Lay your hands on the sick and they will be healed.’ I said, ‘That is exactly what I am about to go and do.’ He looked deeply shocked and surprised. He obviously didn’t think I looked like the sort of person who could possibly believe that!

I went upstairs to pray for the woman and explained why my faith was riding high. She then said she had been reading James 5 (our passage for today), which says, ‘Is any one of you sick? Call the elders of the church to pray over you… And the prayer offered in faith will make you well’ (James 5:14–15). By now the Lord had given (even me!) enough signs to pray in faith. The Holy Spirit came upon her with great power. She was not immediately healed (although she is better now), but it gave me a greater understanding of ‘the prayer of faith’.

Watchman Nee wrote, ‘Our prayers lay the track down which God’s power can come. Like a mighty locomotive, his power is irresistible, but it cannot reach us without rails.’

How then can you pray with power?

November 20 Day 324

You Can Resist Evil

With the rise of global terrorism, world leaders have spoken a great deal about vanquishing evil. But, as one writer in the Guardian pointed out, ‘Their rhetoric reveals a failure to accept that cruelty and conflict are basic human traits.’ As Albert Einstein said, ‘I do not fear the explosive power of the atom bomb. What I fear is the explosive power of evil in the human heart.'

Why is there so much evil in the world? Why is there such a battle with evil in our own lives? How can you resist the devil? What will happen to the devil at the end of time?

November 19 Day 323

Divine Connections

God has divine connections lined up for your life. There is power in connection. Connections lead to life. When a husband and a wife come together, babies are born. When the spirit of a person and the Spirit of God come together, new birth takes place. When brothers and sisters come together in unity, God commands his blessing (Psalm 133). When the disciples came together on the day of Pentecost, there was an outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

The devil fears connection. His ultimate aim is to cut you off from God. He tries to split marriages, to split friendships, to divide churches, to divide denominations and to isolate people. Although our culture is more connected than ever before through the internet, phones and social media, people are more isolated and lonely than ever.

In 586 BC, Ezekiel had a vision of a battle scene; he saw Death Valley. The valley was full of bones; bones that were very dry because they had separated. They were scattered, fragmented, divided, cut-off, ‘abandoned’ and therefore dried up. The people of God were in exile and had been scattered by the enemy. They were saying, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off’ (Ezekiel 37:11). God asks Ezekiel, ‘Can these bones live?’ (v.3). The answer is yes, yes, yes.

November 18 Day 322

How Now Shall We Live?

How Now Shall We Live? is the title of a book by Chuck Colson, former ‘hatchet-man’ of President Nixon, founder of Prison Fellowship, whose life was completely changed as a result of an encounter with Jesus Christ.

Centuries ago, when the people of God were in exile and despair, they cried out to God, “How should we then live?” (Ezekiel 33:10, KJV). The same question rings down through the ages. As ‘believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ’ (James 2:1), how now shall we live?

November 17 Day 321

Five Ts of the Christian Life

The Christian life is multi-faceted. At any given moment, I find there are a number of different things going on at the same time. In the passages for today we see five of these aspects, which all begin with the letter T.

November 16 Day 320

Eight Characteristics of Christian Community

Former England football captain, David Beckham, recounts being sent off in the 1998 World Cup Finals: ‘It was probably the longest walk in my life… looking back I’m not sure what thoughts were going through my mind: it was a swirl of fear, guilt, anger, worry and confusion. My head was spinning… I walked into the dressing room. The rules stated that I had to stay in there for the remainder of the match.’ England lost. We were out of the World Cup.

‘When the England players came back into the dressing room, no one breathed a word to me. There was almost complete silence. I could feel my stomach tightening even more. I gulped, breathed in, and gulped again. I was in a packed changing room but I had never felt so lonely in my life. I was isolated and afraid... I was trapped in my own sense of guilt and anxiety.’

God does not intend for you to be lonely and isolated. God created you for community – calling you into relationship with him and with other human beings.

The Christian community, the church, is the community of our Lord Jesus, the ‘great Shepherd of the sheep’ (Hebrews 13:20). Every local church is called to be a community of the great Shepherd.

November 15 Day 319

Why and How to Worship

Why is worship important? What are you doing when you worship God?

The writer of Hebrews urges us to ‘worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for your “God is a consuming fire”’ (Hebrews 12:28–29).

The common theme in all three passages for today is Mount Zion (Psalm 126:1), ‘the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God’ (Hebrews 12:22), ‘the holy mount of God’ (Ezekiel 28:14,16). This is the place of the presence of God, where God is worshipped both in the old and new covenant. However, there is a difference between the two.

You no longer have to go to a specific physical place to experience the presence of God. Because of Jesus, the ‘mediator of a new covenant’ (Hebrews 12:24a), you can worship anywhere. Jesus is the one who has made this new relationship with God possible through his death on the cross for you and me.

Your ‘holy mountain’, where you can worship Jesus, is the whole earth, and this anticipates the ‘heavenly Jerusalem’ we read about in our passage from Hebrews, and which is described in Revelation 21 – the new heaven and new earth.

As you draw close to Jesus in worship there are, as C.H. Spurgeon pointed out, ‘three results of nearness to Jesus’ – happiness, holiness and humility.