Bible in One Year

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May 28 Day 148

How to Respond to Conflict

A springbok is a gazelle-like antelope. Normally they are very alert to predators. However, I remember watching a BBC wildlife programme that filmed two springboks fighting each other in the Kalahari Desert. As they became absorbed in the fight, they did not notice the lion prowling around them, waiting for his opportunity to attack.

As I watched, it struck me as a warning especially for the church. When, in the church, we fight one another, we become very vulnerable to attack. ‘The devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour’ (1 Peter 5:8).

When God calls you to follow him, he does not call you to a life of ease. Life on earth involves many battles, in all of which God promises you victory through Jesus Christ. There is never going to be a moment in your earthly life when everything is perfect. There are always going to be challenges, difficulties and problems to solve. However, there are times when these intensify and we seem to be coming under attack.

Martin Luther King said that the ultimate measure of a person is not where they stand in ‘moments of convenience’, but where they stand in ‘moments of challenge, moments of great crisis and controversy’.

May 27 Day 147

The Power of Unity

In Buchenwald concentration camp, 56,000 people were put to death by a totalitarian regime that saw the Christian faith as a threat to its ideology. One block of cells in the camp was reserved for prisoners who were deemed especially dangerous or notable. Paul Schneider, a Lutheran pastor who was called ‘the preacher of Buchenwald’, was placed in this special block because even from the small window in his cell he loudly proclaimed the gospel of Jesus Christ – in defiance of the orders of the Gestapo guards.

Otto Neururer, a Catholic priest whose work on behalf of the Jews and other so called ‘undesirables’ had made him a threat to the Nazi warlords, was also put in this block. He too ministered in Jesus’ name to his fellow inmates in the concentration camp until he was crucified upside down.

In unity, these two men, one a Catholic and the other a Protestant, bore witness together to their common Lord – Jesus Christ. Unity is so powerful.

May 26 Day 146

His Name Has Power

Aged thirty-three, Barbara Clapham came to live in London. She decided she was going to look for a church. One Sunday morning, she arrived at HTB. The young woman who was welcoming people at the door smiled at her and asked her name. Because of that smile, Barbara came back the following week. When she walked in the next Sunday the same person said, ‘Hello Barbara.’

Because the person on the door remembered her name, she decided that she was going to come back every Sunday. That was in 1947. From then on Barbara came almost every Sunday until she died, soon after celebrating her 100th birthday. She made a huge impact on the life of HTB (including running the finances of the church for many years). I wonder whether the young woman on the door had any idea of the difference she made by remembering Barbara’s name.

There is great power in a name. Names are significant. This is true today, but it was even more so in the Hebrew culture we read about in the Bible. A Hebrew name is no mere label. The name of the Lord reveals who he is.

May 25 Day 145

How to Face Giant Problems

Goliath was a giant. He was 9 feet tall, a champion, wearing heavy armour, standing and shouting, defying the people of God (1 Samuel 17:1–11). As well as physical giants, there are metaphorical ones. A ‘giant’ is a big, seemingly insurmountable problem or issue. Right now our world is facing the giant challenge of the coronavirus epidemic (COVID-19).

  • ‘Personal giants’ could include giant personal challenges in relation to your health, marriage, family, relationships or lack of relationships, job or lack of job, or some sin, temptation, addiction, fear, loneliness, discouragement or debt.
  • ‘National giants’ in the UK include terrorism, gang violence, homelessness, the breakdown of marriage, family life and community. There is therefore the giant task of evangelising the country, revitalising the church and transforming our society.
  • ‘Global giants' include climate change, extreme poverty (as a result of which thousands of children die each day), preventable disease (millions dying of diseases for which we have a relatively easy cure), the need for universal primary education (almost one billion people unable to read) and the need for worldwide water sanitation (which could be funded by the amount of money that Europeans spend on ice-cream every year).

There are two possible attitudes when facing a giant. One is to say, ‘It’s so big, there’s nothing I can do.’ The other is to say, ‘It’s so big, I can’t miss!’

May 24 Day 144

How to Finish Well

You can finish well. You may have had a bad start in life. You may have messed up along the way. You may have made mistakes. You may have regrets. But you can finish well and that is what matters most.

Some start well but fall. In the recession, many of the companies, that business consultant Jim Collins had profiled in his international bestseller Good to Great, fell. Even the ‘mightiest’ of companies can fall.

In his most recent book, How the Mighty Fall, he examines the path towards doom. The first stage of the process begins with ‘hubris born of success’. As with Saul in the Old Testament passage for today, it is ‘arrogance’ (1 Samuel 15:23) that begins the process by which the mighty fall. Saul started well but did not finish well.

It is more important to finish well than to start well. In the New Testament, Saul (of Tarsus) started off very badly (as a persecutor of Jesus) but he finished well (as the great apostle, Paul).

Jesus, as always, shows us the way. His life was relatively short. He died in his early thirties, yet he finished well. He completed the work the Father gave him to do (John 17:4). This is my ambition in life. I want to complete the work God has given me to do.

How can you make sure you finish well?

May 23 Day 143

The Love of Your Life

In February 1977, Bishop Festo Kivengere was part of a group of church leaders who delivered a letter of protest to the dictator, Idi Amin, speaking out against the beatings, arbitrary killings and unexplained disappearances taking place across Uganda at that time. The next day, Festo Kivengere’s friend and leader, Archbishop Janani Luwum was murdered by Idi Amin and Bishop Festo was driven into hiding and then exile.

Soon afterwards, Festo Kivengere published a book entitled I Love Idi Amin. In the book he explained the extraordinary title: ‘The Holy Spirit showed me that I was getting hard in my spirit… so I had to ask for forgiveness from the Lord, and for grace to love President Amin more… this was fresh air for my tired soul. I knew I had seen the Lord and been released: love filled my heart.’

Love is more than a feeling or an emotion. It is a decision about how we treat one another. Jesus was the supreme example of love in the history of the world. He tells us to love God, to love one another (John 13:34–35), to love our neighbour as ourselves and even to love our enemies. He demonstrates all this in his own life through loving everyone (even Judas who betrayed him as we see in today’s passage), and laying down his life for us all in love.

May 22 Day 142

Take Time to Celebrate

A glimpse of heaven’ is how one twenty-seven-year-old woman described her experience of our annual church holiday (Focus). She also described the year she missed it in order to go on an exotic holiday: each day she could only think of how she longed to be at Focus. This year, of course, we have had to postpone Focus all-together because of the coronavirus. That makes anticipation of next year’s event even greater.

This is the time when the whole community comes together in a festival of celebration, worship, thanksgiving and praise. We often experience a great outpouring of the Holy Spirit. It is a time of spiritual growth when we listen to visionary and practical teaching from the Bible on how to live our lives. It is a time of laughter and fun as we meet together for a week-long party: playing, picnicking, singing and dancing. We make new friends as well as having a great holiday. It really is ‘a glimpse of heaven’.

It takes time but celebration is an important part of life.

May 21 Day 141

Good Government?

Government is the system or group of people governing an organised community, often a state. It usually consists of legislative, executive and judiciary. Government is the mechanism for deciding state policies and the means by which those policies are enforced. Historically, forms of government have included theocracy, autocracy (such as monarchy), oligarchy, aristocracy and democracy (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Government).

Sir Winston Churchill once said that ‘Democracy is the worst form of government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.’

Governments have their ups and downs. Our politicians are human beings with human weaknesses like our own.

There is a certain ambivalence about all human government in the Bible. There are parts where human government is affirmed as God-given (for instance, in Romans 13), and others where it is pictured as being under demonic control (for instance, in Revelation 13). Together they represent the reality of human government. Governments reflect the mix that is in us all of what is good and true alongside what is sinful and flawed.

However, be assured that one day there will be a new type of government – the kingship of Jesus (John 12:12–36).  

May 20 Day 140

How to Find Peace in Adversity

For 2,000 years, followers of Jesus have faced adversity, opposition and persecution. In many places Pippa and I have visited over the years Christians face physical persecution. In fact, persecution of Christians around the world today is probably worse than at any time in history.

We do not, at this time, face physical persecution in the West. However, as we see some of the messages that are emerging from those with their stated intention of ‘eradicating faith’, it is clear that the aggression and vehemence of the attacks may increase.

Opposition is bound to come. Those who desire ‘to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted’ (2 Timothy 3:12). Opposition comes both from those far away from us (the Philistines in the Old Testament passage for today), and also, sadly, sometimes from those closer to home (the Pharisees in the New Testament passage). How do you find peace in adversity? 

May 19 Day 139

Your Hope in Times of Trouble

As a result of the coronavirus epidemic, our world is shaking. Almost everyone, each in our own way, is dealing with fear, grief and trauma. Concentration is difficult. Sleep is broken. A few weeks ago, life was generally safe. We could connect with those we love. All our assumptions are shattered. We are grieving our old life. However difficult your situation may be – however much ‘trouble’ you are facing in your life, you can have hope. Hope is the confident expectation of God’s ultimate blessing in this life and the life to come, based upon the goodness and promises of God. With Jesus, there is always hope.

Today, not only are we facing COVID-19, we are seeing the results of a society that is attempting to shut God out. Every day, in Britain, around 300 couples are divorced. Somebody calls the Samaritans every six seconds. The pornographic industry is worth billions of pounds. There are 30,000 Christian clergy of all types, and more than 80,000 registered witches and fortune tellers.

Britain is not the only nation in trouble. Many other nations are going through difficult times. As well as on a national level, all of us are likely at some point to face times of trouble in our own individual lives.

‘Trouble’ can take many forms. What is your hope in times of trouble?