Bible in One Year

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September 26 Day 269

Six Keys to Good Relationships

When she was nineteen years of age, Chiara Lubich gathered with a few friends in northern Italy. It was 1939 and, as bombs fell, they asked this question: ‘Was there an ideal that bombs could not destroy?’ Their answer was, ‘Yes, the love of God’.

They had experienced God’s overwhelming love and they wanted to share it with others. They imitated God by living a life of love (Ephesians 5:1–2). They helped those in need. They shared what little food they had. They found clothing for those who had none. They comforted the bereaved.

Such a warmth emanated from Chiara and her friends that people gave them the name ‘Focolare’, which means ‘hearth’ or ‘fireplace’. Focolare now has 2 million members in 182 countries. Members of the Focolare community make it their rule of life, 24 hours a day, to live by the golden rule of Jesus: ‘Do to others what you would have them do to you’ (Matthew 7:12).

Love is practical. Chiara said, ‘Love the other person as yourself… Imagine how the world would be if the golden rule were put into practice not only between individuals, but also between ethnic groups, peoples and nations, if everyone loved the other country as their own.’

How can we imitate God and live a life of love?

September 25 Day 268

Spirit-Powered Living

‘I felt ablaze with a desire to go through the length and breadth of Wales to tell of the Saviour: and had it been possible, I was willing to pay God for doing so,’ wrote Evan Roberts, the man at the centre of the Welsh revival of 1904–1905. He spoke about how the Spirit of God gave him an overwhelming experience of God’s love. He was filled with compassion and a desire to tell others about Jesus.

We live in the age of the Spirit. In the Old Testament, the Holy Spirit came on particular people at particular times for particular purposes. We see an example of this in today’s reading, when the Holy Spirit came on Isaiah (Isaiah 61). This event was a foretaste of the Holy Spirit coming upon Jesus (Luke 4:14–18), as well as of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on all Christians, from the day of Pentecost onwards.

The book of Proverbs anticipates what Spirit-powered living should look like. Then, in the New Testament, we see the fulfilment of Spirit-powered living.

September 24 Day 267

Discover This Secret

The best novelists are able to write in such a way that as you read through a story, the ending is a mystery but, when you look back from the end, the clues were there all along.

In today’s New Testament passage, the apostle Paul tells us that God has revealed the mystery of Christ. He writes about ‘the mystery made known to me by revelation... the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to people in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit’ (Ephesians 3:3–5).

Reading the Old Testament is like going into a dark room full of furniture. We get a sense of what is inside the room by feeling the sofas, chairs and pictures. But, as we read the New Testament, it is as if a light is switched on and we see the room clearly. Jesus places the Old Testament in new light. To paraphrase St Augustine, ‘In the Old the New is concealed, in the New the Old is revealed.’

Jesus is the climax of God’s great plan for the world. Thus Paul writes, ‘My task is to bring out in the open and make plain what God, who created all this in the first place, has been doing in secret and behind the scenes all along’ (vv.8–9, MSG). The word that Paul uses (‘photisai’) means ‘to turn the light on so that people can see’.

The secret God reveals in Jesus is reconciliation not only with God but also with one another. Paul tells us, ‘This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus’ (v.6). Both Jews and Gentiles can now approach God on equal terms.

If we are in Christ, we are all reconciled to God and to one another – regardless of race or social and cultural background. It must also apply to the church: Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant, Pentecostal, and so on. In the Old Testament, we see only hints of this – it was concealed to some extent. Now, however, the mystery has been revealed in Christ.

September 23 Day 266

What Difference Does Jesus Make?

  • ‘My life has completely changed. I now look at the world through different eyes... I feel love for everyone and an inner peace that I never imagined could exist.’
  • ‘I had been living my life in a dark hole, I was carrying a great weight on my shoulders... that burden has gone... and I am filled with great hope, joy, excitement and love, and all I want to do is to serve Christ in whatever form he chooses.’
  • ‘I feel like I have found love and conquered death in one day.’

I have interviewed hundreds of people around the world who have come to faith in Jesus. The question I ask over and over again is, ‘What difference has Jesus made?’ and the genuine answers given by the people I have quoted are typical. The difference Jesus makes is massive, eternal, and impossible to comprehend fully.

September 22 Day 265

Understand Your Value

Have you ever felt like a failure, or of no use to God, or thought that God wouldn’t want to answer your prayers?

Until I first read Colin Urquhart’s book, In Christ Jesus, I had never realised how significant that little word ‘in’ is in the New Testament. Understanding that, as a Christian, you are ‘in’ Christ Jesus revolutionises how you see yourself, your self-image, your identity and how you understand your value to God.

Write your name on a piece of paper. Take hold of your Bible to represent Christ. Place the paper in the book and close it. You are in Christ. Where the book goes you go. Where the paper goes he goes. You are not part of the book, but you are now identified totally with the book.

Paul uses this expression, ‘in Christ Jesus’, over and over again. God has taken hold of you and placed you in Christ. In Christ, you have received ‘every spiritual blessing’ (Ephesians 1:3). All of the blessings, including those that the Old Testament speaks about, are yours in Christ.

September 21 Day 264

Never Give Up

Sir Winston Churchill has been described as Britain’s greatest ever leader. He lived a long, heroic life and he rallied a nation with his inspiring rhetoric. One of the most striking parts of his biography is that he had to resign from the Admiralty during WWI over the failed Dardanelles campaign. He had failed spectacularly, yet he was to learn not to give up.

I was told that once, when he returned to his old school, Harrow, to address the boys, the whole school assembled to listen to his words of wisdom. The great man arose to speak: ‘Young men; never give up, never give up, never give up.’ The entire speech lasted only a few seconds. Then he sat down. No one present ever forgot his words.

That is, at least, the popular version of the story. Churchill did indeed say words to that effect, but as part of a longer speech. Towards the end he said, ‘Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never – in nothing, great or small, large or petty – never give in, except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force. Never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.’

In today’s generation, our lives have become so instantaneous that anything requiring patient perseverance can appear unattractive. We require instant returns and instant results. But sometimes the biggest pay-offs are a long time coming.

September 20 Day 263

How to Deal with Conflict

‘The Bible tells us to love our neighbours, and also to love our enemies; probably because they are generally the same people!’ wrote G.K. Chesterton.

Conflict is inescapable. Even for those of us who shy away from confrontation, it is impossible to avoid. As we go through life, we will inevitably encounter people with whom we will have conflict. Additionally, for a Christian, an internal conflict exists between the desires of our sinful nature and the Holy Spirit.

We may also experience conflict when we stand up for the truth within the church, or when we engage with the prevailing culture. Even in the UK, a country that has traditionally been seen as ‘Christian’, the culture is becoming increasingly hostile towards the Christian faith.

September 19 Day 262

Refuse to be Trapped by Your Past

He had no one to help him become a lawyer or a politician. He was not interested in the army. He had no desire to be a doctor. Therefore, the only obvious career move in those days for a man of his background was to become a clergyman in the Church of England.

He tried to make himself acceptable to God by keeping the whole law, inwardly and outwardly. He got up early. He prayed. He denied himself. He tried to earn forgiveness and peace by increased effort. But he ‘groaned under a heavy yoke’.

On 24 May 1738, at 8.45 pm he heard someone reading a book by the great reformer, Martin Luther. He later recalled, ‘While he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation; and an assurance was given [to] me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.’

John Wesley became one of the greatest preachers ever, preaching over 40,000 sermons centred on freedom through faith in Jesus Christ. He had, as he put it, ‘exchanged the faith of a servant for the faith of a son’. He was free at last.

‘Freedom’ is the word that best sums up the Christian life. You, too, are free. Therefore, refuse to be trapped by your past.

September 18 Day 261

God is Nice and He Likes You

‘This seemingly insubstantial fact revolutionised my life,’ wrote Adrian Plass, author of The Sacred Diary of Adrian Plass Aged 37¾. He continued, ‘I became a Christian when I was sixteen years old, but it wasn’t until I was thirty-seven that I absorbed an essential truth. God is nice and he likes me.’

Sadly, deep down many people think that God is not that nice, he does not like us very much and he spends most of his time being cross with us. This could not be further from the truth.

In the passages for today, we see how much more than just ‘nice’ God is – his goodness, amazing love and faithfulness. We also see that not only does he ‘like’ you, he loves you – you are his ‘precious and honoured’ child (Isaiah 43:4).

September 17 Day 260

The Best Way to Lead

Who is the servant of the Lord?’ This was the question that the Chief Financial Officer of Ethiopia asked the evangelist Philip: ‘Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?’ (Acts 8:34).

The title ‘servant of the Lord’ is one of great dignity, reserved for leaders such as Abraham, Moses and David. But in the four ‘servant songs’ (Isaiah 42:1–4; 49:1–7; 50:4–9; 52:13 – 53:12) a distinct concept of ‘servanthood’ comes into sharper focus.

The role of this ‘servant’ can be illustrated with the St Andrew’s cross. (St Andrew, brother of Peter, is believed to have died on a diagonally traversed cross, which the Romans sometimes used for execution. It therefore came to be called the St Andrew’s cross, and is the flag of Scotland.)

  

 

 

 

 

 

Originally, God intended that all humankind should be his servant. Then, after the fall, God chose the whole nation of Israel to serve him. But even his chosen race was not faithful to him. So the focus, continuing to narrow, became a mere ‘faithful remnant’. Ultimately, only one individual was completely faithful (shown by the central intersection of the cross). This was Jesus.

Jesus revealed what Israel (and indeed humankind) should have been. He was an Israelite sent to Israel, totally identifying with his nation and yet remaining distinct from it. No earthly king or prophet meets the description used in all the servant passages in Isaiah. Yet, Jesus does – perfectly.

Where Israel failed, Jesus succeeded. Furthermore, it is God’s plan that the church, through the victory of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit, can and will succeed. So, the St Andrew’s cross broadens out again as the members of the church of Jesus Christ become the servants of God with a mission to call all humanity back to their original creation purpose.