Bible in One Year

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April 29 Day 119

The Battle Today is Around Jesus

I have been involved in helping or leading a small group on Alpha for over twenty-five years. During this time, I have noticed a shift in our culture. There is a change in the attitude towards Jesus, especially among young people. Many will say that they believe in God and are even open to the idea of the Holy Spirit. But increasingly, Jesus has become the stumbling block. They say things like, ‘I don’t get the Jesus bit.’

As Father Raniero Cantalamessa has often said, ‘The battle today is around Jesus.’

Is Jesus the universal saviour? This is the same battle as the first century. People today are happy to accept Jesus as ‘one of many’. It is the uniqueness of Jesus that causes offence. In the passages for today we see that while we meet some exceptional people throughout the Bible, like Moses, Joshua, Elijah and John the Baptist, there was no one like Jesus. Jesus is unique. He is the universal saviour.

April 28 Day 118

It's Not Over

You could have heard a pin drop. It was mesmerising. We were spellbound. An eighty-five-year-old man, almost totally blind, got up to speak to 1,500 people of all ages on our church holiday. He had no notes, of course, because he could no longer read. He gave two talks, each of them an hour long.

In the first talk, he gave a breathtaking summary of the entire Old Testament. In the second, which was equally brilliant, he gave a summary of the whole of the New Testament. There was no hesitation, no stumbling and not a word was out of place. It was the distilled wisdom of a man who had followed the Lord wholeheartedly all his life.

Bishop Lesslie Newbigin had one of the most remarkable ministries of the twentieth century. At the age of thirty-six he was elected as one of the first bishops of the new Church of South India. When he returned from India, later on in life, he wrote several books that aimed to help the church in the West fulfil its mission in a world that was rapidly changing and felt no need for God.

His writing and speaking influenced thousands of Christian leaders around the world. Yet for this astonishing man, who had achieved so much in his life, it was not over. He entitled his autobiography Unfinished Agenda. For him, there was always still so much to hope for and so much more to be done.

April 27 Day 117

How to Live a Life of Victory

Years ago, a young member of our congregation at HTB had a job working in the library of a major national newspaper. This newspaper kept files of old cuttings about every well-known person. The files were kept in rows of long shelves and were separated into ‘living people’ and ‘dead people’.

One day, the young man was looking through the files of dead people and came across a large file marked ‘Jesus Christ’. He glanced over his shoulder to check that no one was looking and quickly moved the file from the ‘dead people’ section to the ‘living people’ section.

Jesus Christ is alive. He is risen from the dead. To anyone looking for him among files of dead people, the angels would say, ‘Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen!’ (Luke 24:5–6).

Victory is not a dirty word. Jesus is the great victor. As Bishop Lesslie Newbigin often said, ‘The resurrection is not the reversal of a defeat but the manifestation of a victory.’ The cross was not a defeat. On the cross, Jesus won a great victory for us over sin, death and the powers of evil.

April 26 Day 116

Right Relationships

At an Alpha Conference we held in East Malaysia, there were people from all over Asia. Many had been persecuted because of their faith. One man told me that his father had been imprisoned for six years for the simple fact that he was a Christian pastor. He himself was imprisoned for a year, aged nineteen, for speaking out on behalf of his father.

It is a terrible injustice when the innocent are convicted and imprisoned – even worse when they are executed.

In the New Testament passage for today we read of one of the greatest injustices in human history. Jesus was totally innocent. He was ‘a righteous man’ (Luke 23:47). Yet he was executed by crucifixion. The apostle Peter explains it like this: ‘For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God’ (1 Peter 3:18).

The word ‘righteous’ is often associated with the ‘self-righteous’, and has almost become a term of abuse. However, ‘righteous’ in the Bible is a wonderful word. It is also extremely important for our understanding of the whole Bible. ‘Righteousness’ is ultimately about right relationships – a right relationship with God and right relationships with others. In the New Testament, we come to understand that this righteousness is only possible through faith in Jesus Christ (see Romans 3:21 – 4:25).

April 25 Day 115

Your Loving Substitute

A little girl named Liz, was suffering from a rare and serious disease. Her only chance of recovery appeared to be a blood transfusion from her five-year-old brother, who had miraculously survived the same disease and had developed the antibodies needed. The doctor explained the situation and asked the little boy if he would be willing to give his blood to his sister. He hesitated for only a moment before taking a deep breath and saying, ‘Yes, I’ll do it if it will save her.’ 

As the transfusion progressed, he lay in bed next to his sister, and smiled, as they all did, seeing the colour returning to her cheeks. Then his face grew pale and his smile faded. He looked up at the doctor and asked with a trembling voice, ‘Will I start to die right away?’

The little boy had misunderstood the doctor. He thought he was going to have to give his sister all of his blood in order to save her. This boy loved his sister so much that he was willing to die instead of her – as her substitute. This story (possibly fictional) is simply an illustration of what loving substitution means.

God loves you. The amazing and wonderful message of the Bible is that God came to this earth in the person of his Son, Jesus Christ, and died in your place. Words, images, metaphors, pictures and illustrations (such as that of the five-year-old boy) can help our understanding, but they can never perfectly describe the indescribable love of God. Jesus died to remove all the bad stuff. He died instead of you and me (Mark 10:45).

April 24 Day 114

Two Ways to Live

Albert Einstein said, ‘There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.’

Jesus himself said that – ultimately – there are only two ways to live: there are two paths; there are two gates; there are two destinations and there are two groups of people (see Matthew 7:13–14). In the passages for today we see starkly contrasting ways of life.

April 23 Day 113

The Gracious Hand of God

‘Eighty per cent of life,’ according to Woody Allen, ‘is just showing up.’ So much of life is simply the set of circumstances we find ourselves in – things happen to us. For example, our parents, our genetic design, the weather, much of our education and our government are all things that we experience as ‘happening to us’. In Greek grammar, these things are expressed in what we call the ‘passive voice’. However, we also make things happen. When I initiate an action and do something, this is expressed in the ‘active voice’.

But Greek grammar also has a third voicethe ‘middle voice’. This is neither wholly active nor wholly passive. When I use the middle voice, I am participating in the results of an action.

Prayer takes place in the middle voice. Prayer cannot be in the active voice because it is not an action I control. That would be a pagan concept of prayer: we make the gods do our bidding with incantations and rituals. Prayer is not in the passive voice either, in which I slump passively into the impersonal and fated will of gods and goddesses. In Christian prayer, I enter into an action begun by another – my creating and saving Lord. I then find myself participating in the results of his gracious action.

In one sense, the whole of the Christian life is prayer. We welcome God’s gracious hand in our lives, and we participate in what he is doing in the world. God involves you in his plans. Of course, he could do it all on his own, but he chooses to involve you. He gives you freedom, yet he remains in control.

April 22 Day 112

Your Words are Powerful

Sir Winston Churchill’s impact on the twentieth century is difficult to overestimate. A master orator and writer, Churchill knew the power of words. Martin Gilbert, Churchill’s official biographer, wrote a book called Churchill: The Power of Words. Churchill’s words sing in a way that English-language leaders and politicians have tried unsuccessfully to match ever since.

Nevertheless, for all of us, words are powerful. Your words are powerful. With kind and encouraging words, you can change a person’s day – or even their entire life.

April 21 Day 111

Hello God!

The Vicar of Dibley, a UK TV sitcom featuring a woman vicar played by Dawn French, is based on the life of one of the first women vicars – Joy Carroll Wallis. A few years ago we met Joy. She told us a story about when she was an Anglican Priest in London.

One of the congregation members was a very godly eighty-seven-year-old woman called Flory Shore, who underwent serious surgery. Flory had been told that her prospects of recovery were very slim.

Thankfully, she survived the surgery. As she opened her eyes, one of the first things she saw was the blurred image of her doctor, dressed in his white jacket.

She smiled and said, ‘Hello God! I’m Flory Shore.’ 

Joy commented that this demonstrated two things. First, it showed Flory’s humility. She did not expect God to know who she was. Second, it showed her absolute certainty about the resurrection and where she was going.

Her certainty about the resurrection was based on the cornerstone of Christianity: the resurrection of Jesus Christ on the first Easter day. The same power that raised Jesus from the dead now lives in you through the Holy Spirit (see Ephesians 1:18–23). One day, you too will be raised and be able to say ‘Hello God!’

April 20 Day 110

Five Ways God Guides You

God designed you with a purpose in mind. God loves you. He has a specific, unique and glorious destiny for you. He promises to guide you.

God’s purpose for you is bigger than your mistakes. I have made many mistakes in my life, but God has not stopped guiding me.

When we go on a journey by car we use a GPS. When we take a wrong turn, it reroutes us. But it never gives up until we reach our destination. You can ignore it or switch it off, but if you follow it, it makes your journey more enjoyable and peaceful. Eventually, it will say ‘You have reached your destination.’

Of course, this is not a perfect analogy. God is not a machine but a person who is with us on the journey. God wants to communicate with you and has promised to guide you.

There are five main ways in which God guides us (the five CSs):

  • Commanding Scripture (the Bible)
  • Compelling Spirit (the Holy Spirit)
  • Counsel of the Saints (the church)
  • Common Sense (reason)
  • Circumstantial Signs (providence).

In each of today’s passages, we see first something general about the way in which God guides us, and then specific examples of each of these ‘five CSs’.