Bible in One Year

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September 28 Day 271

Seven Life-Changing Habits

For many years, Bruce Streather was an atheistic lawyer. He never went to church, even though his family did. Most weekends he played golf. Eventually, as a result of considerable persuasion from his wife and three teenage daughters, he came on Alpha. He was extremely argumentative and hostile. None of the sessions had any impact on him until, towards the end of the course, he heard the talk ‘How Can I Resist Evil?’ Afterwards he came up to me and said, ‘In my work as a lawyer, I have seen so much evil. I have always believed in the power of evil. Tonight, it struck me that, if there is a power of evil, it makes sense to believe that there is also a power of good.’

That night Bruce became a Christian. Ever since, he has been a committed member of the church with a very powerful and effective ministry affecting the lives of hundreds of people.

We struggle with the global evils of terrorism, the rise of Daesh, the tragic plight of refugees, events in Syria, the Zika virus, starvation, poverty, the destruction of the environment, corrupt governments and countless other domestic, local and international issues. We also face struggles against evil in our own lives – temptation, sin and addiction.

The Bible is realistic about this struggle. In the Old Testament, we read about physical battles against the forces of evil. In the New Testament, the struggle is more often described as a spiritual battle. As St Paul puts it, ‘Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms’ (Ephesians 6:12).

Today’s passages show us that the battle is won through the victorious power of the Lord

September 27 Day 270

Seven Ways to Please the Lord

You can please God. It is amazing when you really think about it: human beings – seemingly so insignificant when we look at the size and scale of the universe that God has created – have the ability to please the Lord. It is also possible to ‘displease’ the Lord (Isaiah 66:4c). The apostle Paul wrote, ‘Find out what pleases the Lord’ (Ephesians 5:10), or as The Message translation puts it, ‘Figure out what will please Christ, and then do it.’

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.’ 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 in Isaiah, when the Holy Spirit comes upon the prophet (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

The 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 3:3–4).

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 above 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 Christians, we are ‘in’ Christ Jesus revolutionises how we see ourselves, our self-image and our identity.

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.

Legend has it 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 of the speech 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

Free At Last

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 am 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.