Bible in One Year

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October 15 Day 288

Never Tire of Doing What Is Right

Martin Luther King said, ‘On some positions, Cowardice asks the question, “Is it safe?” Expediency asks the question, “Is it politic?” And Vanity comes along and asks the question, “Is it popular?” But Conscience asks the question, “Is it right?”

‘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.’

Doing what is right in difficult situations in the workplace is a huge challenge. In his book, God at Work, Ken Costa writes, ‘There are right and wrong choices… all the invented terms such as “inappropriate” and “counterproductive” are efforts to avoid the simple ethical fact that there is a right and wrong course of action.’

When facing a difficult pastoral situation those of us in the leadership of the church need to remind ourselves that the first question we have to ask is, ‘What is the right thing to do?’ And only then move to the second question, ‘What is the most pastoral way to do it?’

Of course, none of us get it right all the time. We all make mistakes. As Ken Costa writes, ‘We only grow in wisdom if we learn from our mistakes. Siegmund Warburg [Ken’s first boss] said on this subject: “Some name it disappointment and become poorer, others name it experience and become richer.”’

In today’s New Testament passage, Paul writes to the Thessalonians, ‘Never tire of doing what is right’ (2 Thessalonians 3:13). Jesus did not go for the easy or popular solution, but he always did the right thing. This is an important principle that runs throughout the entire Bible.

October 14 Day 287

How to Avoid Backsliding

As a young man, Philip was kidnapped and held hostage in Greece. There he remained for several years. During this time he received a military education. Then he returned to his homeland, which had conceded many defeats and had lost much land. Within five years he had become king.

Philip II of Macedon desperately needed his army to stand firm. He is remembered for two major innovations. First is the sarissa, a very long spear. Second is the re-development of a rectangular military formation used by ancient armies (known as a phalanx). A core of highly-trained infantrymen, armed with Philip’s longer spears, stood shoulder to shoulder in files normally eight men deep.

As long as they stood firm and did not break rank they were virtually invincible and struck fear into the hearts of their enemies. Using this tactic, Philip united the city-states of Greece and took the city of Philippi (that is named after him) in 356 BC.

Sometimes, it seems that the Christian life is like facing a powerful enemy. It feels like an intense struggle in which another army is attempting to push us back and break down our ranks. If we don’t stand firm, we fall on our backs and slide in the mud in the wrong direction. We have seen how Jeremiah warned the people many times against backsliding (Jeremiah 2:19; 3:22; 5:6; 14:7; 15:6).

It is not a matter of us standing firm on our own. We are part of a community. In today’s New Testament passage, Paul invokes the image of the phalanx (with which Philip II of Macedonia once conquered the city of Philippi (Philippians 1:27)). Shoulder to shoulder, the church can stand firm. This is one of many occasions that Paul exhorts the church to ‘stand firm’ (2 Thessalonians 2:15).

October 13 Day 286

God's Good Plans for Your Future

Futurologists make predictions about the future. One prediction is that some babies born now are likely to live to the ripe old age of 150. Wired magazine, not long ago, predicted that meal replacement patches (taking nicotine replacement patches a step further) would be in existence by 2018, and that by 2020 there would be a new financial currency introduced for purchases in space!

Some look to futurologists to know what is coming. Others go further. Some people read their horoscopes because they want to know what their future holds. However, Jeremiah warns in the passage for today, ‘Don’t for a minute listen to… spiritualists and fortune-tellers, who claim to know the future’ (Jeremiah 27:9, MSG).

The study of history helps us to predict the future. As Winston Churchill once said, ‘To understand the future we need to understand the past.’

But as the one who holds the past, present and future in his hands, only God truly knows the future. Much of it is hidden from us. However, there are certain things about your future that God tells you.

October 12 Day 285

Dare to be Different

I once had the privilege of meeting and interviewing Pastor Nadarkhani. Youcef Nadarkhani encountered Jesus Christ at the age of nineteen. He went on to become an ordained pastor and lead a church in Iran.

In 2010, aged thirty-two, married with two young children, he was arrested and sentenced to death for ‘apostasy’ (converting to Christianity from Islam). Thankfully, two years later, after sustained international pressure, the decision was reversed.

During his trial, Pastor Nadarkhani refused to recant his belief despite facing a death sentence. He told the judge, ‘I am resolute in my faith and Christianity and have no wish to recant.’ The then UK Foreign Secretary, William Hague, paid tribute to his courage. The Guardian newspaper described him as ‘an inspiringly brave Christian’. Pastor Nadarkhani, like many Christians around the world today, still faces persecution for his faith.*

Jesus gives us a picture of true humanity. Dare to be different, by being like him. Don’t follow what the world tells you is desirable, but follow God by becoming more Christ-like.

October 11 Day 284

More

More Please is the title of the autobiography of comedian and actor Barry Humphries (best known for playing his alter ego Dame Edna Everage). He writes that these two words, ‘More please’, were his first coherent utterance.

He went on to say, ‘I have always wanted more. I never had enough milk or money or socks or sex or holidays or first editions or solitude or gramophone records or free meals or real friends or guiltless pleasure or neckties or applause or unquestioning love or persimmons. Of course, I have always had more than my share of most of these commodities but it always left me with a vague feeling of unfulfillment: where was the rest?

Seeking pleasure for ourselves will always leave us with ‘a vague feeling of unfulfillment’. In the passages for today, you can see what really will satisfy your spiritual hunger and thirst, and the things that you should seek more and more. Paul highlights two things in particular: living to ‘please God more and more’ (1 Thessalonians 4:1), and ‘loving each other… more and more’ 

October 10 Day 283

Surprised by Joy

‘Surprised by joy’ is how C.S. Lewis described his conversion from atheism to faith in Jesus Christ. He had never expected that there was any connection between God and joy. If anything, he had thought it would be the opposite: ‘For all I knew, the total rejection of what I called Joy might be one of the demands.’

Convinced that it was true, Lewis ‘admitted that God was God’. At that moment, he was ‘the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England’. To his great surprise he found that following Jesus was the very opposite to what he expected. He experienced great joy through his new-found faith. He discovered that ‘the heart of reality’ is to be found in a Person. He was surprised by joy.

Many people confuse pleasure, contentment and joy. ‘Pleasure’ can come from a good holiday, a pay rise or a bar of chocolate. People can become pleasure addicts – always seeking the next fix. But these experiences of pleasure come and go.

‘Contentment’ is longer term – being satisfied with your life, your home, your job and your relationships.

But there is another kind of happiness that we call ‘joy’. It is not a fleeting emotion, but a deep way of being – a state of mind that is available to everybody. It is not found in things, but in a Person.

October 9 Day 282

Life-Changing Words

Earl had far too much money. He did not need to work. He took all kinds of drugs, including heroin. At the age of thirty he ended up in hospital.

Someone came to visit him in hospital and gave him a New Testament. He was thrilled. The paper was very thin and was ideal for rolling joints. He rolled his way through Matthew, Mark and Luke. When he came to John’s Gospel, he started reading. As a result of reading the words of John’s Gospel, he encountered Jesus. He was filled with joy.

The psychologist in charge of his case was a very beautiful young woman, who had been a model. One day she said to Earl, ‘Look, I have it all – success, beauty and endless qualifications – yet I am not fulfilled. Your life is a mess yet you seem to have something – a peace and a joy. What is it?’

Then he led her to faith in Jesus Christ. Later they were married. Earl and his wife, Thommy, were great friends of ours at theological college in Oxford. His life had been radically changed by the words of God in the Bible.

October 8 Day 281

Glorified in Defeat

I will never forget a conversation I had with Father Raniero Cantalamessa, Franciscan monk and preacher to the Papal Household. He was about to be involved in a public debate with one of the ‘New Atheists’ in Italy.

I asked him whether he thought he would win the debate. He replied that he did not know. He said he might lose. ‘But,’ he added, ‘the Lord can be glorified in defeat.

Jesus turned the world upside down. He reversed the values of the world. Supremely on the cross, Jesus turned the world upside down. In an act of ultimate humiliation and apparent defeat he brought the greatest victory the world has ever known.

It was said of his followers that they were ‘turning the world upside down’ (Acts 17:6, NRSV). In each of today’s passages we see how this works, and how the Lord can be glorified in defeat.

October 7 Day 280

New Clothes

I tend to wear very similar clothes every day. I cannot claim to have much ‘dress sense’. Yet, believe it or not, before Pippa and I got married it was even worse.

When I got married, my flared trousers, misshapen sweaters with holes, string vests, ties (inherited from an uncle) and dilapidated trousers had to go. I hate getting rid of things – especially clothes to which I am attached. They feel like old friends. But alas, the time had come to be re-clothed.

As well as the outer clothing, our hearts and minds have an inner clothing. When you come into a relationship with God through Jesus, the old clothes have to go and you need a new set of clothes for your heart and mind.

October 6 Day 279

Can a Leopard Change its Spots?

Brian Emmett was a career criminal in south London – a drug smuggler and gangster and contemporary of the notorious Kray twins, who he knew well. 

Brian had a son called Michael, who joined ‘the family business’ at a young age. Father and son worked together as international drug smugglers. Their activities were very successful until, one night, they were arrested as part of a massive police operation involving twelve armed officers and sixty regulars in a small Devon fishing port, where a hoard of four metric tonnes of cannabis with a street value of £13 million was being landed. 

At the time, it was the largest ever known importation of cannabis to the UK and they were each sentenced to twelve and a half years.

In 1994, Brian and Michael heard about Alpha while in Exeter Prison and decided to give it a try. They were filled with the Holy Spirit and their lives were completely transformed.  

As father and son continued to serve their sentences, they were regularly transferred from prison to prison throughout England as is the normal practice. On arrival in each one, they introduced Alpha and more and more prisoners experienced the love of God for the first time. 

From those beginnings, Alpha in Prison has grown. In 2016 (the last year for which we have the statistics) over 45,000 men and women did Alpha in prisons in dozens of countries around the world.

When I interviewed Michael, I asked him what difference Jesus has made.  He replied, ‘I was a drug addict for years, entrenched with crime. I looked the part but inside I was very broken. There was a hole inside of me that I tried to fill with things that didn’t work. Jesus is real. He did an inside job on me. The change is dramatic – healing and changing, transforming my mind and heart. The curse has been broken over my family.’

Brian and Michael’s lives were changed because Jesus set them free from their addictions and the sin that was destroying their lives. After lives of crime and lawlessness, they never went to prison again.

Is it possible for you too to change? One of the most difficult things in the world is to break a bad habit or to give up sin. In one of today’s passages Jeremiah asks, ‘Can a leopard change its spots?’ (Jeremiah 13:23).