Bible in One Year

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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’.

April 19 Day 109

God's Strategic Plan

I live in London. With a population of 8.3 million, it is the largest city in Europe and the twenty-first largest in the world. It receives 15 million visitors a year. It is a city where over 300 languages are spoken.

Cities are strategic places for the spread of the gospel. They always have been. The apostle Paul took the gospel from city to city. As early as AD 100, more than 40 Christian communities existed in cities around the Mediterranean world, including North Africa and parts of Italy. By AD 300 half the citizens of that region were Christian while 90 per cent of the countryside was still pagan. Most of Paul’s letters were written to cities.

Cities tend to be places where culture is formed. Many of the spheres of influence emanate from the city, including government, politicians and law-makers; arts and entertainment; business and the marketplace; universities and other places of education; media and communication centres. The river of influence tends to flow from the city to the suburbs and rural areas. The way to transform a culture is to transform the city.

It is not surprising, therefore, that cities have always had an important role in the purposes of God. In particular, one city has been at the heart of God’s strategy for the world.

April 18 Day 108

The Rocking Chair Test

I like to think of myself as young. Recently, I heard that middle age runs from thirty-five to fifty-eight years of age. On that basis, not only am I not young, I am not even middle-aged! 

People often speak of being middle-aged as a time of ‘midlife crisis’. A midlife crisis can be caused by aging itself, or aging in combination with changes, problems, or regrets over work, career, relationships, children and physical changes associated with ageing.

Individuals experiencing a midlife crisis are often searching for an undefined dream or goal. We may have a deep sense of remorse for goals not yet accomplished. We may fear humiliation among more successful colleagues. We often desire to achieve a feeling of youthfulness.

At the root of all these things is a sense of something being missing. There is often a tragic wisdom in mid-life crises, as individuals realise the emptiness of much of what they used to strive for (even if what they replace it with is not always particularly wise).

I have often wondered whether Zacchaeus, whom we read about in today’s New Testament passage, was going through a midlife crisis. Whether he was or not, he found the answer that so many people are searching for in his encounter with Jesus.

No matter how long you have travelled in the wrong direction, you can always turn around. With Jesus it’s never too late to make a new start and ensure that your life is set in the right direction.

April 17 Day 107

Six Steps to a God-Centred Life

William Temple, like his father before him, was Archbishop of Canterbury (1942–1944). Among his many remarkable achievements, he wrote a superb commentary on the Gospel of John. He wrote the entire commentary, entitled Readings in St John’s Gospel, whilst praying on his knees before God.

About worship, he wrote:

‘Worship is a submission of all our nature to God. It is the quickening of conscience by his holiness; the nourishment of mind with his truth; the purifying of imagination by his beauty; the opening of the heart to his love; the surrender of will to his purpose – and all this gathered up in adoration.’

Worship saves us from being self-centred and makes us God-centred. You were created to live in a relationship with God. That should be your number one priority. If you put God first in your life all kinds of blessings follow. Because God loves you he warns you of the dangers of disregarding the design for your life.

But what does it mean to lead a God-centred life and what steps do you need to take in order to get there?