Bible in One Year

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February 7 Day 38

Use It or Lose It

Myra Hindley was one of the most notorious murderers of the twentieth century. Her crimes were almost unbelievably horrific. Yet, one person took it upon himself to visit her regularly while she was in prison.

Lord Longford (1905–2001) was a controversial figure who spent much of his life visiting prisoners, including Myra Hindley. Yet, no one can doubt his compassion and his faithfulness, both to God and to those he visited.

When he died, former prisoners joined hundreds of mourners to say farewell to the man who had spent his life faithfully fighting for society’s outcasts.

He found inspiration in the words of Jesus from today’s passage. On his deathbed he asked his wife, ‘You know what the most important quotation from the Bible is?’ He spoke his last words by answering his own question, quoting the words of Jesus: ‘I was in prison and you came to visit me’ (Matthew 25:36).

Life is not a competition that you have to win. It is not supposed to be a rat race. Life is a huge privilege and an opportunity. God has trusted you with gifts and abilities, which he wants you to use. Use them or lose them. He is faithful to us and he expects us to be faithful to him.

February 6 Day 37

The Secret Things

When I first encountered Jesus, I thought I had to know the answer to every question about faith. However, the more I have studied the Bible, the more I have realised that we do not need to know the answer to everything. There is such a thing as healthy agnosticism, or what might be described as biblical agnosticism.

There are some questions to which we do know the answer. But there are other questions to which the best answer we can give is, ‘I don’t know.’ ‘The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us’ (Deuteronomy 29:29a).

We need to be clear about what the Bible is clear about. Don’t be agnostic about what you can know. Equally, don’t be dogmatic about the things that the Bible is agnostic about.

In today’s passages, we see three examples of big questions that are frequently asked. In answer to each of these questions there are some things we know (‘the things revealed’) and some things we don’t know (‘the secret things’).

February 5 Day 36

How to Use Your Words for Good

If you include scientific words, there are over 1,000,000 words in the English language. The average person knows about 20,000 words and uses 2,000 different words a week. Women and men both speak about 16,000 words a day on average.

Your words matter. However, what matters most is not the number of words you speak but the kind of words you choose and the purpose for which you use them. The apostle James tells us that although ‘the tongue is a small part of the body’ it is extremely powerful (James 3:5). In the passages for today, we see how your words can be used, just as the apostle James describes, for good or evil. Each day you have great potential: either to destroy or to build.

In our passages for today we see six keys to using your words for good.

February 4 Day 35

Seven Characteristics of a Good Leader

‘Leadership is influence,’ writes John C. Maxwell, whose organisations have trained more than 1 million leaders worldwide. He points out that, according to sociologists, even the most isolated individual will influence 10,000 other people during his or her lifetime!

In one sense there is only one leader. In our New Testament reading today, Jesus says, ‘There is only one Life-Leader for you... Christ’ (Matthew 23:10, MSG). On the other hand, every Christian is called to be a leader in the sense that other people will look to you as an example. You have influence over others in different ways. To be called by God to influence others is an enormous privilege, but it carries with it great responsibility.

February 3 Day 34

Three Types of Victory in Your Life

José Henriquez was one of the thirty-three miners trapped 2,300 feet underground when a section of the San José copper mine in Northern Chile collapsed. It was 5 August 2010. For seventeen days all rescue attempts failed. There was no sign of life in the copper mine. The trapped miners had enough food for three days and a little drinking water. They faced the prospect of an agonising death through starvation.

I interviewed José Henriquez and his wife Bianca at HTB. He told how they had prayed to God for a miracle. He described the moment, on 22 August, when a drill broke through into the tunnel where the men were trapped. They hammered the drill with iron rods. They sprayed paint on it. They sent up many messages on it. Only one stayed on the drill as it went back up to the surface. The message read, ‘We’re fine. The 33 in the shelter.’

In total, the men survived a record sixty-nine days underground before they were brought to the surface. More than a billion people watched the rescue live on television. There were extraordinary scenes as everyone celebrated a wonderful victory.

The life of faith is full of challenges, difficulties and trials. But there are also times of victory. In the passages for today we see three different types of victory.

February 2 Day 33

Intimate Friendship

Nick Hills is one of the cleverest people I have ever met. He is a scholar and an intellectual. He has a brilliant mind. We were at school and university together. About three months after my first encounter with Jesus Christ (as a first-year student), he too had an experience of Jesus. (In fact, he went on to help Justin Welby, who is now Archbishop of Canterbury, find faith in Jesus).  Immediately, Nick started reading massive theological books.

I remember asking him what he was reading about. He replied that he was reading about the ‘transcendence and immanence’ of God. I had no idea what he meant. I had to look up both words in the dictionary.

‘Transcendence’ and ‘immanence’ describe the almost paradoxical nature of our relationship with God. The ‘transcendence’ of God means that God exists apart from, and is not subject to the limitations of, the material universe. He is above and beyond, surpassing and excelling, greatly superior to us.

On the other hand, the ‘immanence’ of God means that it is possible to experience his immediate friendship. In our Old Testament passage for today, Job speaks of ‘God’s intimate friendship’ (Job 29:4).

It is only when you understand the transcendence of God that you see how amazing his immanence is, and what a huge privilege it is to be able to enjoy intimate friendship with God.

February 1 Day 32

You Can Trust God

During World War II, in the terrible days of the Blitz, a father, holding his small son by the hand, ran from a building that had been struck by a bomb. In the front yard was a shell hole. Seeking shelter as quickly as possible, the father jumped into the hole and held up his arms for his son to follow. Terrified, yet hearing his father’s voice telling him to jump, the boy replied, ‘I can’t see you!’ The father called to the silhouette of his son, ‘But I can see you. Jump!’ The boy jumped, because he trusted his father. In other words, he loved him, he believed in him, he trusted him and he had confidence in him.

‘Faith’, in the Bible, is primarily about putting our trust in a person. In that sense it is more akin to love. All loving relationships involve some element of trust. Faith is trust in God that transforms all your other relationships.

January 31 Day 31

How to Lead Like Jesus

Few people have shaped the day-to-day management of people and companies more than Ken Blanchard, author of The One Minute Manager, which has sold more than 13 million copies. The book was so successful that he had trouble taking credit for its success. He began to think about God. He started to read the Bible. He went straight to the Gospels. He wanted to know what Jesus did.

He became fascinated with how Jesus transformed twelve ordinary, and unlikely, people into the first generation of leaders of a movement that continues to affect the course of world history 2,000 years later. He became aware that everything he had ever taught or written about effective leadership, Jesus had done to perfection way beyond Ken’s ability to portray or describe.

Jesus was more than just a spiritual leader. He gives a practical and effective leadership model for all organisations, for all people, for all situations. You may not think of yourself as a leader, but leadership is about influence. You do have influence, therefore, in a sense, all of us are leaders.

Jesus was the greatest leader of all time. In the passages for today, we see some of the characteristics of Jesus’ leadership together with those of two other great influencers in the Bible – David and Job.

January 30 Day 30

Does God Answer All Your Prayers?

I love cricket. At least, I love watching it; I was never any good at playing it. But I know many people don’t like cricket and don’t even understand the rules of it (especially if they come from a country where it isn’t a popular sport). So I hope you will forgive me for using a cricketing analogy.

When two batsmen are running between the wickets on a cricket pitch, they need to co-ordinate the decision about whether to run or not. One will shout to the other ‘Yes’ (that is, ‘Let’s run’), or ‘No’ (that is, ‘Stay where you are’), or ‘Wait’ (that is, ‘Let’s see what happens before we decide whether to run’).

God hears all your prayers (Psalm 139:4, 1 John 5:14–15, 1 Peter 3:12) and, in one sense, he answers all your prayers. But we do not always receive what we ask for. When we ask God for something, the response will be ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ or ‘Wait’.

John Stott wrote that God will answer ‘No’ if the things we ask for ‘are either not good in themselves, or not good for us or for others, directly or indirectly, immediately or ultimately’.

We don’t always get to know the reason why the answer is ‘No’. We need to remember that God sees things from an eternal perspective and that there are some things we may never understand in this life.

In the passages for today we see examples of all three types of response from God.

January 29 Day 29

You Are Loved

Shane Taylor was considered one of the most dangerous men in the UK prison system. Originally jailed for attempted murder, he had his sentence extended by four years when he attacked a prison officer with a broken glass, setting off a riot.

He was put in a segregation unit inside a maximum-security prison. He was given his food through a hatch. His door was not opened unless there were six officers armed with riot shields waiting outside.

Later, he was transferred to Long Lartin maximum-security prison where he was invited on Alpha. During the course he prayed, ‘Jesus Christ, I know you died on a cross for me. I hate who I am; who I’ve become. Please forgive me and come into my life.’ At that moment he was filled with the Holy Spirit. He went running out onto the wing, telling everyone he could find, ‘Jesus is real!’

His behaviour changed so much that he went from living in total segregation to getting a trusted job in the prison chaplaincy. He prayed for the prison officers and for his enemies and, when he came out of prison, he got involved in a church. He met a young woman called Sam, who had also had a tough life and had been involved with drugs and criminal activity. She also came to faith in Jesus. Now, they are married and have five children.

Talking to Shane now, it is hard to imagine that he is the same person who terrified so many people in the past. He has experienced ‘the wonder of [God’s] great love’ (Psalm 17:7). He says, ‘Jesus has shown me how to love and how to forgive. He has saved me. He has forgiven me for what I have done. He has turned my life around.’