Bible in One Year

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September 16 Day 259

God Loves Imperfect People

I am far from perfect. I sometimes find it hard to believe that God really loves me – especially when I mess up, fail or make bad decisions.

Actually, no one is perfect – apart from Jesus. But God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son to die for us (John 3:16). Therefore, God must love imperfect people. In fact, ‘While we were still sinners, Christ died for us’ (Romans 5:8).

God knows that perfect people do not exist. We all fail. God’s love for you is bigger than your mistakes. God loves imperfect people.

Everyone knows that their marriage partner is not perfect, their children are not perfect, their parents are not perfect, and their friends are not perfect. But we love imperfect people. If we love imperfect people perhaps it shouldn’t surprise us that God loves imperfect people even more.

September 15 Day 258

How to Deal with Unexpected Difficulties

President J.F. Kennedy once remarked that ‘when written in Chinese, the word “crisis” is composed of two characters. One represents danger, and the other represents opportunity.’ Every crisis is, at the same time, an opportunity. Crises are often caused by unexpected difficulties.

All of us have problems. Many of us will face crises. How do you respond to a time of trouble, danger or unexpected difficulties in your personal life? How do we respond to unexpected difficulties in the church or in our nation? What do we do when we are ‘at [our] wits’ end’? (Psalm 107:27). What do we do when the ‘truth of the gospel’ is at stake? (Galatians 2:5). How do we respond to ‘a black day’ in our lives? (Isaiah 37:3, MSG).

September 14 Day 257

'Are You Saved?'

I have a picture sitting on the windowsill in my study of Bishop Westcott. It was given to me by his great-grandson. The nineteenth-century English scholar, Bishop B.F. Westcott, was Regius Professor of Divinity at Cambridge University.

On one occasion he was approached by a zealous undergraduate who asked him, ‘Are you saved?’ ‘Ah,’ said the Bishop, ‘a very good question. But tell me: do you mean…?’ And then he mentioned three passive participles of the Greek verb ‘to save’, indicating that his answer would depend on which of the three the student had in mind (the English translation is given here in italics). ‘I know I have been saved,’ he said; ‘I believe I am being saved; and I hope by the grace of God that I shall be saved.

‘Salvation’ is a huge and comprehensive word. It means ‘freedom’. As the Bishop pointed out, there are three tenses of salvation: you have been set free from the penalty of sin, you are being set free from the power of sin and you will be set free from the presence of sin.

September 13 Day 256

Jesus Christ Lives in You

I brought in a boxing glove as a visual aid. I dangled the glove and showed how ineffective it was without a hand in it. Then I put my hand in the glove, made a fist and punched the air so that everyone could see the difference it made to the power of the glove.

I was speaking at a prison for teenagers in Oxford. I was a theological student at the time and was given the opportunity to speak in a chapel service.

The prison chaplain at the detention centre, who was helping with my training, pointed out that it was an inappropriate illustration for a prison, since it might suggest that Jesus and violence were closely associated! Apart from that, he agreed that it was a good analogy.

What I was trying to illustrate was the difference it makes when Jesus Christ comes to live in you by his Spirit. Without him we are weak (2 Corinthians 13:4), like the glove without the hand in it. But when Jesus Christ comes to live within you, you have God’s power in your life (vv.4–5).

If you ‘realise’ (v.5) this, it will transform the way you live your life.

September 12 Day 255

How to Stay on God's Paths

I remember reading, years ago, about an incident that occurred on the Italian Riviera. A young man was driving his sports car along a road near the sea. It was a beautiful and scenic route. But the road was not what it seemed.

All along the way were warning signs. Yet, to the young man, the road seemed perfectly good. Disaster awaited him. A landslide had recently created a precipice. No one should have been on that road. He continued at great speed. He ignored all the warning signs. He went straight over the cliff.

Sometimes we are not sure where a path will lead. At other times, we are well aware of where it leads but choose to follow it nevertheless.

Jesus said that there is a path that leads to life. There is also a path that leads to destruction (Matthew 7:13–14). Warning signs are not put up as a threat, but out of love. The signs on the Italian Riviera were erected to keep people safe. The words of Jesus, the New Testament and the Bible as a whole, are designed to keep us on the path that leads to life.

How do you make sure that you are on the right path? Once you are on that path, how do you stay on it?

September 11 Day 254

His Grace is Enough for You

I first met Nick Vujicic when he came to speak at Focus, our church holiday. Nick is a remarkable man. I think that all of us who met him were inspired and challenged by his life.

Nick was born without arms or legs, yet he can write, ‘I am truly blessed. I am ridiculously happy.’ Many times as a child he prayed for arms and legs. He would have settled for getting one arm or leg.

God did not answer his prayer in the way that he had hoped. Yet he writes, ‘God used me to reach people in countless schools, churches, prisons, orphanages, hospitals, stadiums and meeting halls. Even better, I’ve hugged thousands of people in face-to-face encounters that allow me to tell them how very precious they are... God took my unusual body and invested me with the ability to uplift hearts and encourage spirits.’

The people of God depend on the grace of God. Mother Teresa wrote, ‘I don’t think there is anyone who needs God’s help and grace as much as I do. Sometimes I feel so helpless and weak. I think that is why God uses me. Because I cannot depend on my own strength, I rely on Him twenty-four hours a day. If the day had even more hours, then I would need His help and grace during those as well.’

Paul expresses this dependence when he writes about the ‘thorn in his flesh’. Three times he pleaded with the Lord to take it away. But God said to him, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness’ (2 Corinthians 12:9). His grace is not only amazing; it is ‘sufficient’. It is enough.

This is one of my favourite verses in the entire Bible. I often quote this verse to God and remind him of his promise that his power is made perfect in my weakness.

September 10 Day 253

Peace in the Dark Places

‘Men don’t come much tougher than daredevil climber and adventurer, Bear Grylls,’ writes The Sun newspaper. A former member of the UK Special Forces, his TV adventure series Man vs. Wild has reached an estimated 1.2 billion viewers in over 180 countries.

Not being remotely adventurous or daring myself, as I read his autobiography, Mud, Sweat and Tears, I was spellbound, gripped and horrified by his sheer physical and mental endurance. He has survived the SAS, a broken back from a parachute jump, climbing Mount Everest, the French Foreign Legion and a variety of other extraordinary challenges.

One of the things I appreciated about reading Bear’s autobiography was his refreshing openness about his struggles, both inward and outward. With admirable vulnerability, he reveals his anxieties, fear of heights and sense of weakness. Through it all his strong Christian faith shines through. He writes, ‘Faith in Christ has been the great empowering presence in my life, helping me walk strong when so often I feel so weak.

In the midst of life’s difficulties and extraordinary challenges, Christ is the empowering presence who brings us peace.

‘Perfect peace’ (Isaiah 26:3) makes me think of a beautiful, calm summer’s day, sitting by a deserted lake with not a care in the world and no temptations, no problems and no difficulties to cope with. ‘Perfect peace’ in such circumstances would not be at all surprising or extraordinary. Yet as we read the Bible, it is clear that this promise of ‘perfect peace’ is not dependent on circumstances. God’s peace comes to you even in the dark places – in the midst of your most difficult struggles and challenges.

September 9 Day 252

How to Know and Love Jesus

Sophie is an only child. Her mother had fourteen miscarriages before she was born. Her parents adore her. She adores her parents. Sophie is now an adult, and still loves to spend as much time as possible with her parents.

She told me that when she was at school she and her fellow pupils were asked whether they thought their parents loved them more than they loved each other. Most of them replied that they thought that was the case. However, Sophie replied that she thought her parents loved each other far more, but that it was this very bond of love that made her feel so secure and so loved.

At the heart of the Christian faith is a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. To be a Christian is to know and love Christ.

What is this relationship like? The Bible describes it using human language, and human analogies. It is a relationship of the closest possible intimacy. It is like that of a parent and child (Luke 1; Romans 8). But Paul goes even further in terms of intimacy: he refers to Christ as our husband and the church as his bride (2 Corinthians 11:2; see also Ephesians 5:22–33). This is the closest, most important and most intimate relationship of all.

September 8 Day 251

Winning the Spiritual Battle

The tragic image is unforgettable. Like so many people, I wept as I saw the picture of 3-year-old Aylan Kurdi’s little body washed up on the shoreline in Turkey. He had drowned, together with his brother and mother, as his family fled the war in Syria.

One of the biggest causes of the current European refugee crisis is warfare. Over 200,000 people have been killed in the civil war in Syria over the last five years. In Iraq, Isis have murdered thousands of innocent people (many of them Christians) and displaced tens of thousands of people (again, many of them Christians). Appalling terrorist attacks around the world now occur with alarming regularity.  

These atrocities are extreme and horrific instances of a violence that has always taken place at every level of society. ‘Brother fight brother, neighbour fight neighbour, city fight city, kingdom fight kingdom – anarchy and chaos and killing!’ (Isaiah 19:2, MSG).

Virtually every day in the media we see the horrors of warfare. We live in a world that is constantly developing even more terrible weapons of physical warfare. These weapons have the power to maim, kill and destroy. But this warfare is not purely physical. The issues that give rise to it, as many in both politics and the media acknowledge, are profoundly moral and spiritual.

Just as physical warfare is a serious global issue, so, according to the apostle Paul, is spiritual warfare (see Ephesians 6:10–20). This is unseen, but it is just as real. The great Welsh preacher, Dr Martin Lloyd Jones, once said, ‘There is no grosser or greater misrepresentation of the Christian message than that which depicts it as offering a life of ease with no battle and struggle at all... sooner or later every believer discovers that the Christian life is a battleground, not a playground.’

In this battle, you are called not to be overcome by evil but to overcome evil with good (Romans 12:21). You are given the weapons with which to win the battle. Paul writes, ‘We do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds’ (2 Corinthians 10:3b–4).

What are these weapons? How do you use them?

September 7 Day 250

Ten Reasons to Give Generously

Mick Hawkins was the most generous person I have ever met. He was always giving and always offering to pay for everything. We thought he must be very rich. Actually, he wasn’t. He was just very generous. His life overflowed with thankfulness for God’s grace. This opened his heart and his wallet in a way that inspired all who knew him.

I want to be like Mick. I long for the church of Jesus Christ to be full of people like him because, as we see in today’s passage, grace, thanksgiving and generosity are very closely connected.