Bible in One Year

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June 19 Day 170

How to Find Treasures in the Bible

I first encountered Jesus through reading the Bible. Ever since, I have read it practically every day of my life. Yet, I am constantly seeing and discovering new things.

As Immanuel Kant said, ‘The Bible is an inexhaustible fountain of all truths. The existence of the Bible is the greatest blessing which humanity ever experienced.’ It is full of inexhaustible treasure for you to read and digest, and through which you can encounter God.

Yet, it is not always an easy book to understand. One key ingredient to understanding the Bible better is to recognise the language and genre that the writer is using – the type of literature and therefore what the writer intended.

June 18 Day 169

Three Conversions Everyone Needs

At an Alpha Conference, someone handed me a scrap of paper with a note describing what had happened to her friend:

‘Sue (who was not a Christian) was attending a rehab clinic for people with severe respiratory problems. She had a chronic condition (COPD: Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) that was getting progressively worse. The clinic meets at our church building. She arrived for her clinic, but there was no one there. (She had got the wrong date!) She waited around and had a look through flyers about our next Alpha.

‘Sue turned up for our course on Wednesday evening. She soaked it all up and was full of excitement and interest. She came to church on the Sunday and was back again on the Wednesday. It suddenly clicked for Sue that Jesus is God! A huge piece of the jigsaw for her. She gave her life to the Lord – dramatic. She called her sister to tell her she had become a Christian and her sister was in the middle of a meeting with a friend to pray for Sue! She had been praying for her for twenty-five years!

‘The following Sunday – Sue came to church, came forward for prayer for healing and was remarkably healed of her COPD. [She has been] running up and down stairs at home, off her medications, etc! She met with her physio at the medical clinic who was astonished at what had happened to her – remarkable difference. She has been healed and has since prayed for and seen others healed, including one of cancer! 

‘On 30 April Sue was baptised and brought over 150 friends and family to celebrate with her. She is having a huge impact on people – evangelising to anyone that will stand still long enough to listen!’

John Wimber often used to say that we all need three conversions: to be converted to Christ, converted to his church and converted to his cause. Sue was obviously not only converted to Christ, but also instantly converted to his church and to his cause! Today’s passages focus especially on this third conversion.

June 17 Day 168

Your Prayers Make a Difference

Saint John Chrysostom (349–407) wrote, ‘Prayer… is the root, the fountain, the mother of a thousand blessings… The potency of prayer has subdued the strength of fire, it has bridled the rage of lions… extinguished wars, appeased the elements, expelled demons, burst the chains of death, expanded the gates of heaven, assuaged diseases… rescued cities from destruction… and arrested the progress of the thunderbolt.’

We have a 24-7 Prayer Room on our church site at HTB. It is one of the highlights of my week to go into the room and spend time alone with God. Prayer really is the root and fountain of all that we do at HTB. It is such an encouragement to know that every hour, day and night, there is someone praying in that room.

June 16 Day 167

Following and Not Opposing God

I remember so well the time when Alpha started in the Catholic Church. Bishop Ambrose of Newcastle and Hexham heard what was happening with Alpha in some of the Anglican churches. He became interested and wanted to find out more. However, he did not want to let us know he was interested. So, he sent two Catholic priests to a London Alpha Conference in disguise! They went back to their parishes and started running Alpha, to great success.

As a result of that, Cardinal Hume invited us to hold a conference for Catholics at Westminster Cathedral. The place was packed out with 450 Catholic priests and laity. A few people were very critical of us doing a conference for Catholics. One or two churches even threatened to stop running Alpha if we went ahead with the conference. With hindsight it seems quite extraordinary that anybody could object, but at the time it was of some concern.

On the first night of the conference there was a great outpouring of the Holy Spirit and singing in tongues like we had never heard before. I went home that night and read the passage for today: ‘If God gave them the same gift as he gave us... who was I to think that I could oppose God?’ (Acts 11:17). It was the same Holy Spirit who was poured out on them as on us. I realised that if we did not continue to work together, I would be opposing God.

The most foolish thing that any human being can do is to oppose God. Jesus was opposed: ‘They killed him by hanging him on a tree, but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen’ (10:39–40). Contrastingly, the most wonderful privilege any human being can have is to be a follower of Jesus of Nazareth whom ‘God anointed… with the Holy Spirit and power’ (10:38).

June 15 Day 166

When You Don't Understand God

John Newton, whose life we looked at yesterday, mentored a man called William Cowper (1731–1800). Cowper had experienced tragedy. His mother died when he was six. His father died while he was still young. He qualified as a barrister. Outwardly he was successful. However, he suffered from serious depression. When applying for an administrative post in the House of Lords that entailed a formal examination, he was so disturbed by the prospect of the exam that he attempted suicide. For the rest of his life he suffered from mental illness.

When he was in his thirties, John Newton encouraged Cowper to begin composing hymns. He wrote powerfully of the joys and sorrows of everyday life. In 1774, he suffered such a severe episode of mental illness that he was prevented from entering into his intended marriage to Mary Unwin. He was crestfallen. Shortly afterwards, in perhaps his most famous hymn, he wrote:

God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform

God is good. God is love. God loves you. God has revealed himself supremely in Jesus. All this we know. Then you read passages in the Bible that don’t seem to fit with your understanding of God. You may also have experiences in life that don’t seem to fit either.

You cannot put God in a box. He is far greater than you could ever conceive. Some passages in the Bible are mysterious. Jesus said on one occasion, ‘You do not realise now what I am doing, but later you will understand’ (John 13:7). Sometimes that understanding may come in our lifetime. Some things we will only understand when we meet the Lord.

How should you respond when you don’t understand God?

June 14 Day 165

A Spacious Place

John Newton (1725–1801) was a militant atheist, bully and blasphemer. He was a wild and angry young man. He was press-ganged into the Navy at the age of eighteen where he broke the rules so recklessly that he was publicly flogged for desertion. He was hated and feared by his crewmates and himself became a slave trader.

At the age of twenty-three, Newton’s ship encountered a severe storm off the coast of Donegal and almost sank. He called out to God as the ship filled with water and on that day, 10 March 1748, God rescued him. He began a new life. He started to pray and read the Bible. Eventually he joined William Wilberforce in the campaign to abolish the slave trade and became a leading light in that campaign.

Newton is best known as the author of the hymn ‘Amazing Grace’:

Amazing grace! How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost but now I’m found,
Was blind, but now I see.

To be rescued is to be saved, set free, delivered from danger, attack or harm. Jesus is the one who rescues you and brings you into ‘a spacious place’ (2 Samuel 22:20).

June 13 Day 164

Your Nation Can Be Changed

There were 10,000 prostitutes plying their trade on the streets of London. Binge drinking and gambling were widespread. The UK had descended into decadence and immorality. This was the eighteenth century. Church congregations had declined sharply (just as they have in recent decades). Parts of the church had virtually descended into paganism.

Yet, the nation was changed. The preaching of John Wesley and George Whitefield began to take effect. Thousands of people responded to their message and encountered Jesus. Robert Raikes started his first Sunday school in 1780. The growth from this one idea reached 300,000 unchurched children within five years. By 1910, there were well over 5 million children in Sunday school. God raised up William Wilberforce, Lord Shaftesbury and others. Not only were individual hearts changed – but the nation was also transformed.

As we look at our world today, we see it is changing faster than ever before. In the last twenty-five years, there has been huge change – politically, economically and technologically. Massive change is taking place in many countries around the world. How can the spiritual climate of your nation be changed?

June 12 Day 163

You Can Change

There was a woman who lived on the streets near our church. She would ask for money and react aggressively to those who refused. When she died, I took the funeral. I discovered afterwards that this woman had inherited a large fortune. She had acquired a luxurious flat and many valuable paintings, but she chose to live on the streets with her plastic bags full of rubbish. She could not bring herself to leave behind the life she knew and she never enjoyed her inheritance.

Some people are afraid of change, while others believe change is not possible. Yet the wonderful news is that with God’s help you can change. This change is key to spiritual life, growth and transformation. It is not just about changing our actions or appearance; we need to change on the inside – we need a change of heart. How can this happen?

June 11 Day 162

God Even Uses Your Mistakes

The Indian born, Canadian-American evangelist, Ravi Zacharias, recalls a visit he made to a place known for making the best wedding saris in the world: ‘With such intricacy of detail, I expected to see some elaborate system of machines that would boggle the mind in production. But this image could not have been further from the real scene. Each sari was made individually by a father and son team. The father sat above the son on a platform, surrounded by several spools of thread that he would gather into his fingers. The son had only one task. At a nod from his father, he would move the shuttle from one side to the other and back again. This would then be repeated for hundreds of hours, until a magnificent pattern began to emerge.

‘The son certainly had the easier task. He was only to move at the father’s nod. But making use of these efforts, the father was working to an intricate end. All along, he had the design in his mind and was bringing the right threads together.’

Ravi Zacharias ends the story by saying, ‘God alone can weave a pattern from the disparate threads of our lives – whether suffering, success, joy, or heartache – and fashion a magnificent design. Perhaps today, if you will stop and reflect on it, you will see that the Father is seeking to weave a beautiful tapestry in your life.’

Job said, ‘You gave me life and showed me kindness, and in your providence watched over my spirit’ (Job 10:12). Everything that happens in this world is within the sphere of God’s working. ‘Providence’ means God’s foresight: the way he anticipates and prepares for the future. ‘Providence’ is the way God guides and steers human history – he is present and active in the world – sustaining it and ruling it.

It is also the way he guides and steers your life personally and individually. As the apostle Paul wrote, ‘In all things God works for the good for those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose’ (Romans 8:28). Even your mistakes he uses for good. In all the circumstances of your life and the events going on around you, you can trust in the providence of God.

June 10 Day 161

Troubles Do Not Have the Last Word

George Matheson was born in Glasgow, the eldest of eight children. He had only partial vision as a boy. By the age of twenty he was completely blind. When his fiancée learnt he was going blind and that there was nothing the doctors could do, she told him she could not go through life with a blind man. He never married.

He was helped by a devoted sister throughout his ministry. She learnt Greek, Latin and Hebrew in order to aid him in his studies. Despite his blindness, Matheson had a brilliant career at the Glasgow Academy, University of Glasgow and the Church of Scotland Seminary.

When he was forty years old, something bittersweet happened. His sister married. Not only did this mean that he lost her companionship – it also brought a fresh reminder of his own heartbreak. In the midst of this intense sadness, on the eve of his sister’s marriage, he wrote one of the most popular and best loved hymns of the Christian church – ‘O Love That Wilt Not Let Me Go’. He completed the whole work in five minutes and never edited, corrected or retouched it. ‘This came,’ he wrote, ‘like a dayspring from on high.’

O Joy that seekest me through pain,
I cannot close my heart to thee;
I trace the rainbow through the rain,
And feel the promise is not vain,
That morn shall tearless be.

Troubles are part of life. Jesus faced trouble and so did the apostles, David and all the people of God. However, as Matheson’s hymn beautifully articulates, troubles do not have the last word.