Bible in One Year

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October 20 Day 293

Hard Times

Smith Wigglesworth was born on 8 June 1859 to an impoverished family in Yorkshire. As a small child he worked in the fields pulling turnips alongside his mother. He was illiterate until, at the age of twenty-three, he married Polly, who taught him to read. He often said that the Bible was the only book he ever read.

He was a plumber by trade but had to abandon it after he became too busy with an amazing ministry of preaching and healing. There are even accounts of people being raised from the dead through his ministry. Yet, he said on one occasion that he would rather see one person saved through his preaching than 10,000 healed.

Life was not always easy for Smith Wigglesworth. He went through some very hard times. He wrote, ‘Great faith is a product of great fights. Great testimonies are the outcome of great tests. Great triumphs can only come out of great trials.’

The Bible is very realistic. We live in a fallen world. Everyone goes through hard times and some people find themselves in circumstances that make life hard all of the time.

October 19 Day 292

Words, the Word of God and 'words'

Actor David Suchet, well known for his title role in Poirot, tells how a few years ago he was lying in his bath in a hotel in America, when he had a sudden and impulsive desire to read the Bible. He managed to find a Gideon Bible and started to read the New Testament. As he read, he encountered Jesus Christ. He said:

‘From somewhere I got this desire to read the Bible again. That’s the most important part of my conversion. I started with the Acts of the Apostles and then moved to Paul’s Letters – Romans and Corinthians. And it was only after that I came to the Gospels. In the New Testament I suddenly discovered the way that life should be followed.’

The most powerful words ever written are in the Bible. Words are an important theme in it, and the word ‘word’ is used in different senses in today’s passages.

  • First, it is used in the sense of our words. The things we say can be good or bad (Proverbs 25:11–20).

  • Second, it is also used in the sense of the Word of God. This is supremely Jesus Christ (John 1:1; Hebrews 1:2), but also refers to the Word of God in the Scriptures and in preaching and teaching (1 Timothy 4:1–16).

  • Third, the Bible also uses the phrase ‘word of the Lord’ in the sense of prophecy (Jeremiah 42:7). God continues to speak to the church through prophetic messages (1 Timothy 4:14). Of course, we need to distinguish the Old Testament prophets, whose ‘words’ were definitely ‘the word of the Lord’ and are now part of Scripture, from prophetic ‘words’ today, which need testing against Scripture.

October 18 Day 291

The Life of a Leader

Good leadership is vital at all times, in all places and in all areas of life. But what is good leadership?

‘Leadership is a potent combination of strategy and character. But if you must be without one, be without the strategy.’ These are the words of General Norman Schwarzkopf, commander of the coalition forces in the Gulf War of 1991. Character is what really matters. It is the only thing that counts in the end.

We make a distinction in our church between those in positions of leadership and those ‘on their way in’. We welcome everyone regardless of their lifestyle. We have a big front door. Everyone is welcome. The church is not a museum displaying perfect people. It is a hospital in the traditional sense of the word – a place of hospitality and restoration. It is a place where the wounded, hurt, broken and injured find healing. It is a community of sinners.

On the other hand, we do not put people in positions of leadership if their lifestyle is in direct contrast to the New Testament. Leadership is not only functional, but also involves a responsibility to live as an example to others. Leaders are models for the rest of the congregation. Of course, no one is perfect. You do not have to be perfect to be an example. However, we try to ensure that the lifestyle and character of our leaders is in line with the New Testament.

October 17 Day 290

How to Pray

Prayer is the most important activity of your life. It is the main way in which you develop a relationship with your Father in heaven. If you love someone, naturally you will want to spend time in their presence communicating with them. Like any relationship, communication can take many different forms.

Lancelot Andrewes (1555–1626), was one of the great theologians and preachers of his day. After he died, his private notebook on prayer was discovered and published. In it he had written two lists:

First, he wrote a list of times of prayer in the Bible:
‘Always...
Without ceasing...
At all times...
Three times a day...
Evening, and morning, and at noon...
Seven times a day...
In the morning, a great while before day...
At daybreak...
The third hour of the day...
About the sixth hour...
The hour of prayer, the ninth...
The evening...
By night...
At midnight...’

Next, he wrote a list of places of prayer in the Bible:
‘In the assembly... and in the congregation...
Your closet...
An upper room...
A housetop...
The temple...
On the shore...
A garden...
On their beds...
A desert place...
In every place...’

There is no limit to the times, places and different ways in which you can pray.

October 16 Day 289

The Biggest Decision of My Life

In early February 1974, I was facing the biggest decision of my life. I was convinced through reading the New Testament that Jesus really is the Son of God. But I did not want to be a Christian as I feared that I would lose my freedom. The last things that I associated with faith were love and freedom. I associated faith with losing my freedom. I thought that God would want me to stop doing all the things that were fun and that I enjoyed.

In fact, I have discovered over the last forty years that true faith leads to freedom and love. Love, faith and freedom are inextricably entwined.

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’