Bible in One Year

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November 16 Day 320

Eight Characteristics of Christian Community

Former England Football Captain, David Beckham, recounts being sent off in the 1998 World Cup Finals: ‘It was probably the longest walk in my life… looking back I’m not sure what thoughts were going through my mind: it was a swirl of fear, guilt, anger, worry and confusion. My head was spinning… I walked into the dressing room. The rules stated that I had to stay in there for the remainder of the match.’ England lost. We were out of the World Cup.

‘When the England players came back into the dressing room, no one breathed a word to me. There was almost complete silence. I could feel my stomach tightening even more. I gulped, breathed in, and gulped again. I was in a packed changing room but I had never felt so lonely in my life. I was isolated and afraid... I was trapped in my own sense of guilt and anxiety.’

God does not intend for you to be lonely and isolated God created you for community – calling you into relationship with him and with other human beings.

The Christian community, the church, is the community of our Lord Jesus, the ‘great Shepherd of the sheep’ (Hebrews 13:20). Every local church is called to be a community of the great Shepherd.

November 15 Day 319

Why and How to Worship

Why is worship important? What are you doing when you worship God?

The writer of Hebrews urges us to ‘worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for your “God is a consuming fire”’ (Hebrews 12:28–29).

The common theme in all three passages for today is Mount Zion (Psalm 126:1), ‘the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God’ (Hebrews 12:22), ‘the holy mount of God’ (Ezekiel 28:14,16). This is the place of the presence of God, where God is worshipped both in the old and new covenant. However, there is a difference between the two.

You no longer have to go to a specific physical place to experience the presence of God. Because of Jesus, the ‘mediator of a new covenant’ (Hebrews 12:24a), you can worship anywhere. Jesus is the one who has made this new relationship with God possible through his death on the cross for you and me.

Your ‘holy mountain’, where you can worship Jesus, is the whole earth, and this anticipates the ‘heavenly Jerusalem’ we read about in our passage from Hebrews, and which is described in Revelation 21 – the new heaven and new earth.

As you draw close to Jesus in worship there are, as C.H. Spurgeon pointed out, ‘three results of nearness to Jesus’ – happiness, holiness and humility.

November 14 Day 318

The Race Marked Out for You

I have made many mistakes in life and have quite a few regrets. When I was nineteen I took part, on a whim, without any training, in ‘The Boundary Run’. It was slightly longer than a marathon and involved running around the boundary of the city of Cambridge, with much of it across ploughed fields.

For the first fourteen miles, I was fine. After that, various bits of my body started to seize up. Although I completed the race in a reasonable time, it took me weeks to recover. Running a marathon without training is not a wise thing to do.

The writer of Hebrews says that the Christian life is like running a race. It is more like a marathon than a sprint. We are ‘long-distance runners’ (Hebrews 12:13, MSG). It requires training, endurance and discipline ‘if we are not to grow weary and lose heart’ (v.3). In each of the passages for today, you see what you need to do in order to run ‘the race marked out for [you]’ (v.1), as well as some of the results of doing so.

November 13 Day 317

Three Ways You Can Exercise Faith

The islanders were cannibals. Nobody trusted anybody else. His life was in constant danger. He had come to tell them the good news about Jesus. He wanted to translate John’s Gospel into their language, but he discovered that there was no word in their language for ‘trust’, ‘belief’ or ‘faith’.

John Paton (1824–1907), a Scot, had travelled to the New Hebrides (a group of islands in the south-west Pacific) determined to tell the tribal people about Jesus, but he struggled to find the right word for ‘faith’. One day, when his indigenous servant came in, Paton raised both feet off the floor, sat back in his chair and asked, ‘What am I doing now?’ In reply, the servant used a word that means, ‘to lean your whole weight upon’. This became the expression that Paton used. Faith is leaning our whole weight upon Jesus.

November 12 Day 316

What is Faith?

I studied law at university and practised as a barrister for a number of years. I was involved in many criminal trials where the judge told the jury that they had to reach a verdict – but they could not find the defendant guilty unless they were ‘satisfied so that they felt sure’. Every such verdict was an act of faith. The jury was not there at the time the crime was committed. They had to believe the evidence.

Faith and ‘being sure’ are not opposed. The writer of Hebrews says, ‘Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see’ (Hebrews 11:1). St Augustine wrote, ‘God does not expect us to submit our faith to him without reason, but the very limits of our reason make faith a necessity.’

November 11 Day 315

Stick At It

Maryam and Marziyeh were arrested in Iran in 2009. Their crime: being Christians. They were blindfolded, interrogated and became ill during their time in prison. They were taken to court. Mr Haddad, the prosecuting lawyer, asked the two women if they were Christians. ‘We love Jesus,’ they replied. He repeated his question and they responded, ‘Yes, we are Christians.’

Mr Haddad asked whether they regretted becoming Christians, to which they replied, ‘We have no regrets.’ Then he stated emphatically, ‘You should renounce your faith verbally and in written form.’ They stood firm and replied, ‘We will not deny our faith.’

When Mr Haddad told the women to return to prison to think about their options and come back to him when they were ready (to comply), Maryam and Marziyeh responded, ‘We have already done our thinking.’

The author of Hebrews writes to Christians who are the subject of persecution: ‘You stood your ground in a great contest in the face of suffering’ (Hebrews 10:32) – as Maryam and Marziyeh did before their prosecutors. (Thank God they have been released – we interviewed them as part of the Alpha Film Series: https://alpha.org/watch/alpha-film-series/

The will to persevere is often the difference between success and failure. This is true of learning a new skill or sport, or achieving success at work. As has been said, ‘Observe the postage stamp; its usefulness depends on the ability to stick to one thing till it gets there.’ ‘Stickability’ is also a key to the Christian life. If you want to learn to read the Bible, pray, resist evil or whatever else, learn to persevere. The writer of Hebrews encourages his readers not to be ‘quitters’ but ‘to stick it out’ (vv.34–39, MSG).

November 10 Day 314

Beauty

‘The serene beauty of a holy life is the most powerful influence in the world next to the power of God,’ according to Blaise Pascal. Holiness is beautiful and it has nothing to do with outward beauty. It is a beauty that radiates from within. This is the way the world will be changed. It starts with you and me. St Francis of Assisi said, ‘Sanctify yourself and you will sanctify society.’

Holiness is not an optional extra. It is not just for saints and special Christians. It should be something we all aspire to in this life. Holiness is not the same thing as intensity. Intensity is not a fruit of the Holy Spirit! The ability to laugh at yourself is key to holiness. Take Jesus seriously but don’t take yourself too seriously. A sense of humour is the link between holiness and humility.

Holiness is not boring. As C.S. Lewis wrote, ‘How little people know who think that holiness is dull. When one meets the real thing... it is irresistible.’

November 9 Day 313

Once For All

Once, on 7 January 1978, I stood as the bridegroom at the front of Holy Trinity Brompton (HTB) Church in London. The bride, Pippa Hislop, walked down the aisle with her father and joined me at the front of the church. We made our vows to each other before God and we were united in marriage. We left the church as ‘Mr and Mrs Gumbel’. It was a ‘once’ event, but it has had huge implications for our lives. It stemmed from our love for each other and we committed ourselves to love one another until the end of our lives.

Almost four years before that, on 16 February 1974, I had encountered Jesus Christ for the first time. A love relationship began, which has utterly transformed my life. It was another ‘once’ event, but the implications and effect of that ‘once’ event are ongoing and all-encompassing. I experienced God’s love for me and committed myself to love him forever.

In today’s New Testament passage, the writer of Hebrews speaks of the greatest ‘onceevent of all time. It changed the course of history and has the potential to change all of our lives. Jesus has appeared ‘once for all’ (Hebrews 9:26). ‘Christ was sacrificed once’ (v.28). Jesus entered the Most Holy Place ‘once for all by his own blood’ (v.12). ‘We have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all’ (10:10). This ‘once’ event stemmed from God’s great love for us and has huge implications for your life and mine.

November 8 Day 312

Meet Your Blood Donor

Our god-daughter’s second child, Hazy, was diagnosed with leukaemia in 2015. Medically, her only hope was a matching donor. A young German man, who has to remain anonymous, sacrificially gave his bone marrow. Wonderfully, his donation saved Hazy’s life. Can you imagine what it would be like for Hazy to meet her donor? (Read more of Hazy’s story here.)

In an even more remarkable way, you can meet your blood donor. Jesus came ‘to give his life as a ransom for many’ (Mark 10:45). At the last supper, when Jesus took the cup, he said: ‘This is my blood of the covenant’ (Matthew 26:28; Mark 14:24). The ‘precious blood of Christ’ (1 Peter 1:19) is stressed throughout the whole New Testament:

  • It makes forgiveness possible (Colossians 1:14)

  • It purifies you from every sin (1 John 1:7)

  • Through it, you draw near to God (Ephesians 2:13)

  • It brings peace and reconciliation (Colossians 1:20)

  • It gives life (John 6:53)

  • It enables you to overcome Satan (Revelation 12:11).

In today’s passages, we see different aspects of what all of this means.

November 7 Day 311

The Answer to Loneliness

I remember reading an article in The Big Issue (the magazine sold by, and in aid of, the homeless) called ‘Single Lives’. It pointed out that most people’s image of loneliness in London is of a frail old lady stuck on the twenty-fourth floor of a block of flats. In reality, it could equally be a young, fashionably dressed guy trying desperately to make conversation with a girl standing next to him in a crowded bar. Being surrounded by so many people only compounds the feeling of isolation.

Mother Teresa said, ‘Loneliness and the feeling of being uncared for and unwanted are the greatest poverty.’ Loneliness is one of the greatest problems facing humanity today.

‘The solitary human being is a contradiction in terms,’ writes Desmond Tutu. He continues, ‘We are made for complementarity. We are created for a delicate network of relationships, of interdependence with our fellow human beings... We belong in one family – God’s family, the human family... the greatest good is communal harmony.’

God does not intend for you to be lonely and isolated. Loneliness has been described as ‘a homesickness for God’. God created you for community – calling you into a loving relationship with him and with other human beings.