Bible in One Year

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August 4 Day 216

Unity

Years ago, I was speaking to a friend of mine who is not a Christian. He said this to me:

‘I don’t understand. You Protestants and you Catholics, you look exactly the same to me. You both have church buildings that look the same. You both say the Lord’s Prayer and do stuff with bread and wine. Whatever it is you disagree about (and I have no idea what it is) has absolutely nothing to do with my life. However, whilst you are fighting each other I am not interested.’

It struck me then how damaging disunity is to the church and our witness to the world. No wonder Jesus prayed for ‘complete unity’ (John 17:23) and the apostle Paul was passionate that we should be ‘perfectly united’ (1 Corinthians 1:10).

Unity is at the core of our faith. We believe in one God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. There is unity in the Trinity. Disunity, on the other hand, has been the curse of humankind ever since Adam and Eve fell into sin.

Jesus died to bring reconciliation and unity. Thank God that today, all around the world, we are seeing a lowering of denominational barriers and a greater unity in the church.

August 3 Day 215

Working Without Wilting

The average person will spend approximately 150,000 hours at work in their lifetime – that is to say, about 40% of our waking lives are spent at work.

‘Is God interested in our work? Many people do not see God as a 24/7 God, but as a withdrawn actor confined to a Sunday show with a declining audience. There is a widespread view that God and work simply don’t mix: the competitive, cut-throat demands of the working world are seen as the obvious enemy of Christian compassion and love. But the God who created and sustains the world is also the God of the workplace. If the Christian faith is not relevant in the workplace, it is not relevant at all.’

These are the words of one of my closest friends, Ken Costa, in his book God at Work (see also godatwork.org.uk). For over forty years, Ken has been living out his faith on the frontline of Christian ministry – in the ‘secular’ workplace in the City of London. And he sees that as his primary calling as a Christian.

Whatever kind of work you are called to, it will probably occupy a large proportion of your life. Work is an important part of God’s ‘economy’. It is part of what you were created to do, and will be part of what you do in heaven. Work has an intrinsic value. The Bible has a lot to say on the subject of our work.

August 2 Day 214

The Power of His Presence

The Duke of Wellington once remarked about Napoleon, ‘I used to say of him that his presence on the field made the difference of forty thousand men.’ The presence of a strong leader has a powerful effect. How much greater is the impact of the awesome power of the presence of God!

There is a deep spiritual hunger in all of our hearts that can only be satisfied by the presence of God himself. Adam and Eve lost this sense of his presence through their sin. Thereafter, the presence of God was not known as it was before.

God is holy. We cannot take his presence for granted. It is only through the cross and resurrection of Jesus that a way into his presence and the gift of the Holy Spirit living within you is made possible. Now you can know the power of his presence.

August 1 Day 213

Bring People Hope

Twenty-one-year-old Matthew had been homeless for three years. Mark Russell (who was appointed head of the Church Army aged only thirty-one) met him on the streets of Charing Cross in London, bought him some food and led him to Christ.

As he was getting up to leave he said, ‘Matthew, over the next month I am going to be on platforms speaking to thousands of people. What piece of advice do you want me to give to the Church of England today?’

Matthew replied, ‘The church’s job is to stop arguing and to bring people hope.’

Mark Russell commented, ‘I have never heard a better definition of what we should be about: Don’t we have a gospel of hope? A gospel that brings hope? A gospel of life, a gospel of transformation and above all a hope of eternal life, the hope of Jesus.’

Many people see only a hopeless end; but with Jesus you can enjoy an endless hope.

Hope is one of the three great theological virtues – the others being love and faith. As Raniero Cantalamessa writes, ‘They are like three sisters. Two of them are grown and the other is a small child. They go forward together hand in hand with the child hope in the middle. Looking at them it would seem that the bigger ones are pulling the child, but it is the other way around; it is the little girl who is pulling the two bigger ones. It is hope that pulls faith and love. Without hope everything would stop.’

July 31 Day 212

How to Avoid Arguments, Deal with Disputes and Stop Fighting

The referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU resulted in a 52:48 split in favour of leaving. The campaign was acrimonious, the nation was divided, and the main political parties soon descended into infighting and division. This is one example of what we see across the globe. Every news update seems to include stories of arguments, disputes and fighting.

When sin entered the world, arguments, disputes and fighting began. Adam blamed Eve. Cain murdered his brother. The history of the world ever since has been one of conflict of all kinds.

When people turn away from God, they start fighting one another. We see the breakdown of relationships wherever we look: broken marriages, broken homes, broken relationships at work, civil wars and wars between nations. Sadly, the church is not immune. Right from the start there have been arguments, disputes and in-fighting.

How should we handle conflict?

July 30 Day 211

How to Be a Good Citizen

Politicians: how do we treat them? Governments and local councils: how do we view them? Taxes: do we really need to pay them? What about evil regimes? If you live under a Hitler or Stalin are you supposed to obey them?

‘Be a good citizen,’ writes the apostle Paul. ‘All governments are under God. Insofar as there is peace and order, it’s God's order. So live responsibly as a citizen. If you’re irresponsible to the state, then you’re irresponsible with God, and God will hold you responsible. Duly constituted authorities are only a threat if you’re trying to get by with something. Decent citizens should have nothing to fear’ (Romans 13:1–3, MSG).

This would have been a radical idea to Paul’s original readers. In the ancient world most people saw religion and government as intertwined. The early church was still adjusting to the idea that the Messiah was not going to rule over his people in an earthly government. Those around them would have worshipped Rome and the Emperor as god. Yet here Paul tells them to follow Jesus as their King and still submit to Roman authority.

Paul’s teaching in Romans 13 needs to be balanced by Revelation 13. Revelation 13 was written at the time of the persecution of Christians under the Emperor Domitian. The state is seen as the ally of the devil (pictured as a red dragon) who has given his authority to the persecuting state (pictured as a monster emerging out of the sea). At worst, government can be demonic.

Both Romans 13 and Revelation 13 are true. There is good government and there is bad government. There is a good side to human government but there can also be an evil side. As Oscar Cullmann remarks, according to whether ‘the state remains within its limits or transgresses them, the Christian will describe it as the servant of God or as the instrument of the Devil’.

How then can you live as a good citizen?

July 29 Day 210

Four Sacrifices That Please God

Looking back at my life, I now realise how many sacrifices my parents made out of love for my sister and me. I wish I had appreciated that more at the time. My parents came from a generation that was very familiar with the idea of sacrifice. They both fought in World War Two. Many of their contemporaries had sacrificed their lives for their fellow human beings and for their country. The whole idea of making sacrifices, great or small, seems more alien to our generation.

The vast majority of biblical references to ‘sacrifice’ are in the Old Testament. These passages prefigure Jesus’ sacrificial death for us on the cross. In the New Testament, almost all the references are about Jesus’ sacrifice – the death of Jesus as the one perfect and complete sacrifice fulfilling all the Old Testament preparation and prediction. We do not need to make any sacrifices for our sins. Yet the New Testament tells us that there are four sacrifices you can make that please God.

July 28 Day 209

Your Calling Is Irrevocable

My father, like many Jews, never lived in Israel. The Jewish people are scattered all over the world. In 1947 the state of Israel was re-established. Around 7.5 million people live in Israel today, of whom approximately 6 million are Jews. There are many other Jews still scattered around the world today.

I like how Eugene Peterson translates the New Testament passage for today using the term ‘insiders’ for the Jewish people and ‘outsiders’ for the non-Jewish people.

Many individual Jews over the years have become Christians. In fact, all the very earliest Christians were Jewish ‘insiders’. But now the vast majority of Christians are non-Jewish ‘outsiders’. What does the future hold for the ‘insiders’? 

The key to Paul’s understanding lies in Romans 11:29: ‘For God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable.’ This is a theme that runs throughout the Bible as we see in today’s passages.

July 27 Day 208

Beautiful Feet

Friends of ours had been waiting for ten years for a baby. They had been told it was impossible. One day there was a ring on our doorbell. There she was. It was written all over her face. As soon as she was in the house she started jumping up and down, stamping her feet with joy and delight, announcing the good news. She had conceived. Their wait was over. She was carrying the good news in her own body. There is nothing more exciting than being the bearer of good news.

You too are the bearer of good news. The message of Jesus is in you. That is why, according to the apostle Paul, you have beautiful feet (Romans 10:15)!

As his followers, we are all called to share the good news of Jesus. Some of us have the immense privilege of being called to do it as a full-time job. Way back in January 1978, when I was practising law, I wrote in my prayer diary:

‘I long to spend my whole time preaching the gospel – telling people about the love of Jesus. But Romans 10:15 warns, “How can [people] preach unless they are sent?” I cannot and will not be able to preach the gospel unless I am sent by God to do so – it is a wonderful calling. “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”’

The heart of the good news is a righteousness that comes by faith (v.6). ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved’ (v.13).

July 26 Day 207

Your Family Tree

My father never spoke to me about his life before he had come to England and married my mother. I knew virtually nothing about his background. A few years ago, I was contacted by The Judaica Museum in Berlin. They were doing some research into the Gumbel family. They sent me a copy of my family tree. I discovered that my great-great-grandfather was called Abraham Gumbel. My great-grandfather was called Isaac and his brother, Moses!

My father was Jewish. He qualified as a barrister and became a Doctor of Law at the University of Tübingen in 1927. Later he read Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf and knew what was likely to happen to someone like him who was known as ‘Israelitisch’. He came to England and qualified as an English barrister as well. His sister and parents eventually came too. Many of the rest of my family, on my father’s side, were murdered in Dachau, Riga and other Nazi concentration camps. 

The treatment of the Jewish people through the centuries has been complex, and at times tragic. Sometimes even passages in the Bible have been misinterpreted and misapplied as a weapon of abuse against the Jewish people.

The people of God in the Old Testament were the nation of Israel. The people of God in the New Testament are all those who put their faith in Jesus Christ. We share a common history and family tree. We worship the same God and, the apostle Paul tells us, the way of salvation is the same for us all.