Bible in One Year

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January 16 Day 16

The Overflow of the Heart

For many years I wanted to meet the great evangelist Billy Graham (1918–2018). I felt deeply honoured when I discovered he was following me on Twitter! Of course, I followed back! He is one of my heroes of the faith. He spoke to more people about Jesus than anyone else in human history.

I heard Billy Graham speak many, many times. Every single time I listened to him, I felt inspired. He said that before he spoke he liked to fill his heart. He would prepare enough material for five talks so that he could speak ‘out of the overflow’.

According to Jesus, the heart really matters: ‘… out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks’ (Matthew 12:34). How do you store up good things in your heart?

January 15 Day 15

God is Just and God is Merciful

Media headlines frequently express outrage at judges who are ‘soft on crime’ and fail to impose the appropriate penalty for the offence committed.

When I worked as a barrister, I noticed that the legal profession did not respect judges who were regarded as too lenient. We expect judges to execute justice. We do not expect them simply to be merciful.

On the other hand, we do expect mercy in our personal relationships. A loving parent will be merciful to their child. We expect friends to be merciful to one another. Justice and mercy do not normally go together. We tend to see them as alternatives. We expect either justice or mercy, but not both at the same time.

Yet God is both a God who judges with justice, and also a God of mercy. How can he combine these two apparently contradictory characteristics? The answer is that the sacrifice of Jesus has made it possible for God to combine both justice and mercy.

When I first encountered Jesus, the following illustration helped me to understand what Jesus achieved for you and me on the cross: Two people went through school and university together and developed a close friendship. Life went on and they went their separate ways and lost contact. One went on to become a judge, while the other’s life spiralled downwards and he ended up as a criminal. One day the criminal appeared before the judge. He had committed a crime to which he pleaded guilty. The judge recognised his old friend and faced the dilemma, which, in effect, God faces.

He was a judge so he had to be just; he couldn’t simply let the man off. On the other hand, he wanted to be merciful, because he loved his friend. So he fined him the correct penalty for the offence. That was justice. Then he came down from his position as judge and wrote a cheque for the amount of the fine. He gave it to his friend, saying that he would pay the penalty for him. That was an act of mercy, love and sacrifice.

The illustration is not an exact one. Our plight is worse – the penalty we face is death. The relationship is closer – your Father in heaven loves you more than any earthly parent loves their child. And the cost is greater. It cost God far more than money – he came himself, in the person of Jesus, and paid the penalty of sin.

God is not soft on crime. In his justice, God judges us because we are guilty. Then in his mercy and love he comes down in the person of his Son, Jesus Christ, and pays the penalty for us. Through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, God is both just and merciful.

January 14 Day 14

Just Relax and Let God Be God

Joyce Meyer tweeted, ‘Just relax and let God be God.’ It is a great comfort to know that a loving God is ultimately in control of everything that happens.

Bishop Sandy Millar often says in the face of some tragedy or when things have gone badly wrong: ‘The Lord reigns.’

Many times throughout the Bible, God is referred to as the Sovereign Lord. Both Joyce Meyer and Sandy Millar are expressing, in different ways, absolute confidence in the sovereignty of God.

If God is sovereign and ultimately in control, does that mean that you are absolved of responsibility for your actions? Does it mean that you do not have ‘free will’? The Bible teaches both – the ultimate sovereignty of God at the same time as human responsibility and free will.

January 13 Day 13

Divine Acceleration

A few years ago, Pippa and I were asked to speak at a conference in Somerset, southwest England. The journey from London should have taken about three hours. However, it was a really hot day and ahead of us a hay wagon had caught fire and spilled its load across the motorway, which had melted as a result. We were stuck, almost stationary, for five hours. It was such a relief when, finally, it was time to accelerate.

There are times in our own personal lives, church life and ministry when it feels like we are stuck and unable to move at any pace. At other times, openings begin to appear and it is ‘time to accelerate’.

God is the God of acceleration. He is able to speed things up at a much faster rate than is humanly possible.

January 12 Day 12

No Fear

At one level, fear is healthy. ‘Fear’ is an emotion induced by a perceived threat. It is a natural human emotion. It is God-given. It is a basic survival mechanism. It keeps us alive. It protects us from danger.

However, there is also such a thing as unhealthy fear. The Greek word commonly used in the New Testament is phobos – from which we get the word ‘phobia’. This is unhealthy fear. It is disproportionate to the danger posed. It is ‘False Evidence Appearing Real’. It is when I catastrophise – overestimating the danger and underestimating my ability to cope.

Common phobias include fears in relation to health, finances, failure, growing old, death, loneliness, rejection, messing up, public speaking, flying, heights, snakes and spiders. They also include things such as, what is now called, FOMO – the Fear Of Missing Out, the fear of not being special.

In my own life, I have experienced many fears – from a fear of heights to panic attacks and other irrational fears, fears about preaching and a fear of doing anything that might bring dishonour to the name of Jesus.

Whereas the Spirit of God does not produce negative fear, there is a kind of healthy fear – the fear of God. This does not mean being frightened of God. In fact, it means the opposite. It is an understanding of who God is in relation to us. It means respect, reverence, awe, honour, adoration and worship; it could even be translated as love for God. It recognises the power, majesty and holiness of God Almighty. It leads to a healthy respect of God and is the antidote to all other fears and phobias we experience in life. Fear God and you need not fear anything else or anyone else.

It is no coincidence that as the fear of God has decreased in our society, all the other fears have increased. We need to return to a right relationship with God.

The expression ‘do not be afraid’ is one of the most frequent commands in the Bible. Four of the occurrences are in our passages for today.

January 11 Day 11

'Lord... Give Me Success Today'

How to Be a Huge Success is a little book of quotations and tips from a variety of well-known ‘successful’ people. The back cover asks, ‘Are you on a collision course with famefortune or greatness?’ This is so often how ‘success’ is perceived in our society.

Perhaps because of some of its negative connotations, sometimes in the church we are a little wary of the word ‘success’. However, ‘success’ is not a dirty word in the Bible. It occurs at least five times in our Old Testament passage for today (Genesis 24:12,21,40,42,56) – each time in a very positive light.

Success is a blessing from the Lord (vv.31,50). Success is a good thing. However, the ministry of Jesus and the message of the Bible redefine success.

January 10 Day 10

Facing the Storms of Life

On 31 July 2003, the adventurer Bear Grylls led a team of five across the North Atlantic Ocean in an inflatable rigid dinghy. They set out from Halifax, Nova Scotia, heading for John o’ Groats, Scotland. On 5 August, a great storm arose. There were 100-foot waves. They lost satellite contact. They (and we) feared for their lives. Thankfully they survived to tell the tale (see Facing the Frozen Ocean by Bear Grylls).

Not all of us will have to face physical storms of this kind. But Jesus said that we would all face the storms of life (Matthew 7:25–27). Life is not easy. These storms are many and varied. Abraham, David and Jesus’ disciples all faced storms in their lives. What can we learn from their example?

January 9 Day 9

Trust God to Put Things Right

Pippa and I enjoy doing crosswords together. When we are stuck on one clue we don’t give up, we move on to the next clue. Every time we find an answer it helps us in resolving some of the other clues. In the end, we are sometimes able to solve most of the puzzle.

In a way, reading some of the difficult parts of the Bible is like trying to solve a crossword puzzle. Rather than getting bogged down in a tricky section, you can use the passages you do understand to help you resolve some of the more difficult ones.

Often I find it hard not only to understand some of the difficult passages in the Bible, but also to understand why certain things are happening in our world. There seems to be so much injustice. There are no easy answers.

I love the second great rhetorical question from yesterday’s passage, ‘Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?’ (Genesis 18:25). One thing that you can be sure about is that on the last day, when all is revealed, you will see God’s perfect judgment – and everyone will say, ‘That is absolutely right.’ Each of today’s passages tells us something about the fact that, in the end, God will put things right.

January 8 Day 8

Nothing is Too Hard for the Lord

Are you facing a seemingly impossible situation in your life? Is there an apparently irretrievable breakdown in a relationship? A serious health issue? An almost impossible challenge in your job? Is there a habit or an addiction that you are finding hard to break?

Whatever challenges you may face in the year ahead, nothing is too hard for the Lord.

Abraham was a hundred years old. His wife Sarah was ninety. God promised them a son. They said, in effect, ‘That is impossible.’ This is the context of the great rhetorical question: ‘Is anything too hard for the Lord?’ (Genesis 18:14). The answer is ‘No’. If Sarah could conceive when ‘already very old, and… past the age of childbearing’ (v.11), then nothing is too hard for the Lord.

In each of the three great challenges we see in today’s passages we need to remember that nothing is too hard for the Lord.

January 7 Day 7

Your Double Blessing

I love the word ‘mercy’. I am so thankful that God is a God of mercy. William Shakespeare captured something of the wonder of mercy in Portia’s speech in The Merchant of Venice:

‘The quality of mercy is not strain’d,
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath: it is twice blest;
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.’
                                               Act IV Scene I

You are blessed when you receive mercy and you are blessed when you are merciful to others.