Bible in One Year

Subscribe to daily emails from Nicky & Pippa

October 10 Day 283

Surprised by Joy

‘Surprised by joy’ is how C.S. Lewis described his conversion from atheism to faith in Jesus Christ. He had never expected that there was any connection between God and joy. If anything, he had thought it would be the opposite: ‘For all I knew, the total rejection of what I called Joy might be one of the demands.’

Convinced that it was true, Lewis ‘admitted that God was God’. At that moment, he was ‘the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England’. To his great surprise he found that following Jesus was the very opposite to what he expected. He experienced great joy through his new-found faith. He discovered that ‘the heart of reality’ is to be found in a Person. He was surprised by joy.

Many people confuse pleasure, contentment and joy. ‘Pleasure’ can come from a good holiday, a pay rise or a bar of chocolate. People can become pleasure addicts – always seeking the next fix. But these experiences of pleasure come and go.

‘Contentment’ is longer term – being satisfied with your life, your home, your job and your relationships.

But there is another kind of happiness that we call ‘joy’. It is not a fleeting emotion, but a deep way of being – a state of mind that is available to everybody. It is not found in things, but in a Person.

October 9 Day 282

Life-Changing Words

Earl had far too much money. He did not need to work. He took all kinds of drugs, including heroin. At the age of thirty he ended up in hospital.

Someone came to visit him in hospital and gave him a New Testament. He was thrilled. The paper was very thin and was ideal for rolling joints. He rolled his way through Matthew, Mark and Luke. When he came to John’s Gospel, he started reading. As a result of reading the words of John’s Gospel, he encountered Jesus. He was filled with joy.

The psychologist in charge of his case was a very beautiful young woman, who had been a model. One day she said to Earl, ‘Look, I have it all – success, beauty and endless qualifications – yet I am not fulfilled. Your life is a mess yet you seem to have something – a peace and a joy. What is it?’

Then he led her to faith in Jesus Christ. Later they were married. Earl and his wife, Thommy, were great friends of ours at theological college in Oxford. His life had been radically changed by the words of God in the Bible.

October 8 Day 281

Glorified in Defeat

I will never forget a conversation I had with Father Raniero Cantalamessa, Franciscan monk and preacher to the Papal Household. He was about to be involved in a public debate with one of the ‘New Atheists’ in Italy.

I asked him whether he thought he would win the debate. He replied that he did not know. He said he might lose. ‘But,’ he added, ‘the Lord can be glorified in defeat.

Jesus turned the world upside down. He reversed the values of the world. Supremely on the cross, Jesus turned the world upside down. In an act of ultimate humiliation and apparent defeat he brought the greatest victory the world has ever known.

It was said of his followers that they were ‘turning the world upside down’ (Acts 17:6, NRSV). In each of today’s passages we see how this works, and how the Lord can be glorified in defeat.

October 7 Day 280

New Clothes

I tend to wear very similar clothes every day. I cannot claim to have much ‘dress sense’. Yet, believe it or not, before Pippa and I got married it was even worse.

When I got married, my flared trousers, misshapen sweaters with holes, string vests, ties (inherited from an uncle) and dilapidated trousers had to go. I hate getting rid of things – especially clothes to which I am attached. They feel like old friends. But alas, the time had come to be re-clothed.

As well as the outer clothing, our hearts and minds have an inner clothing. When you come into a relationship with God through Jesus, the old clothes have to go and you need a new set of clothes for your heart and mind.

October 6 Day 279

Can a Leopard Change its Spots?

Brian Emmett was a career criminal in south London – a drug smuggler and gangster and contemporary of the notorious Kray twins, who he knew well. 

Brian had a son called Michael, who joined ‘the family business’ at a young age. Father and son worked together as international drug smugglers. Their activities were very successful until, one night, they were arrested as part of a massive police operation involving twelve armed officers and sixty regulars in a small Devon fishing port, where a hoard of four metric tonnes of cannabis with a street value of £13 million was being landed. 

At the time, it was the largest ever known importation of cannabis to the UK and they were each sentenced to twelve and a half years.

In 1994, Brian and Michael heard about Alpha while in Exeter Prison and decided to give it a try. They were filled with the Holy Spirit and their lives were completely transformed.  

As father and son continued to serve their sentences, they were regularly transferred from prison to prison throughout England as is the normal practice. On arrival in each one, they introduced Alpha and more and more prisoners experienced the love of God for the first time. 

From those beginnings, Alpha in Prison has grown. In 2016 (the last year for which we have the statistics) over 45,000 men and women did Alpha in prisons in dozens of countries around the world.

When I interviewed Michael, I asked him what difference Jesus has made.  He replied, ‘I was a drug addict for years, entrenched with crime. I looked the part but inside I was very broken. There was a hole inside of me that I tried to fill with things that didn’t work. Jesus is real. He did an inside job on me. The change is dramatic – healing and changing, transforming my mind and heart. The curse has been broken over my family.’

Brian and Michael’s lives were changed because Jesus set them free from their addictions and the sin that was destroying their lives. After lives of crime and lawlessness, they never went to prison again.

Is it possible for you too to change? One of the most difficult things in the world is to break a bad habit or to give up sin. In one of today’s passages Jeremiah asks, ‘Can a leopard change its spots?’ (Jeremiah 13:23).

October 5 Day 278

What Is the Meaning of Life?

‘Does anybody know what we are living for?’ asked Freddie Mercury, the lead singer of the rock group Queen, in the lyrics of the last song on their album, Innuendo.

Millions are implicitly asking just that question. Jonathan Gabay, a thirty-one-year-old professional writer, was facing employment challenges and stress when he hit rock bottom. He began to ask questions about the meaning of life. He wrote to people in all walks of life: world leaders, the homeless, Oscar-winning actors, philosophers, comedians, taxi-drivers, teachers, explorers and prisoners on death row. He even wrote to me!

To each one he asked, ‘What is the meaning of life?’ Gabay compiled a book of our responses, together with others who had attempted, over time, to answer this question. They include the following:

Richard Nixon: ‘Life is one crisis after another.’

John Lennon: ‘Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.’

Dennis the Menace: ‘Life is what you make it – and I can make it UNBEARABLE!’

Albert Einstein: ‘The man who regards his life and that of his fellow creatures as meaningless is not merely unhappy but hardly fit for life.’

Numerous people replied that the meaning and purpose of life was to be found in Jesus Christ. Not only Mother Theresa and Billy Graham, but actors, scientists and the then Lord Chancellor. The Chief Cashier of the Bank of England, Graham Kentfield (whose signature was on every banknote at the time) said, ‘I am clear that the meaning of life can only be properly understood in the context of our relationship with God.’

October 4 Day 277

Attitude of Gratitude

Jean Smith told me her story. She was in her mid-sixties. She came from Cwmbran in Wales. She had been blind for sixteen years. She had a white stick, and a guide dog named Tina. An infection had eaten away at the retinas and mirrors behind her eyes – they could not be replaced. She was in constant pain.

Jean went on a local Alpha course. They had a day away to focus on the work of the Holy Spirit. During this time, the pain left. She went to church the following Sunday to thank God. The minister anointed her with oil. As she wiped the oil away she could see the communion table. God had miraculously healed Jean.

She had not seen her husband for sixteen years. She was surprised at how white his beard was! Jean had never even seen her daughter-in-law before. Her six-and-a-half-year-old grandson used to guide her around the puddles to avoid her getting her feet wet.

He said to her, ‘Who done that Gran?’
She replied, ‘Jesus made me better.’
‘I hope you said thank you, Gran.’
‘I will never stop saying thank you,’ she answered.

Yesterday we read Paul’s encouragement: ‘In everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God’ (Philippians 4:6). Today we see him putting his own instructions into practice. Like Jean, Paul was also constantly giving thanks to God. He had an attitude of gratitude.

Praise is giving glory to God for who he is. Thanksgiving is giving glory to God for what he has done for us. It is the lens through which to view our entire life. Ultimately, as we see in today’s passages, the world can be divided into two categories: those who acknowledge God and give thanks to him, and those who don’t.

How do you cultivate an attitude of gratitude?

October 3 Day 276

The Key to Contentment

Recently I spoke with a friend who is not a Christian. He is a charming and delightful person. He is a successful businessman and has made a great deal of money. He has a wonderful wife, a good marriage and a great family. Yet he spoke to me of the deep emptiness in his life, and the lack of peace and contentment he experiences.

‘Content makes poor men rich; discontent makes rich men poor,’ said the American Statesman, Benjamin Franklin. Few people seem to be genuinely content. As Martin Luther once said, ‘Contentment is a rare bird, but it sings sweetly in the breast.’

The Bible never promises that we will not face hard times or difficult situations. But it does promise us God’s strength and grace in these times.

The apostle Paul found the key to a life of peace and contentment in times of trouble. He tells the Philippians how to find peace and shares the secret of being content (Philippians 4:12).

October 2 Day 275

Godly Ambition

Chuck Colson was a self-made man. As a student, he arrogantly turned down a scholarship to Harvard. He joined the Marines, set up his own law firm and entered politics. By the age of forty he had become one of President Nixon’s closest advisers. Later, he described himself as ‘a young ambitious political kingmaker’. He was known as Nixon’s ‘hatchet-man’.

He pleaded guilty to his part in the Watergate cover-up scandal and was sent to prison. By then he had encountered Jesus. When he left the court after hearing the sentence he said, ‘What happened in court today... was the court’s will and the Lord’s will – I have committed my life to Jesus Christ and I can work for him in prison as well as out.’

Colson did just that. After his release, he set up Prison Fellowship and became directly or indirectly responsible for leading thousands to Christ. I once heard him say, ‘I was ambitious, and I am ambitious today, but I hope it is not for Chuck Colson (though I struggle with that quite a lot as a matter of fact). But I am ambitious for Christ.’

Ambition has been defined as the ‘desire to succeed’. There are ultimately only two controlling ambitions to which all others may be reduced: one is our own glory, and the other is God’s glory.

October 1 Day 274

How to Be a Blessing Machine

Do you ever wonder whether you can make a difference to the lives of those around you?

I once watched an episode of the reality TV Show, The Secret Millionaire. Kevin Green – a covert multi-millionaire – searched for people and causes that would benefit from his financial support. He gave about $100,000 to a range of people working with the homeless, teenage addicts and disabled children. The response of all these people was deeply moving. They were so grateful, and the causes that they work for benefited greatly. They were blessed and enabled to bring greater blessing to others.

However, the most interesting aspect of the programme was the change in Kevin Green. He had experienced in a new way the joy of blessing others. His life was changed as a result. The words of Jesus are true: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive’ (Acts 20:35).

Archie Coates, vicar of St Peter’s Brighton, speaks of the church as a ‘blessing machine’. That is exactly what we as Christians are called to be, as the church and as individuals. You really can be a blessing machine.