Bible in One Year: Day 13

I’m still snotty and ill, but trying to persevere nonetheless. However, until this cold goes away, my reflections may be a little shorter.

The psalms seem to contain so much opposition, I feel like I must be doing something wrong. At the moment, my life seems to be pretty much opposition free. It also makes me wonder when my time for opposition will come. God has faithfully protected me from discord so far. I pray he continues to do so.

Matthew also suggests that Jesus came to stir up trouble. It tells us that Jesus didn’t come to bring peace. Again, that is somewhat alien to the prevalent image of the serene, hippy-like Jesus that is always viewed through some Gaussian blur. Jesus is a trouble-maker.

The passage also addresses our priorities. Jesus is to be above any human relationship we have. We are to bear a cross and we are to lose our life.

The Genesis passages show us the soap opera that is Isaac’s family. It is interesting how God uses even the most colourful and messed up families and people.

Bible in One Year: Day 12

I’ve currently got a stinking cold and I’ve lost a day lead so I’m only one day ahead. I didn’t get to write this one up before today so I’ve got up early, head aching and nose dripping, in order to get it done. I’m hoping to do a bit of catching up today.

  • Proverbs 1:20 – 33
  • Matthew 10:1 – 31
  • Genesis 25 & 26

In Proverbs, it tells us to accept wisdom before it’s too late. There are people that get disaster packs ready in advance in case some calamity befalls on their country, full aware that if disaster does strike, they would not be able to collect together the needed resources in the chaos. Although the passage seems a bit cruel, it works on the same idea. You need to find wisdom and become wise before you need to use such wisdom. You can’t suddenly hope that you will have the answers when problems that require a wise response crop up. It’ll be like turning up to a race having done no preparation and hoping you have the strength to complete it.

Not pursuing the wisdom of God and not fearing the Lord is “complacency”. It shows a disregard for and lack of understanding of our need of God. However, those who listen “will live in safety and be at ease, without fear of harm”.

The Matthew passage has quite a few warnings in it too. It tells us to be on our guard, as followers will be hated because of Jesus. But we are not to be afraid of death; but we are to have a fear of the Lord. However, God cares for us so this is another reason not to fear. There is a balance to be struck.

I’m pretty sure that teaching about fearing God has gone out the window. Worship songs, sermons and books all focus in the loving, softer God. He is that, but he is clearly also to be afraid. We often think the “fear” is reserved for Old Testament and we’ve moved on. However, it’s an idea that is obviously a part of the New Testament teachings as well.

I love the conversation in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe between the children and Mr Beaver about Aslan.

“Aslan a man!” said Mr Beaver sternly. Certainly not. I tell you he is King of the wood and the son of the great emperor-beyond-the-sea. Don’t you know who is the King of the Beasts? Aslan is a lion – the Lion, the great lion.”
“Ooh!” said Susan, “I’d thought he was a man. Is he – quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.”
“That you will, dearie, and no mistake” said Mrs Beaver; “if there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just silly.”
“Then he isn’t safe?” said Lucy.
“Safe?” said Mr Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

CS Lewis, The Lion, the Witch & The Wardrobe (Penguin, 1950)

We should appear before God with an awareness that no, he isn’t safe, but yes, he is good. However, I often feel we fall into the “else just silly” camp.

Genesis 26 shows the benefits of walking with the Lord. You get given instruction but also others see that you are blessed and treat you accordingly.

Bible in One Year: Day 11

I didn’t manage to wake up at 5 am for this one, so it’s a good job that I’m doing it a couple of days early. I did find doing it just before bed seemed to be conducive to restful sleep.

I am really grateful for the devotions provided by Nicky and Pippa Gumbel. It does make the reading longer, as you have to read the devotions too, but they help prepare me to be more reflective before I start reading the passages. Also, using the YouVersion app means I can listen as I read, which means I’m less likely too skip bits or to read superficially. So, I’ve definitely found the experience meaningful and helpful.

Nicky Gumbel noted that the Genesis passage mentions success five times and that, in some way, all the passages were linked to success. Success is a blessing from God. It makes me wonder how much do I rely on myself for success and how much do I rely on God. Also, it makes me wonder how I measure success. At the start of the year, I did a couple of lessons about attitudes towards work with my students. I told them that their success is not up to them, so they needn’t worry about it. It’s up to God. It’s his problem so let him deal with it. They just need to be obedient and commit their work to God. I definitely need to preach to myself as well.

Psalm 8 repeats the idea of Genesis 1 that humans are the pinnacle of creation. It’s weird to think that humans are God’s greatest success. It’s strange that in one hand we have humanity as sinful and destructive and terrible, whilst in the other hand we have humanity as God’s pride and joy. There’s something to be learned in seeing the potential and the current reality and living in that tension. I think that’s something that as a teacher I have to attempt every day. I don’t think I manage it as well as I should.

I loved this bit of Psalm 8:

Through the praise of children and infants
    you have established a stronghold against your enemies,
    to silence the foe and the avenger.

Psalm 8:2

How powerful are the praise of children and infants! God uses them so mightily: they defeat the enemy. As teachers, especially now as I work in a school that caters for the very little kids to the big kids, do we realise the amazing phenomenon that happens before us?

Matthew 9:16-17 has always been a source of confusion to me. I don’t really understand it in it’s given context. I think that’s an action point for a later date.

Verses 18-26 an interesting passage, as Jesus blesses the whole spectrum of the society of his day: the religious elite to the social outcast. I’m also amazed that people laughed at Jesus. I’m more amazed that we are fearful of being laughed at. Shouldn’t we expect it, after all? Also, if Jesus can deal with it, with the help of the Holy Spirit, so can we.

Again, my interest in mission makes the final verses of the Matthew reading particularly resonant.

Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. 3Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”

Matthew 9:35-38

I love the sense of cooperation: we are to join in with God sending his workers through prayer and through being sent. It’s great that we can be a part of God’s global plan for the church.

I’m struck by how exceptional the characters are of the Genesis passage. The servant is faithful and obedient and wishes to be successful for the benefit of his master. Rebekah is awesome and generous. Pouring water for a bunch of camels is no mean feat. She gives a lot of herself to this complete stranger. Her brother seems like a great guy too: he cares for the servant and he considers his sisters thoughts and feelings.

It’s also amazing how quickly God answers the prayer: before it had even been finished. I wonder how often God sets into motion the answer to our prayers before we even finished (or, in some cases, started) praying them. As we don’t have the eternal and omnipotent perspective of God I guess we often don’t know.

Dear God

Grant us success. This is not for our benefit, but for the glory of your son, Jesus Christ.

In his holy name,

Amen.

Bible in One Year: Day 10

I managed the first day of a 5 am alarm clock (I did hit snooze twice). Let’s see how long I can keep it going!

The end of Psalm 7 ends in reinforcing the idea of God’s righteousness. God’s righteousness is linked to is wrath, which is a troubling idea for snowflake millennial like myself. The psalm tells us God shows his wrath everyday. The psalm goes on to praise God for his righteousness in response to this. However, we must remember that a just God abhors evil. This all seems a bit strange and difficult to swallow. But it should not be a surprise to us. We cannot expect God to be holy and good and to be the god of justice if he is indifferent to suffering and sin. The psalm recognises that sin and evil have consequences. Sometimes, from an earthly perspective, it’s easy to think that those that cause evil get away with it. However, God does not turn a blind eye.

Matthew again repeats the idea of Jesus’ authority. In yesterday’s reading we saw Jesus’ authority in his words and his authority to heal. Today we see Jesus’ authority over the physical world, his authority over the spiritual world and then finally his authority over sin. Jesus calms the storm, showing his power over the physical world. I have to admit, Jesus does seem a bit nonchalant and indifferent to the fears and worries of his disciples here. However, we learn that Jesus doesn’t want us to fear or worry. That’s not his plan for us. Jesus wants us to know his power and have comfort in that.

Jesus is also able to drive out evil spirits. Sometimes Christians seem to fall into two camps when it comes to the spiritual world: we either fail to believe or acknowledge its existence or we become fearfully obsessed with it. Either way, Jesus has authority over it and we should respond accordingly. (Note: not like the townspeople in the passage!)

It seems that this assurance of Jesus’ authority is leading to the pinnacle of his power: his ability to forgive sin. Although people marvelled at Jesus’ teaching, healings and miracles, no one called it out as blasphemy. Those things are, it turns out, not godlike. What is godlike is the power to forgive sin. It perhaps gives an indication of how powerful and serious sin actual is. I think today we often forget that.

Genesis 21-23 are somewhat disturbing once again. Sarah’s joy is quickly diminished and turns to jealousy. This results in Abraham abandoning his son and concubine Hagar. However, God is still in the situation and again picks up the pieces.

I’ve always had trouble with God’s request to Abraham that he sacrifice his son Isaac. Nicky Gumbel in the devotion that accompanies the reading states that God hates child sacrifice, so would never actually allow it. Abraham just needed to have his priorities put to the test. I wonder how God tests or would test my priorities. Am I willing to lay down all my dreams and what I believe God has planned for me like Abraham is?

Lord Jesus,

We praise you for your power and authority. You have power to heal and over spirits, but most of all, you have power over sin. You have power over my sin and you have forgiven it. Jesus, forgive me now, once again and make me clean. Keep me from evil; protect me from the evil powers of this world. Thank you that you were the perfect sacrificial lamb.

Amen

Bible in a Year: Day 9

This next week is quite intense: I start back at work and taking language lessons in the evening. Let’s see if I can keep it up!

  • Psalm 7:1-9
  • Matthew 7:24 – 8:22
  • Genesis 19 & 20

Once again, today’s readings have been somewhat troubling and difficult. There are many things at odds of what seems to be a modern view of God or of ethics, morality and judgment. However, there seems to be on-going undercurrent of God’s mercy, justice and righteousness.

The Psalms passage emphasises God’s judgment and righteousness. God punishes those who do wrong and protects those who do right. However, the image of God as judge seems to sit uncomfortably with me. I know that this is the more secular cultural baggage that I have grown up with. Words such as judge, vindicate all seem to jar with me. Perhaps I’m just a typical triggered millennial (to use that terrible turn of phrase).

However, God’s judgment is good. David calls on God to “Bring to an end the violence on the wicked and make the righteous secure”. Surely that’s something for us to pray too.

The Matthew reading emphasised Jesus’ authority and the faith that it bought about in people. Jesus’ word have power. The people in the crowds heard it, the leper knew it and the centurion believed in it. Furthermore, the parable of the houses being built either on a rock or on sand shows the authority and power in Jesus’ words. They bring blessing and security when followed and obeyed.

Lord God, help me live my life in obedience and with a firm foundation found in Your word. Amen.

I love what the man with leprosy says to Jesus: “if you are willing, make me clean.” Then the simple and powerful response: “I am willing.”

Jesus, if you are willing, make me clean. Amen.

I love the story of the centurion too. First he understands Jesus’ power. Jesus’ comment about not finding such faith in all of Israel seems a little cutting, especially as there are those, such as Jesus’ disciples and the man seen previously, that seem to show a lot of faith. But it’s interesting as the centurion is an outsider to this religious world and he still seeks Jesus and he still trusts him. I wonder how much the modern Western church is like first century Israel: often the outsiders have more faith than those within.

Again, Jesus talks about the global plan for the church, which resonates for me. I love it because I’m on the mission field.

Genesis 19 is just disturbing on quite a few levels. There’s the threat of gang rape, a father offering his virginal daughters to be raped, incestuous rape, blindings, fire and brimstone and someone turning to salt. It makes you wonder what Lot’s family had been through. It also makes the world seem terribly perverse.

However, in this, there is still a story of God’s mercy. God showed judgment against Sodom and Gomorrah but showed mercy on Lot, his wife and his daughters. He bought them out of that sinful and wicked place and to safety. Lot’s wife didn’t make it, as instantly Lot’s daughters do something horribly repugnant. But still, God was merciful.

I think the call to “Flee for your lives! Don’t look back!” needs to be heeded by us today when being bought from the wickedness in our own lives. Jesus took us by the hand to drag us from our sin, even if at sometimes we are hesitant. But we still need to flee for our lives and we can’t look back on our old life and our old sin.

Lord Jesus, thank you for giving me a new life. Thank you that you saved me from judgment and from the wickedness I was in. Help me to pursue righteousness and to flee from sin. Amen.

Genesis 20 also shows God’s mercy. This time, God is picking up the pieces after Abraham lies about Sarah being his sister again. God picks up the pieces and the consequences of our sins. I expect we often don’t realise it, but I know there are times when the consequences of my actions should have been much worse. However, God protected me in that.

Lord God, thank You for picking up the pieces again and again. You remove my sin from me and protect me from the consequences of my behaviour. As You protected Abimelek from sinning against Sarah, I pray that You protect me from sinning against others. Also, protect those that are caught up in the consequences of my sin. Lord, I repent of the times that my behaviour has affected others. Amen.

Bible in a Year: Day 8

(I’m writing these a bit out of order. I’ve been on holiday in Mondulkiri, so I’ve missed a few days on writing them up. However, I’m still ahead of myself by two days now. I’m glad I gave myself a bit of a lead. I want to try and gain it a bit further to give myself some grace. I’m shockingly bad at persevering at these things, so I’m trying to make it as easy as possible on myself.)

I love the idea in proverbs of parents handing down instruction to their children. There is something beautiful about having a Biblical and Godly heritage. I’m glad for mine.

I found the Matthew passage a bit depressing whilst reading it. It tells you not to worry, to seek the Kingdom of God first, and that the road ahead is narrow and only a few find it. I’m now worrying about not worrying and whether I’ve found the right path or not. Often people who get desperately lost do so because they think they’ve been going the right way for a good while, only to realise that they were on the wrong path all along.

Have a borne good fruit? Am I one of the people Jesus will recognise on the day or judgement or not?

I am full aware that I’m not a perfect Christian. I’ve already failed at reading the Bible everyday this year and we’re not even a week in. How am I capable of walking the right path?

However, I’m reminded of the following verses:

Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfil his good purpose.

Philippians 2:12-13

Therefore, I think there is a healthy measure of despair when it comes to this. It helps you learn to lean on God. For it is Jesus who is the author and perfecter of our faith, not us. Sometimes, I give myself a tick-list of how to “get my act together” as a Christian, but I need to realise that I have to give that responsibility to Jesus and the Holy Spirit.

I just need to take each day as it comes and rely on the God who works in me to will and to act.

Dear God,

Help me to rely on you. Work in me to will and to act in order to fulfil Your good purpose.

In Jesus’ holy name,

Amen

The Bible in One Year: Day 2

I’ve made it to day 2! That’s something to be thankful for.

Psalm 2 continues the idea of what happens to those who oppose God and his rule and those who seek him. Seeking God always leads to blessings.

The Matthew passage really struct me. It just emphasised Jesus’ lowly beginnings. When the Magi asked about where the baby king was, no one knew. We can judge by Herod’s order to execute all babies under two, that Jesus had already been a baby for a substantial time. Yet Herod, the religious leaders and teachers had not yet realised he was there. Jesus was completely anonymous and unknown. He was born in a shed full of animals. He was the adopted child of his father; reliant on a man who was not his biological father. He was then to become a refugee and become stateless. He was born a nobody. But a nobody that angels worshiped and the Magi traveled miles and months to see.

(A side note: Mary and Joseph stayed in Bethlehem after Jesus’ birth – maybe to be with Joseph’s family. Also, what happened to the shepherds in the intervening time?)

There’s a stark contrast between Jesus’ parents, Mary and Joseph, and Herod. Both Mary and Joseph were pretty insignificant from a worldly point of view: both were obedient, humble, righteous and in many ways extremely courageous. Herod was powerful and influential; he’s the one that has multiple archeological ruins dotted around Israel and Palestine associated with him. Yet he was fearful and petty and cruel. He actively sought to oppose the prophecies in the Old Testament. He thought he could beat those odds.

Genesis 2 tells us that we often believe lies about God before we act against God. Sin comes as a result of a misunderstanding of God’s character. What misunderstandings do I have? What lies do I believe about God?

Bible in One Year: Day 1

So, it’s nearly the end of the year. Everyone is thinking wha their pursuits for 2019 are going to be. Once again, I’m going to try and tackle the Bible in One Year (I got about 2 months in last time I tried a few years back. I’ve tried a lot. I know Genesis pretty well by now).

I’ve cheated a little and given myself a head start. So, I’m already on about day 5. I’m hoping to give myself a buffer for when things go wrong.

I’ve got the YouVersion Bible app, which is great for a number of reasons. However, I’m quite excited about the Bible In One Year reading plan they have. Each day its got a devotional, written by Nicky Gumbel (with some additions by his wife Pippa. They’ve recorded it so you can just sit back and listen to it. The YouVersion have also got hold of David Suchet’s recording of the NIV. So you can listen to the Bible readings (I tend to read along with it). The whole multi-sensory experience seems to be a lot easier.

Day 1

Although Christians today are really wary of promoting a prosperity Gospel (and rightly so), the Bible is abundantly clear that righteousness and a closeness with God brings blessings and prosperity (but probably not of the material kind). Psalm 1:3 tells us this is this case.

We live in a world of self-improvement and 5-minute hacks and short cuts. It seems to me that pursuing a relationship with God is way easier and more beneficial than most of the “hacks” or lifestyle advice we get given. God promises countless blessings.

Again, I don’t want it to seem like God only gives us things if we work for it. If we do our chores of reading the Bible, praying and being good people, then God will give us gifts. God isn’t an omnipotent Santa. He’s much better than that. The Bible, the living Word of God, is the blessing; praying to a good and loving Father is the blessing; living a life worthy of the Gospel is the blessing. God has already offered these things. We just have to reach out to receive them. I often remember the picture of God and Adam: God’s hand outstretched and Adam limply responding. That’s often how we receive God’s blessings.

In Genesis 1, God created creation: the stars, the mountains, the oceans, the plants, the animals. He said that this was “good”. The most beautiful sunset you’ve ever seen; a flock of starlings swooping and swirling through the sky in mesmerising formations; that mighty thunderstorm where the sky is dazzling bright then the earth is ringing with an echoing boom. These things are “good”.

Then God made people. He saw humankind and said that this was “very good”. So, next time you are in awe of nature, think for a moment that this is “good” but God thinks you’re more impressive, beautiful and awe-inspiring than that. I pray that 2019 is a year when we can see ourselves and those around us as God does: very good.