Day 29 – Monday 7th April
Acts 16 – The Gospel spreads to Europe
I remember from my younger days a song by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers – “The Waiting is the Hardest Part.” How true that is especially when we are waiting for God to answer our prayer or show us the way to go. Often we are tempted to put our own plans before God hoping he will bless them. It’s not the best way.
In this chapter we find Paul searching for God’s direction and for a while he cannot see his way clear before him. He even seems to misunderstand God’s will at first. He tries to go to Asia and then to Bythinia and both times God stops him. The doors are firmly closed. Finally God opens a door – to Macedonia. Paul has a vision of a man begging him to come to Macedonia and help the people there. And from Macedonia the gospel spreads to Europe.
It’s not always an easy journey: Paul faces many difficulties. Throughout it all he remained focused on God and his will.
Perhaps this is a time for us to pray, fast and wait upon the Holy Spirit – and then to step out in faith.
Day 30 – Tuesday 8th April
Acts 26 – Paul’s defence of the Christian faith
“When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
With a red hat which doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me.”
These are the first lines of Jenny Joseph’s poem ‘Warning’, which is about the joy of growing old and not caring what anyone thinks of you. Although the writer does suggest that she ought to start practising now so that people won’t be too shocked. In our image conscious society we care a lot about what people think about us. We want to be accepted. We’d rather not go against the flow.
Paul had no such qualms. He didn’t care what people thought. He didn’t care if they thought he was crazy. All he did care about was sharing the good news. He was completely focused on the mission God had given him. We can be an equally powerful witness when we stop worrying about what people think. So don’t duck out of that awkward situation. Paul faced King Agrippa and never blinked. He trusted God and spoke out. When we do the same we too will begin to experience more of the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
It matters not what others say
In ridicule or fun;
I want to live that I may hear
Him say to me, “Well done!” Beers
Day 31 – Wednesday 9th April
Romans 3 – Justification by faith alone
Justification, as the Westminster Shorter Catechism puts it, is ‘an act of God’s free grace, wherein He pardons all our sins, and accepts us as righteous in His sight.’ This is through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus.’ This is the central theme of Paul’s letter to the Romans. Although we clearly and totally deserve to be found guilty, because of our trust in Jesus, God declares us righteous.
Paul stresses that there is only one way of salvation and that is faith in Christ. He drives his argument about salvation by faith with ruthless honesty and urgency. He uses several illustrations. For me the most powerful is that of paying a ransom: buying a slave out of bondage to set him free. Until the shattering events of the Damascus Road Paul had the narrow belief of the Pharisee, which had penetrated his thinking, personality and view of God. His firm conclusion that we are justified by faith alone was wrought out in the years of retreat and searching following his encounter with Jesus.
We tend to accept it all so easily but to Paul’s first listeners this was mind blowing stuff. Read the passage again and try to recapture some of their amazement.
Day 32 – Thursday 10th April
Romans 7 & 8 – The battle with sin, Life in the Spirit
Romans 8:28 ‘And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose’.
Many years ago at a Bible Study we shared our favourite bible verses. I can’t remember now whose favourite this was, but it became a verse that I have held on to in all the ups and downs of life. Life can be a struggle. In a recent interview the actor Stephen McGann commenting on his and his wife’s struggle to have a child said, “…I think it’s always the difficult things in life that mark you. Life is sweeter for its challenges.” There are also many distractions and so many choices. It’s not always easy to know which way to go.
Paul in these chapters reminds us that we have to decide who we will follow; who will be the controlling influence in our lives. There is no middle ground. We are either controlled by our sinful nature or we are controlled by the Holy Spirit. And it’s not enough to accept the Gospel, it must affect all our actions.
Being a Christian is no guarantee of an easy life. But God will use every experience, good and bad, to shape us into the people he intends us to be. And we have the assurance that He really loves us and is in charge of our lives.
Day 33 – Friday 11th April
1 Corinthians 13 – The way of love
This chapter is a popular choice at weddings. I always think that it’s a brave choice. It’s great when you are all ‘loved up’ on your wedding day. Fast forward a few years; the baby is teething, the cat has been sick in the washing basket and the bills are mounting up. How do we feel?
This is one of the most wonderful passages in the Bible – and one that could take a life time to truly understand. Paul is urging us to think within God’s time plan and to see how important love is. The spiritual gifts are given to help us here and now: love will last into eternity. We need to learn to love here and now, to prepare us for our life in heaven. As the hymn says:
‘Faith will vanish into sight
Hope be emptied in delight
Love in heaven will shine more bright.’
In verses 4 to 7 Paul lists some fifteen characteristics of Christian love that are to be seen in our lives. That seems to be quite a daunting list and one that is difficult to follow. We need to acknowledge our lack of love and allow Jesus, by his Holy Spirit, to shine and work in our lives.
Day 34 – Saturday 12th April
1 Corinthians 15 – The power of the resurrection
I know someone of quite humble beginnings who has made quite a success of his life. He often puts down his family and his home town. It’s almost as if he wants to forget or deny his roots.
In this chapter Paul spends a great deal of time speaking about the resurrection. It’s the final main theme of this first letter to the Corinthians. In doing so he is trying to get the Christians at Corinth to understand both who they are and where they are in God’s long story. They are in danger of forgetting their roots – the roots that they have because they belong to Jesus the Messiah who has brought Israel’s story to its climax. He wants them to understand where they belong in this story because when they do they will see things in the correct light. Paul stresses that they have to learn to live according to the scriptures: the whole of the scriptures, and not just cherry pick the bits they like.
Paul is very clear that the resurrection is a reality for the Christian. The story of the resurrection forms the gospel – the message that he announced wherever he went. The message that carries God’s power and brings people, by the Spirit, into a living relationship with Him. As Tom Wright says, “The only point in being a Christian at all is if this message continues to be the solid ground on which you stand.”