Brennan Manning tells the story that a few years ago in a large city in America, rumours spread that a certain Catholic woman was having visions of Jesus. The reports reached the archbishop and He decided to check her out to see if she was authentic.

“Is it true, ma’am, that you have visions of Jesus?” asked the archbishop.

“Yes,” the woman replied simply.

“Well, then, the next time you have a vision, I want you to ask Jesus to tell you the sins that I confessed in my last confession.”

The woman was stunned. “Did I hear you right, bishop? You actually want me to ask Jesus to tell me the sins of your past.”

“Exactly! Please call me if anything happens.”

Well, ten days later the woman notified him of a recent apparition: “Please come,” she said.

Within the hour the archbishop arrived. He wanted to have eye-to-eye contact. “You just told me on the phone that you actually had a vision of Jesus. Did you do what I asked?”

“Yes, bishop, I asked Jesus to tell me the sins you confessed in your last confession.”

The bishop leaned forward with anticipation. “What did Jesus say?”

She gazed intently into his eyes. “Bishop,” she said, “These are his exact words: ‘I CAN’T REMEMBER.’”

Brennan Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel , p.14

As the onset of winter approached some Native American Indians approached their tribal chief and asked him to forecast whether the winter would by mild or cold. The chief had really no idea and so, to be on the safe side, he told them that they must stockpile plenty of firewood. In the meantime, the chief called the National Weather Centre for advice: “It is certain to be a cold winter,” they told him. The chief, fearing the worst, instructed his people to collect more wood. Two weeks later he phoned the weather centre again for an update, and again he was told, “It will most certainly be a cold winter.” By now the chief was getting really worried and so he instructed his people to collect even more firewood. Another two weeks passed and the chief again telephoned the weather centre for an update. “The weather is really mild,” said the chief. “What makes you so sure that we can expect a cold winter?” The weather expert replied, “Sir, we know because the locals are collecting firewood like crazy!”

Message: Fear (being False Expectations Appearing Real) is the biggest killer of potential known to man. It tries to negatively influence our behaviour, it eats away at our time and enthusiasm; it causes doubt and distractions which, both demoralise and debilitate us. Being aware of and reminding ourselves of this fact helps us to see through the mask, which FEAR often hides behind.

Why does God keep us waiting sometimes, and delay an answer to prayer? Thomas Watson, a Puritan pastor from 350 years ago, suggested a number of reasons:

  • Because he loves to hear the voice of prayer. – “You let the musician play for a long while before you throw down the money, because you love to hear his music.”
  • That God might humble us. We may too easily assume we merit some ready answer, or that he is at our beck and call like a butler, not as sovereign Lord.
  • It may be that God sees we are not yet fit or ready for the mercy we seek. It could be there are a million pieces to the puzzle and some things have to go first to make way for others.
  • Finally, that the mercy we pray for may be the more prized, and may be sweeter when it comes.

In the United States there’s a gravestone with a simple inscription on it that says: “I want to stand where you’re standing.” And under the inscription is an account of an incident that happened during the American Civil War.

A 19 year-old soldier was part of a firing squad assigned to execute a man found guilty of treason. As the soldier took aim he was horrified to see that he knew the man. He lowered his gun and went over to his captain and said: “I know that man: he has a wife and children at home. If I shoot him, I not only end his life but their lives too. I can’t do it.”

Everyone understood that the punishment for treason was death: the price had to be paid…but after a short discussion they came up with a plan. They agreed that the young soldier could take the condemned man’s place. So the 19 year-old marched up to the captive and said: “I want to stand where you’re standing.”

The prisoner took off his blindfold and walked away free: back to his wife and family and the rest of his life. But his freedom came at a great cost to the young man who had chosen to die in his place.

Similarly, that story gives us a glimpse of what Jesus achieved on the cross. The price for our rebelling against God, our sin, is death. And as Jesus went willingly to his death for us, as if he was saying to each one of us, “I want to stand where you’re standing.” Jesus’ death bought forgiveness and freedom for everyone who accepts what He has done for them. Jesus died – to use the very words he used himself – “as a ransom for many.”

Rico Tice & Barry Cooper, ‘The Real Jesus’ booklet, page 7-8, New Malden: The Good Book Company

In talking about handling sexual temptation, Max Lucado writes: ‘I’m at my desk in a hotel room far from home. The voices that encourage me are distant; the voices that entice me are near. A placard on my night stand invites me to the hotel lounge “to make new friends in a relaxing atmosphere”. Another on the top on the TV promises late-night movies that will “make all my fantasies come true”. In the phone book several columns of escort services offer “Love away from home”. Voices! Some for pleasure, some for power. The world hammers at your door. Jesus taps. The world promises fleshly pleasure; Jesus promises us a quiet dinner with Him: ‘…I will come in and eat with him, and he with me’ (Revelation 3:20). Which voice will you obey? So how should we handle tempting situations? In two ways: First, by filling your mind with Scriptures so that your first response is always, ‘It is written.’ Second, by keeping your eyes on Jesus. – Years ago my father used to put a bit of meat on the floor near his dog and say, “No!” The dog never touched it. But he never looked at it either, because if he did the temptation to disobey would have been too great. He just kept looking at my father’s face. Keep your eyes on Jesus. Psalm 34v5 says, ‘Those who look to him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame.’

Cited in The UCB Word For Today , 10/11/2013

Nicky Gumbel relates how, in 1934, a twenty-four year old farmer, Albert McMakin, who had recently become a Christian, was so full of enthusiasm for the gospel that he filled his truck with people and took them to a meeting to hear about Jesus. There was one particular good-looking farmer’s son whom he was especially keen to get to a meeting, but the young man was hard to convince – he was too busy falling in and out of love with different girls, and just didn’t seem attracted to Christianity at all. Eventually Albert McMakin managed to persuade him by telling him he could drive the truck. When they arrived, Albert’s guest decided to go in and he was ‘captivated’ and began to have thoughts he’d never known before. He went back to the meetings again and again until one night he went forward and gave his life to Jesus. That name of the good-looking farmer’s son, who went because he got to drive the truck, was Billy Graham.

Graham became a world renowned evangelist and went on to lead thousands to faith in Jesus. Now we can’t all be Billy Graham, but we can all be like Albert McMakin; we can all bring our friends to hear about Jesus, to come and see.

Nicky Gumbel, Alpha Questions of Life, 2007 edition, Eastbourne: Kingsway Communications, p.181

A note from a friend:

How are you?

I just had to send a note to tell you how much I care about you. I saw you yesterday as you were talking to your friends; I waited all day hoping you would want to talk with me too. I gave you a sunset to close your day and a cool breeze to rest you, and I waited.

You never came. It hurt me – but I still love you because I am your friend.

I saw you sleeping last night and longed to touch your brow so I spilled moonlight upon your face. Again I waited, wanting to rush down so we could talk. I have so many gifts for you!

You awoke and rushed off to work. My tears were in the rain. If you would only listen to me! I love you! I try to tell you in blue skies and in the quiet green grass. I whisper it in the leaves

on the trees and breathe it in colours of flowers; shout it to you in mountain streams; give the birds love songs to sing. I clothe you with warm sunshine and perfume the air with nature’s scents. My love for you is deeper than the ocean and bigger than the biggest need in your heart! Ask me! Talk with me! Please don’t forget me, I have so much to share with you!

I won’t trouble you any further. It is YOUR decision, I have chosen you and I still wait because I love you.

Your friend, Jesus.


If you make a habit of jumping off tall buildings, the law of gravity will win every single time, and it will pull you straight down to the ground. The same is true with sin’s hold on your life. It leads to death. But through Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit has set you free from the power of sin. For example, if you were to jump off a tall building but were strapped to a hang glider, you would not be pulled down. In fact, depending on the air currents, you may soar two or three times higher than the top of the building. This isn’t because the law of gravity no longer exists. Rather, it is because another law – a higher law, the law of aerodynamics – has trumped the law of gravity.

The Spirit can make you soar because He is the [air current]; the wind that carries you during tough times. But in order for Him to do that, you need to hang out with Him. You need to abide in His presence, meditate on His Word, speak His thoughts, sing His songs and show gratitude in faith for all that God has done and will do for you.

– Tony Evans


Tony Evans, Victory In Spiritual Warfare, 2011, Oregon: Harvest House Publishing, p.188-189

Three principles of ethical business practice taken from Proverbs 22:

  1. Reputation: A good name is more desirable than great riches, to be esteemed better than silver or gold (v4).
  2. Humility: Humility and fear of the LORD bring wealth and honour and life (v4).
  3. Generosity: A generous man will himself be blessed (v9).

Obedience: ‘Noah did everything just as God commanded him’ (Genesis 6:22 NIV). Noah’s ark measured 300 cubits in length, 50 cubits in width and 30 cubits in height. A cubit is the equivalent of 44.4 cm. That means the ark was the length of one and a half football fields. The internal volume of the ark was 43,000 cubic metres – the equivalent of around 350 buses. If the average animal was the size of a sheep, it had capacity for 125,000 animals. To put that into perspective, there are 21,600 animals from 700 different species at London Zoo. That means you could fit nearly 6 London Zoos on board Noah’s ark. And since it was the first boat ever built, it’s not like it came with an instruction manual. It was back-breaking work that required blood, sweat and tears. And it took an incredible amount of faith to build the ark. Who builds a boat in the desert? Who hammers away for over 100 years on something they might not even need? Who banks their entire future on something that has never happened before? According to Jewish tradition, Noah didn’t just start building the ark. He planted trees first. After they were fully grown, he cut down the trees, sawed them into planks and built the boat. And here’s an interesting piece of information: not until the late nineteenth century did a ship that size get constructed again. Yet that design ratio is still considered the golden mean for stability during storms at sea. Noah’s act of obedience literally changed the world – and obedience will change your world too. So do what God has told you to do.

Mark Batterson (adapted)

Source: adapted from Mark Batterson, All In, p.94

Do you sometimes think Christianity is boring? Do you think being a Christian isn’t exciting? Check out these headlines: Man in desert discovers burning bush that can’t be extinguished. Sea opens and thousands walk through on dry land. Giant who threatened a nation killed by teen with slingshot. Jewish girl saves her people from destruction. Three young rebels survive blazing furnace. Man brought back from the dead after four days. City walls mysteriously fall. Preacher swallowed by giant fish lives to tell the tale. Prophet caught up to heaven in a fiery chariot. – Christianity isn’t boring, it’s an adventure. – Adventure means ‘exciting and dangerous undertakings’. When you embark on the spiritual adventure with God you can expect Him to test your faith in ways you never imagined. The book of Hebrews talks about those ‘who through faith conquered kingdoms… shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the Flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength…’ (Hebrews 11:33-34). John Eldredge says: ‘Adventure, with all its requisite danger and wilderness, is a deeply spiritual longing written into the soul of man… Moses doesn’t encounter God at the shopping centre. He finds him in the deserts of Sinai… Deep in a man’s heart are fundamental questions that cannot be answered at the kitchen table… it’s fear that keeps [us] at home where things are neat and orderly and under [our] control.’ When God wants to do something wonderful through you, He has to get you from where you are to where He wants you to be. How about it: are you ready to embark on a spiritual adventure with God?

Source: The UCB Word For Today, 21/12/2014

In ‘The Eagle’s Secret’, author David McNally wrote about a corporate culture that consistently promotes excellence: “Herb Kelleher, head of Southwest Airlines [before his death in 2019], ran the most consistently profitable airline in the United States. With a sense of humour that [was] not merely contagious but virulent, Kelleher [was] surely the most outrageous CEO [of his day]. He [ran] his company with consummate people skills, a nose for cutting costs, and a consistent focus on fun. Kelleher [once] appeared at corporate headquarters dressed as Elvis, and on his planes he has dolled up as the Easter Bunny. When Southwest was named the official airline for Sea World, Kelleher showed his gratitude by painting a plane to look like Shamu, Sea World’s killer whale.

Kelleher’s attitude is [still] reflected in Southwest’s employees. His flight attendants have been known to organise trivia contests and seated relay races among passengers, deliver instructions in rap, hide in overhead baggage compartments, and give out prizes to fliers with the largest holes in their socks. “What we are looking for, first and foremost,” he [once explained], “is a sense of humour. We hire attitudes.”

Does this atmosphere of fun and camaraderie get in the way of efficiency, productivity or profits? No, just the opposite. Kelleher and Southwest have demonstrated over and over that a sense of humour, combined with a desire to contribute, makes for a corporate culture that consistently promotes excellence. As a result, Southwest employees are by far the most productive and most loyal in the industry. Meanwhile, Southwest has grown larger and more profitable year after year. And Fortune magazine recently referred to Kelleher as “America’s best CEO.”“

David McNally, 1998, The Eagle’s Secret, New York: Dell Publishing, p.212

The famous Spanish cellist and composer, Pablo Casals was over 90 years old and he would still practice for several hours a day. When a young musician asked him, “Mr Casals, you are renowned as one of the best cellist players in the world, why is it that you continue to practice several hours a day?” Pablo Casals is reported to have replied, “Because I am making progress!”

Source: The Success Journey by John Maxwell p.99 – also Even Eagles Need A Push by David McNally p.3

In Matthew’s gospel, chapter 10, Jesus sent out the twelve disciples, and He gave them authority to drive out evil spirits and to heal every disease and sickness (v1). Jesus commissioned them specifically to preach the message of the kingdom; to heal the sick; to raise the dead; to cleanse those who have leprosy and to drive out demons (v8). They were to declare that the kingdom of God has come and is coming. But it wasn’t just the disciples that Jesus specifically commissioned to do this! In Luke chapter 10, Jesus appointed seventy-two others with the same commission, to heal the sick and preach the kingdom, to proclaim God’s Kingdom come. It is the very same charge that is given to Christians today; to us: we are to heal the sick and proclaim the good news. ‘In the Bible there is a clear connection between declaration and the release of power. Nothing happens in the Kingdom unless there is a declaration.’ Proclamation and testimony are powerful because they increase faith and give glory to God, and this seems to release the power of the Spirit and bring more glory to God. It’s not a formula but a fact.

The reason why we are not simply transported to paradise or caught up to Heaven as soon as we believe and come to faith is because we have a job to do here on Earth. God has Kingdom work for us to do, and we have got a message to deliver…

On the 18 February 2013 this headline appeared in the Daily Telegraph: ‘Postman jailed for burying 30,000 letters in garden.’ Jabur Hissan, a thirty-two year old Royal Mail postman felt unable to keep up the demanding postal route he had been given, so he took an unusual approach to solving his problem. He put on his washed and ironed uniform and his polished shoes, jumped into his shiny red van, and dumped some of the letters into a canal. Then he burned around 400 more, and the other 29,000 items of mail he couldn’t be bothered to deliver he buried in his garden. He may have looked every inch a postman, but he refused to deliver the letters he had been given. His actions denied that identity of a postman.

Cited by Krish Kandiah: Paradoxology, 2014, London: Hodder & Stoughton, p.174

God is in Heaven. Jesus is in Heaven. And Christians who have already died are in heaven. They are in heaven now but they are not there in body, they are there in spirit, held in a temporary state as they wait for the day of resurrection when they will be given new bodies. – We should understand that to a Christian a cemetery is just a dormitory. In fact, a Christian is the only person in the world who, on their deathbed can still be optimistic! – 1 Thessalonians 4:13 describes Christians who have already gone to heaven as having fallen asleep (sleep being a temporary state or condition). But it is not as if believers in heaven are unaware: they are not oblivious or unconscious or in a coma! That’s not paradise! The Bible tells us there are great multitudes of believers in heaven, worshipping God (Nehemiah 9:6, Revelation 7:9).

Imagine a beautiful china teacup saying, ‘I wasn’t always like this. There was a time when I was just a cold, hard lump of clay. One day the potter picked me up and said, “I could do something with this.” Then he started to put pressure on me and change my shape. I said, “What are you doing? That hurts. Stop!” But he said, “Not yet.” Then he put me on a wheel and began to spin me around and around until I shouted, “Let me off.” He replied, “Not yet.” Then he shaped me into a cup and put me in a hot oven. I cried, “Let me out of here, I’m suffocating.” But he looked at me and said, “Not yet,” When he took me out, I thought his work on me was over, but then he started to paint me. I couldn’t believe what he did next. He put me back into the oven, and I said, “I can’t stand this, please let me out!” But he said, “Not yet.” Finally he took me out of the oven and he put me on a shelf where I thought he had forgotten me… Then one day he took me off the shelf and held me up before a mirror. I couldn’t believe my eyes. I had become a beautiful teacup that everyone wants to buy and drink from.

Are there things going on in your life right now that you don’t understand. Stay close to God. Trust him and when you finally arrive at the place God wants you to be, you’ll realise He’s been making you into a vessel that He can use… to bless you and bless others through you.

Source: The UCB Word For Today, 15/11/2008

It is worth asking ourselves what we are truly building our lives on: Is it knowing Jesus as our Lord, or is it something else? Here are a few helpful ways of working that out:

  • What is the one thing in my life that I don’t think I could live without?
  • When I’m facing a decision, whose advice do I most turn to and follow?
  • Whose words have made the most impact on me in the last month?

If the answer to each of those is “Jesus”, then you’re digging down deep and laying your foundation on Him, our eternal rock. Be encouraged!

Explore Bible notes, 11/2/2012

Money can buy you a house but it can’t buy you a home.

Money can buy you a bed but it can’t buy you sleep.

Money can buy you companionship but it can’t buy you friendship.

Money can but you medicine but it can’t buy you good health.

Money can buy you a holiday but it can’t buy you rest.

Money can buy you investments but it can’t buy you peace of mind.

Money can buy you a pension but it can’t buy you a happy retirement.

Money can buy you food but it can’t buy you an appetite.

Money can buy you entertainment but it can’t buy you happiness.

Money can buy you lots of things but it can’t buy you love or self-worth.

Dr Simon Greenleaf, the Royal Professor of Law at Harvard University, was one of the greatest legal minds that ever lived. He wrote the famous legal volume entitled, A Treatise on the Law of Evidence, considered by many the greatest legal volume ever written. Dr Greenleaf believed the Resurrection of Jesus was a hoax and he determined, once and for all, to expose the “myth” of the Resurrection. However, after thoroughly examining the evidence Dr Greenleaf came to the exact opposite conclusion! He wrote a book entitled, An Examination of the Testimony of the Four Evangelists by the Rules of Evidence Administered in the Courts of Justice, and in which he emphatically stated (p.29): “It was impossible that the apostles could have persisted in affirming the truths they had narrated, had not Jesus Christ actually risen from the dead.”

Why are we so complacent? I read a true and disturbing story from a generation ago that illustrates this point: The ocean liner, the Californian, was within 1500 miles of Boston Harbour when a crewmember noticed flashes of light from a distant steamer ship. Repeated attempts to contact it failed. In fact, it appeared to be sailing away. By 1:40am its lights had vanished… It wasn’t until later that the captain learned what had actually happened. Neither he nor his second officer considered the flashing lights alarming, or that it was coincidental that they had ever seen them. Earlier the Californian had parked because of oceanic ice and the unscheduled stop gave her a ringside seat to an unimaginable event. The crew didn’t realise the flares were distress signals or they would have come to her aid because they were only nine miles away. The floundering ship also sent radio distress calls that were easily within answering range except for one important detail: the Californian’s radio operator, fresh out of training school, was fast asleep! And so on April 12th, 1912, from his vantage point on the bridge, the second officer on the Californian unwittingly watched the Titanic sink!

Jesus said, ‘People were eating… drinking… [and] marrying… to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing… until the flood came and took them. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man… keep watch [therefore, because]… you do not know… [on] what day your Lord will come’. (cf. Matthew 24:38-42)

Source: The UCB Word For Today devotional 14/3/2008

A person can’t grow beyond the self-concept he or she has established in the subconscious mind. Remember the story of the farmer who found a jar in a pumpkin field? To see if the pumpkin would be strong enough to grow and break the jar, he poked a growing seedling inside and left it there. When he went back to harvest the grown pumpkins he found that this one had not been able to break the jar. It had merely grown to mould itself to the size and shape of the jar and then stopped growing. Our self-image puts the same kind of limit on what we can accomplish. If we can expand our self-image we can expand our potential. I believer that it’s a prerequisite: We cannot expand our potential unless we first learn how to expand our self-image.

Source: Roger Dawson, 1994, The 13 Secrets of Power Performance, New Jersey USA: Prentice Hall, p.109

Some time ago the following experiment was undertaken at a marine aquarium. A savage barracuda was placed into a large tank of water. The tank was then partitioned down the middle with another piece of glass, and a mullet fish was placed into the other side of the tank. Immediately the barracuda tried to attack the mullet but half way across the tank, the onslaught was abruptly and painfully cut short by the wall of partitioning glass. The barracuda recovered and tried again, and again, and again, but each time he bumped his snout against the glass. Eventually, the barracuda learnt that chasing mullet fish was a painful experience and so it gave up trying. A little while later the glass partition was removed but the barracuda would still only swim up to the point where the barrier had been, then it would turn around and swim back again. The barracuda had conditioned itself to believe it could not succeed and so it gave up trying.

It is the same with a lot people. The fact is you can condition your mind to accept that you won’t succeed – just like the barracuda – but, conversely, you can also condition your mind to overcome your own self-imposed limitations.

R. Ian Seymour

R. Ian Seymour, excerpt from Discover Your True Potential

Chances are you’ve never heard of Stephen Grellet, a French-born Quaker who died in 1855. He’d still be unknown to the world at large, except for a few immortal lines that will likely be remembered forever: ‘I shall pass through this world but once. Any good therefore that I can do or any kindness that I can show to any human being, let me do it now. Let me not defer nor neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.’ Each day has one thing in common with the next. Both offer opportunities to show kindness, and when missed, those opportunities leave you with unwanted regrets.

Source: The UCB Word For Today, 20/2/2016

During WWII, after the American troops were forced to surrender the Philippines to the Japanese in May 1942, General MacArthur vowed to retake the islands. He printed the words ‘I will return’ on thousands of leaflets which were then scattered across the country by aeroplanes. He kept his promise two years later.

Jesus made his intention to return to earth very clear. Although the date of His coming is a secret, He taught on many occasions that we should not doubt that it will happen. The second coming of Jesus Christ will be the next great turning point in the history of the world. Jesus taught that when He comes, everyone who has ever lived will have to stand before Him and be judged. There will be a great division. Some people will go to heaven others [won’t be so fortunate].

Vaughan Roberts

Vaughan Roberts: Missing The Point?, p.34 also in Turning Points, p.132-133

Not… “How did he die?” But… “How did he live?”
Not… “What did he gain?” But… “What did he give?”
These are the units to measure the worth
Of a man as a man, regardless of birth.

Not… “What was his station?” But… “Had he a heart?”
And “How did he play his God-given part?
Was he ever ready with a word of good cheer,
To bring back a smile, to banish a tear?”

Not… “What was his church?” Not … “What was his creed?”
But “Had he befriended those really in need?”
Not… “What did the sketch in the newspaper say?”
But “How many were sorry when he passed away?”


The UK retail chain Topshop commissioned a survey by a team of psychologists into their key customer demographic: Generation Y (born after 1981). They interviewed 800 people. The results were so startling that they did not believe them. They interviewed another 800, and got the same results.

The results portrayed an alarming picture of an increasingly lonely and lost generation. More people live alone than at any other point in our recorded social history. The average Facebook usage for Generation Y is six and a half hours a day. Many who were interviewed considered work something they fitted in between Facebook and lunch! They found people had a very large number of ‘friends’ but an increasing sense of loneliness.

There is nothing wrong with social media, but it is no substitute for real, face-to-face friendships. We were created for friendship with God (Genesis 3:8) and with one another (Genesis 2:18).

Friendship multiplies joy and divides sorrow.

Source: Nicky Gumbel, Bible in One Year – Alpha, Day 174 of 365

Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons conducted an experiment at Harvard University more than a decade ago that became infamous in psychology circles. Their book ‘The Invisible Gorilla’ popularised it. And you may be one of the millions of viewers who made their Selective Attention Test one of YouTube’s most-watched videos.

The two researchers filmed students passing basketballs while moving in a circular fashion. In the middle of the short film, a woman dressed in a gorilla suit walks into frame, beats her chest, and walks out of frame. The sequence takes nine seconds in the minute-long video. Viewers are given specific instructions: “Count the number of passes by players wearing white shirts.”

Of course, the researchers were not interested in their pass-counting ability. They wanted to see if the viewers would notice something as obvious as a gorilla. Amazingly, half of the test group did not.

How is that even possible? How do you miss the gorilla in the room? The short answer is inattentional blindness.

Inattentional blindness is the failure to notice something in your field of vision because you are focused on something else, in this case people in white shirts passing basketballs.

The first-century Pharisees (…) couldn’t see the miracles happening right in front of their eyes. Jesus healed an invalid who hadn’t walked in thirty-eight years, gave sight to a man born blind, and restored a man’s withered arm. But the Pharisees missed the miracles, and missed the Messiah, because they were blinded by their legalism. They couldn’t see past their religious assumptions.

Mark Batterson

Source: Mark Batterson, 2014, The Grave Robber, Grand Rapids: Baker Books, p.16-17

“If God had a refrigerator, your picture would be on it. If He had a wallet, your photo would be in it. He sends you flowers every spring and a sunrise every morning. Whenever you want to talk, He’ll listen. He can live anywhere in the universe, but He chose your heart. And what about the Christmas gift He sent you at Bethlehem? Not to mention that Friday at Calvary. Face it, He’s crazy about you!”

Max Lucado

John Stott found it helpful for many years, at the beginning of each day, to recite the following trinitarian liturgy, which begins with praise and ends in prayer:

Almighty and everlasting God, Creator and Sustainer of the universe,
I worship you.
Lord Jesus Christ, Saviour of the world,
I worship you.
Holy Spirit, Sanctifier of the people of God,
I worship you.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.
As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be,
world without end.

Heavenly Father, I pray that this day
I may live in your presence and please you more and more.
Lord Jesus Christ, I pray that this day
I may take up my cross and follow you.
Holy Spirit, I pray that this day
your fruit may ripen in my life – love, joy, peace, patience,
kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
Holy, Blessed and glorious Trinity,
three persons and one God, have mercy on me.

John Stott, Through The Bible Through The Year, Abingdon: Candle Books (2006), p.296

Q. What does God want me to be?

A. Holy – “God has saved us and called us to a holy life – not because of anything we have done, but because of his own purpose and grace.” (2 Timothy 1:9)

Q. What does God want me to do?

A. To glorify him and enjoy him forever (1 Corinthians 10:31, see also Question 1, Westminster Shorter Catechism).

Q. What is God’s specific call on my life?

A. To use whatever gifts and talents He has blessed me with to serve others and to be a witness; a shining light that points people towards Christ. – Jesus said: “You are the light of the world… let your light shine before men” (Matthew 5:14, 16.) – When you use your gifts to glorify God you’re doing what He intended you to do.

Q. How can I do this?

A. The Spirit of truth will guide you (John 16:13.) – God says: “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my loving eye on you (Psalm 32:8 NIV).

One of England’s finest preachers decided because of his wife’s failing health not to go to America and speak at an important conference. Although he’d purchased his ticket, the ship sailed without him, and J. Stuart Holden missed a golden opportunity in the prime of his preaching career. A devoted husband, he gave himself to caring for his wife and tried not think of what he was missing on the other side of the Atlantic. The truth is we’re too easily disappointed when our plans fall through; too easily discouraged when ‘great career opportunities’ are missed, and our complaining proves that we don’t know God like we say we do. Delay is often the protective hand of our heavenly Father. It certainly was for Holden, who resolved never again to question God’s timing. Why? Because the unused ticket he held reserved his passage on the new ‘unsinkable’ luxury liner – RMS Titanic.

Source: The UCB Word For Today, 9/7/2016

Isaac Newton, the eminent 17th-century English physicist and mathematician famous for discovering the law of gravity, said, ‘In the absence of any other proof, the thumb alone would convince me of God’s existence.’ On one occasion, to assist him in his studies Newton constructed a model of the solar system which he placed in his office. Sometime later a friend and fellow scientist, who was an atheist, visited Newton and he marvelled at the model and asked who made it. ‘Nobody!’ replied Newton. When his friend objected and charged him with being ridiculous, Newton asked him, ‘If you accept that a model needs a maker, why do you have a problem when confronted with the actual universe?’

R. Ian Seymour, Empowered Personal Evangelism, Weybridge: New Wine Press (2014), p.33

Charles Schwab was paid a million dollars a year salary by Andrew Carnegie, the Scottish steel magnate who made his fortune in the United States during the late nineteenth century. Schwab didn’t attract such a salary because he knew more about the manufacture of steel than plenty of other people. He confessed that he had many employees more knowledgeable than he was. Then he indicated the secret of his success: “I consider my ability to arouse enthusiasm among the men, the greatest asset I possess, and the way to develop the best that is in a man is by appreciation and encouragement. There is nothing else that so kills the ambitions of a man as criticisms from his superiors. I never criticise anyone. I believe in giving a man incentive to work. So I am anxious to praise but loath to find fault. If I like anything, I am hearty in my approbation and lavish in my praise. In my wide association in life, meeting with many and great men in various parts of the world, I have yet to find the man, however great and exalted his station who did not do better work and put forth greater effort under the spirit of approval than he would ever do under the spirit of criticism.”

Source: Wesley Harris, Success is in Giving, 1998, Victoria, Australia: Wrightbooks, p.86-87

The Bible mentions Heaven a great deal it but tells us very little about what it will actually be like. Maybe one of the reasons for this is that if God told us everything there is to know we would become so heavenly minded we would be of no earthly good. Like the story of the small boy sitting down to eat a bowl of spinach when there’s a chocolate pudding at the far end of the table: He’s going to have a rough time eating through that spinach when his eyes are on the pudding. Similarly, if God had explained everything in detail, about his plan and what we’re going to inherit, we’d have an even harder time getting through our own ‘spinach’ down here.” We’d become so heavenly minded we’d be of no earthly good… As it is, the Lord has work for us to do, yet!

Down in that place called Hades, Satan summoned his three chief demons to a debate on how to win as many souls as possible for the Kingdom of Hell. After much discussion, one of the demons came up with an idea. “I know,” he said. “How about I disguise myself as a mortal and go to earth proclaiming that there is no such thing as God or the Devil or Heaven or Hell? I’ll tell everyone that there is no inherent good or evil and the only thing that matters is self-gratification. That way, alcohol, drugs, gambling, promiscuity, debauchery and the like will no longer be taboo. I predict that I’ll be able to secure the souls of up to half of the world’s population!”

Satan thought this was a wonderful idea and was just about to give it his approval when the second demon interjected. “I have an even better idea,” he said. “I’ll disguise myself as a mortal and go to earth, but I’ll proclaim that there is a God and a Devil and there is place called Heaven and a place called Hell, so everyone had better go to church every Sunday or else!” He then went on to say, “But then I’ll tell everyone that, as long as they go to church on a Sunday, the rest of the week they can literally do whatever they like. That way, I reckon I could get the souls of three-quarters of the world’s population down to Hell.”

Satan was delighted, and rubbed his hands together with glee, but then the third demon piped up. “I have the best idea of all, and an idea that could get everyone on earth down to Hell.” The whole of Hades fell silent as Satan nodded, beckoning the third demon to continue. “I’ll disguise myself as a mortal and go to earth and I, too, will proclaim that there is a God and a Devil and there is place called Heaven and a place called Hell. I’ll tell everyone that they must live clean and honest lives and follow the teachings of the Bible… But then I’ll also tell everyone that there’s absolutely no rush so they can take all the time in the world to think it over!”

And the moral of the tale is this: those who sit on the fence can end up having hell to pay for it!

R. Ian Seymour (adapted from Maximize Your Potential)

May there always be work for your hands to do,

May your purse always hold a coin or two.

May the sun always shine warm on your windowpane,

May a rainbow be certain to follow each rain.

May the hand of a friend always be near you,

And may God fill your heart with gladness to cheer you.

an old Irish blessing

One night a man had a dream that he was talking to God. “What surprises you most about mankind?” the man asked. And God answered, “That they get bored with childhood. They rush to grow up and then long to be children again: That they lose their health to get money and then lose their money to restore their health: That by thinking anxiously about the future they forget the present, so much so that they neither live in the present nor the future: And that they live as if they will never die and die as if they never lived!”

The Bible teaches both predestination (that God has planned everything in advance) and it teaches that we have free will. This is a mystery that the Scriptures hold in tension. The paradox is although the elect have been predestined to believe, we still remain free agents; we still have a choice. Nicky Gumbel rightly states that it’s difficult to get our minds around this paradox but he has always found this illustration helpful: Imagine written above the archway to the gates of heaven, Jesus’ words: ‘Come to me all…all you who are weary and burdened …’ (Matthew 11:28). In other words everyone is invited to come and enter in. And then when you get through the gates and look back, on the other side of the archway is written, ‘No one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him’ (Matthew 11:27b). In other words, free will is a doctrine for everyone. No one can say, ‘I can’t or I’m not going to become a Christian because I have not been chosen.’ The invitation is open to all. On the other hand, predestination is a wonderful doctrine of assurance for those who are Christians. Once you have accepted the invitation and entered in, you can know beyond any doubt that God has chosen you and therefore he will never let you go.

Source: Bible in One Year – Alpha devotional, accessed 14/1/2015

On the subject of prayer, there’s a funny story told about a family who had the minister over for dinner, and when he got there and sat at the table the Mum asked her five-year-old to say grace. Puzzled, the child asked, ‘What should I say?’ Her mum replied, ‘Just say what you’ve heard me say, dear.’ So, bowing her head, the little girl prayed, ‘Dear God, why on earth did I invite the minister over for dinner?’ Amen.

A youth went to visit a wise old man to discover the secret of success and wisdom. The wise man instructed the youth to follow him and then, taking him by the hand he led him to a nearby lake. But the wise man didn’t stop at the water’s edge; instead he waded into the water, still holding the youth’s hand. Deeper and deeper went the old man until the boy’s head was submerged below the surface. Then, after several seconds had past, the old man turned about heel and led the grateful youth back to the water’s edge, whereupon the wise man asked him, “When you were under the water, what was it that you desired more than anything else in the whole world?” The youth replied indignantly and without hesitation, “I wanted air to breathe!” The wise old man then replied, “In order for you to find success and wisdom, you must want it as badly as you wanted the air when you were under the water!”

R. Ian Seymour

R. Ian Seymour, excerpt from Maximise Your Potential, Louisiana USA, Pelican Publishing, p.41

Overcoming Obstacles: When St. Petersburg, Russia, one of the most splendid and harmonious cities in Europe, was being laid out early in the 18th century, many large boulders brought by glacier from Finland had to be removed. One particular large rock was in the path of the principle avenues that had been planned, and bids were solicited for its removal. The bids submitted were very high. This was understandable, because at that time modern equipment did not exist and there were no high-powered explosives. As officials pondered what to do, a peasant presented himself and offered to get rid of the boulder for a much lower price than those submitted by other bidders. Since they had nothing to lose, officials gave the job to the peasant.

The next morning he showed up with a crowd of other peasants carrying shovels. The began digging a huge hole next to the rock. The rock was propped up with timbers to prevent it rolling into the hole. When the hole was deep enough, the timber props were removed and the rock dropped into the hole below the street level. It was then covered with dirt, and the excess dirt was carted away. – It’s an example of what creative thinking can do to solve a problem.

Source: The Best of Bits and Pieces, 1994, New Jersey: The Economics Press, p.41-42

Mike Pilavachi and Andy Croft talk about Jesus choosing ordinary, broken people; misfits: ‘When Jesus chose his disciples, it appears he went for the worst of the worst. Think about them: Whenever Peter opened his mouth he put his foot in it. James and John were nicknamed “Sons of Thunder”, not because they had digestive problems, but almost certainly because they were bad tempered. We’re told in the gospels that they were ambitious. When Jesus had been telling them about how he was going to die on the cross, James and John said, “Could you do us a favour? After you’ve done your suffering could we sit at your right and left and be really important people?” Jesus wasn’t impressed (Mark 10:35-40).

They were also competitive. As Peter and John ran to the tomb when they heard that Jesus had risen from the dead, John couldn’t resist telling us that he was a faster runner than Peter (John 20:3-4). (Note: If you read to the end of his book John tells us that there are many good stories he’s left out – but he still thought it was important to let us know who was the quickest over 100 metres…)

They were vengeful and violent. When some Samaritan villagers didn’t invite them in for a cup of tea, they suggested to Jesus that they should call down fire from heaven and have them burnt up (Luke 9:54). Jesus must have wondered whether they would ever understand.

One of the disciples, Simon, was a Zealot. In other words, he was trying to violently overthrow the occupying Roman army. Today he could well be labelled a terrorist. Matthew collected taxes from his own people on behalf on the occupying Roman power and was regarded as a traitor to Israel. Thomas was every pastor’s worst nightmare. He was negative, wouldn’t believe anything anyone said and always seemed to see the cup as half-empty. Yet Jesus chose them. He loved them. He was committed to them. For three years they misunderstood him and had wrong motives but Jesus didn’t give up on them. In the end his love changed them and they changed the world.

If we want to look at some other characters in the Bible, think about this: Noah was a drunk, Abraham was too old, Isaac was a daydreamer, Jacob was a liar, Leah was ugly, Joseph was abused, Moses had a stutter, Gideon was afraid, Samson was a flirt, Rahab was a prostitute, Jeremiah was too young, David was an adulterer and a murderer, Elijah was suicidal, Isaiah preached naked, Jonah ran from God, Job went bankrupt, Peter denied Jesus (three times!), the disciples fell asleep whilst they were praying, the Samaritan woman was divorced (and quite possibly a sex addict), Zacchaeus was too small, Paul murdered Christians, Timothy probably had an ulcer and Lazarus was dead! If God can use a dead man he can use us.

Source: Mike Pilavachi and Andy Croft, Everyday Supernatural, 2016, Colorado Springs USA: David C. Cook Publishers, p.62-63

It is one thing having stubborn tenacity and refusing to change your mind; it’s another being down right pig-headed and awkward. The following story illustrates the point well.

One night, prior to the Second World War and just before the invention of radar, a battleship spotted an intermittent light fast approaching it from out of the darkness. The captain of the battleship alarmed but ready for action, ordered his signalman to flash a message in Morse code. “Unidentified vessel, change your course immediately.” No sooner had the message been dispatched than back came the same reply. “Unidentified vessel, change your course immediately.” The captain saw red and instructed his signalman to send a new message: “Change your course immediately, I am a Captain.” The response was again instantaneous and read, “Change your course immediately, I am a Seaman, Third Class!” By now the captain was furious and so one last time the signal went out, “Change your course immediately, I am a BATTLESHIP.” As before the response came back just as swiftly, “Change your course immediately, I am a LIGHTHOUSE! … Your call!

Original source unknown: This adaptation from Discover Your True Potential by R. Ian Seymour

Forgiveness is a release. I love birds. I love to watch them in flight; I love to listen to them singing; I love their beautiful colours and I love to feed them. One of the things that I often find so cruel and unnecessary is to see a beautiful bird locked up in a cage, or for that matter any animal caged or tethered to a stake in order to restrict its movement. The cage or chain becomes a prison, which limits or stops the animal from doing what comes naturally to it; what it is meant to do. Most of the time I find the cruelty is not so much in the cage or the chain but in the animal’s desire to be free. It is often the same with some people, especially those who are harbouring resentment and unforgiveness.

Unforgiveness is like a chain or a cage that imprisons people; it makes them angry, bitter and resentful, and those feelings usually fester until they get out of proportion and completely overwhelm the person. In a nutshell, unforgiveness holds you back; it restricts you and limits your potential. Forgiveness, on the other hand, is a release: it is like opening the cage and freeing the chains that restrain you. Forgiveness allows you to soar again and become the person that you are meant to be. So, if you are harbouring resentment do yourself a favour and let go of it. It really doesn’t matter what others may have said or done, life is too short to let it or them hold you back. Forgive, forget and be free to move on again.

R. Ian Seymour

Let’s make sure we don’t make the same mistake as a lady called Thelma Howard, an American maid, who missed out on a fortune because she didn’t look carefully enough at her Christmas present. Her employer was Walt Disney, who gave her a piece of paper in an envelope every Christmas. Thelma didn’t understand what it was, so she added it to a pile under her bed. After her death her relatives discovered the documents and realised they were shares in the Disney Corporation, worth over thirty million dollars.

Source: Vaughan Roberts booklet, Christmas In Three Words

Charles Blondin was a famous tightrope walker and stunt artist in America. Some years ago he stretched a wire rope across the top of Niagara Falls and walked across it several times, always with a different theatrical variation: He walked across blindfold; he went across on stilts, he carried a man on his back and he even sat down mid-way across while he cooked and ate an omelette! A newspaper reporter came up and asked him what he proposed to next. Blondin said he was going to wheel a man across in a wheelbarrow. “Do you think I can do it?” Blondin asked. “Oh yes, said the reporter. “You are the greatest tightrope artist of all time. I believe you can do it.” Blondin replied, “You do; you really think I can do it?” “I know you can,” said the reported. “Well then,” replied Blondin, “you get in the wheelbarrow!”

There is a difference between head knowledge and heart knowledge or faith. You can believe that the Christian message is true but unless you are willing to step out in faith and put your trust in Christ, you are never going to know what it’s really like; you’ll miss salvation by a foot, 12 inches, which is the distance between the brain and the heart; between head knowledge and heart knowledge. Faith is trusting in God.

When she was a little girl, Corrie Ten Boom (a Dutch Christian who helped Jews escape from the Nazis during the Second World War) went to her father and said, “Daddy, I am afraid that I will never be strong enough… for Jesus Christ.” “Tell me,” said her father, “when you take a train trip to Amsterdam, when do I give you the money for the ticket? Three weeks before?” “No, Daddy, you give me the money for the ticket just before we get on the train.” “That’s right,” her father said, “and so it is with God’s strength. Our Father in heaven knows when you will need the strength… He will supply all you need just in time.”

Source: Nicky Gumbel, Bible in One Year – Alpha, (accessed 6/2/2015)

You have been called and anointed; you have been chosen for a reason. You have been cherry picked for a specific purpose. Author and pastor, Tony Evans puts it like this: ‘You were designed to know Him, not simply to have a comfortable life. You were not created just to get married, have children, a career, then grow old and enjoy retirement. [Those things are not the main event.] Those are some of life’s benefits; its side dishes, but not its main purpose. The tragedy today is that we have taken life’s benefits and tried to make them our purpose. We are trying to make the side dishes the main course. And the result is that we [are often so dissatisfied]. No wonder. – So if the purpose of life is not marriage, or career success, or happiness, or any of that, what is it? What were we created for? We were created to know and to worship God with an all-consuming passion.

Source: Tony Evans, Time To Get Serious, 1995, Illinois: Crossway Books, p.34

According to author, David Pawson, “There are over 700 (735 to be exact) separate and distinct predictions in the Bible, some are mentioned only once and one over 300 times (the return of Jesus to planet earth). Of these, nearly 600 (596 to be exact, or 81 per cent) have already been fulfilled, quite literally. Some are happening now, before our very eyes, like the second return of the Jewish people to the land promised to them ‘for ever’ by God (see Genesis 13:15 and Isaiah 11:11).

Not one prediction that could have been fulfilled by now has failed. The chances against this are astronomical. To take one example: Ezekiel prophesied that the city of Tyre would be stripped down to bare rock and thrown into the sea, a fate that has befallen no other city, before or since. Centuries later, Alexander the Great did just that, to build a causeway out to the offshore island whence the population had fled in all available boats on his impending arrival. The statistical chance of this happening has been calculated as one in 1039! – The remaining 19 per cent are largely concerned with the end of the world as we know it, so it hardly surprising if they have not been fulfilled… yet.”

David Pawson, The Challenge of Islam to Christians, p.112-113

Charles Finney, lawyer and evangelist, was speaking in a New York church in the 1830s. At the end of each evening, he gave people the opportunity to come to the front of the room and commit their life to Jesus. A great many lawyers came to hear him. One night, the Chief Justice of New York was sitting way up in the gallery. As he listened to Finney proclaiming the gospel he became convinced it was true.

Then this question came into his mind: ‘Will you go forward like the other ordinary people?’ Something within him made him think that it would be inappropriate to do so, because of his prestigious social position (at the top of the legal hierarchy of New York State). He sat there pondering the choice he had to make. Then he thought, ‘Why not? I am convinced of the truth… why should I not do it like any other person?’

He got up from his seat in the gallery, went down the staircase and came up the stairs at the back to where Finney was preaching. Finney, in the middle of his sermon, felt someone tugging at his jacket. He turned around. The Chief Justice said, ‘Mr Finney, if you will call people forward I will come.’ Finney stopped his talk and said, ‘The Chief Justice says that if I call people forward he will come. I ask you to come forward now.’

The Chief Justice went forward. Almost every lawyer in Rochester, New York, followed him! It is said that 100,000 people were converted in the next twelve months in that area. One person’s choice affected the lives of numerous others.

Life is full of choices. We make choices every day of our lives. You can make bad choices or you can make good choices. Your choices matter. Some choices have life-changing consequences.

Nicky Gumbel

Bible in One Year 2020 with Nicky Gumbel, day 123, YouVersion

The Telegraph published the results of a poll on ‘The top 100 most annoying things’. I’m not going to go through the whole list but the top 10 included the following – count on your fingers how many of these apply to you, how many do you find really, really annoying?

  1. Chavs (person typified by brash/loutish behaviour and wearing of real/imitation designer clothes)
  2. Tailgaters: people driving really close behind you.
  3. Bad body odour: people who smell
  4. People who eat with their mouth open.
  5. Rude shop assistants.
  6. Foreign call centres
  7. Stepping in dog poo!
  8. People who cough and do not cover their mouths.
  9. Slow internet connections.
  10. Poor customer service.

How many scored more than 5? How many scored 10? If you scored 10 chances are you have some real anger issues… come received prayer for healing later!

The Telegraph, 3rd Sept 2009

If you’re wise, you’ll surround yourself with people who support you emotionally and spiritually, and you can share your dreams and ideas with them. CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien were members of The Inklings, an informal literary discussion group associated with Oxford University. It was comprised of teachers, writers and friends who met regularly at a well-known Oxford pub to discuss passages from their favourite books as well as their own writings. In 1936, they decided the world needed more novels that had faith and morality as their central theme. Lewis and Tolkien decided to write science fiction after realising the inferior quality of similar stories being published at the time. They literally tossed a coin to decide who would write a book on space travel versus time travel. Tolkien got the time travel nod, but his early efforts with such a story never really worked out. Later, however, he achieved great success with The Lord of The Rings. Lewis wrote his famous series of novels called The Space Trilogy, and from that momentum he eventually penned The Chronicles of Narnia.

Source: The UCB Word For Today , 21/10/2015

One Christmas morning during my childhood, my parents came downstairs and began handing out the presents from under the tree. One for my brother, Tony, one for Steven, one for Chris, another one for Tony, one for Mum, another one for Chris and so it went on, as the pile of gifts under the tree diminished rapidly. It seemed that everyone else had something, some even had two or three, but there was nothing for me. In actual fact, my parents had been saving the best gift, my present, until last. When they saw me becoming more and more despondent, the ceremony around the tree was put on hold, and I was taken by the hand to the garage where my gift, the biggest of them all, was waiting for me. My very first bicycle!

The fact is every member of the body of Christ has been given some spiritual gift. If you think you have been overlooked in that department think again. Often our gifts are there all the time; hidden perhaps, dormant maybe, but nevertheless they are there waiting for you to get involved. And often it seems the case, to me at least, that the longer you search for your gifts the bigger they are when you finally discover them. – R. Ian Seymour

R. Ian Seymour, excerpt from Discover Your True Potential

Judgment Day: The ocean liner, the Californian, was within 1500 miles of Boston Harbour when a crewmember noticed flashes of light from a distant steamer. Repeated attempts to contact it failed. In fact, it appeared to be sailing away. By 1:40am its lights had vanished. It wasn’t until later the captain learned what had actually happened. Neither he nor his second officer considered the flashing lights alarming, or that it was coincidental that they had ever seen them. Earlier the Californian had parked because of oceanic ice and the unscheduled stop gave her a ringside seat to an unimaginable event. The crew didn’t realise the flares were distress signals or they would have come to her aid because they were only nine miles away. The floundering ship also sent radio distress calls that were within the answering range except for one important detail. The Californian’s radio operator, fresh from training school, was fast asleep! So on April 12th, 1912, from his vantage point on the bridge, the liner’s second officer unwittingly watched the Titanic sink!

Jesus said, ‘People were eating… drinking, marrying… to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing… until the flood came and took them. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man… keep watch… you do not know… what day your Lord will come’ (cf. Matthew 24:38-42).

Source: The UCB Word For Today devotional, 14/3/2008

Some people think we all came from an amoeba. The problem is they can’t tell us where the amoeba came from! The Bible says, ‘God created man in His own image… male and female He created them’ (Genesis 1:27). Some people say that the earth came into existence as a result of the ‘big bang’ theory. Yet if you told them, ‘The car you drive right now was the result of an explosion at an assembly plant in Swindon,’ they’d question your sanity. If there’s a design, there must be a designer. If there’s a creation, there must be a Creator. (…) Not only did God create you, He gave you certain gifts so that you could fulfil His purposes and bring glory to Him.

Source: The UCB Word For Today, 19/9/2013

When it comes to the Tribulation or the Rapture or the Millennium (Christ’s thousand year reign), Bible scholars hold different views on these subjects. ‘The Premillennialists view holds that Jesus will return to earth prior to the inauguration of the millennium; prior to Christ’s reign for 1,000 years in a golden age of peace – mentioned in Revelation chapter 20. The Amillennialists view holds that the thousand years mentioned in Revelation 20 is a symbolic number, not a literal description; and that the millennium has already begun and corresponds with our current church age. And then there’s the Postmillennialists view, which sees Christ’s second coming as occurring after (post) the millennium, when there will be a golden age in which the church and Christian ethics prosper. Personally, I fall into another category: I’m a “pan-millennialist.” I believer that Christ will return and everything will ‘pan’ out just as God wants it to! – The wonderful thing is, whatever view theologians take on the Tribulation, the Rapture and the Millennium, everyone agrees on the indisputable fact that Jesus is coming again.’

Carl Jung, the great psychiatrist, once reflected that we are all familiar with the words of Jesus, “Whatever you do to the least of my brethren, that you do unto me.” Then Jung asks a probing question: “What if you discovered that the least of the brethren of Jesus, the one who needs your love the most, the one you can help the most by loving, the one to whom your love will be most meaningful – what if you discovered that this least of the brethren of Jesus… is you?”

Source: quoted in The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning, p.140

Alan McGuiness relates that in 1875 a sickly child was born in Upper Alsace, who was slow to read and write and was a poor scholar. But as he grew up he made himself master subjects that were particularly difficult, such as Hebrew. In music, he turned out to be a genuine prodigy, playing the organ at eight when his legs were scarcely long enough to reach the pedals. At nine he substituted for the regular organist in a church service.

His name was Albert Schweitzer, and everyone knows how by early manhood he had several professional lives proceeding concurrently. At the University of Strasbourg he earned his first Ph.D. in philosophy then went on to win doctorates in theology and music theory. By the time he was 30 he had a flourishing career as a concert organist and was publishing a stream of books. But then he abruptly stopped his academic career in order to study medicine and devote the rest of his life to being a missionary. This had begun when by chance he read a magazine article about the Congo. “While we are preaching to these people about religion,” the article said, “they are suffering and dying before our eyes from physical maladies.”

Schweitzer had received his calling, and he began to lay plans to go to Africa. Friends protested: if the aborigines of Africa needed help, let Schweitzer raise money for their assistance. He certainly was not called upon to wash lepers with his own hands.

There will always be such people who seem to find it their calling to flatten our dreams and diminish our lives. But there will always be a few, thankfully, who will encourage our ideals and gladly join us in our goals. When Schweitzer fell in love with Helen Bresslau, the daughter of a Jewish historian, he bluntly proposed: “I am studying to be a doctor for the people of Africa. Would you spend the rest of your life with me in the jungle?” And she answered, “I shall become a nurse. Then how could you go without me?” And on Good Friday 1913, the two of them left for the French Equatorial Africa. For more than 50 years he served there, eventually to become a Nobel laureate and a legend.

Source: Alan Loy McGuiness, 1985, Bringing Out The Best In People, Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing, p.90-91

Youth self-esteem and team building exercise: Each person should take a piece of paper and write their own name on the top. Pass them around the group. Under the person’s name write down one positive, Christ-like quality you have seen in that person. Move the sheets around the group again, and repeat. When everyone has written one thing on every sheet, return them to the original names – and be encouraged by what you discover about yourselves!

Source: Stephen Gaukroger, First Steps: The handbook to following Christ, p.56

One of the best ways to fight temptation is to memorise Scripture. Build up an arsenal of Bible verses to use in times of need. That’s what Jesus did to fend off the temptations of the devil. Quoting Bible verses is an important weapon in helping us resist the devil’s attacks. John Ortberg shares this illustration to make the point: ‘I am thinking of a song that I bet you can sing even if you have never heard a recording of it. We don’t know who wrote the lyrics. In fact, it doesn’t even have any lyrics. It was written by some anonymous genius, and it doesn’t contain a single word. But it’s the most important song you ever learned. It’s the ABC song; the “alphabet song.” You memorised this song because it helped you to identify letters and to read and write. We should memorise Bible verses to fend off the temptations of the devil and also to remember God’s promises to us.

John Ortberg, 2010, ‘The Me I Want To Be,’ Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan, p.108-9] You remember… [sing, A,B,C,D,E,F,G… signal for congregation to sing back, H,I,J,K,L,M,N,O,P…

Charles Finney, lawyer and evangelist, was speaking in a New York church in the 1830s. At the end of each evening, he gave people the opportunity to come to the front of the room and commit their life to Jesus. A great many lawyers came to hear him. One night, the Chief Justice of New York was sitting way up in the gallery. As he listened to Finney proclaiming the gospel he became convinced it was true.

Then this question came into his mind: ‘Will you go forward like the other ordinary people?’ Something within him made him think that it would be inappropriate to do so, because of his prestigious social position (at the top of the legal hierarchy of New York State). He sat there pondering the choice he had to make. Then he thought, ‘Why not? I am convinced of the truth… why should I not do it like any other person?’

He got up from his seat in the gallery, went down the staircase and came up the stairs at the back to where Finney was preaching. Finney, in the middle of his sermon, felt someone tugging at his jacket. He turned around. The Chief Justice said, ‘Mr Finney, if you will call people forward I will come.’ Finney stopped his talk and said, ‘The Chief Justice says that if I call people forward he will come. I ask you to come forward now.’

The Chief Justice went forward. Almost every lawyer in Rochester, New York, followed him! It is said that 100,000 people were converted in the next twelve months in that area. One person’s choice affected the lives of numerous others.

Life is full of choices. We make choices every day of our lives. You can make bad choices or you can make good choices. Your choices matter. Some choices have life-changing consequences.

Nicky Gumbel

Bible in One Year 2020 with Nicky Gumbel, day 123, YouVersion

Ernest Hemingway wrote a story about a father and rebellious son. The son had done wrong and in his shame he ran away from home. In the story the father searched all over Spain for Paco, but he couldn’t find him anywhere. Finally, in Madrid, in a last desperate attempt to find his son, the father placed an ad in the daily newspaper. The advert read: “PACO, MEET AT HOTEL MONTANA NOON TUESDAY. ALL IS FORGIVEN. PAPA.”

The father prayed that the boy would see the ad and maybe – just maybe – he would come to the Hotel Montana. And so on Tuesday at noon the father arrived at Hotel Montana and he couldn’t believe his eyes. The police had been called to control the crowd of eight hundred young men all named “Paco” who had come to the hotel to meet their father. Eight hundred boys named Paco read the ad in the newspaper and hoped the message was for them. Eight hundred “Pacos” came to receive the forgiveness they so desperately needed.

This story illustrates the great truth that Jesus was driving at in the parable of the Prodigal Son. Just as there are many Pacos in Hemingway’s story, so there are many prodigals out there who need the Father’s forgiveness.

Source: John Maxwell, 1999, The 21 Indispensable Qualities of a Leader, Nashville: Thomas Nelson, p.19-20

The strap line to the Alpha Course is ‘Questions of Life?’ and I also have some of my own Questions of life. Questions like:

  • Why don’t you get mouse flavoured cat food? (You can get duck, rabbit, lamb, why not mouse?)
  • Why do we leave cars worth £thousands on the drive and put our useless junk in the garage.
  • Why does the word ‘lisp’ have an S in it?
  • Why do you never see the headline ‘Psychic Wins The Lottery’?
  • Why can’t women put mascara on with their mouth closed?
  • Why is ‘abbreviated’ such a long word?
  • Why is dyslexia such a hard word to spell?
  • (A bit naughty but…) If love is blind why is lingerie so popular?
  • Why is it that doctors call what they do ‘practice’?
  • Why is the man who invests all your money called a broker?
  • Why is the time of day with the slowest traffic called rush hour?
  • You know that indestructible black box that is used on airplanes? Why don’t they make the whole plane out of that stuff?

It’s important to remember that Jesus never invited people to come to church (synagogue) or say a prayer of commitment. St Peter didn’t share the “Four Spiritual Laws” with anyone or invite them to receive Christ as their personal Saviour. Jesus met with people on their territory, used their language and spoke of things that mattered to them. Isn’t that a good set of principles for us too? Jesus simply left lots of calling cards that said: ‘The kingdom of God is here. (Did you notice?) Our sharing of faith needs to be less of a sales pitch or an argument or a demand, and more of a conversation, a friendship, an invitation, an opportunity, an exploration. We’re inviting people to take part in an adventure, but it’s an open road all the way into the kingdom.

John Pritchard

John Pritchard, Living Faithfully, 2013, SPCK London, p.132

We have come to understand the bread and wine we use in Communion as sacraments – defined by St Augustine as ‘a visible sign of an invisible reality’. It has also been called ‘a physical token that expresses a spiritual reality’ and an ‘outward and a visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace’. A symbol is a token or a sign that represent something – think of a flag, an emblem or badge, a poppy, a cross: all symbols that represent something. The Lord’s Supper or Holy Communion is deeply symbolic. With its roots in the Passover, the most important feast on the Jewish calendar, the service of Holy Communion is like an acted-out sermon remembering Christ, our sacrificial lamb who takes upon Himself the sins of the world… who was killed in our place, for our redemption; the forgiveness of sins.

Once while Abraham Lincoln was dining in the White House one of his guests blew on his coffee, poured it into his saucer, and drank from it. As you might imagine, some of the refined ladies and gentlemen seated nearby were aghast, and for a moment the room was filled with an embarrassed silence. Then Lincoln took his coffee, poured it into his saucer, and for the rest of the evening drank directly from it. And you know what? Everyone else in the room followed suit! One small act of kindness saved a White House guest unbelievable embarrassment. And that simple but thoughtful gesture by one of America’s greatest presidents reminds us of the value of setting an example of kindness.

Source: The UCB Word For Today, 20/2/2016

When Bill Clinton was President of the United States, Mother Teresa was awarded a Congressional Medal for her years of humanitarian work in developing countries. But rather than simply accepting the honour quietly the aged nun took advantage of the opportunity to give a public speech in which she criticised the Clinton administration over its policy on abortion. Shortly afterwards a reporter asked President Clinton what he thought about the criticisms levelled at him by Mother Teresa. After a thoughtful pause Bill Clinton replied, ‘How can anyone argue with a life so well-lived?’ – Live a beautiful life and let the gospel speak volumes through you.

R. Ian Seymour, Empowered Personal Evangelism, Weybridge: New Wine Press (2014), p.24

Stand out from the crowd: Many years ago in a small hotel in Philadelphia, USA, an elderly couple, on a business trip from England, approached the night clerk seeking a room. “We have tried several other hotels,” said the man, “but it seems there is a convention in town and they are all full. Do you by any chance have a room you could let us have?”

The hotel clerk shook his head sadly and said, “I’m sorry, all our rooms are taken as well.” Then, seeing the couple’s dejected look, the clerk thought hard and came up with a suggestion: “Look, I will be working on the desk all night and so I don’t need my room. Why don’t you take that?” The couple were taken aback by his kindness and generosity, and after a little more persuasion they accepted his offer.

The next morning when they were checking out, the elderly man said to the clerk, “Young man, you would make a great hotel manager. How would you like me to build a fine hotel for you in New York City and then you could come and manage it for me?” The clerk smiled politely and jokingly said, “Sir, I would like nothing better in the whole world.”

They parted friends and the clerk thought nothing more about it until a couple of years later when he received a letter from the man, along with an invitation; an offer of a round-trip visit to New York to come and visit – guess what? – his new hotel. It turned out that the elderly gentleman was William Waldorf Astor, or Viscount Astor (the British peer). His hotel was the (now-famous) Waldorf-Astoria on the corner of Fifth Avenue in New York City. The clerk’s name, the man who went the extra mile and dared to be different, was George C. Boldt. He became the Waldorf-Astoria’s first manager and went on to become one of the greatest hotel managers in the world.

R. Ian Seymour

R. Ian Seymour, excerpt from Discover Your True Potential

God could have let Abraham stay in the comfort of Ur in the Chaldees; He could have let Moses stay in the comfort of Pharaoh’s court, and Aaron stay in the safety of the crowd. He could have kept David away from Goliath; Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego out of the fiery furnace; Daniel out of the lion’s den; Elijah away from Jezebel; Nehemiah out of captivity; Jonah out of the whale; John the Baptist away from Herod; Esther from being threatened; Jeremiah from being rejected; and Paul from being shipwrecked. But he didn’t. In fact, God used each of these trials to bring people closer to himself, to produce perseverance, character and hope.

Source: John Ortberg, The Me I Want To Be, 2010, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, p.236

In Italy for around £3000 you can buy ready-made coffins that have beepers in them, two-way speakers, a torch, a small oxygen tank, and a sensor to detect a person’s heartbeat… just in case! True or false? (True)

In the mid-1700s a Russian peasant named Feodor Vassilyev gave birth to 69 children. True or false? (True) In 27 separate pregnancies she had 16 pairs of twins, 7 sets of triplets, and 4 sets of quadruplets. Ouch!

In 1664, 1785 and 1860 passenger ferries sank while crossing the Menai Straight in North Wales. Amazingly, each disaster occurred on December 5th. Even more bizarre than this is that on all three occasions the name of the sole survivor was Hugh Williams. True or false? (True)

These bizarre stories are all true. What about Jesus’ resurrection: is the resurrection really true?

Source: John Dickson, Stranger Than Fiction, p.21-22

The Giant Sequoia – the big redwood tree – is the largest tree in the world and one of the oldest trees in the forest. It may live for 3000 years and grow to a height of more than 75 metres (250 feet) with a trunk diameter at the base of around 8 metres (25 feet). It is commonly thought that a tree of such magnitude must have a root system stretching hundreds of feet down into the earth but, in actual fact, the ‘redwood’ has a relatively shallow root system.

The sequoia or ‘redwood’ trees grow in close proximity to each other and although the individual root systems are rather shallow, the roots of each tree entwine and lock together for support and stability. When the storms come – some of them ferocious – the trees stand fast: They support and protect each other because they are rooted together. What a great definition of teamwork.

Adapted from a story told by Robert J. Morgan, church pastor, seminar leader and author

When we confess our sin to God, through faith in Christ and in true repentance, the sin is dealt with. Period! It is covered with the blood of Christ; paid for in full. Psalm 103v12 puts it like this: ‘As far as the east is from the west so far has he removed our transgressions from us.’ – You can usually measure the points between north and south but east and west never meet, they just keep on going. That’s a symbolic portrait of God’s forgiveness. When he forgives us He removes our sin, our transgressions from us and doesn’t even remember them.

There’s a story about a man who was out walking, and who lost his footing and fell over the edge of a cliff. As he slipped over the side he managed to grab hold of the root a tree. Filled with panic, he called out, ‘Help. Is there anyone up there?’ A powerful voice came from out of the sky, ‘Yes, what you want?’ The man pleaded, ‘I fell over the cliff and am holding on to a branch for dear life. Please can you help me?’ The voice from above said, ‘Do you have faith in God?’ And the man replied, ‘Yes, I believe and have faith.’ The voice said, ‘Then, let go of the branch and I will catch you!’ There was a tense pause, and then the man yelled out, ‘Is there anyone else up there?’

A good marriage is built on mutual sacrifice. Adam had to sacrifice something near and dear to him in order to get Eve – a rib. And your wife will know you love her when you’re willing to give up things that are important to you in order to meet her needs and promote her well-being. Too many men want to be married but still function as singles. They don’t want to sacrifice any time, attention or resources for the benefit of their wives. They don’t want a wife; they want a maid. They want to marry someone so they can be served. No – it’s the opposite! The Bible says you and your wife are ‘heirs together’. That means she is an equal partner. So, her opinions, thoughts, and perspectives matter. Yes, as the leader of your home you may make the final decision, but when you don’t get your wife’s input and consider her viewpoint, holy wedlock can turn into unholy deadlock. Your wife will respond to you when she feels cherished and valued (see Ephesians 5:28-29). You say, ‘But my wife’s as cold as ice.’ How did she get that way? Ice only stays icy in a cold environment, so instead of complaining, work at changing your environment. Husbands are thermostats and wives are thermometers. Husbands determine the climate and wives thrive or shrivel accordingly. There’s a reason your wife is ‘cold’. And there’s a solution: warm her up and watch her melt! When you begin to love, nurture, cherish, and protect her as Christ did the church, you’ll have a whole new woman in your arms. Try it and see.

Source: The UCB Word For Today, 3/2/2018 adapted from Tony Evans, Marriage Matters, p.57-61

There is a story told of a great fisherman who was somewhat of a local legend because he always caught lots of fish. One day a stranger, having heard the stories and looking for some ‘fishing’ action, approached the fisherman and pleaded with him to take him fishing.

As the boat left the dock the stranger noticed that the legendary fisherman didn’t have any rods with him, only a large tackle box and a big net on the end of a pole. The stranger mentioned this oversight but the fisherman assured him that he had everything he needed for a sizeable catch.

Before long, the boat pulled into a sheltered cove and the fisherman dropped anchor. The stranger watched with interest as the fisherman opened his tackle box, pulled out a stick of dynamite, tied it to a brick, lit the fuse and then quickly lobbed it over the side.

A few seconds later, there was a muffled explosion followed by a plume of shooting water. Immediately afterwards large quantities of dead fish floated to the surface and the fisherman grabbed his net. The stranger had seen enough. “Hold on!” he shouted as he reached into his pocket and pulled out his ID. “I’m the new game keeper and you’ve been caught red-handed. You know, very well, that it’s against the law to blow up fish!”

Well, the fisherman didn’t miss a beat. He reached over to his tackle box, took out another stick of dynamite, lit the fuse and smiled broadly as he handed it to the stunned game keeper: “Now,” said the fisherman, “are you going to fish or are you just stand there?”

(For congregational participation): I want to start with you a little quiz; a warm up exercise – a bit like Catchphrase on the TV – to get the grey-matter working: Complete the following sayings for me:

  1. Nothing but skin and… bones (Job 19:19-20)
  2. I escaped by the skin of my… teeth (Job 19:20)
  3. There’s a time and a place for… everything (Ecclesiastes 3:1)
  4. Going the extra… mile (Matthew 5:41)
  5. United we stand, “divided we… fall” (Matthew 12:25)
  6. Red sky at… night (Matthew 16:2-3)
  7. In the twinkling… of an eye (1 Corinthians 15:52)
  8. A man after my own… heart (1 Samuel 13:14)
  9. A little bird… told me (Ecclesiastes 10:20)
  10. A leopard cannot change its… spots (Jeremiah 13:23)
  11. How the mighty have… fallen (2 Samuel 1:25)
  12. Pride comes… before a fall (Proverbs 16:18)
  13. By the sweat of your… brow (Genesis 3:19)
  14. Out of the mouths of… babes (Psalm 8:2)
  15. Eat drink and be… merry (Luke 12:19)
  16. The blind leading… the blind (Matthew 15:14)
  17. Along the straight… and narrow (Matthew 7:14)
  18. Tearing your hair… out (Ezra 9:3)
  19. At my wit’s… end (Psalm 107:27)
  20. The writing is on… the wall (Daniel 5:5-6)

Who can tell me what all of these everyday sayings have in common? (They all come from the Bible.) It may surprise you, but we all know a lot more of the Bible than we might think we do. Many of us, today, don’t realize that the Bible (the KJV in particular) has been enormously influential in the development of our own English language.

R. Ian Seymour

The story of Christmas trees is fascinating! The tradition started in Germany hundreds of years ago. Tribes of people decorated trees to honour their gods, including the very powerful god Thor. The Oak of Thor was a huge tree that no one cut down! A Christian missionary named Boniface, who was there to spread the good news about Jesus Christ to the people, chopped down Thor’s oak to prove that Thor was a false god, not the true God who loved them and created them in his image! Nothing happened! They all began to believe in Jesus, and Boniface told them to use an evergreen tree to represent Christ, because its green leaves were constant and never-changing, like Christ’s love. So today we honour Jesus through evergreen trees at Christmas! Let’s praise God for His powerful love and how He always loves us, no matter what.

Phil Vischer

Source: YouVersion Bible reading plan, Why do we call it Christmas, by Phil Vischer

I love the way Andy Stanley recounts the history of the church… ‘The story of the church goes something like this: A small band of Jewish dissidents defied a superpower and a religious system that had been in place for a thousand years and, in the end, prevailed. At the centre of this grassroots movement, originally referred to as The Way, was a Jewish carpenter whose messages centred on a “kingdom” that wasn’t directly connected to the world. He spoke mostly in parables that few could understand. He insisted that those who followed him love the Romans and pay those onerous taxes. He alienated the influential and the powerful. He offended practically everybody. His family thought he had lost his mind. After only three years of public ministry, he was arrested, publicly humiliated, and executed.

Sounds like the perfect way to start a movement, doesn’t it? But it gets even stranger. After his execution, Jesus’ dispirited and desperate followers claimed that he rose from the dead and that they had seen him. Then within weeks of this alleged resurrection dozens and then hundreds of people within walking distance of where Jesus was buried believed this nonsense and began telling others. Before long, Jerusalem was filled to the brim with followers of The Way. When resistance from both Rome and the Jewish authorities broke out, several members of the original group were executed and the followers scattered.

Now if this uprising had been like the dozen or so similar messianic uprisings that occurred during the same slice of history, it would have passed as a mere footnote of history. But this one was different. Everywhere they went, followers of The Way insisted that God had done something unique in their generation; he had raised a man from the dead.

In a relatively short amount of time, this Jewish knockoff religion replaced the entire pagan pantheon of gods as the primary belief system of the Roman Empire, the same empire responsible for crucifying its central figure. The same empire that launched several vicious inquisitions with the intent of stamping it out completely.

Doesn’t really add up, does it? Not without an actual resurrection anyway. But the story of the church is not just unexplainable, it’s undeniable. Today over a third of the world’s population claims some kind of faith in Jesus. The Roman Empire is long gone. Ancient Judaism died with the destruction of the Jewish temple in AD 70. But today one third of the world’s population claims Jesus as the centrepiece of their religious experience. He taught for three years, and twenty centuries later, he is worshipped on every continent on the planet. That’s an amazing story.’

Source: Andy Stanley, Deep & Wide, 2012, Michigan USA, Zondervan, p.52-54

Are you in the wilderness right now? Prepare for the coming of the Lord; for God’s deliverance. God hasn’t abandoned you. Louie Giglio writes: ‘All of us are waiting on something, often wondering if God has forgotten us. Just because God hasn’t come through (as far as you can see), it doesn’t mean He has abandoned you. To Him a day is like a thousand years and a thousand years are like a day. This very minute God’s working for His glory and for your good. Remember the Scripture from Romans 8:28: ‘In all things God works for the good of those who love him.’ Though circumstances may say otherwise, God is going to come through, on schedule, fulfilling His long-appointed plans for you. Don’t give up before the time is right.’

Louie Giglio (Source: Waiting Here For You devotional of YouVersion)

Jesus said, ‘The Son of Man came to seek and save the lost’ (Luke 19:10 NIV). This is Christ’s mission statement: ‘To seek and save the lost.’ It is a mission that Christ began and one that He commanded his Apostles and the Church to continue with the divine directive to go and do likewise, to ‘go and make disciples of all nations’ (the main verb here is make; we are to go and make disciples not wait around for would-be disciples to come to us). It is the directive known as The Great Commission and it’s also wonderfully incarnational, in that, in going to make disciples we incarnate Christ: Christ dwells in us and promises to be with us always: ‘Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always to the very end of the age.”’ (Matthew 28:19–20 NIV).

Successful people recognise that taking two steps forward and one step backwards still equates to them taking a step forwards. That’s why successful people don’t quit when they encounter setbacks – instead, they persevere.

(From Romans 8:32) “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?”

How is it imaginable that God should withhold, after this, spirituals or temporals, from his people? How shall he not call them effectually, justify them freely, sanctify them thoroughly, and glorify them eternally? How shall he not clothe them, feed them, protect and deliver them? Surely if he would not spare this own Son one stroke, one tear, one groan, one sigh, one circumstance of misery, it can never be imagined that ever he should, after this, deny or withhold from his people, for whose sake all this was suffered, any mercies, any comforts, any privilege (spiritual or temporal) which is good for them.

John Flavel (a Puritan pastor from 300+ years ago)

Source: The Works of John Flavel, 1988 reprint, Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, p.418

Does God still perform miracles of healing today? The short answer is: Yes, God still performs miracles and yes God still heals people today. Let me share an example with you. Pastor Surprise Sithole (pronounced ‘Sit-holy’) works for Iris Ministries (founded by Heidi Baker) and in the last twenty-five years he has planted more than ten thousand churches in Malawi, Mozambique and throughout southern Africa. In his book, Voice in the Night, he shares his own personal story about how God called him to be an evangelist, and how miracles and healings are demonstrating the power of the gospel and impacting the church all over Africa.

In one of many incidents described in the book, Surprise Sithole was on the outskirts of a village when he heard a woman screaming and then he heard someone else shouting his name. When he arrived at the scene, a group of people had gathered around a young woman who sobbed in excruciating pain and cried out, ‘I don’t want to die! Oh God! Please don’t let me die.’ The young woman had been bitten by a deadly snake; a poisonous puff adder. Her right leg was already twice the size of the left one and, with the nearest hospital some distance away; she would never have made it in time to receive the antidote treatment! One of the women asked him, ‘Will Jesus make her well?’ Surprise knew that Jesus can do anything, and so, in faith, he sat beside the poor girl, put his hands on her swollen leg and simply prayed over and over again, ‘Lord Jesus, please bless your child; please bless your child.’ As he prayed droplets of fluid, like beads of sweat, began to drain out of the injured leg and a few moments later the fluid began gushing out and the crowd gasped in amazement as the girl’s leg returned to its normal size! She stopped sobbing; the pain had gone and she immediately got back on her feet and walked around feeling fine. It was a miracle! That very same night Surprise Sithole held a public meeting which was full of people who had heard what had happened and who wanted to know more about Jesus. The healing of the young woman demonstrated the power of the gospel and opened the way for effective evangelism, and the end result was that the church in that village grew very rapidly indeed. Yes, God still performs miracles and yes God still heals people.

Surprise Sithole says he’s often been asked why so many miracles happen in Africa when they seem to be so rare in the West. Interestingly, he believes it’s because in Africa people have a simple faith: they believe what God’s Word says and God blesses them for their faith. Whereas in the West, he says, ‘people think they are too clever and sophisticated to simple believe and accept God’s Word, and so they question everything, including what the Bible says, and this displeases God.’

Surprise Sithole, 2012, Voice in the Night, Chosen Books: Michigan USA, p.63

Every morning on the African plains a wildebeest wakes up. It knows that in order to survive it must run faster than the lion, otherwise it will be killed and eaten. Every morning on the same African plains a lion wakes up. The lion knows that in order to survive it must run faster than the slowest wildebeest, otherwise it will starve to death. The lesson here should be plain to see: It doesn’t matter whether you are a wildebeest or a lion, just make sure when you wake up in the morning that your feet hit the floor running!

If you go into a jewellers shop and you want a diamond ring, the jeweller lays a black velvet cloth on the counter. Then the diamond ring is placed right in the middle of that black cloth. Against the black background the diamond sparkles in all its beauty. Similarly, we cannot see the wonder and wealth of God’s love until we see it against the backdrop of our sin.

Nicky Gumbel

Nicky Gumbel, 30 DAYS: A Practical Introduction to Reading the Bible, 2006, Alpha Publications, p.55

Steve Jobs, the inspirational CEO of Apple Computers, made the following connection, as recorded by his biographer Walter Isaacson: ‘Even though they were not fervent about their faith, Jobs parents wanted him to have a religious upbringing, so they took him to a Lutheran church most Sunday’s. That came to an end when he was thirteen. In July 1968 Life Magazine published a shocking cover showing a pair of starving children in Biafra. Jobs took it to Sunday school and confronted the church’s pastor.

“If I raise my finger, will God know which one I am going to raise even before I do it?”

The pastor answered, “Yes, God knows everything.”

Jobs then pulled out the Life cover and asked, “Well, does God know about this and what’s going to happen to those children?”

“Steve, I know you don’t understand, but yes, God knows about that.”

Jobs announced that he didn’t want to have anything to do with worshipping such a God, and he never went back to church.’ Like many of us, Jobs struggled with the idea that God could see and know the details of the injustice in the world and do nothing to prevent it.

Source: Isaacson, W., 2011, Steve Jobs: The Exclusive Biography, Little Brown, pp14-15 and quoted by Krish Kandiah, 2014, Paradoxology, London: Hodder & Stoughton, p.49-50

In the waiting room of life, you can choose to trust God instead of panicking. You also need to remember two things: One, God is never in a hurry. And two, God is never late. God’s timing is always perfect. What happens in those times where it appears that God is late? God is getting you ready for a miracle! There are so many examples of this in Scripture, including the story of Lazarus (John 11). Mary and Martha had a brother named Lazarus, who was one of Jesus’ best friends. They lived in Bethany, which was just a few miles from where Jesus was on the day Lazarus got sick. They sent word to Jesus that his friend was gravely ill and asked him to come to them. He could have easily been in Bethany in an hour or two. But it took Jesus three days to go about five miles. When he got there, they told him, “You’re too late! We’ve already buried Lazarus.” Jesus wasn’t late. Because Jesus already knew what he was going to do. His goal was not to heal Lazarus. His goal was to raise him from the dead. Jesus’ goal was not to just make Lazarus well. His goal was to do a miracle of astronomical proportions. Jesus walked up to Lazarus’ tomb, told them to roll the stone away, and said, “Lazarus, come forth.” And Lazarus did! Sometimes God lets a situation get so bad that only a miracle will do. Don’t give up your faith. Hold on. Keep praying and serving and going to small group. Keep sowing. Keep believing. Because you’re getting ready for a miracle. God already knows what he’s going to do in your life next month, next year, and in the next decade, and his plan for you is good.

Rick Warren

Source: Daily Hope with Rick Warren, 30/12/2017

In his book ‘Hope Again’, Chuck Swindoll says: ‘in the Marine Corps… our troopship carried us… onto Japanese soil… For many of us it was our first visit to a foreign country. We were surging with excitement… Our company commander called us together… and… said… “Remember, for the first time in your lives, you’re the foreigners. This isn’t your country or your culture… you’re the minority. These aren’t your fellow citizens; they don’t speak your language. They know nothing of your homeland except what they see in you… Act in a way that the Japanese people will gain a good impression of your country.” … As Christians, … our citizenship is in heaven… We belong to the kingdom of God… We need to be on our best behaviour, otherwise people will get a distorted perception of what our homeland is like… Our earthly culture is pagan to the core… God left us here for a purpose… to demonstrate what it’s like to be a member of another country, to have a citizenship in another land, that we might create a desire for others to emigrate!’

Source: The UCB Word For Today , 1/11/2012

William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army, was always driven by his passion to see God’s Kingdom come on earth in the here and now. Nearing the end of his life, he gave last ever public address in London’s Royal Albert Hall, on 9th May 1912, and ended his speech with these words: “While women weep as they do now, I’ll fight; while little children go hungry, as they do now, I’ll fight; while men go to prison, in and out, in and out, as they do now, I’ll fight; while there is a drunkard left, while there is a poor lost girl upon the streets, while there remains one dark soul without the light of God, I’ll fight. I’ll fight to the very end.” William Booth did just that: a few days after giving this speech he died and entered into glory, no doubt to hear those words: “Well done, good and faithful servant (…) Come and share your master’s happiness!”

Cited in Different Eyes: The Art Of Living Beautifully by Steve Chalke and Alan Mann, p.103

‘Jesus got into a boat, and His followers (disciples) went with Him. A great storm arose…’ (Matthew 8:23-24 NCV). There’s an important lesson here. Getting on board with Jesus doesn’t mean you will never go through a storm. Jesus said, ‘… In this world you will have tribulation (John 16:33 NKJV). In spite of God’s promise to protect and prosper us, you’ll still have to deal with things like disease, lack and fear. The difference is: the unbeliever faces the storms without Christ, but as a believer you go through the storm confident that all will be well because Jesus is on board. Does that mean you will never experience panic? If only it were so! But it isn’t. Looking at the swelling waves and the sleeping Saviour, the disciples asked, ‘do you not care that we are perishing? (Mark 4:38 NKJV). This is why fear costs so dearly. It corrodes your confidence in God’s goodness. It unleashes a swarm of doubts. It deadens your recall. By this time the disciples had witnessed Jesus ‘…healing all kinds of sickness and all kinds of disease among the people’ (Matthew 4:23 NKJV). Fear creates a spiritual amnesia. It dulls your miracle memory. It makes you forget what Jesus has done and how good God is. That’s why you must starve your doubts and feed your faith on God’s Word, for faith is what will take you through the storm.

Source: The UCB Word For Today devotional, 27/4/2015

One author wrote: ‘I was with one of my children recently and somebody said, “They look just like you!” Guess what the Father wants to say about you? He wants to look at Jesus, look at you, then back at Jesus again, and say to Him: “That disciple looks just like You!” – That’s what the Holy Spirit does, He brings you to the place where you act just like Jesus.’

Tony Evans, Time To Get Serious, p.207

Consider how a walnut grows. If you crack open the shell you’ll find that the walnut has grown to fill every bit of space that is available to it. The walnut has no particular say in the size or the shape of the shell, and it doesn’t matter what limitations are imposed upon it, the walnut simply grows until it achieves its full potential. That’s what we should do; keep on growing until we reach our full potential.

Many years ago there was a famous correspondence in The Times newspaper under the subject “What is wrong with the world today?” The best letter of all was also the shortest, and read: “Dear Sir, I am. Yours faithfully, G. K. Chesterton.” — What is wrong with the world today? We are; human beings! “I am,” said Chesterton! As the old adage goes, ‘The heart of the human problem is the problem of the human heart’. SIN.

There is a story told about a local church that was built around 1000 A.D. When the church was around 200 years old it became necessary to replace the roof and so the original plans were brought out of the archives to be studied. To the amazement of the parishioners, on the original drawings there were details and a map showing the location of a dense wood that had been planted at the same time as the original construction of the church. The wood was discovered in exactly the place where the plans had stated, and the 200-year old trees, were not only the same kind of wood as the original building and roof supports, but now the timber was also mature enough to do the job. What foresight or vision those original builders had, coupled with a desire to make a lasting difference.

Source: adapted from Paul J. Meyer, Unlocking Your Legacy, 2002, Chicago Illinois, Moody Press, p.19

The main reason that we have God’s Holy Spirit is to be witnesses. We’re either a good witness or we’re a poor witness, but we are definitely a witness. (…) In a court of law you’ll have a witness and you’ll have a lawyer. The witness gets up and says, ‘let me just tell you what I know’ – and that’s what they do: let me just tell you what I know, what I saw, what I felt, what I experience. Now a lawyer gets up and presents the facts in such a convincing manner to get the jury to make a decision. I’m what they call an evangelist, so I take the facts of Christianity – like an apologist – and I present them like that lawyer, in such a way as to make the jury come to a decision. Not everyone is a lawyer, not everyone’s an evangelist or an apologist. But everyone one of us is a witness. And so we’ve got to begin to be more intentional in telling our own story.

J. John

Source: The UCB Word For Today, 8/10/2015

Let me share a piece of sentimentality, written by an unknown author and which was given to me on a card with the heading: ‘A Note From A Friend’. It reads a bit like a love letter – a little soppy, perhaps – but I’d like you to see through that and try to focus on the underlying message:

My Dear Friend

How are you? I just had to send a note to tell you how much I care about you. I saw you yesterday as you were talking to your friends; I waited all day hoping you would want to talk with me too. I gave you a beautiful sunset to close your day and a warm breeze to comfort you, and I waited, but you never came. It saddened me… but I still love you and I am still your friend.

I saw you sleeping last night and longed to be with you so I spilled moonlight on your face and, again I waited, wanting to rush down so we could talk. I have so many gifts for you! You woke up and rushed off to work. My heart was heavy again.

If you would only listen to me! I love you! I try to tell you in the blue skies, and in the green grass. I whisper it in the leaves on the trees, I breathe it in the colours of flowers; I shout it to you in the mountain streams and give the birds love songs to sing. My love for you is deeper than the ocean and bigger than the biggest need in your heart! Ask me! Talk with me! Please don’t ignore me or forget about me. I have so much to share with you! I won’t trouble you any further. I won’t force myself upon you. It is your decision. I have chosen you and I’ll wait… for a while longer yet, because I love you.

(Signed) Jesus.

Here’s a dozen Ways to Keep Spiritually Fresh

  1. Daily Bible reading is food for the soul. The Bible is one of the main sources of nourishment for a Christian, which is why God gave it to us. If we want to know God more, if we want to love Him and know His love for us more, then we really need to read and study our Bible regularly and diligently. Not to read it as a tick box exercise, just going through the motions… because then the words just flow through our mind, like water gushing through a pipe – nothing sticks! We need to read it thoughtfully, prayerfully and expectantly. (Tip: The #1 selling Study Bible is the ‘Life Application Bible’ which provides useful commentary and examples of how to apply the Bible’s message to our lives today.)
  2. Download the ‘YouVersion’ Bible app at and explore some of the many reading plans covering almost every subject. Or read the Bible in one year (with commentary notes). I recommend a resource provided by Nicky & Pippa Gumbel from Holy Trinity Brompton (HTB, founders of Alpha). Subscribe to ‘Bible in One Year’ at:
  3. Prayer. – Jesus said if we remain connected to the vine we will bear much fruit (John 15:5). So remain connected to the Vine; be mindful of God continually and pray throughout the day. Involve Him in all that you do. Keep short accounts with God – be quick to give thanks and praise; be quick to confess and ask forgiveness for any short-fallings. Remember there is absolutely no substitute for a daily quiet time alone with God, to pray and to listen. Go for a prayer walk – even if it’s just round the block – or find a quiet place.
  4. To help get out of a spiritual slump change what has become routine; change something up, e.g. volunteer at a local homeless shelter or nursing home; starting keeping a gratitude journal; take a personal retreat; pick up a different translation of the Bible or do a ten-day fruit and vegetable fast like Daniel (cf Daniel 1).
  5. Form or join a prayer partner/triplet and meet together regularly (weekly or fortnightly) to support and pray for each other, for the church and for others you know.
  6. Keep a journal. – It is a great encouragement to keep a spiritual record of how God has spoken to you or used you, also browsing through past journal entries and remembering afresh how God has answered prayer and brought you through a particular situation.
  7. Fellowship. – Come to church every week, and try not to miss coming along. We need each other. Hebrews 10:25 (NIV1984 edition) says: “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”
  8. Join a small group (home group) and commit to attending and contributing to the group. Proverbs 27:17 (NIV) says: ‘As iron sharpens iron so one person sharpens another.’
  9. Communion. – Take communion regularly and remember afresh what Jesus did for you, and how thankful you are. In the Lord’s Supper we share in receiving spiritual nourishment and refreshment for our souls. Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.”
  10. Read Christian material – books, biographies, lifestyle etc. Ask people you know what they are reading at the moment or what they recommend.
  11. Christian Music for the soul. – Worship and praise God as you listen to Christian music or compile a collection of your favourite songs. Tune in to Premier Christian Radio on Medium Wave 1305, 1332, 1413 (in London and M25 areas) or nationally on DAB and on TV Freeview channel 725, or Tune in to UCB (United Christian Broadcasters) on DAB or on-line.
  12. Keep spiritually fresh by constantly seeking to help and encourage others, and looking to witness to others the love of Christ. Remember, when you bend down to help lift another to their feet you can’t help but lift yourself at the same time.

This idea adapted from Mark Batterson, 2014, The Grave Robber, Grand Rapids: Baker Books, p.118

Pastor Tony Evans says: The law isn’t made for law-abiding citizens. If you’re going the speed limit, that police officer on the side of the road isn’t going to pull you over, congratulate you, and write you a thank you ticket! His concern is the guy behind you doing seventy-five in a fifty limit. His radar does not reward, it condemns, because that what the law does. So if you are trying to live your Christian life and achieve spiritual victory by keeping a set of rules, you are going to feel condemned. If you are trying to find spiritual power in a list of do’s and don’ts, you are going to be sorely disappointed. The law has no power to help you obey. All it does it give you the boundaries and the penalties for overstepping those boundaries. – BUT if you let the Holy Spirit take over your life, He will free you from the law. He will give you the power to produce spiritual fruit and please God because you want to, not because you are afraid God will point His radar at you and pull you over.

Tony Evans, Time To Get Serious, p.261.

In Scripture the Holy Spirit is sometimes described like a dove. And like a dove the Holy Spirit is sensitive. R.T. Kendall tells the story of ‘a British couple sent by their church to be missionaries in Israel some years ago. They were given a home to live in near Jerusalem. After being there a few weeks, they noticed that a dove had come to live in the eaves of their roof in their home. They were thrilled. But they also noticed that the dove would fly away every time they would slam a door or get into an argument with each other. “How do you feel about the dove?” the husband asked his wife. “It is like a seal from the Lord on our being in Israel,” she replied. “But have you noticed that every time we slam a door or start shouting at each other, the dove flies away?”“Yes, and I am so afraid the dove will fly away and not come back,” she said. “Either the dove adjusts to us, or we adjust to the dove,” the man concluded. They both knew that the dove was not going to adjust to them. They mutually agreed: they would adjust to the dove. That decision changed their lives. Just to keep a bird at their home! The dove is a shy sensitive bird. But the Holy Spirit, depicted as a dove in each on the four Gospels is a thousand times more sensitive than a turtle dove.

“You may know what it is like for the Holy Spirit to come down on you. The problem is He doesn’t stay. He doesn’t remain. He apparently flies away. When the Holy Spirit comes down on you there is nothing like it in the world. The peace. The joy. You want time to stop. But the sense of His presence doesn’t seem to last. It is not that the Holy Spirit leaves us. He doesn’t. Jesus promised that He would abide forever (John 14:16). So let’s be clear about this: the Holy Spirit never leaves us. The Dove illustration is a metaphor: the Dove only seems to fly away. He seems to lift. It is therefore the sense of God that appears to lift from us. When the Dove lifts – although the Spirit never leaves you, the anointing diminishes. That is, the sense of His presence is gone… for the time being, at least.

RT Kendall. Holy Fire, 2014, Florida: Charisma House, p.79-81