“This change of plans greatly upset Jonah, and he became very angry. So he complained to the Lord about it: ‘Didn’t I say before I left home that you would do this, Lord? That is why I ran away to Tarshish! I knew that you are a merciful and compassionate God, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. You are eager to turn back from destroying people. Just kill me now, Lord! I’d rather be dead than alive if what I predicted will not happen.'” Jonah 4:1-3, NLT
“I am the Lord, and I do not change” (Malachi 3:6). This saying, frequently quoted out of context, is often used to prove that God never changes his mind. But Jonah’s story shows us that he does! In fact, the Bible has many examples of this happening. For example, God changed his mind about blessing the human race once sin became rampant on the earth (contrast Genesis 1:27-28 with Genesis 6:6-7); he also changed his mind about destroying Israel after hearing Moses’ prayer (contrast Exodus 32:9-10 with Exodus 32:14). In the first example, blessing is turned into curse, and in the second, curse is turned into blessing.
However, this possibility of change does not mean that God is unreliable; rather, it proves the very opposite. For while God is unchanging in his character, he is not always unchanging in his actions. In fact, sometimes he has to change his declared actions in order to be faithful to his character. So, because his essential nature is one of righteousness, he gladly changes his mind when, threatened with judgment, sinners then repent, just as the Ninevites did ( Jonah 3:10). God clearly changed his mind, but only to be consistent with what he is like and what he wants.
Changing his mind does not mean that God is unreliable or fickle; it means his purposes will surely come to pass.
Throughout this letter, Paul has been arguing that trying to obey the Jewish Law only leads to slavery (Galatians 4:8-31). But Christ has set us free (5:1), and the way to maintain that freedom is to “let the Holy Spirit guide [our] lives” (5:16), to be “directed by the Spirit” (5:18), and to “follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives” (5:25).
After all, it was the Holy Spirit, not religious rules, that brought us to Christ, and it is he who helps us see God as our “Abba”—our daddy (4:6). That is why, no matter what experiences of the Spirit we may have had, we all need to “be filled with the Holy Spirit”—literally, to “go on being filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18). We need to “let the Holy Spirit guide [our] lives” (Galatians 5:16)—that is, to follow his leadings and be filled with his power.
As we do, his fruit grows in us—“love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (5:22-23). These are not his fruits (plural), but his fruit (singular); it is as if nine different fruits were all found on one tree. All of them (not just those we like or find easy) should be growing in us. No matter how gifted someone is, lack of this fruit is a serious indicator that they are not living by the Spirit.
God Uses Unexpected People Reading Plan Day 5
“Josiah was eight years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem thirty-one years. His mother was Jedidah, the daughter of Adaiah from Bozkath. He did what was pleasing in the Lord’s sight and followed the example of his ancestor David. He did not turn away from doing what was right…When the king heard what was written in the Book of the Law, he tore his clothes in despair. Then he gave these orders to Hilkiah the priest, Ahikam son of Shaphan, Acbor son of Micaiah, Shaphan the court secretary, and Asaiah the king’s personal adviser: ‘Go to the Temple and speak to the Lord for me and for the people and for all Judah. Inquire about the words written in this scroll that has been found. For the Lord’s great anger is burning against us because our ancestors have not obeyed the words in this scroll. We have not been doing everything it says we must do.'” 2 Kings 22:1-2 AND 2 Kings 22:11-13
Only eight years old when he came to the throne, Josiah became one of Judah’s most godly kings. At the age of sixteen he “began to seek the God of his ancestor David” (2 Chronicles 34:3). By twenty, he was purging the land of idolatry and destroying shrines to Baal and all idols (2 Chronicles 34:3-7). But it was when Josiah was twenty-six (2 Kings 22:3) that the biggest transformation took place.
During renovations in the Temple, “the Book of the Law” (22:8) was discovered—probably the book of Deuteronomy. As it was read to him, Josiah was appalled at how far God’s people had fallen from his ways; he immediately led the nation in a covenant renewal ceremony (chapter 23) and completed his spiritual reforms in the land. He died in battle, trying to stop Egypt from marching to Assyria’s aid (2 Kings 23:29). Josiah shows us that we don’t understand everything about God at the beginning, but if we keep our hearts open, we can keep growing, changing, and having a powerful impact.
“See how very much our Father loves us, for he calls us his children, and that is what we are! But the people who belong to this world don’t recognize that we are God’s children because they don’t know him. Dear friends, we are already God’s children, but he has not yet shown us what we will be like when Christ appears. But we do know that we will be like him, for we will see him as he really is. And all who have this eager expectation will keep themselves pure, just as he is pure.
Everyone who sins is breaking God’s law, for all sin is contrary to the law of God. And you know that Jesus came to take away our sins, and there is no sin in him. Anyone who continues to live in him will not sin. But anyone who keeps on sinning does not know him or understand who he is.
Dear children, don’t let anyone deceive you about this: When people do what is right, it shows that they are righteous, even as Christ is righteous. But when people keep on sinning, it shows that they belong to the devil, who has been sinning since the beginning. But the Son of God came to destroy the works of the devil. Those who have been born into God’s family do not make a practice of sinning, because God’s life is in them. So they can’t keep on sinning, because they are children of God. So now we can tell who are children of God and who are children of the devil. Anyone who does not live righteously and does not love other believers does not belong to God.” 1 John 3:1-10, NLT
We live in a world where people constantly imitate others—their favorite football player, movie star, or business guru. They wear the same clothes as them and imitate their behavior; but their attempts to be like them are doomed to failure, for they have neither the wealth, good looks, nor skills to achieve what they did.
And some Christians’ attempts to be like Jesus are equally doomed to failure. They try so hard, putting so much effort into becoming like Christ; but it doesn’t work. In fact, they are left disappointed and frustrated. And yet, God’s goal is for us to become like Christ (1 John 3:2).
What we must realize is this: We cannot become like Christ simply by our own human effort—praying harder, reading the Bible more, giving more, or fasting (valuable though these things are). We become more like Christ as “the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image” (2 Corinthians 3:18). This is the Spirit’s work, not ours! And yet, for that to happen, we have to yield to him. This means making right choices—choices to forgive, serve, sacrifice, love, give.
For it is as we make these choices that the Spirit enables us to live them out; and as we do, we discover that—little by little—we are becoming less like our old selves and more like our Savior.
“But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!” Galatians 5:22-23, NLT.
Throughout this letter to the Galatians, Paul has been arguing that trying to obey the Jewish Law only leads to slavery (Galatians 4:8-31). But Christ has set us free (5:1), and the way to maintain that freedom is to “let the Holy Spirit guide [our] lives” (5:16), to be “directed by the Spirit” (5:18), and to “follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives” (5:25). After all, it was the Holy Spirit, not religious rules, that brought us to Christ, and it is he who helps us see God as our “Abba”—our daddy (4:6).
That is why, no matter what experiences of the Spirit we may have had, we all need to “be filled with the Holy Spirit”—literally, to “go on being filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18). We need to “let the Holy Spirit guide [our] lives” (Galatians 5:16)—that is, to follow his leadings and be filled with his power. As we do, his fruit grows in us—“love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (5:22-23). These are not his fruits (plural), but his fruit (singular); it is as if nine different fruits were all found on one tree. All of them (not just those we like or find easy) should be growing in us. No matter how gifted someone is, lack of this fruit is a serious indicator that they are not living by the Spirit.
Penicillin, saccharine, Coca-Cola, the microwave oven and the pacemaker…all have one thing in common: they all came about by accident, discovered when someone found something that they weren’t originally looking for. And that’s how the Christian Basics Bible came about.
It all started
with my being deported from India….
After more than 25 years of working with churches, leaders and seminaries in India, I landed at Chennai to find that I had been ‘red flagged’ and was promptly put back on the very plane from which I had just disembarked. Over those 25 years, I had made hundreds of friends – one of them, a seminary student from Myanmar (formerly known as Burma) with whom I had become particularly close when his father suddenly died and, as acting principal of his seminary at that time, was able to help him get back home to his family in that time of need. That moment forged a link between us that lasts to this day. When he graduated, he returned to Myanmar where he became a lecturer at a seminary in Yangon. After much pestering, he persuaded me to go there as a visiting professor – and so began my love for Myanmar and its many different peoples.
As it happens, my long-standing friend and co-author of Christian Basics Bible (CBB), Martin Manser, also has a link with Myanmar since he married a Burmese woman. And it was this love of Myanmar on both our parts that would lead to the production of CBB.
It was while
Martin was in Yangon visiting his wife’s family on one occasion that he met the
Director of Christian Literature Crusade Myanmar. Knowing Martin was an author and editor of many
years’ experience, he shared with him his longing for some kind of Study Bible
in the Burmese language, since there wasn’t a single one at that time, and
wondered whether Martin might be able to help. Martin promised to give it some
thought. And as he did, two things came to mind. First, he remembered that he had
written some short introductions to the books of the Bible some years earlier,
but nothing had come of the material. Second, he reflected on how he and I had
collaborated on writing projects for over 20 years. Suddenly, the light went
on. What if he put those two things together?
When he got back home,
he contacted me, asking whether I would be interested in partnering with him in
producing the first ever Study Bible in the Burmese language. As we prayed
about it and discussed the idea further, we began to get really excited and
felt this was something that God wanted us to do. For us in the West, where
there is a plethora of Bible translations and editions, it’s hard to grasp what
it is like for many Christians in the world where they often only have one
basic translation, often without any notes or helps of any kind in it. This was
certainly the case in Myanmar, where there was only one Bible text – the Judson Bible, produced in 1834 and without
a single footnote or comment in it. Even worse, there had been no revisions of
that 1834 text; so many of the words in it were now simply quite meaningless in
modern Burmese. So CLC got to work slightly updating the Bible text, while Martin
and I got to work at our end – Martin using his skills as an editor to plan and
shape the material, me using my skills as a writer to start producing the
content – introductions to each Bible book and notes on key themes every 6 or 7
chapters or so. The publisher had requested we keep the material simple and
compact, yet comprehensive – quite a challenge! And, of course, it had to be
culturally relevant for Myanmar where some issues arise that just aren’t
tissues in the West. After lots of hard work, we are glad to say that the
Myanmar Study Bible was finally in the hands of Christians there – the first Study
Bible in the Burmese language.
Because this is where the penicillin and saccharin and Coca-Cola come in. For it was while we were working on this project for Myanmar that the idea of CBB was born. One day, during a phone conversation about the project, Martin suddenly said to me, “You know, this material is really good. I’m sure there is potential for it being used much more widely.” And immediately, I knew that he was right. For there we were, trying to express what are often complex and profound spiritual truths in simple ways for Myanmar Christians, when many in the West were in need of exactly the same thing. In fact, I had been greatly exercised for a number of years as a pastor by the fact that more and more people in the West were becoming more and more ignorant of even the most basic Bible stories (let alone doctrines). And so when they became Christians, they brought very little, if any, of the Bible background that people of a generation ago would have brought, making the Bible so much harder to understand.
And so we began to
dream. What if we were to produce an edition of the Bible that was especially
written for people who came to faith with little or no Bible background? What
if we were to write things in really simple way, avoiding ‘Christianese’ and
technical language that those of us who have been Christians for many years so
often take for granted and use without thinking? …
And so we began to draft an outline of what would become known as Christian Basics Bible. It would have some introductory essays on things like how to become a Christian and how to read the Bible; each Bible book would begin with a simple summary of what it was all about and what the reader should look for as they read it; there would be notes, but not too many so we didn’t overwhelm the reader, focusing on key ideas, people and events; it would have sections at the back, with a glossary to explain words whose meaning we often take for granted, and a section outlining some of the basic truths of the Bible, to help people know where to look when they were thinking about various issues. We then produced some sample material to show the kind of thing we were thinking of, and sent it off to Tyndale.
We can’t tell you how happy we were when we got an immediate positive response from them! (Any author will tell you they often expect at least ten rejections before any publisher even starts to show an interest.) Tyndale was excited by our concept and asked if we could meet senior staff members who were due to pass through London England soon. And so, over lunch in a London hotel, CBB was born. Like Coca-Cola, by accident.
Over the next
couple of years, Martin and I devoted much of our time to the project, writing
and re-writing until we got the tone that we wanted – pastorally warm; simple
yet Biblically accurate; written in language for people who hadn’t been exposed
to the Bible before; seeking to be as neutral as possible over issues over
which equally-lovely Bible-believing Christians have genuine disagreements so
that it could be used by the widest possible base; and, of course, based on the
easy-to-read New Living Translation. Yes, I know some Christians don’t like
this edition because they think it isn’t close enough to the original text.
Well, it is close – it just uses a different translation principle: what is
known as ‘dynamic equivalence’ rather than ‘word for word’. And since it is
designed for people who have little or no Bible background, it is so much
easier for them to read and understand in comparison to versions like KJV or
NASB or even NIV.
As the final edited text started drawing to a conclusion, Tyndale’s design department got busy, producing some amazing info-graphics for the back of the Bible. Then they asked for our input on its cover. I said I didn’t really mind how it looked – providing it didn’t say ‘Holy Bible’ and have a cross on the front! If that shocks you, then please remember the purpose of CBB: to be an edition for new believers from little or no Christian background, not primarily for those who had been Christians for a long time for whom such things have become the norm. (And anyway, the original Bible texts didn’t say ‘Holy Bible’ and have a cross on them!). And so we came up with the idea of a cover with three building blocks, reflecting what had become something of a sub-title for CBB: Foundations of the faith for followers of Christ.
What a joy it was
to hold my very first copy in my hands, some three years after that Coca-Cola
Since its launch Christian Basics Bible has been well-received. Those who have recently become Christians and who come from little or no Christian background, have found it easy to read and understand. But also those who have been Christians for many years have find its approach and simplicity refreshing, commenting on how they have now understood things in the Bible that have passed them by for years.
So there it is: the Bible that came about ‘by accident’. But many of the things that come about ‘by accident’ prove to have enduring popularity. Our prayer is that this might be true of Christian Basics Bible.
“Then the Lord came down in a cloud and stood there with him; and he called out his own name, Yahweh. The Lord passed in front of Moses, calling out, ‘Yahweh! The Lord! The God of compassion and mercy! I am slow to anger and filled with unfailing love and faithfulness.'” Exodus 34:5-6, NLT.
While people often say that the God of the Old Testament seems so different from the God of the New Testament, nothing could be further from the truth. We probably already associate Jesus with compassion, but here in Exodus 32–34 is a story that clearly declares how God revealed himself as the God of compassion in Old Testament times too.
While Moses was up on Mount Sinai, Aaron had made a gold calf, which Israel worshiped in a wild party (Exodus 32:1-8). God was rightly angry with them (though his anger is not like our anger; it is the right and just response of a holy God to wickedness). They had broken a fundamental aspect of the covenant—to have no gods other than him—and so deserved his judgment.
Yet even here we see God’s compassion, mercy, and patience. In swift response to Moses’ prayer, God forgave them (32:14), and when he called Moses up Sinai once again, he showed him what he was really like: “Yahweh! The Lord! The God of compassion and mercy! I am slow to anger and filled with unfailing love and faithfulness. I lavish unfailing love to a thousand generations. I forgive iniquity, rebellion, and sin” (34:6-7)—a revelation that utterly transformed Moses (34:29-35).
This absolute conviction that God was compassionate and merciful, always patient with his people, became an underlying theme of the Old Testament (e.g., 2 Chronicles 30:9; Nehemiah 9:17; Psalm 86:15; 103:8-18; Joel 2:13; Jonah 4:2).
In chapters 53 and 61, two of Isaiah’s most famous chapters, Isaiah saw the coming Messiah with amazing clarity, about seven hundred years before he came.
Chapter 53 foresees the Messiah’s death—a death that would not only be a sacrifice but also a substitution—it is our griefs and sorrows he carried (53:4), our rebellion and sins he paid for (53:5-6), not his own. Through this death, people are healed (53:5)—brought into God’s wholeness (shalom). The prophecy also has many details about Christ’s final hours: how he was oppressed, was treated harshly, remained silent, and was buried in a rich man’s grave. But Isaiah saw that it would not all end in death; he anticipated Christ’s resurrection (53:10-11) and exaltation (53:12), which would enable him to “make it possible for many to be counted righteous” (53:11) because of the way that he “bore the sins of many” (53:12).
Chapter 61 foresees the Spirit-anointed nature of the Messiah’s work. Jesus quoted from this passage in the synagogue at the start of his ministry (Luke 4:18-19), declaring that “the Scripture you’ve just heard has been fulfilled this very day!” (Luke 4:21), thus making it clear that he saw himself as the Servant that Isaiah had prophesied.
“Rather, you must grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. All glory to him, both now and forever! Amen.”
2 Peter 3:18, NLT
The birth of a baby always brings excitement to a family, but how worried that family would be if the baby always stayed a baby! After all, babies are born for one thing: to grow up. And that’s exactly how it is when we become Christians. God does not want us to stay spiritual babies; he wants us to grow up, in both our knowledge and experience, as Peter encourages in 2 Peter 3:18.
Acts 2:42 lists four key practices that helped the first Christians to grow: “All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer.”
We can follow their example, first, by studying the Bible—for if we do not read it, how can we know what God is like and what he wants?—second, by sharing fellowship with other Christians to encourage one another; third, by sharing the Lord’s Supper together to remind us of Christ’s sacrifice and to keep him central in our lives; and fourth, by praying—talking to God—both alone and with others. Note that these four things weren’t occasional occurrences; rather, the first Christians devoted themselves to them. Doing the same today will help us grow and mature, not just intellectually, but in a living experience of God’s grace.