ODJ: The First Day—Again

March 26, 2017 

Early on the first day of the week (v.1 niv). 

READ: John 20:1-10 

Imagine you’re a Jewish child, nourished from a young age by the words of the Torah. You can recite the Torah’s opening lines describing how, just before the dawn of God’s magnificent acts of creation, darkness covered the deep and the Spirit of God hovered over the waters (Genesis 1:2). Those mysterious words signalled that something stunning was about to happen. God was doing something new. You’d hear the story of that first day of creation, the inauguration of God’s creation week when He said, “Let there be light”—and light flooded the earth (v.3). Adam and Eve in the garden, beginning the great adventure of human life. What stunning possibilities, what hope! You would know well this story—the story of how God’s new world began to flourish.

And now imagine yourself, years later, stooped and greyed, carrying the weight of many decades on your shoulders, the weight of so many losses and disappointments. Your eyes, once young and bright, are now milky and dim. You’ve forgotten the old fire, the old hope.

Then someone begins to read from John’s gospel. You hear again about another garden, where friends buried Jesus after His violent crucifixion (John 19:41-42). Then you hear familiar words: Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark . . . Goose bumps surface—even on such wrinkled, leathery skin. You feel you’ve returned to childhood wonder.

Is something magnificent about to happen again? Is God on the move? Is God’s kingdom expanding? You lean in. You’re not missing this story. You’ll soon hear of Jesus’ resurrection. Energy surges again. The old hope and the old stories erupt with vigour and fresh possibility. God is doing something new, again.

—Winn Collier

365-day plan: 1 Samuel 16:1-13

Read Genesis 1 in tandem with John 20. What similarities do you find? How is John telling us the story of Jesus in a way that returns us to God’s creation of the world? 
How have you been tempted to give up hope that God will do something new in your world? How does Jesus’ resurrection infuse you with fresh hope? 

ODJ: Clueless at the Light

March 25, 2017 

Don’t . . . associate with hot-tempered people, or you will learn to be like them (vv.24-25). 

READ: Proverbs 22:17-25 

Ahead of me, two rows of cars waited for the traffic light to turn from red to green. Beside us, in the turn lane, a third line of vehicles awaited a green arrow so they could turn left.

The turn-lane arrow turned green. Our light remained red. But both vehicles in front of me (the two cars not in the turn lane) proceeded as if the green arrow applied to them! The horn-honking from opposing traffic was, shall we say, emphatic. Both drivers had been influenced by the driver in the turn lane—and each other—without a clue that their light was still red.

Whether intentional or otherwise, we do influence each other. And how easily we’re swayed when uncertain of the truth!

Among the “thirty sayings” he left for his son, King Solomon said this about influence: “Listen to the words of the wise; apply your heart to my instruction. For it is good to keep these sayings in your heart” (Proverbs 22:17-18). Then he noted the importance of choosing good friends. “Don’t befriend angry people or associate with hot-tempered people, or you will learn to be like them and endanger your soul” (vv.24-25).

It’s important to be discerning when choosing friends.At times, however, even trusted friends will display negative behaviours. So whose lead should we follow? Well, it’s hard to go wrong when we keep our eyes on the One who is the TRuth. As the apostle Paul said, “Imitate me just as I imitate Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1).

The more we follow leaders with integrity, heed wise counsel and surround ourselves with friends who truly care about us, the less likely we’ll be swayed by a complaining colleague, popular opinion or our own doubtful heart. Jesus can shape and lead us through others who are close to Him.

—Tim Gustafson

365-day plan: 1 Samuel 14:1-23

Note the chain of influence leading to disaster in Genesis 3:1-7. How might it have been prevented? 
How do I react when I’m around someone who constantly complains or gossips? What would others say about my influence on them? 

ODJ: Stinging Words

March 24, 2017 

O Lord our God, others have ruled us, but you alone are the one we worship (v.13). 

READ: Isaiah 26:1-14 

Many years ago, a relative repeatedly attacked my faith in Jesus. His words and criticism—bathed in cynicism—deeply hurt me. Although he passed away more than a decade ago, and I’ve forgiven him, there are still times I feel as if this relative is standing next to me— belittling me for following Jesus.

Indeed, one of the most difficult challenges I’ve faced in life is moving past his and others’ cutting words. Yet, as with every struggle in life, I’m often caught by surprise—in a beautiful way—at how Scripture meets us in the depths of our pain and offers us a path to freedom.

Most recently, I experienced this as I read through Isaiah 26 and was struck by the profound nature of verses 13 and 14, which read: “O Lord our God, others have ruled us, but you alone are the one we worship. Those we served before are dead and gone. Their departed spirits will never return! You attacked them and destroyed them, and they are long forgotten.”

One commentator notes that this passage is referencing “the principal enemies of the Jews, who had oppressed them, and were slain when Babylon was taken by Cyrus”. But our minds can also be filled with wounds we’ve received from others—leading us to experience emotional and spiritual captivity.

Rather than letting someone’s accusations and meanspiritedness have control over us, we can experience victory when we to submit to God and worship Him alone. It’s comforting to know that even when others cause us pain, Jesus “will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in [Him]” (v.3 niv). May we look to Him and trust in our “eternal Rock” who can help us withstand stinging words (v.4).

—Roxanne Robbins

365-day plan: 1 Samuel 10:1-27

Read Psalm 147:3 and think about how God heals and helps us overcome our wounds. 
How have you experienced emotional or spiritual captivity? How do God’s promises and presence encourage you to break free from the wounds of others? 

ODJ: Everyone Has a Story

March 23, 2017 

Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too (v.4). 

READ: Philippians 2:1-18 

The speaker at our conference asked us to gather in groups of three with people we had never met. He told us to each take one minute to tell the others about ourselves and share the story of one person we wanted God to bless. One man said he wanted God to bless his wife who was battling cancer while she cared for her invalid mother. Another praised God for healing his wife’s cancer but said he was concerned for his adult son who was far from God.

If this had been a typical session, we would have left as we came in—as strangers. But because the speaker asked us to share something personal, we made an immediate and intense connection.

I left the session wondering what other stories are out there. Most people are struggling with something significant while also rejoicing about something else. Everyone needs prayer—either to celebrate God’s goodness or to seek God’s grace. It isn’t wise for us to walk up to strangers and demand that they open up, but we can be aware that each person has unexpressed yearnings. May we learn how to “share [these] burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2).

One way to prepare to share others’ burdens is to humbly put them first, reflecting Jesus’ humility. Rather than trying to impress others with our own stories or witty comments, may we ask questions and then really listen to what they have to say (Philippians 2:3; James 1:19). If they’re hesitant to share, may we remain “patient with everyone”, permitting each to open up at their own pace (1 Thessalonians 5:14-15).

As we actively seek to hear the stories of others, we can grow to truly love and care for them—relying on God to help us imitate His ways.

—Mike WittMer

365-day plan: 1 Samuel 9:1-21

Read Job 16:1-22 and consider what you should do and what you should avoid when comforting and listening to someone. 
Who needs you to listen to them? Make time for them today. How does sharing our stories with one another help us advance Jesus’ kingdom?