ODJ: Hope for Today

May 28, 2017 

For you who fear my name, the Sun of Righteousness will rise with healing in his wings. And you will go free, leaping with joy like calves let out to pasture (4:2). 

READ: Malachi 3:13-4:2 

Someone close to me recommitted his life to God, began taking his wife and young daughter to church and was seeking to follow Jesus faithfully. Within weeks, however, his world began to fall apart. His daughter was admitted to the hospital with a chest infection, his business partner refused to pay him and his wife asked for some time apart. He looked drained and weary when I offered to pray for him, saying he’d rather not have any help from God. From the moment he’d chosen to serve the Lord again, he said it felt as if a huge target had been placed on his back and the Enemy was having a field day.

Can you empathise with this man? Perhaps you’ve served God faithfully for many years and yet still aren’t experiencing victory in certain parts of your life. In Malachi we see that the people of God had the same complaint. They asked, “What’s the use of serving God? What have we gained by obeying his commands or by trying to show the Lord of Heaven’s Armies that we are sorry for our sins? From now on we will call the arrogant blessed. For those who do evil get rich, and those who dare God to punish them suffer no harm” (Malachi 3:14-15).

The reality? God’s promise to those who fear Him is that “the Sun of Righteousness will rise with healing in his wings. And you will go free, leaping with joy like calves let out to pasture” (4:2). Be encouraged today as you continue to fear God and honour His name. Though things might seem bleak and your heart may be heavy, trust in Him. He alone can provide joy, peace and hope even during difficult days. By faith, you can “overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:13).

—Ruth O’Reilly Smith

365-day plan: Daniel 1:1-21

Read Psalm 73:1-28 and note the Psalmist’s frustration at seeing evil people prosper, but also how he concludes the Psalm with his hope firmly in God. 
Have you become discouraged while you struggle with life’s challenges? How does it encourage you to know that God is yours forever and remains the strength of your heart? 

ODJ: Together Forever

May 27, 2017 

You must leave this scarlet rope hanging from the window through which you let us down. And all your family members . . . must be here inside the house (v.18). 

READ: Joshua 2:1-24 

A Chinese translator told a visiting theologian that her Buddhist parents admired the teachings of Jesus, but they were offended by the idea that someone had to believe in Him to be saved. They worried that their Christian daughter now believed her ancestors were in hell. The translator said, “Revering my ancestors means much to me, and I want to assure my parents that I do not want to dishonour my family heritage. So please tell me what I, as a Christian, can say to my parents about this.”

This profound question haunts many believers who feel torn between Jesus and their family. We can find help in the story of Rahab, who recognised her only hope was found in “the supreme God of the heavens above and the earth below” (Joshua 2:11). She begged the spies to save both her and her family when God used Israel to judge her sinful city (vv.12-13). The spies told her to mark her house by hanging a scarlet rope from her window. Then all the family that gathered in her house would be saved.

One thing Rahab’s story reveals is that God loves our families. He sent Jesus to die for them, perhaps symbolised by the scarlet rope in the story (v.18). We can’t say with certainty where our ancestors are—only God knows their destinies. We do know, however, that God commands us to honour our fathers and mothers, so we can readily honour our ancestors just as they deserve (Exodus 20:12).

It’s impossible for us to fully know or understand the futures of those in the past, but we can speak for God today. May we lovingly encourage our family members to join us in the house with the scarlet cord. Our loving God allows us to be united in Him by faith in Jesus—the only One who will keep us together forever.

—Mike Wittmer

365-day plan: Ezekiel 37:1-14

Read Ephesians 3:14-21 to learn how to pray for your family. 
Who are the people close to you who don’t yet know Jesus? Tell your Father about them and pray for opportunities to lovingly share Jesus’ love with them. 

ODJ: Reflections of Marriage

May 26, 2017 

[Jesus] gave up his life for the [church], to make her holy and clean (Eph. 5:25-26). 

READ: 1 Corinthians 7:8-35 

Our pastor read this verse during a sermon: “It’s better to stay unmarried, just as I am” (1 Corinthians 7:8). Quite happily wed himself, he followed the reading by saying, “Marriage complicates things.” Seconds later, a masculine voice emitted a long exaggerated “Aaaaamen.” The congregation broke into laughter.

In some cases, marriage can make life more complicated. Paul pointed out that people who are married need to think about their “earthly responsibilities” and how to please their spouses (1 Corinthians 7:33-34). A married person needs to consider his or her spouse in things such as spending money, making meals or organising a home environment.

As an alternative to marriage, Paul suggested that unmarried people could choose to remain single. This would protect a person from becoming overly focused on things other than ministering for Christ. Specifically, Paul said, “I want you to be free from the concerns of this life. An unmarried man can spend his time doing the Lord’s work and thinking about how to please him” (v.32).

While there are advantages to being single, there are also merits to being married. Married couples have an outlet for their physical passion (1 Corinthians 7:9). In addition, a healthy marriage provides for the foundation of a family in which both parents can nurture and lovingly equip their children to grow physically, emotionally and spiritually.

Marriages are happiest when they mirror the mutual benefits and consistent faithfulness reflected in the relationship between Jesus and the church. Symbolically, believers are the bride of Christ (Ephesians 5:25-26). In this role, we receive the promise of Jesus’ never-ending protection, provision and love.

—Jennifer Benson Schuldt

365-day plan: Jeremiah 38:1-13

Read Genesis 2:22-24 and consider what it fully means for a man and woman to be “united” in marriage before God. 
How have marriages you’ve observed reflected the relationship Jesus has with the church? If not, how are they different? What’s the Holy Spirit’s role in a marriage between two believers? 

ODJ: Passing By

May 25, 2017 

He also passed by on the other side (v.32). 

READ: Luke 10:30-37 

During a political election year, a tow truck driver was called to assist a woman who was stranded with a broken-down vehicle. But the truck driver, upon seeing a bumper sticker on the car for a candidate he disliked, informed the motorist that he wouldn’t help her and drove away. His actions remind me how we sometimes choose to ignore those who need our help.

Jesus told the parable of a “Jewish man . . . travelling from Jerusalem” who was “attacked by bandits”. They stripped the man naked, “beat him up, and left him half dead beside the road” (Luke 10:30). One would have thought help had arrived when a priest happened along the way. But the priest “crossed over to the other side of the road and passed him by” (v.31). As the heat of the day grew fierce and the bleeding man’s wounds festered, a temple assistant also travelled by the scene of the crime. He too “passed by on the other side” (v.32).

Next a Samaritan came along, the last person you would ever expect to help a Jew (the two people groups did not get along). Yet the “Samaritan soothed his wounds with olive oil and wine and bandaged him. Then he put the man on his own donkey and took him to an inn” (v.34). The Samaritan paid for medical care out of his own pocket and made provision for everything the suffering man might need. “Which of these three would you say was a neighbour?” Jesus asked. Of course, the neighbour was the one who demonstrated tangible mercy. “Go and do the same,” Jesus said (vv.36-37).

There are many ways to offer mercy to others, whether by a prayer, a conversation or a gift. When we see a need, may we meet it as God provides. Let’s choose to do something other than pass by.

—Winn Collier

365-day plan: Jeremiah 36:1-32

Read Ephesians 2:4-5 and think about the depth of God’s mercy and grace. 
When have you needed someone to come to your aid? How can you share with others the mercy God has poured out on you?