ODJ: Entertaining Angels

October 17, 2018 

READ: Hebrews 13:1-15 

Keep on loving each other as brothers and sisters. Don’t forget to show hospitality to strangers, for some who have done this have entertained angels (vv.1-2).

During a hard time for my family, tears came to my eyes when Alabama’s hit song “Angels Among Us” came on the radio. The song describes how, in our darkest times, when we feel lost and alone, God can use the kindness of others to give us just enough hope to keep hanging on, to keep believing in a God of love. As the words washed over me, I was reassured by remembering how in the hardest times God has always reached out to me through others’ love.

The lyrics allude to Hebrews 13:2’s promise that sometimes when we show kindness to strangers, we may actually be showing kindness to God’s angels. But the words also point to the way in which God works in our hearts through the love of other followers of Christ.

This fits with the emphasis of Hebrews 13. Although when we show hospitality to strangers, we might serve literal angels (v.2), the chapter doesn’t emphasise our hospitality to angels but the way in which God uses believers to care for others. When others are in prison, for example, we’re encouraged to feel their pain “as if . . . in [our] own bodies” (v.3). When we “do good and . . . share with those in need” (v.16), we’re told we’re following Jesus’ example of carrying the suffering of His people (vv.12-13). And Jesus even said that when we care for others in hard times, we’re actually serving Him (Matthew 25:34-36).

Sometimes during difficult days, it seems that on our own all we can feel is despair. But God never meant for us to be on our own. Instead, He’s put us in community with others made in His image. Through their tender touch, kind eyes and loving embrace, we can feel just a hint of God’s never-ending love for us. And we can pass this love on to others.

—Monica Brands

365-day plan: Acts 7:30-60

Read 1 Corinthians 12:12-26 and reflect on how the community of faith can share in each other’s pain and joy. 
When have you experienced God’s love through the love of others? How might you touch others with His love this week? 

ODJ: Forever the Same

October 16, 2018 

READ: Genesis 15:1-21 

Abram saw a smoking firepot and a flaming torch pass between the halves of the carcasses (v.17).

When I googled “God in the Old and New Testament”, the results included questions such as “Why is God so different in the Old Testament thanHe is in the New Testament?” and “Why was God so harsh in the Old Testament, but more forgiving in the New Testament?”

Some would say they see a different God at work in each of the Testaments. But is that true?

When God, in the Old Testament, called Abram, He promised that he would become a great nation, and his descendants would inherit the Promised Land (Genesis 15:1-7). To show Abram that what He said would indeed occur, God made a covenant with him. In keeping with the practices of the day, animals were sacrificed and the halves laid out in a row to document the binding relationship.

Both parties of the covenant walked between the pieces, symbolising their willingness to accept the fate of the animals if they violated it. But while Abram slept, only God passed through the pieces (v.17). God took on the responsibility of fulfilling both sides of the deal; Abram just had to believe and accept.

The Old Testament covenant with Abraham’s descendants required recurring blood sacrifices to cover their sin. In the New Testament, Jesus laid aside His divinity to walk the earth and make a new, final covenant. Representing both God and man, Jesus became the sacrifice that permanently reconciled humanity to God (Hebrews 2:16-18, 10:12). Once more, God took on the responsibility of the covenant; we merely need to believe and receive His gift.

Two covenants and two Testaments, but one God. The same requirements, fulfilled by the same merciful and holy One. God isn’t different in the Old and New Testaments—He’s forever the same.

—Remi Oyedele

365-day plan: Acts 7:1-29

Read Hebrews 13:8 to see what the Bible says about the unchanging nature of Jesus. 
Are you prone to think God is different in the Old and New Testaments? How does your view compare with the Bible’s revelation of God’s nature and character? 

ODJ: Priceless Prayers

October 15, 2018 

READ: Luke 19:41-48 

He said to them, “The Scriptures declare, ‘My Temple will be a house of prayer’ ” (v.46).

Imagine receiving clothes you chose to never wear, cars you didn’t ever drive or houses you never lived in. What would be the point? If we’re not going to use those things, we might as well not possess them.

God has given us a priceless gift for communicating with Him—prayer. Through it we worship Him, confess our sins and tell Him what we need. As we spend time talking with God, we come to know Him better.

I’m inclined to focus on tangible things that are costly because I don’t want to waste what’s valuable. But what value can be placed on prayer? Jesus announced, “My Temple will be a house of prayer” as He drove “out the people selling animals for sacrifices” (Luke 19:45-46). He was offended by the buying and selling, “You have turned [the Temple] into a den of thieves” (v.46), but He understood the need for animal sacrifice. Lambs were sacrificed every morning and night at the temple so the Israelites could be in right relationship with God. Animal death was a cost of prayer.

But that was only the down payment. The book of Hebrews says animal sacrifice was consummated in the sacrificial death of the Lamb of God. Jesus ripped open the curtain that separated us from the Father and now raises His scarred hands to intercede for us before Him (Hebrews 7:25, 10:19-22). His death is the final and ultimate cost of our prayers.

I wouldn’t refuse the gift of a Versace suit, Mustang convertible or an upscale condominium; I’d enjoy possessing them. But prayer is worth far more; nothing is more valuable. And it doesn’t cost “mere gold or silver”, but “the precious blood of Christ, the sinless, spotless Lamb of God” (1 Peter 1:18-19).

—Mike Wittmer

365-day plan: Acts 6:1-15

Read Revelation 5:1-14 and discover how our prayers fill the ears of Jesus in heaven. 
What one thing would you like to change about the way you pray? Why is prayer priceless? 

ODJ: After the Storm

October 14, 2018 

READ: Psalm 107:22-32 

What a blessing was that stillness (v.30).

My family and I exhaled as our little boat glided to a halt. Since the start of our amusement park ride, we’d ‘sailed’ through dark caverns, where trolls and saucer-eyed monsters jeered at us. We’d hit rough water and felt waves slosh into the boat as we flew over a waterfall! Finally, we’d drifted into the calm water where we could disembark.

A group of ancient sailors had a similar experience, but without the assurance of a happy ending. The psalmist described what happened when they faced a storm at sea. “Their ships were tossed to the heavens and plunged again to the depths” (Psalm 107:26). The terrified sailors grew desperate.

Amid the chaos, they called out to God, and He tamed the thrashing, howling storm—to a whisper. “What a blessing was that stillness as he brought them safely into harbour!” (v.30). In the calm, the sailors were able to pause and think clearly. They could see where they were headed and look forward to replenishing their supplies.

Something else happened in the stillness. They praised God for His great love and the wonderful things He’d done for them (v.31).

Sometimes life seems as overwhelming as trouble at sea. Trauma tilts our world, and before we can stand up, we’re blown over by yet another problem.

But God is there in the midst of the instability—and He’s also there in the moment when the clouds part and the sun breaks through. It’s often then, in the stillness after the storm, that our faith becomes sight (2 Corinthians 5:7). As we reflect on how God’s promises carried us through difficulty, we rejoice as we see how He lovingly met our needs.

May we remain faithful to God as we enjoy the blessing of His faithfulness to us. —Jennifer Schuldt

365-day plan: Acts 5:17-42

Read Mark 4:37-41 and consider Jesus’ ability to rescue His followers from trouble. 
How are your prayers different during difficult times versus times of ‘smooth sailing’? What effect does praise and rejoicing have on our lives?