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ODJ: shouting to silence

August 15, 2013 

READ: Acts 6:8-15, 7:51-60 

Then they put their hands over their ears and began shouting (7:57).

Last year, during a well publicised political debate, one man repeatedly shouted his responses, talked over the other candidate’s responses and laughed as his opponent stated his case. Why did he do it? He was striving to silence the other candidate with his noise.
Stephen could relate. As the fledgling New Testament church was just taking flight, the “man full of God’s grace and power” flew straight into harm’s way as he proclaimed God’s truth to a group of religious leaders (Acts 6:8-9). None of his opponents “could stand against the wisdom and the Spirit with which Stephen spoke” (v.10).

So what did they do? Much like what the religious leaders did to Jesus, they falsely accused Stephen and had him arrested (vv.11-12; Matthew 26:3-4,59-66).

Stephen, instead of trying to defend himself, simply testified about God’s work of redemption through time—culminating in Jesus (Acts 7:52). What happened next is a sad but often repeated way that some people try to resist God’s truth. The religious leaders “put their hands over their ears and began shouting” (v.57). The truth Stephen declared cut to their hearts, and so, being “heathen at heart and deaf to the truth,” they chose to silence him by stoning him (vv.51,58).

Even as he was dying, Stephen once again imitated Jesus by praying, “Lord, don’t charge them with this sin!” (v.60; Luke 23:34). He displayed with both words and actions the power of Jesus within him.

As you proclaim the gospel you might hear angry noises from those who want to muffle your message. But Jesus says, “Tell them about Me” and “I will give you the right words” (Luke 21:13,15). Truth will ultimately trump the shouts of disbelief. —Tom Felten

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Read Acts 7:58 and 13:1-9. How does it encourage you to read of the transformation of Paul and his view of what’s true?  
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What can you do to proclaim God’s truth engagingly when people try to drown you out? Why is it important that we aren’t obnoxious as we witness for Jesus? 

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ODJ: leftovers

July 9, 2013 

READ: Deuteronomy 24:19-21 

There will always be some in the land who are poor. That is why I am commanding you to share freely with the poor and with other Israelites in need (15:11).

According to a study released in August 2012,Americans throw away 40 percent of their food every year, valued at roughly $165 billion annually. The average American throws away 240 pounds (110 kg) of edibles per person every year. Just a 15 percent reduction in this amount would feed 25 million people annually.

God promised to bless the Israelites if they would simply obey Him. They would always have had enough food to eat (Leviticus 26:3-5; Deuteronomy 28:1-8). In the midst of their plenty, however, the Israelites were told to deliberately “waste food”: “When you are harvesting your crops and forget to bring in a bundle of grain from your field, don’t go back to get it” (Deuteronomy 24:19). “Do not strip every last bunch of grapes from the vines, and do not pick up the grapes that fall to the ground” (Leviticus 19:10). Why the deliberate waste?

The Jews were to leave some of the food “for the foreigners, orphans and widows” so that the poor and the vulnerable would not go hungry (Deuteronomy 24:19). God reminded them of the hunger that their ancestors had experienced as slaves in Egypt (v.22).

Today, one out of every seven people is starving(925 million total). Sharing food with them should include not wasting it ourselves and sharing our abundance with the poor. God’s solution to hungry stomachs is the generous hearts and open hands of those who believe in Him (15:4-11).

“Feed Me,” Jesus tells us. But we ask, “Lord, when did we ever see You hungry and feed You?” “And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to Me!’ ” (Matthew 25:35-40).—K.T. Sim
Mark 4:1-29 ‹

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Read Deuteronomy 15 to see how God wants us to care for the poor, needy and vulnerable in the world. What’s one thing you can do for people such as these? 
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What can you do to lessen the wasting of food? How can you help to feed the hungry in your community?  

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ODJ: unwanted and unloved

July 4, 2013 

READ: Ruth 2:5-23 

[The Lord] is showingHis kindness to us as well as to your dead husband. That man is one of our closest relatives, one of our family redeemers (v.20).

A pastor and his congregation, serving in an area known for addicts, alcoholics and prostitutes, haveprayed an interesting prayer for many years: Lord, send us the people nobody else wants. That prayer has been answered, as more than 800 church attendees are now involved in recovery programmes designed to help them break free from destructive lifestyles. Recently the pastor added this phrase to the end of his prayer: . . . and nobody else sees. He says, “[These people] are often overlooked. . . . But after all, as Jesus put it, ‘Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do’ ” (Matthew 9:12).

There once lived two women who definitely could have been shunned and overlooked—Naomi and Ruth. Due to the twin challenges of living in a patriarchal society (Naomi was a widow) filled with ethnic prejudice (Ruth was a Moabitess), the two were in a “bitter” place (Ruth 1:3-4,20).

But by God’s grace one man didn’t see them in the negative way that many did. Boaz showed “kindness” to the two women—noting the kindness Ruth had shown to his relative Naomi (2:11,20). He even blessed Ruth, saying, “May the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge, reward you fully for what you have done” (v.12).

Get this: Ruth was welcomed and helped even though she was a widow, had come from an undesirable nation and wasn’t one of Boaz’s workers (v.13). Although different and needy, she was redeemed by this “family redeemer” (v.20)—a man she would eventually marry! (4:13).

Who are the “people nobody else wants” in your world? How can you help them find redemption in Jesus and a healthier way of life? In Jesus’ eyes, all people are wanted.—Tom Felten

› Matthew 7:13-29

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Read Isaiah 1:17 and note God’s compassionate instruction communicated through the prophet.  
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How did Jesus model genuine love and concern for unwanted people? What can you do to follow His example? 

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ODJ: walls

June 20, 2013 

READ: Nehemiah 1:1-4 

The wall of Jerusalem has been torn down, and the gates have been destroyed by fire (v.3).

Walls are designed to keep people safe. But walls also divide, keeping people apart. The 96 mile (155 km) Berlin Wall kept the East Germans in. The Great Wall of China, which was believed to be 5,500 miles long (8,850 km) and is now estimated to be 13,170 miles long(21,196 km), kept enemies out.

In 586 bc the Babylonians tore down Jerusalem’s walls and destroyed the city. Nehemiah experienced many sleepless nights as he considered the ramifications of the broken-down barriers (Nehemiah 1:4). But what was all the fuss about a broken wall? (v.3). Without the safety and security of the wall, very few Jews wanted to live in the city.

So Jerusalem, the city of God, remained a deserted and dead city, a disgrace and a shame. Her enemies taunted and mocked the people saying that Israel’s God was too weak to protect her (Psalm 79:1-4; Lamentations 2:15-16; Joel 2:17). In fact, lots were cast to force people to relocate to the city (Nehemiah 11:1-2). So it was imperative that the wall be rebuilt so that Jerusalem could once again be the glorious city of God (Psalm 48).

Today we need to be building walls if we’re going to survive and thrive in the broken and dangerous world around us. We need to build a wall of protection to keep us from the attacks of Satan, giving us safety and victory; a wall of separation to keep worldliness out, excelling in our purity and integrity; a wall of devotion to keep and protect our fellowship and communion with God, growing in our spirituality and maturity; a wall of unification to keep God’s people together, dwelling in unity and community.

What about your ‘Jerusalem’? Are your walls torn down and in need of urgent repair? “Let us rebuild the [walls] and end this disgrace!” (Nehemiah 2:17). —K.T. Sim

› John 3:22-36

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Ezra 4:6-23 tells of an earlier attempt to rebuild the walls that ended in failure. What might hinder or stop you from rebuilding the walls in your life? 
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What are you trying to keep in and what are you trying to keep out with your walls? What walls do you need to rebuild? 

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