May 24, Thursday

Devotional Thoughts for Today

“God’s Love for the Marginalized”

Jeremiah 5:26-31 

“For wicked men are found among My people, they watch like fowlers lying in wait; they set a trap, they catch men. 27 Like a cage full of birds, so their houses are full of deceit; therefore they have become great and rich. 28 They are fat, they are sleek, they also excel in deeds of wickedness; they do not plead the cause, the cause of the orphan, that they may prosper; and they do not defend the rights of the poor. 29 Shall I not punish these people?” declares the Lord, “On a nation such as this shall I not avenge Myself? 30 An appalling and horrible thing has happened in the land: 31 The prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests rule on their own authority; And My people love it so! But what will you do at the end of it?” 

Sometime last summer, I was at our church office working especially late preparing for three large events, when I heard our church doorbell ring. Assuming it was a fellow staff member who might have forgotten their keys, I unassumingly opened the door to find a homeless man covered in soot. Startled, but concerned, I asked the man if he needed food or water. He politely declined and simply asked if I had socks in the building. Upon looking at his feet, I noticed that he was bleeding on his foot; yet not having any clothes at our office, the man asked if I could call an ambulance for him. Soon after, the paramedics and police arrived; and upon seeing the man, they began to interrogate him without ever asking if he was hurt.  Their first words were, “Why are you so dirty?” It was an absolutely heartbreaking experience to see the people who took an oath to serve and protect the community marginalize this man without a concern for his health—simply because of his state.

In this passage we see God particularly emphasize Judah’s lack of concern for the orphans and the poor. He declares them wicked in their plans to marginalize the needy for their personal benefit. Amongst the long list of Judah’s sin, God highlights the injustice of the marginalized, and asks how He could leave this sin unpunished.

God’s concern for the weak, poor, and hurting are the top of God’s concern. While it may be easy to pass by the homeless and to think there is little we can do to help the orphans and hurting, God calls us to be the light of the world. To be the light and solution to the world, we must be the same channel of love and hope that saved us from our own sins. Let us take time from our day today to find ways to be the light in the areas of darkness around us.

Prayer: God, I thank You for Your love that saved a wretch like me. Help me to realize Your love is the only one that can save. Help me to be the agent of love with the love You poured out to me. In Jesus’ name. Amen!

Bible Reading for Today: James 4 


Lunch Break Study 

Read Matthew 25:31-40: When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. 34 Then the King will say to those on his right, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.” 37 Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?” 40 The King will reply, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

Questions to Consider

  1. What does God require of His children to receive their inheritance in full?
  2. How does God associate Himself with the needy?
  3. Take some time to think about a group of people that may be difficult for you to love. What are some obstacles you need to overcome to love them? 

Notes

  1. God requires His children to do acts of service in tending to those in need.
  2. God states that what one does for the sick, hungry, and imprisoned is the same as what they do for Him.
  3. Personal response.

Evening Reflection

Today we spoke on God’s call to all believers to serve, love, and defend the marginalized in our society. Take time to reflect on your day. Did you take time out of your day to find ways to show love and be a light to the world? If not, tomorrow is a new day, but think of ways you can show the love God to those who may need it.

May 23, Wednesday

Devotional Thoughts for Today

“The Holy Fear of God”

Jeremiah 5:20-25

 “Announce this to the descendants of Jacob and proclaim it in Judah: 21 Hear this, you foolish and senseless people, who have eyes but do not see, who have ears but do not hear: 22 Should you not fear me?” declares the Lord. “Should you not tremble in my presence? I made the sand a boundary for the sea, an everlasting barrier it cannot cross. The waves may roll, but they cannot prevail; they may roar, but they cannot cross it. 23 But these people have stubborn and rebellious hearts; they have turned aside and gone away. 24 They do not say to themselves, ‘Let us fear the Lord our God, who gives autumn and spring rains in season, who assures us of the regular weeks of harvest.’ 25 Your iniquities have turned these away, and your sins have withheld good from you.”

Growing up my mother was the epitome of the Asian tiger mom: authoritative, controlling, and all about her rules. Truth be told, I grew up fearing my mother out of apprehension of how she would dictate my life if I went against her ways. And thus, I got good grades in fear that she’d send me to more after school programs, I never argued back in fear that she would scold me, and I stayed home when asked in fear that she would never let me hang out with my friends. While it would take me years to understand that it was my mother’s love for me that compelled her, my fear certainly instilled in me the need to do what was right.

In today’s passage, God declares the descendants of Jacob as foolish and senseless people for their failure to fear the Lord. In attempts to instill the fear of the Lord in them, God reminds them that He is the God who made the sands of the sea, brings rain to the crops, and assures the fruit of the harvest. In other words, God reminds the people of Judah that He is the God of the earth who creates all things, controls all things, and takes care of all things. However, it is precisely Judah’s failure to recognize who God is that leads them to a lack of fear that ultimately leads them to their apostasy.

When we fail to recognize who our God truly is—the maker of heaven and earth, and the provider and sustainer of our life—then we lose our holy awe of God and become masters over our own lives. While I may not have had the right motives for obeying my mother when I was younger, my fear in knowing I was at the mercy of her words and decisions led me to obedience. When I matured and saw my mother’s deep love for me that led her to parent in the only way she knew how, I was not only able to obey but to submit. When we see God in light of His power and Lordship, alongside His unending love for us that compelled Him to the cross, then our only response is to turn from our ways and worship the King of all kings.

In light of this, let’s take time today to reflect on whether we are living a life in holy fear of God. When we recognize God’s magnificent work and love for us, then our response is to surrender the idols and sins of our life to worship the God who makes all things work for the good of those who love Him. May we be people who have a healthy fear of the Lord that compels us to a life of love, obedience, and worship.

Prayer: God, how amazing and majestic are Your ways. I pray that You would fill me with holy reverence as I reflect on Your power, glory, and love. Thank You for all that You are and all that You do. In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Bible Reading for Today: James 3  


Lunch Break Study 

Read Proverbs 9:10-12: The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding. 11 For through wisdom your days will be many, and years will be added to your life. 12 If you are wise, your wisdom will reward you; if you are a mocker, you alone will suffer. 

Questions to Consider

  1. What does this passage say is the foundation for wisdom?
  2. How can we begin to have a holy fear of God?
  3. What promise is given to us when we live a life of wisdom? 

Notes

  1. The foundation to true wisdom is fear of the Lord.
  2. By filling ourselves up with the knowledge of the Holy One.
  3. God promises to increase the years of our life. 

Evening Reflection

Today we spoke on the fear of the Lord that leads us to the ways of reverence, obedience, and worship. Take time to reflect on the things that you have been filling your life with that have not been of the Holy One. Only the knowledge and understanding of Christ can lead us to true wisdom while all other types of learning simply lead to information. What are some ways you can develop your knowledge of God that you may fear the Lord and walk in the ways of righteousness?

May 22, Tuesday

Devotional Thoughts for Today

“God’s Pruning Process”

Jeremiah 5:10-19

“Go through her vineyards and ravage them, but do not destroy them completely. Strip off her branches, for these people do not belong to the Lord. 11 The people of Israel and the people of Judah have been utterly unfaithful to me,” declares the Lord. 12 They have lied about the Lord; they said, “He will do nothing! No harm will come to us; we will never see sword or famine. 13 The prophets are but wind and the word is not in them; so let what they say be done to them.” 14 Therefore this is what the Lord God Almighty says: “Because the people have spoken these words, I will make my words in your mouth a fire and these people the wood it consumes. 15 People of Israel,” declares the Lord, “I am bringing a distant nation against you—an ancient and enduring nation, a people whose language you do not know, whose speech you do not understand. 16 Their quivers are like an open grave; all of them are mighty warriors. 17 They will devour your harvests and food, devour your sons and daughters; they will devour your flocks and herds, devour your vines and fig trees. With the sword they will destroy the fortified cities in which you trust. 18 Yet even in those days,” declares the Lord, “I will not destroy you completely. 19 And when the people ask, ‘Why has the Lord our God done all this to us?’ you will tell them, ‘As you have forsaken me and served foreign gods in your own land, so now you will serve foreigners in a land not your own.’” 

Back in 2014, after moving to the suburbs of New Jersey and starting a 9 to 6 job, I felt an urgency to bring some new excitement into my daily routine. Thus, in my efforts to bring some joy into my daily grind, I attempted to pick up a new hobby – gardening. So I went and bought three succulents and propagated a dozen of its leaves until I had about fifteen plants on my window sill. I diligently watered those plants, gave it plenty of sunlight, and repotted them as they grew bigger.  My goal was to get these little succulents I had bought for $5 to grow to become big, luscious succulents that I could replant in beautiful flower pots around our family home. Let’s just say, I went from fifteen plants to one pink moon cactus. The problem: I didn’t prune the leaves, all in my attempts to get them to grow bigger!

In today’s passage we continue to read of God’s plans to judge the nation of Judah for its rebellion. God declares to ravage their vineyards and bring a nation to pummel their city for their wickedness; yet in the midst of God’s anger, He states, multiple times, that He will not destroy Judah completely. Instead, God decides to prune Jerusalem in order that they may bear fruit again and fulfill the promise to be the chosen nation of God. Even in God’s judgment to a nation that taunted the Lord and where not even one person was found righteous, God still shows mercy.

Pruning is a necessary process that, first and foremost, keeps plants safe from diseases that may affect the healthy parts of the plant. It’s also a process needed to give room for plants to thrive as well as to focus its energy on the necessary parts of a plant. In the same way, God calls us to prune the negative areas of our life that are bearing bad fruit and taking away our energy. Let’s take time to reflect on areas of our life that are not bearing good fruit. Maybe it’s a job that’s taking away from your time with the Lord, or a dream that is clouding God’s dream from you, or even a relationship that has taken the place of God in your life. God calls us to seasons of pruning, not to punish us, but because His desire is for us to thrive.

Prayer: God, I thank You that Your ultimate desire is that I may bear good fruit. Help me to recognize the areas that have been hindering my relationship with You. And grant me the wisdom and courage to prune these areas that I may be faithful in all that You ask of me. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Bible Reading for Today: James 2


Lunch Break Study 

Read John 15:1-11: “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. 2 He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. 3 You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. 4 Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. 5 “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. 7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. 9 “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10 If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.

Questions to Consider

  1. What measure does God use to determine whether we are His disciples?
  2. Why does God ask us to prune certain areas of our life?
  3. What areas of your life have been preventing you from experiencing God’s joy?

Notes

  1. God sees the good fruit we bear to prove we are His disciples.
  2. In order that we may be filled with God’s joy.
  3. Personal response.

Evening Reflection

Today we talked about how God asks us to prune different areas of our life in order that we may bear good fruit. Take some time to reflect and ask God to reveal the areas you need to prune off. Next, write out a prayer asking for courage and wisdom to let go of the areas that you may be holding on to. Remember, God’s ultimate desire in the process is that you would experience the fullness of His love.

May 21, Monday

The AMI QT Devotionals from May 21-7 are provided by Jennifer Kim, a staff at Catalyst Agape Church (New Jersey). Jennifer, a graduate of Boston University, spent a year in Shanghai as one-year intern from 2013-14. She is currently attending Alliance Theological Seminary.

Devotional Thoughts for Today

The Holy Love of God

Jeremiah 5:1-9

“Go up and down the streets of Jerusalem, look around and consider, search through her squares If you can find but one person who deals honestly and seeks the truth, I will forgive this city.  2Although they say, ‘As surely as the Lord lives,’ still they are swearing falsely.”  3Lord, do not your eyes look for truth? You struck them, but they felt no pain; you crushed them, but they refused correction. They made their faces harder than stone and refused to repent.  4I thought, “These are only the poor; they are foolish, for they do not know the way of the Lord, the requirements of their God.  5So I will go to the leaders and speak to them; surely they know the way of the Lord, the requirements of their God.” But with one accord they too had broken off the yoke and torn off the bonds.  6Therefore a lion from the forest will attack them, a wolf from the desert will ravage them, a leopard will lie in wait near their towns to tear to pieces any who venture out, for their rebellion is great and their backslidings many.  7“Why should I forgive you? Your children have forsaken me and sworn by gods that are not gods. I supplied all their needs, yet they committed adultery and thronged to the houses of prostitutes.  8They are well-fed, lusty stallions, each neighing for another man’s wife.  9Should I not punish them for this?” declares the Lord. “Should I not avenge myself on such a nation as this?”

During the early seeds of my Christian faith, I struggled to understand the call to be holy and righteous in all things when it seemed that certain sins did not affect others and most went unnoticed. After speaking with an older believer, her response shook me to my core when she said, “Nothing is hidden with God. Even if you get away with something now, when you go to heaven everything will be revealed.” I remember the crippling fear that came over me as I thought about all the sins that I thought I had gotten away with but would be revealed to everyone in heaven. I feared judgment from the people I had wronged, I feared what people would think of me, and I feared the consequences of my actions. Mind you I was a new believer with no biblical foundation on heaven, love, grace, and mercy, but it certainly convicted my eleven-year-old self to be pure and righteous in all things.

When we read today’s passage, we may have a similar reaction of fear and shock towards God’s response to the nation Judah. Sending a lion to attack the people of Jerusalem, a wolf who will ravage them, and a leopard who will tear apart all those who try to escape seems nothing like the loving God we know! But if we look closely at the passage, God had searched all of Jerusalem for one righteous person in order to forgive the entire city, and He had taken measures to warn, rebuke, and correct the people to help them turn from their ways and repent. Yet in God’s efforts to restore the people that He had set apart as His chosen nation, not one was found righteous.

While this passage may show God’s wrath that demands holiness from His people, it is ultimately God’s love that compels Him to such actions. God only disciplines those He loves and chastises those He accepts as His children (Heb. 12:6). When we become selective of the attributes of God by focusing only on certain attributes and not others, such as the love of God and not His holiness, we narrow our scope of understanding God and His ways. It is God’s love for His people that He must judge the actions of His people because our God is holy. If our Lord was only a God of holy perfection, we’d be crushed by the sense of inadequacy to change. If God were only a spirit of love, we’d be complacent in our sin. But our Father is a God of holy love, who requires His children to live in holiness in order that we may live in the fullness of His love.

Prayer: God, thank You that You are the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Help me to see Your love in light of Your holiness that I may walk in the ways of truth. Forgive me for the ways I have walked in sin, and may my life be one that is honoring to You. In Jesus’s name. Amen.

Bible Reading for Today: James 1


Lunch Break Study

Read Exodus 36:6-7: And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, 7 maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.”

Questions to Consider:

  1. What one attribute can be used to summarize the characteristics that Moses proclaims about God?
  2. It seems like verses six and seven list contradicting attributes of God, but what do these two groups show about God?
  3. What attributes of God do you struggle to live by? What can you do to grow in this area?

Notes:

  1. All the attributes listed by Moses show of God’s goodness. It is God’s goodness that leads Him to compassion, grace, faithfulness, and love, yet it is also His goodness that leads him to punish those who sin.
  2. See above.
  3. Personal response.

Evening Reflection

Take time to list the attributes of God that you have personally experienced in your relationship with God. Does your list contain attributes that are all similar in nature but not on other attributes of God? (i.e., focusing on God’s love, mercy, forgiveness, but not on His wisdom, omnipotence, glory, justice). Our theology of God will be based on our understanding of His character, but God desires His children to know the fullness of His presence. Ask God to reveal more of His character to you that you may experience more of Him in your life.

May 20, Sunday 

Devotional Thoughts for Today 

Jeremiah 4:22 

“My people are fools; they do not know me. They are senseless children; they have no understanding. They are skilled in doing evil; they know not how to do good.”

There are lots of people in this world who are pretty darn good at doing evil. Career criminals, mafia members—and who can forget Dr. Evil, who actually spent six years in evil medical school perfecting his craft, all have certain forms of evil down to a science.

Now, you may be reading this and thinking, What does this have to do with me? I don’t train in doing evil. Very well, but the question is, do you train in doing good? I believe that God’s complaint still has relevance for us today. We may not “train in evil,” per se, but we probably invest a lot more of ourselves in training in the ways of the world as opposed to the ways of God. We agonize over finding the perfect job—one that perfectly “fits me”—yet, we are lax and nonchalant about discovering our spiritual gifts or our role in serving His church. We know how to get what we want from others, but don’t take the time to figure out what they need or how we can help them. We are experts in finance, maximizing our IRAs and 401Ks, yet we don’t have the slightest clue how to turn God’s ten talents into ten more for the Kingdom.

“Doing good” takes training—it doesn’t just happen—at least not in an earth-changing, Kingdom-expanding way. Are you investing so as to know how to “abound in good works” (2 Corinthians 9:8)?

Prayer: Dear Lord, help me to be proactive about learning how to do as much “good” as I possibly can in this life. I want to be innocent as a dove, but also shrewd as a snake with the time that I have. Teach me how the Kingdom works, how it grows, and how I can best serve it. Amen. 

Bible Reading for Today: Nahum 3

May 19, Saturday

Devotional Thoughts for Today 

Jeremiah 4:19-21 

“Oh, my anguish, my anguish! I writhe in pain. Oh, the agony of my heart! My heart pounds within me, I cannot keep silent. For I have heard the sound of the trumpet; I have heard the battle cry. 20 Disaster follows disaster; the whole land lies in ruins. In an instant my tents are destroyed, my shelter in a moment. 21 How long must I see the battle standard and hear the sound of the trumpet?”

“And while potential jumpers often wait for officers to arrive because they may want to be talked out of killing themselves, there are those who never give officers the chance. Detective Canale recalled a man who leapt from a lower stretch of the Verrazano and struck the rocks below. The man was still alive when the detective got to him, though many of his bones were broken, his internal organs ruptured. As the man’s shattered body was secured to a long board and he was administered oxygen, the man, in some of his final words, said he regretted jumping, the detective recalled. ‘I can’t get this right, either,’ the man said, according to Detective Canale. ‘I told him: “We’re going to get you to the hospital. We’re going to try to make it better.”’” – Ruderman, Wendy, “The Jumper Squad,” The New York Times, Oct 5, 2012

Growing up in New York City made me pretty numb to the brokenness that exists all around. From obvious brokenness, like the guy strung out in front of the methadone clinic, to the less than obvious, like the good-looking and well-dressed yet hopelessly insecure and looking-for-love fixtures of the late-night bar and night club scene—it’s everywhere. I admit that though I am a pastor—someone who’s “paid to care”—I oftentimes don’t. I can pretty easily tune out the pain around me and chalk it up to the unavoidable fate of a fallen world. But sometimes something comes along, like the Times article quoted above, that God uses to soften my New York state of heart. It made me think, What happened in that man’s life to bring him to that point? What kind of a beat down did life give him to make him feel like a failure for not even being able to kill himself “right”? It broke my heart.

Jeremiah was known as the weeping prophet, and here we see why. He is not an aloof bystander to Israel reaping the wages of her sin, but rather, a family member agonizing over the fate of a loved one: “Oh, the agony of my heart!” What if we could feel that way when we see our brothers and sisters stumbling in sin, or when we look at the brokenness in our neighborhood or city, or when we observe the societal ills sweeping our nation? Surely such is the heart of God that moved the Father to offer His own Son in our stead. May we also develop God’s heart as the motivation for our ministry.

Prayer: Dear Lord, help me to hurt with those who are hurting and rejoice with those who are rejoicing. Open my eyes to the brokenness all around me, maybe to a brokenness that was closer than I thought—in a co-worker, a classmate, a friend. Take my eyes off of my own worries and enable me to bring life to others, trusting that You will meet all of my needs as I do so. Amen. 

Bible Reading for Today: Nahum 1-2

May 18, Friday

Devotional Thoughts for Today 

Jeremiah 4:9-10 

“In that day,” declares the Lord, “courage shall fail both king and officials. The priests shall be appalled and the prophets astounded.” 10 Then I said, “Ah, Lord God, surely you have utterly deceived this people and Jerusalem, saying, ‘It shall be well with you,’ whereas the sword has reached their very life.”

Growing up in the 80’s and 90’s I used to watch a TV show called Colombo. If you’re a millennial or younger you probably haven’t heard of it, but it was great TV for its time. Peter Falk played Colombo, a homicide detective with the LAPD. Colombo was assigned to investigate lots of crimes where the persons of interest were rich, Beverly Hills types—the kind of people who had enough money to cover their tracks and enough education to make them think that they could get away with what they did. In many episodes, the perpetrators were so confident during Colombo’s initial meeting with them that it seemed like they really did believe that their heinous crimes would never be found out. It was only a matter of time, however, before the excessively-clever-as-compared-to-the-way-he-dressed-and-groomed-himself Colombo started to sniff out clues that led to the unraveling of the perpetrators’ alibis and their eventual arrests. They were so sure that they had gotten away with it, that they were almost boasting, but the day of reckoning caught them unaware.

Similarly, the Israelites in Jeremiah’s day thought that they had gotten away with it. They were committing spiritual crimes against God left and right, but judgment never seemed to come. Their false prophets were even proclaiming messages of peace, declaring that war would not reach the city, that “it shall be well with you”—but they were deceived. The Babylonians were on their way and death would shortly be upon their doorstep. The people, however, went about their business, committing brazen acts of idolatry without any fear of consequences. It is not that God “deceived this people,” but rather, that they deceived themselves. Their misplaced sense of security would be their doom. Rather than repent for their sins because the God of the covenant promised both blessings for obedience and curses for disobedience, they walked straight into judgment completely unaware.

There are many sins that we put off dealing with because we seem to be getting away with it. Maybe you’re being less than honest on your tax returns, but the IRS has never come knocking. Maybe you’re sleeping with your boyfriend or your girlfriend, but no one’s gotten pregnant. Maybe you’re secretly watching porn at night, but you’re still serving at church and everyone still respects you. Maybe your mind races constantly with thoughts of anger, jealousy, lust, or vengeance, but no one knows what’s happening in your head and it hasn’t affected your work or schooling. We can deceive ourselves into thinking that these sins don’t have any material impact on our lives or our service to God, that “all shall be well”—but we’re wrong. Sin always takes its toll. And sooner or later it will catch up to us, maybe not in the form of an attacking army, but in lost intimacy with God, marital problems, or ministry without power. We do, however, have a choice. We don’t have to wait until the Babylonians are on our doorstep before we realize that we need to get right with God. We can take seriously whatever sin we are aware of, even those that “don’t seem to be hurting anyone,” and take proactive steps toward holiness.

Prayer: Dear Lord, help me not to ignore any sin in my life. Forgive me for minimizing in my eyes what is detestable in Yours. Grant me the conviction to deal with sin that I seem to be getting away with, knowing that I always walk before the face of God. Amen. 

Bible Reading for Today: Hebrews 13


Lunch Break Study  

Read Joshua 7:1-6: But the Israelites were unfaithful in regard to the devoted things; Achan son of Karmi, the son of Zimri, the son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, took some of them. So the Lord’s anger burned against Israel. 2 Now Joshua sent men from Jericho to Ai, which is near Beth Aven to the east of Bethel, and told them, “Go up and spy out the region.” So the men went up and spied out Ai. 3 When they returned to Joshua, they said, “Not all the army will have to go up against Ai. Send two or three thousand men to take it and do not weary the whole army, for only a few people live there.” 4 So about three thousand went up; but they were routed by the men of Ai, 5 who killed about thirty-six of them. They chased the Israelites from the city gate as far as the stone quarries and struck them down on the slopes. At this the hearts of the people melted in fear and became like water.

Questions to Consider 

  1. How formidable was the city of Ai?
  2. Why did the Israelites lose the battle?
  3. What effect did Achan’s sin have on the rest of the people? What does this tell you about the nature and impact of sin? 

Notes 

  1. Ai was puny, especially compared to Israel’s army.
  2. The Israelites lost because Achan broke covenant with God. God had been fighting for Israel and now His favor was removed.
  3. Even though Achan did not involve other Israelites in his sin, nevertheless the entire nation was affected. The effects of sin go beyond what the eye can see and can affect the entire community. 

Evening Reflection

What’s something in your life that you know isn’t right and need to begin taking it more seriously? What’s one step, no matter how small, that you can take to begin addressing it?

May 17, Thursday

Devotional Thoughts for Today

 

Jeremiah 4:1-2

“If you return, O Israel, declares the Lord, to me you should return. If you remove your detestable things from my presence, and do not waver, 2 and if you swear, ‘As the Lord lives,’ in truth, in justice, and in righteousness, then nations shall bless themselves in him, and in him shall they glory.”

There was a period in my life, probably around 12 or 13 years of age, when I used to go to a strategy gaming club every Sunday. To say that I loved turn-based strategy games would be an understatement. It was my Sunday ritual—my “church” before I started going to church. As an adult, I still love these games but have also come to see that they can be a time drain and can get in the way of getting other important things done. This became all the more so when some of my favorite games appeared in online form; now there was no need to look for someone to play with—the worldwide online community was available 24/7. This tension came to a climax in my early twenties, when I felt like my love for strategy games was competing with my commitment to God. I felt the need for change but stopped short of actually doing anything about it. I would acknowledge that my hobby was getting out of hand, that I was probably even addicted, and even pray about it, confessing my poor stewardship of time to God—yet nothing changed. The reason for this was simple: I felt bad, but not bad enough to actually remove the source of the addiction.

In today’s passage, God gives us a lesson on what real repentance is: “If you return” means you also have to “remove your detestable things from my presence.” Israel’s failure time and again to “remove the high places,” that is, the places of idol worship on the hilltops and mountaintops, would lead to them being ensnared in worship of false gods again and again. Their revival might have seemed genuine at the time, but it was only a matter of time before the cancer on the high places spread back down to village life. This is why Hezekiah is remembered as such an important reformer—not only did he remove the idols from the Temple complex, but he even removed those pesky high places.

If there are “high places” in your life, chances are you know what they are. True change comes from not only admitting them but taking decisive action to remove the source of temptation from your life. For this, accountability is key. Invite a trusted brother or sister or two to journey to your high places with you and start smashing some sacred stones.

Prayer: Dear Lord, help me to get rid of whatever is tripping me up in my relationship with You. Convict my heart that nothing is worth getting in the way of our relationship. Help me to make tough decisions and bring people into my life who can help me remove the high places. Amen. 

Bible Reading for Today: Hebrews 12


Lunch Break Study  

Read Mark 10:17-22: And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 18 And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. 19 You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’” 20 And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.” 21 And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” 22 Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.

Questions to Consider 

  1. If the rich young man was so good at keeping commandments, why didn’t he think that he was worthy of eternal life?
  2. Does Jesus’ command to the young man mean that we also need to give away everything we have? How does this apply to us?
  3. What was Jesus’ attitude towards the young man when He commanded him to sell everything? How should this encourage us? 

Notes 

  1. There was another god in his life: money. And he could feel it weighing on his soul.
  2. Whatever it is that we are not willing to give away is what Jesus would have us give away.
  3. He loved him. Whatever it is that God is asking you to surrender, you can do so in faith because you know that His motivation towards you is love. 

Evening Reflection

Take a moment to reflect upon your day. What were the moments of tension or conflict that you experienced in your heart? Do you notice a pattern that might reveal something that has mastery over your heart?

May 16, Wednesday

Devotional Thoughts for Today 

Jeremiah 3:15-17 

“‘And I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will feed you with knowledge and understanding. 16 And when you have multiplied and been fruitful in the land, in those days, declares the Lord, they shall no more say, ‘The ark of the covenant of the Lord.’ It shall not come to mind or be remembered or missed; it shall not be made again. 17 At that time Jerusalem shall be called the throne of the Lord, and all nations shall gather to it, to the presence of the Lord in Jerusalem, and they shall no more stubbornly follow their own evil heart.”

As a pastor, and especially as a church planter, it’s easy at times to gauge how well your church is doing by the number of people who show up. If the BIS statistic is good- BUTTS IN SEATS- then I feel good. If it’s low, it’s easy to feel discouraged. While numbers can certainly mean something, especially if new believers are being added to the kingdom, it isn’t everything, and it’s also potentially misleading. What then should we be looking for? What does it mean for a church to be doing well?

In Jeremiah’s day, there was a problem- the shepherds of Israel- her religious leaders, weren’t taking proper care of the sheep. They managed the religious affairs of the people- offering sacrifices, running the festivals, etc.- but they weren’t truly shepherding the people. What then does it mean to be a good shepherd, as our Lord Jesus was? What does it mean to be “shepherds after [God’s] own heart”? This is where things get interesting. Jeremiah shifts from discussing shepherds to the topic of the ark of the covenant. Why? And why does he seem to downplay its importance, saying that “It shall not come to mind or be remembered or missed”? The answer is found the following verse, where Jeremiah describes a future in which “the presence of the LORD” seems to have taken on greater significance. At that time the ark will no longer be remembered because what it represented- the presence of God- will be a reality. We will see God face to face, no longer dependent upon an artifact as the basis of our relationship with God.

Coming full circle, what does it mean then to truly shepherd God’s people? It means to deliver them from empty religious practice based more upon superstition than a real relationship with God. If you’re a leader of any sort in the church, what are you hoping for in those whom you lead? Don’t settle for them just showing up or padding the BIS stats- make it your goal that each person grows in a relationship with God and not in empty religious practice. And if you’re a child of God- leader or not- don’t settle for anything less than a growing sense of God’s presence in your life.

Prayer: Dear Lord, may I not settle for the ark of the covenant when I should be seeking for the God of the covenant. Forgive me for wherever I have replaced relationship with religion. Draw me deeper and deeper into Your presence, day by day. Amen.

Bible Reading for Today: Hebrews 11


Lunch Break Study 

Read 1 Samuel 4:5-11:As soon as the ark of the covenant of the Lord came into the camp, all Israel gave a mighty shout, so that the earth resounded. 6 And when the Philistines heard the noise of the shouting, they said, “What does this great shouting in the camp of the Hebrews mean?” And when they learned that the ark of the Lord had come to the camp, 7 the Philistines were afraid, for they said, “A god has come into the camp.” And they said, “Woe to us! For nothing like this has happened before.8 Woe to us! Who can deliver us from the power of these mighty gods? These are the gods who struck the Egyptians with every sort of plague in the wilderness.9 Take courage, and be men, O Philistines, lest you become slaves to the Hebrews as they have been to you; be men and fight.”10 So the Philistines fought, and Israel was defeated, and they fled, every man to his home. And there was a very great slaughter, for thirty thousand foot soldiers of Israel fell. 11 And the ark of God was captured, and the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, died.

Questions to Consider 

  1. In v.5, why did the Israelites give “a mighty shout”? What were they excited about?
  2. In the end, what happened? How did the battle go?
  3. What was the mistake of the Israelites? Do you see yourself relying upon any “arks” in your life? 

Notes

  1. They thought that the presence of the ark ensured victory in battle.
  2. They lost- BIG TIME.
  3. The Israelites relied on superstition rather than God. Israel’s religious life was in shambles, but they thought that didn’t matter because of a religious relic. Do you think your relationship with God is ok as long as you ______? 

Evening Reflection

Reflect upon the state of your heart. Forget your title at church if you have one or whatever else anyone might have said about you. What is the state of your relationship with God when stripped of everything?