August 20, Monday

The AMI QT Devotionals from August 20-26 are provided by Hee Jung Lee Hee Jung, a graduate of Biblical Theological Seminary, serves at Catalyst Agape Church (New Jersey) along with her husband Pastor Sam Lee.  They have four beautiful daughters.

 

Devotional Thoughts for Today

Jeremiah 31:3-6

The Lord has appeared of old to me, saying: “Yes, I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore with lovingkindness I have drawn you. Again I will build you, and you shall be rebuilt, O virgin of Israel! You shall again be adorned with your tambourines, and shall go forth in the dances of those who rejoice. You shall yet plant vines on the mountains of Samaria; the planters shall plant and eat them as ordinary food.  For there shall be a day when the watchmen will cry on Mount Ephraim, ‘Arise, and let us go up to Zion, to the Lord our God.’

Perhaps every young girl dreams of a chivalrous man who would one day woo her and sweep her off of her feet with a story of happily ever after. This is often the fairy tale we see in films, and it appeals to the heart because deep inside everyone (men and women) is longing to be loved in such a way. This longing of love is to be desired, chased after, and unconditionally committed to. The truth is that we need not long for it, because we are already receptors of such a fascinating love.

Over and over again, the Word of God assures us of this most chivalrous love for us. “Yes, I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore with lovingkindness I have drawn you. Again I will build you, and you shall be rebuilt, O virgin of Israel!” (vv.3-4). When Prophet Jeremiah spoke these words, the Israelites were in a great state of bondage and dryness. They appeared to be a desolate people that others could look upon and mock as if their God had forsaken them. Yet the Lord’s love had never departed them, and He makes known His intentions that His plan of rebuilding them is in motion, working on their behalf.

Perhaps as you are reading this today, you are in a similar state of feeling of dryness and desolation. If this is the case, let God reveal His heart towards you with His Truth as He spoke it to the people of Israel. He loves you with a love that goes on into eternity until the day you see Him face to face. His lovingkindness is over your life, and God will allow His kindness to be greatly evident over you as He is working in your life to bring you into a place of gladness and rejoicing. The key is to allow the Word of God to dictate what is reality over you rather than the feelings or the circumstances at hand. As you position your inner man to the superior realities of His Truth, you are positioning yourself to receive and permitting the Lord to deposit His love into you.

So be greatly encouraged and hopeful that God has His eye on you, and that His unfailing love will be made evident in your life more and more!

Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank You for speaking of Your love to me today! Thank You that nothing can separate me from this incredible love of Yours. I recognize that Your plan over me is to bring me into a greater experience of Your love and into every good thing that has been prepared for me. Thank You for such a great promise that is at work on my behalf! In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Bible Reading for Today: Esther 10


Lunch Break Study

Read Romans 8:38-39:  For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Questions to Consider

  1. How has your love meter with God been lately? Meaning, are you feeling loved by God? Are you loving towards others?
  2. What are the benefits to having a clear promise and truth available to you, versus using your feelings as evidence of another’s affections towards you?
  3. Why is knowing that you are loved without fail so important to your well-being?

Notes

  1. One way to gauge whether we are full in God’s love towards us is by our capacity to love others, especially in their low points. In 1 John 4:19, it says, “We love because He first loved us.” When our hearts have been broken free into receiving this truth, then we find a more natural tendency to manifest God’s character as well as find His love channeled in our thinking and behavior.  Being loved by God, loving God, and loving others are all interconnected and inseparable.
  2. Feelings are not necessarily truth. God has provided us His clear Word in order that we would have a concrete meter by which we can gauge what is reality and what is not. It is to our great comfort that God assures us of His unfailing affections regardless of ourselves.
  3. We were created for relationship—relationship with God and others. The health of our spirit, soul, and body depend on the health of these two factors. Real love that God provides as defined in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 satisfies the soul and sustains the body in extreme health.

Evening Reflection

We began the day by considering how committed God is in His love for us. How were you able to carry this truth in your heart today? How did it affect how you approached your day?

August 19, Sunday

The AMI QT Devotionals from August 13-19 are provided by Pastor Barry Kang, who heads Symphony Church in Boston.  Barry, a graduate of Stanford University and Fuller Theological Seminary (M.Div.), is married to Sunny (an amazing worship leader, chef, and math wizard). They are the proud parents of Caleb and Micah.

 

Devotional Thought for Today

“Which prophet to believe?”

Jeremiah 29:24-32

To Shemaiah of Nehelam you shall say: 25 “Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: You have sent letters in your name to all the people who are in Jerusalem, and to Zephaniah the son of Maaseiah the priest, and to all the priests, saying, 26 ‘The Lord has made you priest instead of Jehoiada the priest, to have charge in the house of the Lord over every madman who prophesies, to put him in the stocks and neck irons. 27 Now why have you not rebuked Jeremiah of Anathoth who is prophesying to you? 28 For he has sent to us in Babylon, saying, “Your exile will be long; build houses and live in them, and plant gardens and eat their produce.” ’ ”  29 Zephaniah the priest read this letter in the hearing of Jeremiah the prophet. 30 Then the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah: 31 “Send to all the exiles, saying, ‘Thus says the Lord concerning Shemaiah of Nehelam: Because Shemaiah had prophesied to you when I did not send him, and has made you trust in a lie, 32 therefore thus says the Lord: Behold, I will punish Shemaiah of Nehelam and his descendants. He shall not have anyone living among this people, and he shall not see the good that I will do to my people, declares the Lord, for he has spoken rebellion against the Lord.’ ”

When we read the Bible, it is fairly easy to discern between the true and false prophets.  In this passage, the true prophet is the one that has a book in the Bible named after him.  But for the people of Judah, whether exiled in Babylon or scatter elsewhere, it must have been more difficult.  Which prophet to believe?

Shemaiah, one of the so-called prophets in Babylon, was scandalized by Jeremiah’s prophesies.  Shemaiah wrote to Zephaniah the high priest in Jerusalem, asking why he had not imprisoned Jeremiah yet, for in his mind, Jeremiah was the false prophet.  Zephaniah showed Jeremiah this letter, who in turn (at God’s direction) wrote a letter to the exiles in Babylon saying that Shemaiah was in fact the false prophet.  Who to believe?

This is a dilemma we still face today.  When two respected persons of God stand on different sides of an issue, who do you trust?  I would suggest three tests:

First, how does their prophecy/teaching align with Scripture?  The Holy Spirit does not contradict Himself.  The Holy Spirit inspired Scripture and also directs prophecy.  Jeremiah’s prophecies may have been unwelcome news for the exiles, but it aligned with the greater prophetic narrative that God had been telling through different trusted prophets, such as Isaiah.  In Acts 17:11, we see the positive example of the Berean Jews who believed in Paul’s message as they compared it to their examination of Scripture.  If you want to know which prophet to believe, begin with knowing your Bible!

Second, what is their fruit?  In Deuteronomy 18:21-22, God anticipates the question of how to discern between true and false prophets.  He declares:

And if you say in your heart, ‘How may we know the word that the Lord has not spoken?’— 22 when a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that the Lord has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously. You need not be afraid of him. (Deut 18:21-22)

If the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that the Lord has not spoken. For the exiles, it would soon become evident which prophet was true or false.  One set of prophets declared that God would bring them out of Babylon within a matter of two years.  Jeremiah stood alone saying that it would be much longer.  Within two years, it would become apparent that Jeremiah was the true prophet.  Sometimes we cannot discern immediately whether a prophet is true or false.  It will take patience

Jesus told us in Matthew 7:15-20 that we would recognize false prophets by their fruit.  Do their words come to pass?  Does their message align with Scripture? Does their character and actions exhibit the Kingdom and gospel values?  Do their prophecies and actions advance the Kingdom of God?

Third, pray.  This is as important for the would-be prophet as well as the hearer.  How do you know that you have heard correctly from the Lord if someone else is speaking the exact opposite message?  We need to pray.  Prophecy is speaking the words that God commands us to speak. In the book of Jeremiah, the word of the Lord came often to Jeremiah.   Unless we are hearing from the Lord, it is not true prophecy.  In the book of Jeremiah, the word of the Lord came often to Jeremiah (e.g. Jeremiah 29:30).  When you hear from God in times of prayer, you will be able to discern between true and false prophecy.

Prayer: Lord, raise up true prophets for our day in every church.  Help us to live in the power and presence of Your Spirit!  We want to hear from You and be used by You to speak to others.    In Jesus’ name, we pray.  Amen.

Bible Reading for Today: Esther 9

August 18, Saturday

The AMI QT Devotionals from August 13-19 are provided by Pastor Barry Kang, who heads Symphony Church in Boston.  Barry, a graduate of Stanford University and Fuller Theological Seminary (M.Div.), is married to Sunny (an amazing worship leader, chef, and math wizard). They are the proud parents of Caleb and Micah.

 

Devotional Thought for Today

“Sexual Sin and False Prophecy”

Jeremiah 29:20-23

Hear the word of the Lord, all you exiles whom I sent away from Jerusalem to Babylon: 21 ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, concerning Ahab the son of Kolaiah and Zedekiah the son of Maaseiah, who are prophesying a lie to you in my name: Behold, I will deliver them into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, and he shall strike them down before your eyes. 22 Because of them this curse shall be used by all the exiles from Judah in Babylon: “The Lord make you like Zedekiah and Ahab, whom the king of Babylon roasted in the fire,” 23 because they have done an outrageous thing in Israel, they have committed adultery with their neighbors’ wives, and they have spoken in my name lying words that I did not command them. I am the one who knows, and I am witness, declares the Lord.’ ”

Ahab (the son of Kolajah) and Zedekiah (the son of Maaseiah) were members of the Jewish exilic community in Babylon who were thought to be prophets.  While we don’t know exactly what they were prophesying, from the context, it seems as though they were prophesying that God’s judgment was over and that things were now going to be okay. Perhaps they were encouraging the exiles to rebel against the Babylonian authorities and to trust that God would bring them back to Jerusalem safely.  Whatever the case, God not only rebukes them, He also sets them apart as an example of His judgment.  Jeremiah prophesies that they will be burned in the fire by Nebuchadnezzar—a common punishment in those days (cf. Daniel 3:19-20)—and their names will be used as a curse: “The Lord make you like Zedekiah and Ahab, whom the king of Babylon roasted in the fire”!

We are given two reasons for this condemnation in verse 23.  The first reason (mentioned second) has been a theme for the past two chapters of Jeremiah—namely, Ahab and Zedekiah have been falsely prophesying.

The other reason is startling and also so very tragically normal.  We learn that Zedekiah and Ahab have also been committing adultery with their neighbors’ wives (v.23).  What is it with people who are supposedly representing God and sexual sin?  The revelation of their sin is startling because it comes out of the blue in the context of Jeremiah 29.  Yet, in the world we find ourselves in, this revelation is tragically too common.

I do not believe it is a mere coincidence that these two sins are linked together.  False prophecy and sexual sins are related symptoms of a deeper-rooted problem.  One does not cause the other, and they do not always go together; however, both are symptomatic of a heart that no longer fears God. We could speculate at length as to why Ahab and Zedekiah prophesied what they did.  Perhaps they sincerely believed that God would protect and guard Israel; in other words, their theology was more important than actually hearing from God.  Perhaps they enjoyed the attention and appreciation they received from the exiles who no doubt were encouraged by their positive and yet false prophecies.  Whatever the motivation, it seems they had lost their reverence and fear of God.  I suggest they were now prophesying in the flesh rather than in the Spirit.  And when leaders operate in the flesh, it shouldn’t surprise us then to see the same people acting in more overtly fleshly ways—namely sexual sin.

Jeremiah 29:23 is a warning to us all (not just leaders).  Sexual sin brings the word of God into disrepute and those who commit this sin lose credibility.  They may be seen as false prophets, even if they have actually been preaching the true gospel.  For the credibility of the gospel, we need to run from sexual sin.

But if the root cause is a heart that no longer fears God, then the solution to sexual sin is not just more accountability or boundaries or self-control.  Rather, the solution is to immerse ourselves into the gospel and develop a greater understanding of grace, which doesn’t just excuse our sins and leaves us in the flesh but moves us into the Spirit and a reverence and awe of God!

Prayer: Lord, we mourn for the disrepute sexual sin has brought to the church and also to Your name.  We want to long for Your glory more and more.  We ask that You help us to focus our righteous indignation not only upon Christian leaders but also upon our own hearts—that our hearts would be filled with mourning for the necessity of Your sacrifice on the cross, and also with joy at our newfound identity in You.  Fill us with Your spirit that we may awe You and love You more and more.  In Jesus’ name, we pray.  Amen.

Bible Reading for Today: Esther 7-8

August 17, Friday

The AMI QT Devotionals from August 13-19 are provided by Pastor Barry Kang, who heads Symphony Church in Boston.  Barry, a graduate of Stanford University and Fuller Theological Seminary (M.Div.), is married to Sunny (an amazing worship leader, chef, and math wizard). They are the proud parents of Caleb and Micah.

 

Devotional Thought for Today

“God’s plans are for our good!”

Jeremiah 29:11-14

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. 12 Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. 13 You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you, declares the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.

Let’s review the circumstances of the Jewish exiles in Babylon:

  • Israel had been living in rebellion against God for centuries, ignoring prophet after prophet who urged them to turn back to the Lord.
  • Finally, God uses Babylon as a means of disciplining Israel. Babylon conquers Jerusalem and destroys the temple.
  • The elites of Jerusalem were uprooted and brought to live in Babylon by their captors.
  • Prophets in Jerusalem and Babylon begin to prophesy that God will bring the exiles back soon and they just need hold on for a little longer. But God, through Jeremiah, categorically denies that these prophets are from Him.
  • Instead, Jeremiah tells the exiles that God wants them to get used to living in Babylon (the enemy state) and even start caring for Babylon (again the enemy).
  • Instead of two years, it will be seventy years before they return. Many of the current exiles hearing this message will not be alive then.

It seems like it’s all bad news so far.  The Jewish exiles were not where they wanted to be, they were not doing what they wanted to be doing, and the when of God’s plan didn’t match their timing.  Then in verse 11, God tells His people that in all of this, He has a plan—a  plan to prosper them, not to harm them, a plan to give them a future and a hope.  His plan was in operation—not in spite of all the bad stuff, but even through the bad stuff.  And this is true for us as well.  God has a plan for us—a plan to prosper us, not to harm us.  A plan for our future and to give us hope.   Sometimes our circumstances may suggest otherwise to our limited perspectives, but the truth is always that God has a plan, and it is always for our ultimate good!  God’s cosmic plan saw its peak in the death and resurrection of Jesus, which means that we don’t have to worry about our tomorrows, because Christ holds that tomorrow in His hands.  Let us seek to submit our plans—all the when’s, where’s, and what’s—to Him today!

Prayer: Father, we thank You for Your love and plan to pour grace and truth into our lives.  No matter our circumstances, help us to trust that Your hands are around us.  I want to be surrendered to Your control, Your timing, and to Your will, knowing that Your ultimate goal is for our welfare.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Bible Reading for Today: Esther 6


Lunch Break Study

Read Romans 8:28-31: And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. 31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?

Questions to Consider

  1. For whom does Paul say “all things work together for good”?
  2. What kind of “good” do you think Paul is talking about here?
  3. What does passage tell us about the purpose to which we are called (vv. 29-30)?

Notes

  1. Romans 8:28 tells us that the Holy Spirit (c.f. Romans 8:26-27) will work all things for good for “those who love God,” who are also “called according to his purposes.” This is not a general promise of ambiguous good for all people, but specifically for those who love God and live according to His will.
  2. Again, the Bible does not promise general, subjective good for all people. The “good” here in context is our “ultimate good” or “true good”; it cannot mean anything we might see as good, such as pleasure or fame or fulfilled personal ambition.  Rather, the “good” flows out of God’s good purposes.
  3. Romans 8:29-30 tells us that God purposes us through His plan to become like Christ. We are also to become part of one family with Christ as the oldest brother.  Finally, God’s purpose is that we would be justified (i.e. declared “not guilty”) and also glorified!

Evening Reflection

Part of trusting in God’s plans requires that we redefine what we consider to be “good.” Let us reflect upon what we desire (consider to be good) and compare it to what God considers good.  Can we surrender and adopt new definitions of good if necessary?  Journal your meditations.

August 16, Thursday

The AMI QT Devotionals from August 13-19 are provided by Pastor Barry Kang, who heads Symphony Church in Boston.  Barry, a graduate of Stanford University and Fuller Theological Seminary (M.Div.), is married to Sunny (an amazing worship leader, chef, and math wizard). They are the proud parents of Caleb and Micah.

 

Devotional Thought for Today

“God is in control: in His timing”

Jeremiah 29:7

“For thus says the Lord: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place.

During my senior year in college, I was in the throes of looking for a job after graduation.  My recruitment had not been going well relative to many of my peers who already had offers, when I received an unusual offer.  The recruiter called and explained that the company had already completed its recruitment and all of their offers had been accepted for the year, but they really liked me and wanted me for the following year. She light-heartedly suggested that I could go back-packing in Europe while I waited.  I was flattered but quickly and firmly told her no.  One year was far too long to wait; I wanted to get started on my career now.

The exiles in Babylon had been hoping to get back to Jerusalem within a couple of years.  They grasped unto prophets who declared such things (cf. Jeremiah 28).  Instead, God told them to get comfortable in Babylon and actually start investing in Babylon!  Now the news was going to get worse.  Seventy years!  As a 21-year old, I didn’t like the idea of waiting one year.  For the exiles, it would take seventy years before God would bring them home.

God’s plans run on God’s timing.  We have to know that.  His timing is not the same as our timing.  Because his perspective is different than our perspective.  Now that I’ve doubled my age from when I was in college, I have a very different perspective on that one year I declined to take off.  Seventy years may seem like a long time, but not when we view it from the lens of eternity (which we will have).  This morning, let us seek to trust in God’s timing for His plans!

Prayer: Father, with my finite perspective, I can be so impatient.  I ask for Your forgiveness for that impatience.  I want to trust in Your timing because I know You have a perfect perspective.  As I understand this more and more, help me to be faithful today and tomorrow and every day after that, because no matter how long I wait, I know that Your timing is best!   In Jesus name, Amen.

Bible Reading for Today: Esther 5


Lunch Break Study

Read James 4:13-16: Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— 14 yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. 15 Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” 16 As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.

Questions to Consider

  1. What is the fallacy that James is warning us against? Why is this foolishness (the opposite of wisdom)?
  2. What, instead, should be our approach?
  3. To what extent are you living for your own plans and timing versus the plans and the timing of God?

Notes

  1. James warns us against the foolishness of making plans apart from God. This is foolishness since even tomorrow is not promised to us.  We are not in control of our futures and we are not even ultimately in control of our lives.  To live as though we can be fully in control is to ignore the reality that we are actually not in control.
  2. Our approach, instead, should be to trust in God who is in control, and seek His will to be done rather than our own. In the end, this is the wise and sensible approach to life.
  3. Please take some time to reflect upon these questions.

Evening Reflection

To what extent are you submitting to the plans and timing of God versus your own?  What is God asking you to surrender?  Where is He asking you to be patient?  Please journal your meditations.

August 15, Wednesday

DEVOTIONAL THOUGHT FOR TODAY

“Who is in Control?”

Jeremiah 29:8-9

For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Do not let your prophets and your diviners who are among you deceive you, and do not listen to the dreams that they dream, for it is a lie that they are prophesying to you in my name; I did not send them, declares the Lord.

Jeremiah has been delivering some not so great news to a people who really could have used some encouragement. The Jewish exiles in Babylon were in a city where everything—the food, culture, buildings—all screamed, “Not home”! They were in Babylon because Jerusalem had been brutally conquered and ransacked, and the temple was destroyed. The royal line of David was seemingly no more. Good news in their context might have been news that Babylon was going to be punished by God, or that they would be able to return home soon.

And as we read last week, some prophets did in fact prophesy this very thing. But God makes it very clear that the good news that they are prophesying (that they would be able to return to Jerusalem in two years) was not actually from Him.

The very enterprise of prophecy requires some assumptions: first, that there is a God who can speak to us; and second, that this God is in control. While we know this, we allow our cultural, theological biases and personal needs and ambitions to skew how we hear, read and understand the will of God. We often read what we want to read, hear what we want to hear, and see what we want to see. The Jewish exiles chose to listen to these lies, because the prophets were prophesying what the exiles wanted to hear. In turn, the prophets might have been prophesying what they thought the exiles wanted to hear. When we do that, we unconsciously put ourselves, our needs, thoughts and desires, in control.

God is quite clear—He is in control and we are not. There is good news coming for the exiles (we’ll see this later in Jeremiah 29), but it’s only truly good news if it’s actually coming from the God who is in control. False prophets tell us what we want to hear; true prophets tell us what God wants us to hear.

Prayer: Father, I want to hear truly from You. As I read Your word and spend time in prayer, I ask that I would be hearing what You want me to hear, even if it doesn’t seem like good news in that moment. Give me discernment! I want to do Your will, not mine. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Bible Reading for Today: Esther 4

 


LUNCH BREAK STUDY

Read 2 Timothy 4:1-5: I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: 2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. 3 For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, 4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. 5 As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.

Questions to Consider

  1. What does it mean “to be ready in season and out of season” to preach the word?
  2. Looking at verse 3, what is a constant danger that people will fall into?
  3. How does Paul encourage us to handle this challenge?

Notes

  1. This means being ready to preach the word regardless of circumstances. Whatever we may feel we are going through, we need to be ready to preach the word, rather than to pursue teaching the things that just suits our needs or desires. As Jeremiah experienced, sometimes God’s word seem contrary to our needs, but still, we are called to preach His word, knowing that it truly is good, regardless of the season.
  2. People often just want to hear what they want to hear. Paul says that people will surround themselves with voices that affirm everything they do. We do not like to be challenged, because it disrupts our comfort. This is a challenge for us as well. What voices are we listening to? Do we ever listen to voices that challenge us in different ways? May we become a people who humbly listen to voices that challenge us in our blind spots!
  3. Paul says to “be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.” There is a focus that is required to endure suffering. If our goal is our own comfort, we will be swayed by all voices that affirm our comfort. But when our goal is to pursue Christ, regardless of circumstance, we can endure suffering because we know that it is only temporary. We can see past the short-term pain and see the long-term joy we have with Jesus.

 


EVENING REFLECTION  

Do you seek to control God or are you surrendered to His ways? Is your obedience or faith at all conditional upon certain circumstances or outcomes? Let’s seek to surrender those to the Lord today!

August 14, Tuesday

The AMI QT Devotionals from August 13-19 are provided by Pastor Barry Kang, who heads Symphony Church in Boston.  Barry, a graduate of Stanford University and Fuller Theological Seminary (M.Div.), is married to Sunny (an amazing worship leader, chef, and math wizard). They are the proud parents of Caleb and Micah.

 

Devotional Thought for Today

“Do I care about the city?”

Jeremiah 29:7

But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.

If we read God’s message to the Jewish exiles in Babylon in Jeremiah 29:1-6 and stopped there, we might think that God was telling Israel to make the most of a bad situation: “You’re going to be here for a while, so make yourself comfortable.”  This, in itself, would have been bad news, especially the news that they were going to be in exile for a while. But verse 7 changes everything!

It was one thing to tell the exiles that they were going to be in Babylon longer than they expected or hoped—but now God was telling them to care about Babylon also! This was like telling Jonah to pray and work for the welfare of Ninevah, or telling Palestinians to pray and work for the welfare of Israel, or telling U.C. Berkeley grads to work for and pray for the welfare of Stanford University!

But what if God is asking us to actually care about and for people we don’t want to care about?  What if He’s asking us to care for people who we may feel are like our enemies?  What if He’s asking us to care for the city in which we live (assuming you live in a city)?  I asked “what ifs,” but of course, these aren’t hypothetical questions—because God loves the world and He is asking us to care about the people around us!

Prayer: Father, I want to learn to pray for my city and its welfare.  Show me today aspects of Your will for where I live. Teach me to love my neighbors (even the ones I don’t like) as myself and to know that in their welfare, I will also find mine.  In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Bible Reading for Today: Esther 3


Lunch Break Study

Read Jonah 4: But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry. And he prayed to the Lord and said, “O Lord, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster. Therefore now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.” And the Lord said, “Do you do well to be angry?”Jonah went out of the city and sat to the east of the city and made a booth for himself there. He sat under it in the shade, till he should see what would become of the city. Now the Lord God appointed a plant and made it come up over Jonah, that it might be a shade over his head, to save him from his discomfort. So Jonah was exceedingly glad because of the plant. But when dawn came up the next day, God appointed a worm that attacked the plant, so that it withered. When the sun rose, God appointed a scorching east wind, and the sun beat down on the head of Jonah so that he was faint. And he asked that he might die and said, “It is better for me to die than to live.” But God said to Jonah, “Do you do well to be angry for the plant?” And he said, “Yes, I do well to be angry, angry enough to die.” 10 And the Lord said, “You pity the plant, for which you did not labor, nor did you make it grow, which came into being in a night and perished in a night. 11 And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?

Questions to Consider

  1. Compare Jonah 4:2 with Exodus 34:6-7. What do you think Jonah is accusing God of, and why is Jonah so angry?
  2. Why do you think God grew a plant to give shade to Jonah?
  3. What is the lesson that God wants to teach Jonah?

Notes

  1. You may have noticed that Jonah repeats the description that God gives of himself, but omits “but who will by no means clear the guilty….” Jonah is accusing God of being big on grace but soft on justice.  Jonah is angry that God has chosen to forgive Nineveh instead of destroying them.
  2. God grew the plant as a way of giving Jonah something to care for.
  3. God wants to teach Jonah that everything is worthy of his care and mercy. Jonah was upset when a plant that gave him shade was destroyed, but God wanted him to see how much more precious were the many people of Nineveh.  

Evening Reflection

What is the state of your heart in regards to the city in which you live?  What do you love?  What do you hate?  Are you thinking about your long-term impact?  How is God asking you to pray for the city?  Please journal your meditations.