January 22, Monday

Kate Moon, our AMI missionary in E. Asia, will provide our QT Devotional for January 22-29.

 

 

Devotional Thoughts for Today

Genesis 39:1-5: 1 Now Joseph had been taken down to Egypt. Potiphar, an Egyptian who was one of Pharaoh’s officials, the captain of the guard, bought him from the Ishmaelites who had taken him there. 2 The Lord was with Joseph so that he prospered, and he lived in the house of his Egyptian master. 3 When his master saw that the Lord was with him and that the Lord gave him success in everything he did, 4 Joseph found favor in his eyes and became his attendant. Potiphar put him in charge of his household, and he entrusted to his care everything he owned. 5 From the time he put him in charge of his household and of all that he owned, the Lord blessed the household of the Egyptian because of Joseph. The blessing of the Lord was on everything Potiphar had, both in the house and in the field.

Pat* had been hired by a team leader he felt valued and respected by, but three months into his new job, this leader left the company—and his new supervisor was a terror. Everything Pat did seemed to irritate his new supervisor, who often demeaned him in front of his teammates. He was unhappy but couldn’t change jobs for at least another year, since it wouldn’t look good on his resumé. Have you ever felt stuck in a bad situation through circumstances not under your control?

(*Names, characters and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.)

At 17, Joseph begins his young adult life in just such a manner. The first verse of this chapter states twice how Joseph ended up in Egypt, both times highlighting that it was not of his own accord: He had been “taken down to Egypt” by Ishmaelites who had “taken him there.” He was in a bad situation through circumstances beyond his control, and at this point, he had several choices as to how he could react: 1) blame others (his brothers for selling him, his father for favoring him) and become either an angry, bitter person or lost in self-pity; 2) blame himself (“If only I hadn’t told them about the dreams,” or “If only I hadn’t worn that coat so often,”) and become lost in a sea of regret; or 3) rebel by being passive-aggressive—not doing his best on the job. He may very well have gone through all of these phases in his heart, but it looks like in the end, the choice he made was this: to trust God and do his work according to godly principles. How do we know? Because the text says that God blessed everything that Joseph did.

Are you currently in an unfavorable situation at work or home because of circumstances beyond your control? Such situations are truly difficult and frustrating to be in, but what choice will you make today?

Prayer: Lord, I accept that I cannot be in control of all things and say that I trust that You are still at work, even in unfavorable situations in my life. Would you help me to be faithful in honoring you and so to experience you in the midst of it all? In your name I pray. Amen.

Bible Reading for Today:  Numbers 9


Lunch Break Study

Read the following passages: Genesis 1:26-28: 26 Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” 27 So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. 28 God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

Genesis 12:1-3: 1 The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you. 2 “I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”

Questions to Consider

  1. Why did God create human beings? For what role or purpose? (1:26, 28)
  2. Why did God set apart a certain group of people? In what position are they in relation to all other people? (12:2, 3b)
  3. In what ways do you see Joseph’s life fulfilling the two passages above, even as he found himself in an unfavorable situation? How do these verses and his example challenge you?

Notes

  1. To rule over all created things (v.26), under God’s authority, at his command, with his blessing (v. 28). To be God’s stewards over all creation.
  2. To receive God’s blessing and become a blessing to all people.
  3. Joseph managed well what was given to him and became a blessing to another people. To be a faithful steward and a blessing to others, even under circumstances I may not love, is to fulfill my fundamental calling as a human being and one who is of the people of God.

Evening Reflection

Reflect on these questions: Did anything happen today to place me in a situation not of my own choosing (i.e., not under my control)? How did I choose to handle or react to being in such a situation? Did I manage faithfully what God entrusted me with today? Did I bless others today?

January 21, Sunday

The AMI QT devotionals from Jan. 15-21 are provided by Cami King. Cami, a graduate of University of Pennsylvania and Gordon Conwell Seminary (M.Div.), is currently serving as a staff at Journey Community Church in Raleigh.

 

 

Devotional Thoughts for Today

TAMAR | ANYTHING BUT A PROSTITUTE

Genesis 38:24-30

After three months Judah was told, “Your daughter-in-law Tamar has turned to prostitution, and as a result she has become pregnant.” Judah said, “Bring her out and let her be burned!” 25 While they were bringing her out, she sent word to her father-in-law: “I am pregnant by the man to whom these belong.” Then she said, “Identify the one to whom the seal, cord, and staff belong.” 26 Judah recognized them and said, “She is more upright than I am, because I wouldn’t give her to Shelah my son.” He did not have sexual relations with her again. 27 When it was time for her to give birth, there were twins in her womb. 28 While she was giving birth, one child put out his hand, and the midwife took a scarlet thread and tied it on his hand, saying, “This one came out first.” 29 But then he drew back his hand, and his brother came out before him. She said, “How you have broken out of the womb!” So he was named Perez. 30 Afterward his brother came out—the one who had the scarlet thread on his hand—and he was named Zerah.

I can’t tell you how many times over the years that I’ve heard Tamar characterized as a prostitute. Tamar was not a prostitute. She, through levirate marriage laws (see Thursday’s QT), was legally entitled to a son from the family into which she was married—first from her husband, then his brothers, and finally her father-in-law. Although it seems icky to us today, this was their custom. Judah was ultimately responsible for Tamar because he brought her into his family and under his covering (remember they lived in a patriarchal society). And he failed (big fat F!) to care for her. He sent her back to her own people to live as a widow (i.e. as a woman who has no one to care for her).

Furthermore, the text doesn’t suggest that Tamar prostituted regularly. If anything it suggests the opposite (v. 21). Instead, Tamar was forced to devise a plan (vv. 12-26) and reduced to disguising herself as a prostitute to have even the slightest chance of bearing a son—a chance to which she was legally entitled. Tamar thus broke no laws. She didn’t sleep around; she slept with Judah. She wasn’t promiscuous; she was strategic. And at the end of the day, Judah honored her by calling her righteous and God honored her with two sons—a common theme in the Old Testament (God honored women by giving what brought the most honor in their culture—children).

Tamar, the discarded Cannanite woman who was brought into this mess of a dysfunctional family and under the covering of a rebellious member of the people of God (Judah wasn’t even following the laws of God in the first place!), risked it all and, in so doing, single-handedly preserved the family line through which the Messiah would ultimately come (see Matthew 1:3).

I would be remiss if I didn’t draw our attention to the themes so freely discussed in this text –namely human trafficking and exploitation and its devastating effects on the vulnerable. If God includes these topics in God’s Holy Text, shouldn’t we be mindful of them as God’s Holy People? God is a God who covenantally loves the broken, people conditioned by and bound up in sinful systems and corrupt cultures, people like you and me. The people of God were (and are) not such because their way of life was perfect or even as God desired. They were God’s because God chose them. That’s it. And God worked within, around, and even against their broken systems for the good of the righteous and for the glory of His name. God hasn’t changed. So may we, God’s people, be His hands and feet in doing likewise in our world today.

Prayer: Gracious God, You have revealed Yourself to us in Your Word, and for that, I am thankful. The Bible is just not only a collection of stories from long ago, it is a picture of how You do life with broken people. Help me to learn from the success and failure of those who’ve gone before me. Make me part of the redemptive work You are doing in the world. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Bible Reading for Today:  Numbers 8

January 20, Saturday

The AMI QT devotionals from Jan. 15-21 are provided by Cami King. Cami, a graduate of University of Pennsylvania and Gordon Conwell Seminary (M.Div.), is currently serving as a staff at Journey Community Church in Raleigh.

 

 

Devotional Thoughts for Today

JUDAH | NOT RIGHTEOUS, BUT REDEEMED

Genesis 38:11-26

Then Judah said to his daughter-in-law Tamar, “Live as a widow in your father’s house until Shelah my son grows up.” For he thought, “I don’t want him to die like his brothers.” So Tamar went and lived in her father’s house. 12 After some time Judah’s wife, the daughter of Shua, died. After Judah was consoled, he left for Timnah to visit his sheepshearers, along with his friend Hirah the Adullamite. 13 Tamar was told, “Look, your father-in-law is going up to Timnah to shear his sheep.” 14 So she removed her widow’s clothes and covered herself with a veil. She wrapped herself and sat at the entrance to Enaim which is on the way to Timnah. (She did this because she saw that she had not been given to Shelah as a wife, even though he had now grown up.) 15 When Judah saw her, he thought she was a prostitute because she had covered her face. 16 He turned aside to her along the road and said, “Come on! I want to have sex with you.” (He did not realize it was his daughter-in-law.) She asked, “What will you give me in exchange for having sex with you?” 17 He replied, “I’ll send you a young goat from the flock.” She asked, “Will you give me a pledge until you send it?” 18 He said, “What pledge should I give you?” She replied, “Your seal, your cord, and the staff that’s in your hand.” So he gave them to her and had sex with her. She became pregnant by him. 19 She left immediately, removed her veil, and put on her widow’s clothes. 20 Then Judah had his friend Hirah the Adullamite take a young goat to get back from the woman the items he had given in pledge, but Hirah could not find her. 21 He asked the men who were there, “Where is the cult prostitute who was at Enaim by the road?” But they replied, “There has been no cult prostitute here.” 22 So he returned to Judah and said, “I couldn’t find her. Moreover, the men of the place said, ‘There has been no cult prostitute here.’” 23 Judah said, “Let her keep the things for herself. Otherwise we will appear to be dishonest. I did indeed send this young goat, but you couldn’t find her.”

24 After three months Judah was told, “Your daughter-in-law Tamar has turned to prostitution, and as a result she has become pregnant.” Judah said, “Bring her out and let her be burned!” 25 While they were bringing her out, she sent word to her father-in-law: “I am pregnant by the man to whom these belong.” Then she said, “Identify the one to whom the seal, cord, and staff belong.” 26 Judah recognized them and said, “She is more upright than I am, because I wouldn’t give her to Shelah my son.” He did not have sexual relations with her again. Judah was in a downward spiral when he came into Tamar’s life, but their encounter, while messy and deplorable, is potentially what saved him.

Downward Spiral | First, Judah was a human trafficker—first with Joseph (as he spearheaded Joseph’s sale into slavery—see Gen. 37) and then with Tamar (when he paid to use her body for sex). Second, Judah abandoned his family and married a Canaanite (something Jews were strictly prohibited from doing), a moment eerily reminiscent of Esau’s rebellion in Genesis 28:8. Third, Judah is a dishonorable coward. Instead of taking responsibility for the wicked sons whom he raised, he blames Tamar for their deaths (even though it was God who took their lives due to their evil deeds). And from what we can tell, Judah had no intentions of coming back for Tamar (v.26). Lastly, he was probably less than upright when it came to the ladies. The fact that Tamar devised this specific plan suggests that she was responding to a pattern (whether a pattern specific to him or general to the culture it was likely one in which he participated). What were the odds that Judah, upon seeing a random prostitute at the gates, would ask to go to bed with her? Why would Tamar think he would do this? Probably because she knew what sort of man he was.  And Judah proved her right.

Redemption | What Tamar ultimately did for Judah (and we’ll talk about her actions more tomorrow) was hold up a mirror and show him what sort of man he’d become. She became the site of his shortcomings. When he is told Tamar is with child, he demands she be burned for promiscuity—a crime he, too, was guilty of (and not just generally, but guilty in that specific situation). And he was guilty, with respect to Tamar, of so much more. When he realizes he is the one who impregnated her, when he sees the lengths to which she went to bring forth an heir for his family, when he realized the extent of his failings, Judah has a change in heart. And we know this because of his dealings with Joseph in Egypt just a few chapters later—the one who led the charge to sell Joseph into slavery, later offers himself as a slave in place of Benjamin. It’s easy to think this story with Tamar is a weird interruption to the story of Joseph, but it’s not. Tamar’s mirror is responsible for the change in Judah that made him the kind of man who could fight to save his family.

Praise be to God for those in our lives who hold a mirror before us. May we have the humility to respond as Judah did.

Prayer: Gracious God, thank You for the people in my life who hold a mirror before me so I can see my sin. In those humbling moments, help me to have the courage to look intently into that mirror and the humility to make the necessary changes by the transforming power of Your Spirit at work in me. And through it all, may I become more conformed to the likeness of Your Son, in whose name I pray. Amen.

Bible Reading for Today:  Numbers 6-7

January 19, Friday

The AMI QT devotionals from Jan. 15-21 are provided by Cami King. Cami, a graduate of University of Pennsylvania and Gordon Conwell Seminary (M.Div.), is currently serving as a staff at Journey Community Church in Raleigh.

 

 

Devotional Thoughts for Today

ONAN | SELFISHNESS KILLS

Genesis 38:6-10

Judah acquired a wife for Er his firstborn; her name was Tamar. 7 But Er, Judah’s firstborn, was evil in the Lord’s sight, so the Lord killed him. 8 Then Judah said to Onan, “Have sexual relations with your brother’s wife and fulfill the duty of a brother-in-law to her so that you may raise up a descendant for your brother.” 9 But Onan knew that the child would not be considered his. So whenever he had sexual relations with his brother’s wife, he withdrew prematurely so as not to give his brother a descendant. 10 What he did was evil in the Lord’s sight, so the Lord killed him too.

Have you ever been in an impossible predicament – where all options seem undesirable? In some ways, this is where Onan found himself. I don’t believe Onan deserves defending (God doesn’t seem to think so either – see v.10). However this story could use some contextualization. As the second of three sons, Onan was entitled to one-fourth of his father Judah’s inheritance (his younger brother receiving the same and his older brother receiving double). If Tamar had a son, that son would be entitled to his father’s two-forth portion. With no heirs from Er, Onan was entitled to two-thirds of Judah’s wealth. And so the predicament—fulfill his legal and familial responsibility of giving Tamar children (see yesterday’s Devotional Thought for more info on this), or be disgraced for refusing to do so.

Onan chose (drum roll please)… SELFISHNESS (and in the worst way). Instead of honoring his brother, family, and culture, he chose selfish gain. He chose to allow both his brother’s name and memory to be erased (which would happen with no male heir) and the end of a genealogical line in the family of God, all for a two-thirds inheritance (i.e. he did it for the money). Worst still, instead of being honest about his choice (in which case he still would get the money), instead of being upfront regarding his unwillingness, he feigned honor by repeatedly exploiting Tamar, having sex with her knowing full well she would not conceive. Instead of doing what was required or releasing her so other arrangements could potentially be made for her livelihood, Onan chose cowardice and used her. So God released her (again see v.10).

Sometimes systems are in place that leaves us with unfavorable options. Patriarchy is a system that leaves women completely vulnerable and youths (younger brothers in this instance) over-exposed.  But no matter the system, we always have a choice—to be selfish and exploitative (using systems and others for our own gain) or to be just and loving (working within the system to do what is right and good—or overturning it all together). Onan made his choice and “it was evil in the Lord’s sight.”

Prayer: Almighty God, help me to be a person who chooses to do what is right and good, even when I’m presented with unfavorable options. Give me the courage to not only look to my own interests but also to the interests of others. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Bible Reading for Today:  Numbers 5


Lunch Break Study

Read Philippians 2:1-11: Therefore, if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort provided by love, any fellowship in the Spirit, any affection or mercy, complete my joy and be of the same mind, by having the same love, being united in spirit, and having one purpose. Instead of being motivated by selfish ambition or vanity, each of you should, in humility, be moved to treat one another as more important than yourself. Each of you should be concerned not only about your own interests, but about the interests of others as well. You should have the same attitude toward one another that Christ Jesus had, who though he existed in the form of God did not regard equality with God as something to be grasped, but emptied himself by taking on the form of a slave, by looking like other men, and by sharing in human nature. He humbled himself, by becoming obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross! As a result God highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow—in heaven and on earth and under the earth—11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.

Questions to Consider

  1. What do you think it means “to be moved to treat others as more important than yourself”? Why do you think Paul gives these instructions?
  2. In v.4 Paul does not say that we should not have any concern for our own interests. Instead, he says that we should also look to the interests of others. How does this challenge or align with how you typically think of considering others (loving and serving others)?
  3. What would it mean for you to “have the same attitude… that Christ Jesus had”? What are some practical ways you could follow Jesus’ example in the specific relationships in your life?

Notes

  1. Whatever considering others better than ourselves means, it is set up as the opposite to being motivated by selfish ambition (doing things purely for our own gain) and vanity (self-absorption). In most of my relationships, I have found that self-absorption is something people do unintentionally and absent-mindedly. People are naturally self-absorbed (some more than others). Therefore, it requires intentionality and an explicitly command to lead us to the kind of love and rationality God calls us to as believers. Yes, self-absorption is natural, and selfishness is what we naturally pursue as an ultimate gain, but God calls us to a better way. And from Jesus we see that as we consider others, we too are blessed. In their gain is our gain!
  2. Oftentimes, Christian love is characterized as something that is utterly selfless. So much so that I’ve found in ministry (and in my own life) it difficult to convince Christians to do simple things for the purpose of self-care or basic self-sustenance. Paul reminds us that our interests are not wholly unimportant; they are just not singular and ultimate. We also have others to consider.
  3. Spend some time in personal reflection.

Evening Reflection

What are some of the specific areas or relationships in your life where your tendency toward selfishness (pursuit of selfish gain or absentminded self absorption) is harmful to the people around you? Ask God for discernment and clarity and for ways to you can practically look also to the interests of others. Consider asking those closest to you (your closest friends, family members, coworkers—those with whom you do life regularly) to help you answer these questions as well.

January 18, Thursday

The AMI QT devotionals from Jan. 15-21 are provided by Cami King. Cami, a graduate of University of Pennsylvania and Gordon Conwell Seminary (M.Div.), is currently serving as a staff at Journey Community Church in Raleigh.

 

 

Devotional Thoughts for Today

“A SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS?”

Genesis 38:1-10

At that time Judah left his brothers and stayed with an Adullamite man named Hirah. 2 There Judah saw the daughter of a Canaanite man named Shua. Judah acquired her as a wife and had marital relations with her. 3 She became pregnant and had a son. Judah named him Er. 4 She became pregnant again and had another son, whom she named Onan. 5 Then she had yet another son, whom she named Shelah. She gave birth to him in Kezib. 6 Judah acquired a wife for Er his firstborn; her name was Tamar. 7 But Er, Judah’s firstborn, was evil in the Lord’s sight, so the Lord killed him. 8 Then Judah said to Onan, “Have sexual relations with your brother’s wife and fulfill the duty of a brother-in-law to her so that you may raise up a descendant for your brother.” 9 But Onan knew that the child would not be considered his. So whenever he had sexual relations with his brother’s wife, he withdrew prematurely so as not to give his brother a descendant. 10 What he did was evil in the Lord’s sight, so the Lord killed him too.

We will spend the next few days unpacking this dark and difficult chapter of Genesis. But first, we need context.

Judah, Joseph’s jealous brother who spearheaded his sale into slavery, moves away, marries, and has sons. The eldest grows up and marries. Yet he does evil and God takes his life. (We can only imagine what he must have done!) There was a common practice in the Ancient Near East (i.e. back in OT days) called Levirate marriage. In a society where it would have been forbidden for a woman to re-marry outside the clan and where women were utterly dependent upon the men in their family (father/husband/son – in that order) for protection and sustenance, in the event that a woman became a widow but had no sons, her husband’s brother was required to marry her and bring forth a male child. Think of this not only as a way to propagate the family name (which was important), but also as a kind of life insurance policy for the widow— ensuring her care and protection.  This is what is happening in the verses above.

Like I said, we’ll unpack all this in the days ahead, but for today I want to summarize some things this chapter teaches us. We see in this story of Tamar and the family of Judah just how vulnerable women were in the Ancient Near East (and arguably still are in many parts of the world today). We are reminded that there are often structures in society that leave certain people over-exposed.  We see just how selfish, broken, sinful, and downright evil people can be—even those called the people of God. We are reminded that the Bible is not a compilation of stories about heroes—not Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and certainly not Judah. There is only one hero–God. And this God works good even in our sin and is present with us even in abuse. We are reminded that God is indeed El Roi (“the God who sees” [Gen. 16:3]), and that our All-Seeing God also cares deeply (enough to avenge the mistreated and to preserve this story for our viewing today).

To be continued tomorrow…

Prayer: Almighty God, thank You for being the God Who Sees—not only me, but all those whom You have created.  You see us and are intimately aware of our lives. I pray Your protection for those of us who find ourselves in positions of vulnerability today. I pray Your humility for those of us who find ourselves in positions to help. May I be mindful of You as I move throughout my day today. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Bible Reading for Today:  Numbers 4


Lunch Break Study

Read Luke 10:25-37:  Now an expert in religious law stood up to test Jesus, saying, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 He said to him, “What is written in the law? How do you understand it?” 27 The expert answered, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.” 28 Jesus said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.” 29 But the expert, wanting to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30 Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him up, and went off, leaving him half dead. 31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road, but when he saw the injured man he passed by on the other side. 32 So too a Levite, when he came up to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan who was traveling came to where the injured man was, and when he saw him, he felt compassion for him. 34 He went up to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever else you spend, I will repay you when I come back this way.’ 36 Which of these three do you think became a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” 37 The expert in religious law said, “The one who showed mercy to him.” So Jesus said to him, “Go and do the same.”

Questions to Consider

  1. What is eternal life (see John 10:10 & 17:3)? According to the verses above, how can a person experience eternal life?
  2. Why do you think Jesus connects our love of God and our love of our neighbor in this way? (See also Matthew 22:36-40.) How do these two things challenge the way you typically think of eternal life.
  3. Who are your neighbors? (Make a list) What would it look like for you to “Go an do the same” (v. 37)? How might this position you for a greater experience of abundant life?

Notes

  1. Eternal life is both life forever with God (in the New Heaven and New Earth) as well as life abundant (the best quality of life—living life as God designed and intended). In John 17, Jesus explains that eternal life (life forever and abundant) is all about relationship—to know God and Jesus the Messiah is to have eternal life. In Luke, Jesus also explains (by His affirmation of the expert in the law’s words) that in order to position oneself to receive this life eternal, one must both love God and love neighbor.
  2. The witness of Scripture as a whole presents one’s love of God and one’s love of neighbor as two sides of the same coin. If we love God, we will love those around us. If we are God’s children (conformed to God’s likeness) we will be in the world as God is (or would be in our place). (See also 1 John 4:20 & John 21:15-17.) And eternal life – that thing that Jesus came, died, and rose to give us—is defined by Christ Himself as the knowledge of God and is experienced (inherited, entered into, etc.) through our love of God and one another. Eternal life is not just dying and going to heaven. It is living forever in the all-consuming love of God that inevitably manifests as love of others.
  3. Spend some time in personal reflection.

Evening Reflection

Spend some time this evening praying for the neighbors (near and far) that you listed in our Lunch Break Study this afternoon. If you didn’t write a list, take some time to write one now. Ask God to show you practical ways you can love them as yourself. Pray for divine appointments and opportunities in the days and weeks ahead for you to demonstrate God’s love to them.

January 17, Wednesday

The AMI QT devotionals from Jan. 15-21 are provided by Cami King. Cami, a graduate of University of Pennsylvania and Gordon Conwell Seminary (M.Div.), is currently serving as a staff at Journey Community Church in Raleigh.

 

 

Devotional Thoughts for Today

“EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED”

Genesis 37:23-28

When Joseph reached his brothers, they stripped him of his tunic, the special tunic that he wore. 24 Then they took him and threw him into the cistern. (Now the cistern was empty; there was no water in it.) 25 When they sat down to eat their food, they looked up and saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead. Their camels were carrying spices, balm, and myrrh down to Egypt. 26 Then Judah said to his brothers, “What profit is there if we kill our brother and cover up his blood? 27 Come, let’s sell him to the Ishmaelites, but let’s not lay a hand on him, for after all, he is our brother, our own flesh.” His brothers agreed. 28 So when the Midianite merchants passed by, Joseph’s brothers pulled him out of the cistern and sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty pieces of silver. The Ishmaelites then took Joseph to Egypt.

Have you ever received a word from God—an incredible promise of something God is going to do in your life? First comes the disbelief (not a lack of faith, but shock that God would speak to you and make such an awesome promise). Then comes the joyful anticipation of God bringing it to pass. Then comes the waiting, the living in the in-between, the waiting for God to do what was promised. And if you’ve ever made it to the end of a season of waiting and experienced God’s long-anticipated fulfillment of a promise, then you know that the journey never looks as we anticipate. It’s full of twists, turns, and unexpected moments—many of them difficult. Moments when we are sure we misheard God, or that we’ve somehow disqualified ourselves from the promise, or that God has changed His mind (or worse is some sort of menacing deity and the whole thing was a ruse).

Joseph finds himself in such a moment. Things are not going well for him (understatement of the century!). Instead of rising to the place of supremacy over his family, he is descending into servitude in a foreign land.

My favorite story of such a journey is found in George MacDonald’s The Princess and the Goblin (forgive me in advance if I’ve already told this story). In it, MacDonald tells of a little girl sent on a journey by her grandmother. All she is told is whenever she is in trouble to follow a thread (too thin to be seen, it can only be felt) attached to the end of a ring given her by her grandmother. The grandmother promises to hold the other end no matter what, but also warns that “it may seem to you a very roundabout way indeed, and you must not doubt the thread. Of one thing you may be sure, that while you hold it, I hold it too.”

And so it is with the promises of God. While we hold them in all the ups and especially the downs of waiting, hallelujah, God holds them too.

Prayer: Sovereign God, who am I that You are mindful of me? Thank You for Your good plans for my life. You are the Great Promise Keeper and, because I am in Christ, all Your promises to me are truly yes and amen. Give me faith to trust You today in the areas where I am losing heart. You are trustworthy. You have proven that in the life of Your Son. And it is in His name I ask these things. Amen.

Bible Reading for Today:  Numbers 3


Lunch Break Study

Read Matthew 11:2-11: Now when John heard in prison about the deeds Christ had done, he sent his disciples to ask a question: “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?” Jesus answered them, “Go tell John what you hear and see: The blind see, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news proclaimed to them. Blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me. While they were going away, Jesus began to speak to the crowd about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? What did you go out to see? A man dressed in fancy clothes? Look, those who wear fancy clothes are in the homes of kings! What did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 10 This is the one about whom it is written: ‘Look, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.’ 11 “I tell you the truth, among those born of women, no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he is. 

Questions to Consider:

Stop: If you are not familiar with the story of John the Baptist, quickly read about him in Matthew chapter 3 for context to today’s Lunch Break Study.

  1. What does John’s question in vv.2-3 suggest he was feeling? Why might he have been feeling this way?
  2. What does Jesus say about John the Baptist in these verses? How might a man like John the Baptist struggling with doubts as he waits for God to fulfill promises encourage you as we wait?
  3. How does Jesus answer John’s doubts? How might we apply this advice to our lives when we struggle with doubts?

Notes

  1. John is feeling doubt. His entire life was lived in commitment to God, and his entire ministry was to prepare God’s people for Jesus’ arrival. Although Jesus was on the scene, things were not going as John expected—and he began to doubt. John had good reason to feel this way—he was in jail (soon to be executed)—and things were not going as anyone expected they would once the Messiah arrived.
  2. Jesus speaks extremely highly of John. He doesn’t condemn John for his doubts; He praises him for being the greatest person to ever live! (see v. 11) If God’s ways could stumble even a faithful follower like John into doubt, we, too, will likely experience doubts along the way. It’s human! But, like John, we can continue to come to Jesus in the midst of our doubts and find hope to hold on.
  3. Jesus reminds John of the things He’s done and is doing. Similarly, when we face doubts, we can turn to God’s track record—the ways we’ve seen God move already in our lives and in the world around us. This will give us hope and courage in the face of doubts.

Evening Reflection

What are some promises God has given you—in the Scriptures, through the words of others, during times of prayer, through a sense of deep conviction, maybe even in a dream? Take some time to write them down this evening. In what, if any, areas of your life are you losing heart and doubting the promises of God? What are some ways you’ve seen God move (in your life or in the lives of others)? Spend some time reflecting on God’s track record. Allow it to encourage you and renew your trust in God’s goodness and faithfulness!

January 16, Tuesday

The AMI QT devotionals from Jan. 15-21 are provided by Cami King. Cami, a graduate of University of Pennsylvania and Gordon Conwell Seminary (M.Div.), is currently serving as a staff at Journey Community Church in Raleigh.

 

 

Devotional Thoughts for Today

“THINGS BETTER LEFT UNSAID”

Genesis 37:5-11

 Then Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers, they hated him even more. 6 He said to them, “Please listen to this dream which I have had; 7 for behold, we were binding sheaves in the field, and lo, my sheaf rose up and also stood erect; and behold, your sheaves gathered around and bowed down to my sheaf.” 8 Then his brothers said to him, “Are you actually going to reign over us? Or are you really going to rule over us?” So they hated him even more for his dreams and for his words. 9 Now he had still another dream, and related it to his brothers, and said, “Lo, I have had still another dream; and behold, the sun and the moon and eleven stars were bowing down to me.” 10 He related it to his father and to his brothers; and his father rebuked him and said to him, “What is this dream that you have had? Shall I and your mother and your brothers actually come to bow ourselves down before you to the ground?” 11 His brothers were jealous of him, but his father kept the saying in mind.

Years ago, I had a recurring dream of the most amazing song that I could never remember when I woke up. I’m still tempted to think that I have written the world’s greatest song, and I just can’t remember what it is! One journal told the story of a Doctor Holmes who took up an interest in ether (a chemical used as an anesthetic). After administering it to his patients many times, he decided to have his nurse administer it to him so he could better understand its affects. As he went under and found himself in a “dream-like state,” he became fully persuaded that he had “suddenly grasped the key to all the mysteries of the universe,” but once he awoke, he couldn’t remember what it was. So he decided to do it again, and this time, he had his nurse write down the thoughts that came to him. Again, this key to the universe’s mysteries dawned on him; he muttered it to his nurse who wrote it down. When the analgesic effects of ether wore off, Dr Holmes eagerly asked the nurse to read back to him what he’d said. The nurse read: “The entire universe is permeated with a strong odor of turpentine.” He was, to say the least, underwhelmed. I guess some thoughts in our dreams are better left unsaid (and probably also unsung!).

Joseph was a dreamer. And his dreams weren’t silly like the ones above. They were dreams from God. God had chosen Joseph to do something amazing and Joseph unwisely shared those dreams with his brothers. The text doesn’t give us Joseph’s motives in sharing, but if we put ourselves in his shoes, we can gather that they were malicious at worst or certainly unwise at best. Either way, we are reminded today to check our motives! What is our motivation for sharing even the good things God is doing in our lives? Are we seeking to encourage or brag? Is our desire to glorify God and share our lives with others or something more sinister? Whenever the latter is the case, it may be better to leave things unsaid.

Prayer: Lord, search me and know me—all of my thoughts and intentions. Help me to be aware of my motivations in the things I say to others. Convict me if I use words to tear others down or build myself up. Grant me wisdom as I speak. May what I say be life-giving to those who hear and glorying to You. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Bible Reading for Today:  Numbers 2


Lunch Break Study

Read Proverbs 16:1-6: The intentions of the heart belong to a man, but the answer of the tongue comes from the Lord. 2 All a person’s ways seem right in his own opinion, but the Lord evaluates the motives. 3 Commit your works to the Lord, and your plans will be established. 4 The Lord works everything for its own ends—even the wicked for the day of disaster. 5 The Lord abhors every arrogant person; rest assured that they will not go unpunished. 6 Through loyal love and truth iniquity is appeased; through fearing the Lord one avoids evil.

Questions to Consider

Proverbs reads differently than many other books in the Bible. It is a collection of short, wise sayings, as opposed to a longer teaching or narrative. Therefore, many Proverbs, while often thematically related to what comes before or after, stand on their own and can be received as a piece of sound advice. With this in mind:

  1. What can each of the Proverbs above teach us today as we think about interrogating our motives and being wise with our words? Spend some time reflecting on each of the six proverbs.
  2. Which of the proverbs above speaks most to you personally today? Why? How might God be speaking to you through this proverb?

Note

  1. All of these Proverbs remind us to turn our attention to God and remember that God is both sovereign and good. When we think about evaluating our motives, we have to remember that we are completely dependent on God to point us to what is true and right. Each of these Proverbs can teach us something valuable. For example: Much like the well-known Proverbs 16:9 (“A person plans his course but the LORD directs his steps”), Proverbs 16:1 reminds us that even when we have faulty intentions, God is still present and at work, accomplishing the things He desires. He is Sovereign. This serves as both a warning and a comfort. Proverbs 16:2 warns us that we may not always see clearly, so we have to be sure to align what we think with what God thinks. We tend to get into trouble with our words when we try to establish ourselves (or make a name for ourselves), but if we commit our ways to the LORD, God will Himself establish us in the good things He has for us (Proverbs 16:3). And so on and so forth. (Spend reflecting on each Proverb above.)
  2. Spend some time in personal reflection.

Evening Reflection

… The tongue is a small part of the body, yet it has great pretensions. Think how small a flame sets a huge forest ablaze. (James 3:5)

The book of James reminds us of the power of our words in chapter 3. While we can be more aware of our motives and intentions in the things we say, we cannot, on this side of heaven, have perfectly pure motives in everything. And although it’s nearly impossible to “tame our tongue” (James 3:8), we can surrender it to God by choosing to be watchful of the things we say and the effect our words have on the people around us.

Take some time this evening to go back through your day and the different conversations you had (at home, at work, etc.). How might some of your words have affected others? What were your motives in the things you said? Are there ways you can be more mindful and intentional with your words tomorrow? (e.g. Can you be more intentional to encourage and build up, not tear down? Or, can you be more aware of how other’s feel in what you say? Are there ways you can show greater kindness and grace in your words? Etc.) Spend some time reflecting on these things with God. Ask for God’s wisdom and guidance as you do.

January 15, Monday

The AMI QT devotionals from Jan. 15-21 are provided by Cami King. Cami, a graduate of University of Pennsylvania and Gordon Conwell Seminary (M.Div.), is currently serving as a staff at Journey Community Church in Raleigh.

 

 

Devotional Thoughts for Today

“THE DANGER OF FAVORITISM”

Genesis 37:1-4

Now Jacob lived in the land where his father had sojourned, in the land of Canaan. 2 These are the records of the generations of Jacob. Joseph, when seventeen years of age, was pasturing the flock with his brothers while he was still a youth, along with the sons of Bilhah and the sons of Zilpah, his father’s wives. And Joseph brought back a bad report about them to their father.3 Now Israel loved Joseph more than all his sons, because he was the son of his old age; and he made him a varicolored tunic. 4 His brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers; and so they hated him and could not speak to him on friendly terms.

Let’s get to know one another for a moment! What is your favorite color? (Mine is black. Weird, I know.) What is your favorite food? (Mine is steak—medium rare please and thank you!) What is your favorite drink? (Mine is hot tea—I’m really loving all tings oolong these days.) Who is your favorite singer? (Ugh— too tough to choose. I’d have to say a tie between Donny Hathaway, Nina Simone, and Sam Cooke). We all have favorites—things that bring us the most joy, things attached to precious memories from our past, things that speak to us in a special way.

As far as I can tell, most favoritism is fairly innocuous: some things and some people speak to our personality, interests, and experiences in a deeper way than others—and can even be good. Our experiences with God can connect us more deeply to specific people, places, and things (I had a favorite chair because it was where I met with God consistently for years and years). Yet some favoritism can be much more problematic and even toxic. This kind of favoritism can become an avenue for sin and dissension. And that brings us to today’s passage.

Today, we meet Joseph. And the first thing the Bible writer wants us to know about him—other than how young he is— is that he is his father Jacob’s favorite child. If you’ve been journeying with us through Genesis, you’ll remember that Jacob is no stranger to favoritism. He favored one wife over the other (a sentence that makes me queasy as a modern woman), and his parents had favorites between him and his brother Esau—all of which had devastating consequences for the people involved.

While we are all allowed to have favorites, we learn from this family to be careful not to allow favoritism to lead us to sinful partiality, because that harms everyone (both favored and unflavored alike). And if we’re not careful, this kind of partiality can lead us to unintentionally overlook those whom God has entrusted to us and to miss opportunities to be a blessing to them.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, make me aware of any blind spots I have in the area of favoritism. Thank You so much for all the special people and things You’ve given me. Thank You for all my favorites things. Help me to not allow those blessings to become a curse to others in my life. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Bible Reading for Today:  Numbers 1


Lunch Break Study

Read Romans 2:1-11: Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things. 2 We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things. 3 Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God? 4 Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? 5 But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. 6 He will render to each one according to his works: 7 to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; 8 but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. 9 There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek,10 but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. 11 For God shows no partiality.

Questions to Consider

  1. According to the passage, why is it dangerous for us to pass judgment on others?
  2. What is the purpose of God’s kindness? How is God’s grace and mercy towards us connected to His judgment?
  3. What does Paul mean when He says “God shows no partiality”? How is this a comfort to us?
  4. Are there any people in your life you’ve been judging lately? Re-read the passage above and spend some time in repentance.

Notes

  1. Because we are not impartial, and therefore, we are not qualified to judge. We do the same things as those we judge. Also, when we judge others, we take our eyes off of ourselves and our own shortcomings. We lose sight of God who is the Righteous Judge who will not only judge those who we are judging but will more importantly judge us!
  2. God’s kindness is given so that we may repent. God’s forbearance with us is a means of grace so that we have the opportunity to see the errors of our ways and the greatness of God’s love toward us, so that we may turn to God and live. Oftentimes, we take God’s kindness as weakness and powerlessness or God’s forbearance as slack in justice or judgment, when instead it is God being merciful toward us and patient with us out of a loving desire not to see us eternally destroyed.
  3. This statement doesn’t mean that God has no standards. The rest of the passage (and the witness of Scripture as a whole) makes that clear. What it does mean is that God is fair and all who seek Him and seek to do good will receive eternal life, no matter their background.

Evening Reflection

While we saw the dangers of sinful partiality in favoritism in our passage this morning and learned of the dangers of our own judgments this afternoon, we also know that our favorite things and preferences can point to the specific ways God has blessed us. Spend some time reflecting on some of your favorite things, relationships, memories and experiences. Why are those things your favorites? In light of your list, spend time thanking God for the special and particular ways He has blessed you.

January 14, Sunday

The AMI QT Devotionals for January 8-14 are provided by Tina Hsu. Tina, a graduate of Biola University and Talbot School of Theology (M.Div.), currently serves as a staff at the Church of Southland, Anaheim, California.

 

 

Devotional Thoughts for Today

“Appreciating Fellow Workers”

Philippians 2:25-30

But I thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus, my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier, who is also your messenger and minister to my need; because he was longing for you all and was distressed because you had heard that he was sick. For indeed he was sick to the point of death, but God had mercy on him, and not on him only but also on me, so that I would not have sorrow upon sorrow. Therefore I have sent him all the more eagerly so that when you see him again you may rejoice and I may be less concerned about you. Receive him then in the Lord with all joy, and hold men like him in high regard; because he came close to death for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was deficient in your service to me.

As we are two weeks into the new year, some of us may have already made New Year’s resolutions, while others may still be in the process of making some. In my own reflection, I thought of a few skills and habits I want to build for my own self-improvement, but the Lord also reminded me of resolutions to make for the sake of others—which led me to think about the habit of appreciation.

Being a very task-oriented person, appreciation for others is something I tend to overlook. One thing I admire and want to imitate in Paul’s leadership is his active and intentional appreciation for his co-workers. When we think about the heroes in the New Testament, we obviously think of Peter, Paul, and John. But certain passages, like this one, reveal to us that there were numerous people who served the Lord at the front line for the gospel but remained in the shadows—and they didn’t become famous like Paul and the twelve disciples. For example, Epaphroditus never became a “big name,” but he is one of the people who played a significant role in the kingdom and served sacrificially for the sake of the gospel. We can know of Epaphroditus because Paul sent him as a messenger to the Philippian church with his letter and instructed the church to receive him with all joy and to hold men like him in high regard for the ways he has served. By calling him a brother, minister, fellow worker, and fellow soldier, Paul describes him as a leader who loves people and a tireless worker who is willing to go the extra mile when serving the body of Christ.

Can you identify anyone among you who is like Epaphroditus? Think about how you can show appreciation for him or her. Also, let’s consider how we could imitate Paul in building a culture of appreciation in our hearts and to serve as encouragers to those who labor tirelessly around us.

Prayer: Dear God, thank You for fellow workers and fellow soldiers whom You have sent to bless me and my church. Give me the eyes to see people like Epaphroditus in my midst, and use me to spur them on through acts of appreciation. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Bible Reading for Today:  Romans 16