February 2, Thursday

REPOST Today’s AMI QT Devotional, first posted on June 30, 2016, is provided by Ulysses Wang who pastors Renewal Church in Sunnyvale, California. Pastor Ulysses is a graduate of New York University (BA) and Westminster Theological Seminary (M.Div.).  

Devotional Thought for This Morning

“The Sufficiency of Christ’s Work”

Colossians 1:24

Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church….

Here we have a problematic verse.  We know that Christ was completely obedient to the will of the Father.  We also know that His suffering for us on the cross was wholly sufficient for our cleansing and justification.  The author of Hebrews wrote, “For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified” (10:14).  So what then could be “lacking in Christ’s afflictions”?  Uncomfortable choice of words indeed.

We need not question the sufficiency of Christ’s work; however, upon deeper examination we come to understand that it is not that Christ’s work was insufficient, but rather, that the experience of suffering was to be continued in His body – the Church.  N.T. Wright put it this way: “Just as the Messiah was to be known by the path of suffering he freely chose – and is recognized in his risen body by the mark of the nails… so his people are to be recognized by the sufferings they endure…”  Suffering, rather than always serving as an indication that something is wrong, can sometimes be an indication that things are very right.  In fact, the opposite can be true – the absence of suffering, normally our desired state of affairs, could very well mean that we’ve failed to “take up our cross.”

We don’t like this.  No one likes to suffer.  Now, I am not saying that we should go out looking for suffering, but unless we understand this biblical paradigm, we will surely do all we can to avoid it—even if it may be the road we must take to accomplish the will of God.  To quote Wright again: “If all these ideas sound strange to modern ears, this may not be so much due to the distance between Paul and ourselves in time and culture as because the church has forgotten how to apply to itself the fact that it is the body of the crucified Messiah.”

Now again, this doesn’t mean we go about our day with martyrdom on the top of our to-do list (otherwise you might as well cross off numbers 2 and following).  It’s not your fault you don’t live in a country where it is illegal to believe in Jesus.  However, Paul’s teaching still applies.  To quote Wright one last time: “Finally, we would be wrong to think of suffering only in terms of the direct outward persecution that professing Christians sometimes undergo because of their faith.  The church must, it is true, always be ready for such persecution… But all Christians will suffer for their faith in one way or another: if not outwardly, then inwardly, through the long, slow battle with temptation or sickness, the agonizing anxieties of Christians responsibilities for a family or church…, the constant doubts and uncertainties which accompany the obedience of faith, and ‘the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to’, taken up as they are within the call to follow Christ.”

Prayer: God, help me to internalize this truth, that suffering – taking up my cross and following after You – is a necessary part of the Christian life.  Help me to rejoice when I suffer for doing good, for great is my reward in heaven.  Give me courage to persevere in the face of persecution and endurance to hold on in the midst of suffering.  Amen.

Bible Reading for Today: Nehemiah 9


Lunch Break Study

Read John 15:18-21: If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me.

Questions to Consider

1. What does it mean that “the world hates you”?  How should Jesus’ statement help to inform our worldview?

2. Are there any areas of your life where you’ve been avoiding suffering, possibly too much so?

Notes

1. When we live with kingdom values, we will inevitably clash with the values of this world, which is controlled and shaped by “the prince of the power of the air” (Ephesians 2:2).

2. Maybe we avoid sharing the gospel because we fear rejection, drawing an ethical line in the sand because we are afraid of upsetting our bosses, or miss out on the will of God because we idolize creature comforts for ourselves or our families.


Evening Reflection

“I have accepted this proposal. Christians are meant to have the same vocation as their King, that of cross-bearers. It is this conscience of a high calling and of partnership with Jesus which brings gladness in tribulations, which makes Christians enter prisons for their faith with the joy of a bridegroom entering the bridal room.” – Richard Wurmbrand, who spent 14 years in prison as a Romanian pastor.

February 1, Wednesday

REPOST Today’s AMI Devotional Thought, first posted on April 13, 2016, is provided by Pastor Yohan Lee.  He is a friend of AMI who in the past has served as a staff at several AMI churches.  He is a graduate of University of Pennsylvania (BA) and Cairn University (MA).

Devotional Thought for This Morning

“Hope Factor & Wish Factor”

Acts 17:13

But when the Jews from Thessalonica learned that the word of God was proclaimed by Paul at Berea also, they came there too, agitating and stirring up the crowds. 

In a comedy routine, which I have never actually watched and would never recommend to our readers, Cedric the Entertainer made the joke that there are two types of people in the world: those with the “hope factor” and those with the “wish factor.”  Those with the hope factor go into situations hoping that nothing goes wrong; so when they go to a show, these people hope that no one is sitting in their seats.  On the other hand, those with the wish factor go into situations wishing something would happen so that they can retaliate; so if these people go to a show, they wish someone is sitting in their seats so that they can get into a fight.  Coincidentally, as I am writing this devotional, I am in a coffee shop where someone has brought in a very large dog. (In SF, people disregard health codes when it comes to dogs.)  I find myself wishing that this dog would eat something off my table, so I can make a fuss.  

On Monday, we read about the Thessalonian Jews who had a vendetta against Christianity in general and Paul in particular.  They couldn’t get Paul, so they decided to get Jason and the other disciples arrested.  When these people heard that Paul was in Berea, they decided to take the 40-mile journey from Thessalonica to stir up trouble for him.  (Man, talk about a group of people who had the “wish factor”!)  I just shared how I have a little bit of wish factor in me, but even with a car, I wouldn’t drive the 40 miles from Thessalonica to Berea to get Paul. And I certainly wouldn’t walk as the Thessalonians did, but that is how far they were willing to go to stir up trouble.  

As I get older, I realize that Christian life is more than just avoiding conflicts; and it is more than just mortifying that desire to pick a fight.  Ultimately, Christ’s call is higher; He calls us to be peacemakers. (Matt. 5:9: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”)  Peacemakers don’t wish for problems or hope to avoid them, but they are actively involved in solving them.  This morning, ask yourself, “Am I willing to get involved in difficult situations to bring about peace?”  Sometimes, this might mean standing up for another or sticking your neck out when your instinct is to put your head down.  Or this might entail making that difficult phone call to an estranged parent, sibling, or former friend.  Whatever it is, it’s probably going to be difficult and against our nature; but remember, our Lord who came to the earth, lived a sinless life, and died on a cross in order to bring us in a peaceful relationship with the Father.  

Prayer: Lord, help me to live in a way that honors You.  Help me to have the wisdom to distinguish trouble for trouble’s sake and trouble that You are bringing into my life so that I can bring about reconciliation.  Thank You for the example of Christ who came to be the ultimate peace offering.  Amen.

Bible Reading for Today: Nehemiah 8


Lunch Break Study

Read Psalm 3:1-8: A Psalm of David, when he fled from Absolom his son.O Lord, how many are my foes? Many are rising against me. 2 many are saying of my soul,there is no salvation for him in God. Selah3 But you, O Lord, are a shield about me,my glory, and the lifter of my head.4 I cried aloud to the Lord, and he answered me from his holy hill. Selah5 I lay down and slept. I woke again, for the Lord sustained me. 6 I will not be afraid of many thousands of peoplewho have set themselves against me all around.7 Arise, O Lord!Save me, O my God!For you strike all my enemies on the cheek;you break the teeth of the wicked.8 Salvation belongs to the Lord;your blessing be on your people! Selah

Questions to Consider

1.  What were the discouraging circumstances David was facing?  What discouraging circumstances do you face?

2.  How did David see the Lord working in his life?  Do you have similar security in God when you are faced with difficult situations?

3.  Psalms are essentially prayers, and in vv. 4 and 7, David said he cried aloud and asked the Lord to save him.  How does this Psalm encourage you to pray?

Notes

1.  We read in 2 Sam. 15-18 that David was at one point betrayed by his own son and forced to leave Jerusalem.  So those who betrayed him were likely his many foes (vv. 1-2).

2.  Despite this, David sees God as his shield, lifter of his head (v. 3), sustainer (v. 5), vindicator/justifier (v. 7), and ultimately—Savior (v. 8).  

3.  Verses like 7, bring up many questions.  As believers, are we supposed to pray that God would strike our enemies and break the teeth of the wicked?  Probably not.  But we are to pray for justice to be served.  Also, these Psalms are encouraging because they are full of emotional truth.  In the end, God wants us to pray honestly, and sometimes emotionally.  


Evening Reflection

In today’s passages, we saw two people being persecuted—Paul by the Thessalonian Jews and David from his son Absalom.  In the morning, we touched upon the topic of bringing peace, not hostility. And then in the afternoon, we saw how David prayed and looked to the character of God in trying circumstances.  This evening, pray that you, as David did, can see the Lord as your shield, sustainer, and Savior in difficult circumstances.  Pray also about how you can bring peace where there is conflict. 

January 31, Tuesday

REPOST  Today’s AMI QT Devotional, provided by Pastor Ryun Chang (AMI Teaching Pastor), was first posted on May 4, 2015.

Devotional Thought for This Morning

“Depression”

2 Sam. 11:5-9, 14-5 (NIV)

The woman conceived and sent word to David, saying, “I am pregnant.” [6] So David sent this word to Joab: “Send me Uriah the Hittite.” And Joab sent him to David. [7] When Uriah came to him, David asked him how Joab was, how the soldiers were and how the war was going. [8] Then David said to Uriah, “Go down to your house and wash your feet.” So Uriah left the palace, and a gift from the king was sent after him. [9] But Uriah slept at the entrance to the palace with all his master’s servants and did not go down to his house. . . . [14] In the morning David wrote a letter to Joab and sent it with Uriah. 15 In it he wrote, “Put Uriah out in front where the fighting is fiercest. Then withdraw from him so he will be struck down and die.”

“I stay in bed all day,” responded the woman when asked about how she dealt with depression.  I was thinking about her later on when I myself stayed in bed all day after an argument with my spouse resulted in low spirits.  It surprised me how quickly I reached that low state from a previous “spiritual high”: fasting all day and worshiping the Lord in the evening.

As I read what David is up to after his tryst with another man’s wife, I’m reminded of the incredible velocity of a downward spiritual spiral: the man who once declared, “The LORD is my shepherd,” now acts like a common criminal.   Upon finding out Bathsheba’s pregnancy, David, after summoning home her husband Uriah from the battle, tells him, “Go down to your house and wash your feet” (2 Sam. 11:8).  David wasn’t being nice here; he was hoping that Uriah would sleep with his wife so that her pregnancy could somehow be explained away.  The plan to cover his tracks failed because Uriah, thinking about his comrades “camped in the open fields” (11), “slept at the entrance to the palace” (9).  

Was David impressed?   Perhaps, but not enough to scrap his devious plan and come clean.  He now executes Plan B: the most heartless way to kill a man.  David writes a letter to Joab, Uriah’s boss, instructing him to place Bathsheba’s husband “in the front line where the fighting is fiercest” and “then withdraw” so that he will get killed (15).  Uriah carried that letter.  When informed of his death, the king “had [Bathsheba] brought to his house” (27), presumably under the pretext of looking out for his royal soldier’s widow.  

Lesson?  Don’t get too cocky about your faith.  “If you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall” (1 Cor. 10:12)!  Be fearful of what sin can do to us in a flash.  Do quickly what David should’ve done: “Uriah, I’m sorry; I’ve sinned against you and God.”  The best way to handle sin will always be confession and repentance!  There is no other way; do it quickly. 

Prayer: I worship You, Heavenly Father.  It gives me the chills reading about how David, a man after [God’s] own heart (Acts 13:22),could act like a common criminal to hide his sin.  God, help me not to sin; when I sin, may I confess and repent right away, knowing that on account of Christ, I will be forgiven.  Thank you. Amen.

Bible Reading for Today: Nehemiah 7


Lunch Break Study 

Read James 1:14-5 (NASB): But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. [15] Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death.

Eph. 4:26-7 (NIV): ‘In your anger do not sin’: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, [27] and do not give the devil a foothold.

1 Jn. 1:9-2:1 (ESV): If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. [10] If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. [1] My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous

Question to Consider

1. What impression do you derive from James’ understanding of sin? 

2. What seems to be Paul’s main concern when a sin has been committed?

3. What does John assume?  Where is the source of his confidence when we do sin?

Notes

1. It is organic and has a life of its own.  Once the seed of sin has been planted, it doesn’t stay as a seed; it evolves and grows until it bears bad fruit.   No sin is inconsequential: sooner or later, its effect will surface to take away something valuable from us: marriage, finance, health, or even life. 

2. Paul’s concern seems that once sin has been committed, it must be dealt with a sense of urgency because an unaddressed sin may invite the Enemy to make the situation to go from bad to worse.  

3. John is under no illusion that Christians can live a sinless life; while he expects them to sin less in frequency and intensity, he assumes that Christians will still sin.  What interests him the most is what to do once a sin has been committed: confess it to Christ who then will advocate on our    behalf to the Father for acquittal. 


Evening Reflection

It is easy for some of us to go through an entire day without committing even one sin, so we think.  Turn off whatever is making sound or noise.  Close your eyes and bow your head and ask God: “Lord, show me how I fell short of your glory in my thoughts and actions especially toward others.” Then repent.

January 30, Monday

REPOST Today’s AMI QT Devotional, provided by Christine Li, was first posted on April 18, 2016.  Christine, a graduate of University of Pennsylvania, serves as a deaconess at Remnant Church in Manhattan, New York.  

Devotional Thought for This Morning

“Opportunity Amid Difficulties”

Acts 18:2-3 

After this, Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. 2 There he met a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had ordered all Jews to leave Rome. Paul went to see them, 3 and because he was a tentmaker as they were, he stayed and worked with them.

In 2014, Whatsapp, one of the most widely used global messaging apps, sold for $19 billion dollars to Facebook. What many people found more noteworthy than the price was the irony, since both of the founders had been rejected after interviewing at tech companies, including Facebook, years prior. One said optimistically at the time, “Looking forward to life’s next adventure.” Both men had decided to step off the path of finding an existing tech job and find something new to do. Eventually, they teamed up to build a platform that became much, much larger than they would have foreseen.

Priscilla and Aquila are known as great partners in the ministry with Paul. But their divine appointment occurred in Corinth, where they settled after being driven out of Rome. What a long, complicated journey to finally end up in Corinth, but it would have seemed well worth the trouble once they met Paul and began co-laboring with him in missionary work. Being forced to leave their home would have been a disappointing and confusing experience, but the path actually led to a new life with fruitful ministry in Asia. Only in hindsight, it becomes clear that this was God’s plan.

When doors are shut in our lives, our instincts often rush to question God: Why would He suddenly pull the plug on something going just fine? What could be the point of creating a very large obstacle in our way of life? But through Priscilla and Aquila’s story, we can see that what we consider to be “difficulties” or “detours” are part of God’s good plans for us. The present situation might seem very mysterious and confusing, but we can trust that all things happen out of His love for us. 

Since it is a Monday, some of us are dreading what the week holds. Let’s search our hearts to ask if we are truly willing to trust the wisdom of God’s plans, especially if He closes doors or allows adversity into our lives. May Priscilla and Aquila’s faithfulness help us joyfully and expectantly submit to what He brings.

Prayer: Father, I remember that You are loving and wise beyond my understanding. Help me to trust You in every twist and turn. More than needing to know what lies ahead, I need the comfort of Your presence and assurance that the path in front of me is filled with Your goodness. Lord, give me faith to trust You in every step! Amen.

Bible Reading for Today: Nehemiah 6


Lunch Break Study

Read James 1:2-8

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. 4 Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.5 If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. 6 But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.7 That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. 8 Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.


Questions to Consider

1. What does James say is the purpose of our sufferings and trouble? 

2. Why should we believe and not doubt when we ask God for gifts of wisdom? 

3. In the path of following God, what does unbelief show? Why is the consequence so harsh? Do you find that you exhibit more belief or unbelief when you approach God? 

Notes

1. James says that the purpose of trials is to increase perseverance in our lives, and perseverance is an essential quality of spiritual maturity. Perseverance demonstrates trust in God even when all circumstances suggest otherwise.

2. When we ask God for gifts of wisdom, we must trust that only He can provide that to us. To believe and not doubt demonstrates that we believe God is truly the only source of wisdom and that He is truly a generous giver. 

3. A “double-minded” man does not fully trust in God’s character or His provision – that is, the doubtful man is unsure if God will provide and if He is truly the only provider. To believe that God will not provide or that He is not the only source we can go to will cause us to live in insecurity, for we will not have a solid foundation that we can build our lives upon.


Evening Reflection

Today we have reflected on trusting God when He shuts doors or even through trial. Are there specific situations where God is nudging you to rethink your attitude and to trust Him more fully? Let’s pray over those and ask God to give us wisdom and the grace to walk even more in step with Him tomorrow. 

January 29, Sunday

REPOSTToday’s Spiritual Food for Thought, provided by Cami King, now a friend of AMI, was first posted on December 20, 2015.  Cami served faithfully as a staff at several AMI churches in the past.

Spiritual Food for Thought for the Weekend

“The God Who Sees”

Hosea 5:1-4

Hear this, O priests!Give heed, O house of Israel!Listen, O house of the king!For the judgment applies to you,For you have been a snare at MizpahAnd a net spread out on Tabor.2 The revolters have gone deep in depravity,but I will chastise all of them.3 I know Ephraim, and Israel is not hidden from Me;for now, O Ephraim, you have played the harlot, Israel has defiled itself. 4 Their deeds will not allow them to return to their God. For a spirit of harlotry is within them, and they do not know the Lord.

One of my favorite descriptions of God in Scripture is “the God who sees” (Gen.16:13). Hagar says this of the Lord when she felt hopeless in the face of Sarah’s harsh treatment; and God found her and cared for her. Abraham said something similar of the Lord when He provided a ram to be the replacement sacrifice for his son Isaac on Mount Sinai. There is great comfort for the people of God in knowing that He is neither deaf, dumb, nor blind – He sees all and knows all – and regardless of what circumstances suggest, He is not only present, but also active in our lives. 

Yet the comfort of God’s all-seeing eyes can quickly turn sour when we find ourselves wandering off the straight and narrow path. This reminds me of the new Christmas craze “the elf on a shelf”—a small toy in the shape of an elf with video capacity allowing parents to see what kids are up to when parents leave the room. The elf is placed in the room and kids are told that they better be good, because the elf is watching and will be reporting back to Santa. Any excitement from knowing that Santa will reward for all the nice things they’ve done turns into something quite different when kids give into the temptation to be naughty. For many kids, the elf has quickly become a scary thing. 

In our passage for today, the Lord reminds His people that He is indeed a God who sees. He sees all and knows all, even when they’ve turned away from Him. Just because they’ve forgotten about God, doesn’t mean He’s forgotten about them. This is a fearsome truth for anyone who (like all of us) has ever found themselves in sin. But much like we find in the story of Hagar and of Abraham, God is a God who not only sees, but who also moves on behalf of His people. Even when they go astray, He moves on their behalf in judgment of their sin (as we’ve been reading in Hosea) towards the end of their ultimate redemption (if they would but turn to Him). 

Apologist Ravi Zacharias puts it this way: “God’s sovereignty is not tyrannical when it is bounded by goodness. God’s holiness is not tortuous when it is tempered by grace. God’s omniscience is not daunting when it is coupled with mercy. And God’s immutability is far from stifling when it is certain of good will.” May we take comfort in knowing that even when we go astray, our God is a God who sees and knows. He will not leave us in our sin, but will come for us, judge our sin, and redeem us. What a faithful God we serve!  

Prayer: Almighty God, thank you for Your faithfulness to me. Even in the times when I wish You weren’t mindful of me and want to live my own way, You continue to watch over me and provide for me. Thank you for Your loving judgment of my sin and for Your willingness to redeem me from it. 

Bible Reading for Today: Nehemiah 5

January 28, Saturday

REPOSTToday’s Spiritual Food for Thought, provided by Pastor Ryun Chang (AMI Teaching Pastor), was first posted on May 2, 2015.

Spiritual Food for Thought for the Weekend

“The Graveyard Next to the Palace”

1 Cor. 6:18 (NIV)

Flee from sexual immorality.

2 Sam. 1:1-2 (ESV)

Then it happened in the spring, at the time when kings go out to battle, that David sent Joab and his servants with him and all Israel, and they destroyed the sons of Ammon and besieged Rabbah. But David stayed at Jerusalem. [2] Now when evening came David arose from his bed and walked around on the roof of the king’s house, and from the roof he saw a woman bathing; and the woman was very beautiful in appearance. 

Perhaps, David was as self-assured on this night as was Peter on the night when he declared, “Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will” (Matt. 26:33).  David had confessed something similar to God: “My steps have held to your path; my feet have not slipped” (Ps. 17:5).  Despite their bravado, both fell spectacularly in ways they had never imagined.  Peter, bearing a sword, was prepared to battle any men who dared to take his master; when they did, he used it without hesitation (Jn. 18:10).  But when a servant girl called him out as “one of them” (Lk. 22:58), Peter was so unprepared—he even denied ever knowing Christ.

Ever since David killed the gigantic Goliath with his sling shot, he had always been an excellent soldier (1 Sam. 18:7).   On this night, he should have been out with his men to defend Israel, for that’s what kings do in the spring time; and David was always prepared for it.  But instead, walking on the roof of the palace in the middle of evening, he was so unprepared to deal with what was looking squarely in the eye:  not the Ammonites, which he could handle, but the lust of the flesh, which, once it was that up-close, David couldn’t evade. 

The graveyard next to the “palace” is full of bones belonging to powerful men who fell from the top because, while they knew how to win battles fought outside, they were clueless facing the ones fought inside.  David Petraeus, a retired four-star general and director of CIA, had power like none other; and yet he was powerless to overcome his lust for his official biographer.  Having resigned in disgrace, he now faces a possible criminal investigation.  Eliot Spitzer, as the state attorney general, knew how to put bad guys in jail, and later as the 54th governor of New York wielded great power; but he lost everything because he wouldn’t  rein in his lust of the flesh.  

When it comes to fighting lust, God’s counsel borders on “cowardice”: “Flee the evil desires of youth” (2 Tim. 2:22), says Paul to Timothy, a young pastor.  That is, “keep to a path far from [an adulteress], do not go near the door of her house” (Prov. 5:8).   If you’re too tempted to click to adult sites, then, consider blocking them as you would do for your children.   Don’t take this lightly because “a man who commits adultery . . . destroys himself.  Blows and disgrace are his lot, and his shame will never be wiped away” (6:32).

Prayer: Lord, help me to take this matter seriously; empower me to take proper steps to reduce as many temptations as I can in my daily life.  Ultimately, may I always be mindful of the Holy Spirit so that I will follow his leading toward holiness and purity.  Amen.

Bible Reading for Today: Nehemiah 3-4

January 27, Friday

REPOST Today’s AMI QT Devotional, first posted on June 6, 2016, is provided by Phillip Chen who is associate pastor at Kairos Christian Church in San Diego.  Phil, a graduate of University of California, San Diego (BS) and Talbot School of Theology (M.Div.), will be ordained this Sunday.  Congratulations. 

Devotional Thought for This Morning

“A Bizarre Idea Indeed”

Galatians 3:1-9 (ESV)

O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. 2 Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? 3 Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? 4 Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? 5 Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith— 6 just as Abraham “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”? 7 Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. 8 And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.”9 So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.

If I were to give you a cup of water with a drop of poison into it, would you drink it? I certainly hope not. That one drop of poison has contaminated the rest of the water and it is no longer fit to drink. In this passage, Paul is vigorously defending the fact that salvation is purely by grace, not by human effort, which is a bizarre idea for those who grew up in the Jewish faith. In fact, there is a passage in the Mishnah—a collection of Jewish customs and traditions—that says, “Heedfulness leads to cleanliness, and cleanliness leads to purity, and… saintliness leads to the Holy Spirit.” Perhaps that is why the Judaizers were so intent on trying to convince the new believers in Galatia that belief in Jesus was not enough, but that they needed to observe the Mosaic Law as well. 

For Paul, it doesn’t matter if you inject 1% or 90% of human effort into the gospel message—salvation is no longer by grace if tainted with human effort. Ephesians 2:8 says, “By grace we have been saved through faith.” And it is not our own doing; it is the gift of God. If Jesus, the perfect, sinless, spotless Lamb has declared that our sins are washed away because of His works, then we are arrogant to think that our works—as flawed, sinful people—are needed to complete the process.

How does this apply to us? One common thing we do that is actually a reflection of a misguided belief of a merit-based salvation is the way we approach God when we have sinned. When we are faced with our sin, we tend to hide or run away. Some of us find ways to punish ourselves or make things better before coming to God. Other times, we are so hard on ourselves that we cannot forgive ourselves for our mistakes. Some of us even believe that though God started the salvation process, we need to take over in the sanctification process. Perhaps we do this because deep down, we feel that we need to earn the right to stand before God. But today, remember to run to Him and His perfect grace, for He is the One who has saved us and is continuing to save us. 

Prayer: Father God, thank You for your perfect grace. I pray that today, You would remind me of Your extravagant grace that You have extended to me, and that the affections of my heart would be a response to that grace, rather than an effort to earn it.  

Bible Reading for Today: Nehemiah 2


Lunch Break Study

Read Ephesians 2:8-10 (ESV): For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

Question to Consider

1. How does Paul define grace? How would you define grace?

2. What are ways that we rely on our works?

3. What should we do with the grace that has been given to us?

Notes

1. Grace is merely a gift; it’s not a result of what we have done to earn it.  

2. It could be about the degrees we have, our career, our good works, or even the people we know. Paul, in Philippians 3, lists off a number of personal accomplishments that he could boast in, but he finds all of that as contributing nothing to his salvation, because it is only by grace that he is saved.

3. We were created for good works – our good works is not a requirement for salvation, but it is not optional. It is not a contribution to our salvation, but a fruit of our salvation.


Evening Reflection

We are not very different from the Galatians. We have seen and experienced God’s grace in our lives, but somehow, we find ourselves slowly shifting towards a performance-driven faith. Perhaps it has to do with living in a performance-driven world, but we must remember that there is nothing we can do to earn salvation; it is purely by His grace—in the past, present, and future. Have you shifted to a performance-driven faith? Ask God to remind you once again of His wonderful grace.

January 26, Thursday

REPOST  Today’s AMI QT Devotional, first posted on May 26, 2016, is provided by Andy Kim who is now the Lead Pastor of Radiance Christian Church in San Francisco. Andy is a graduate of Northwestern University (B.S.) and Fuller Theological Seminary (M.Div.).

Devotional Thought for This Morning

“What Really Is Faith?”

Acts 27:30-32

And as the sailors were seeking to escape from the ship, and had lowered the ship’s boat into the sea under pretense of laying out anchors from the bow, 31 Paul said to the centurion and the soldiers, “Unless these men stay in the ship, you cannot be saved.” 32 Then the soldiers cut away the ropes of the ship’s boat and let it go

Cut loose the lifeboat. Imagine us being the men on the boat. We barely survived a storm and as we’re finally approaching land, the “godly man” says to stay on the boat. The crazier part is to see my fellow soldiers listening to Paul and cutting our only lifeboat and letting it go. At this point, I would’ve jumped off the boat and swam after the lifeboat. What got into the minds of these soldiers to do something so radical? Some might call it crazy, but I would call it faith. 

Faith is one of those words we hear being thrown around in our Christian circles all the time. It’s a difficult word to grasp, and even harder word to live by. The book of Hebrews defined it as believing in the unseen and being certain of what we hope for (Hebrews 11:1). The words “believe” and “certain” leave no room for doubt. Yet, the world we live in today seems to define faith as “almost believing” –as long as it stays in the realm of what we think is possible. Anything beyond our possibilities would be doubtful. And because of this doubt, many of us like to have faith as long as there is some type of safety net attached to it. 

Yet these men were willing to obey the words of Paul, believing that they came from God. They even went as far as to actively remove any room for a backup plan, leaving their very lives in the hands of God. In essence, they removed all possibilities to invite God to do the impossible. Rex Rouis puts it like this: “Only a heart filled with faith can face the impossible and still know that God can change it.” What are the areas in your life that is holding you back from living a life of faith? What are the excuses you keep putting up from taking that next step of faith?

Prayer: Father, I want to have greater faith in You. Help me to surrender the areas in my life that I refuse to let go. Help me to let go of my doubts and fears, so that I may cling to You in faith. I trust in Your mercy and grace to carry me through.

Bible Reading for Today: Nehemiah 1


Lunch Break Study

Read 2 Corinthians 5:6-10: So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, 7 for we walk by faith, not by sight. 8 Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. 9 So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him.10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.

Questions to Consider

  1. How can Paul have confidence in all circumstances?
  2. What does Paul mean for us to walk by faith and not by sight?
  3. What motivated Paul to live such a life?

Notes

  1. Paul writes this as he faced many trials and sufferings, many of them being physical to the brink of death. Regardless of the threat, Paul endured through such afflictions because he knew these momentary afflictions would produce an eternal weight of glory. Paul’s hope and faith came from the knowledge that the life he lived in the body was merely temporary, but the home that he belonged to was eternal. 
  2. The word “walk” means to live, and so Paul urges us to not live for a glory that is seen with our physical eyes, for they are all temporary. The glories of the world can take the forms of wealth, career, success, etc. Rather, Paul calls us to live for a glory that is unseen which will be realized in eternity – the glories of heaven promised to us as believers. This is not to say that career and success are bad, but we should live in a way that would bring glory to the Father. 
  3. First, he points out that he lives his life so that it may ultimately please God. Paul also claims that all Christians will stand before Christ and be judged according to their life on earth. Warren Wiersbe identifies Paul’s actions being motivated out of a healthy fear: “Knowing that his works would someday be revealed and tested, Paul wanted to live the kind of life that pleased and honored Christ.”

Evening Reflection

Spend some time reflecting on your day today. Were you living by faith or by sight? What are some ways you can become more kingdom-minded? Pray that God would increase your faith and that He would help your areas of unbelief. 

January 25, Wednesday

REPOST Today’s AMI QT Devotional, provided by Pastor Ryun Chang (AMI Teaching Pastor), was first posted on July 23, 2015.

Devotional Thought for This Morning

“Ill-Advised Sayings of Men”

1 King 20:1-6, 29-30

Ben-hadad the king of Syria gathered all his army together. Thirty-two kings were with him, and horses and chariots. And he went up and closed in on Samaria and fought against it. 2 And he sent messengers into the city to Ahab king of Israel and said to him, “Thus says Ben-hadad: 3 ‘Your silver and your gold are mine; your best wives and children also are mine.’” 4 And the king of Israel answered, “As you say, my lord, O king, I am yours, and all that I have.” 5 The messengers came again and said, “Thus says Ben-hadad: ‘I sent to you, saying, “Deliver to me your silver and your gold, your wives and your children.” 6 Nevertheless I will send my servants to you tomorrow about this time, and they shall search your house and the houses of your servants and lay hands on whatever pleases you and take it away.’

. . . And they encamped opposite one another seven days. Then on the seventh day the battle was joined. And the people of Israel struck down of the Syrians 100,000 foot soldiers in one day. 30 And the rest fled into the city of Aphek, and the wall fell upon 27,000 men who were left.  Ben-hadad also fled . . . 

Human history is littered with ill-advised sayings of men. For instance, at the launch of the Titanic (1911), an employee of the White Star Line quipped, “Not even God himself could sink this ship”—but a mere iceberg proved him wrong.  Charles Holland Duell, as the United States Commissioner of Patents at the end of 19th century, allegedly said, “Everything that can be invented has been invented.”  Say what?  And during this year’s NCAA basketball tournament, we were once again reminded of the truth of Proverbs 17:28, “Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise.”  A West Virginia freshman player, before facing the undefeated Kentucky squad, cracked, “Tomorrow they’re gonna be 36-1.”  Oops, Kentucky won by 39 points!

Ben-hadad, the king of Syria, was no different from the aforementioned clerk, commissioner or hoopster—full of hubris (extreme pride) and so confident of the unknown.  The victory was already his even before the first blowing of the trumpet: “May gods deal with me, be it ever severely, if enough dust remains in Samaria to give each of my men a handful” (v.10). He felt so   entitled to everything that Israel owned: “Your silver and gold . . . wives and children are mine” (v.3). Little did he realize that God had Israel’s back, as a prophet informed the king of Israel: “Do you see this vast army?  I will give it into your hand today, and then you will know that I am the Lord” (v.13).

Keep this in mind the next time you feel invincible and invulnerable about yourself because of your possession, ability (knowledge) or accomplishment:  “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall” (Prov. 16:18).  Stay low, heads bowed, and think carefully, in light of who you are (a creature) before your Maker, before opening your mouth.  Remember, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (1 Pet. 5:5).  

Perhaps, even more important lesson is this: If you ever feel like you can’t reach your goal that is good and noble because no one believes in you, remember this: “I can do all this through [Christ Jesus] who gives me strength” (Phil. 4:13).  Work hard (Prov. 14:23) and prayer harder.

Prayer: Dear God, I must confess many foolish things I’ve said about myself, thinking only of my strength in light of other people’s weaknesses.  How comical it must be to You and how tragic for me!  Thanks for your forgiveness and “forgetfulness.”  Remind me to watch what I say so that I may not be a fool.  Help me to say only those things that would edify others.  Amen.  

Bible Reading for Today: Acts 28


Lunch Break Study 

Read Luke 14:7-13: Now he told a parable to those who were invited, when he noticed how they chose the places of honor, saying to them, 8 “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him, 9 and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this person,’ and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place. 10 But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you. 11 For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

James 4:13-7: 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. 17 So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.

Question to Consider

1. One chose the place of honor while the other confidently planned for his future.  In what sense are they cut out from the same rock?

2. What perspective or attitude is needed to avoid seeking the place of honor and planning our future with self-assuredness?

3. How is your heart?  Are you making any statements about your ability and future that may place you in the Hall of Shame of all the ill-advised things men have said about themselves?

Notes

1. These were men of presumption: the former thought of himself as superior to everyone else, which led him to think that he deserved better, while the latter thought that he, not God, was sovereign.  Both of them badly miscalculated by overestimating their status and ability.  

2. To avoid falling into the pitfall of presumption, we must cultivate the mind of Christ, which is, “in humility count[ing] others more significant than yourselves” (Phil. 2:3).  Subsequently, we are to “look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (v.4).  We must also always remember how fragile we are and how unpredictable life can be, which leaves no recourse but to depend and rely absolutely on God (2 Cor. 1:9).

3. Personal response.


Evening Reflection

If someone had observed you throughout the day, would that person conclude that you were trusting in yourself or God?  Be reflective and critical about yourself.  Make changes, if necessary, so that you won’t be embarrassed, or worse –be destroyed.  This is a serious matter.  Pray.   

January 24, Tuesday

UPDATED Today’s AMI QT Devotional provided by Jabez Yeo, now a friend of AMI, was first posted on April 26, 2016.  

Devotional Thought for This Morning

“Unity Despite Theological Disagreements”

Ephesians 4:1-3

I (Paul) therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

The media often portrays conservative Christians as being not too intelligent.  A while back, a prominent writer for TIME magazine quipped that Christian conservatives are “poor, uneducated and easy to command.”  While I hope that’s not the case today, I know for a fact that it wasn’t so in the early church when some of the best and brightest minds led the new faith.  

The 2nd century church spent much time combating Gnosticism, which proposed that Christ’s work on the cross was “purely spiritual…and that the human life and death of Jesus played no role in redemption.” Irenaeus effectively refuted Gnosticism by using passages such as Romans 5.  Olson writes, “Because Christ is the second Adam…; God reverses Adam’s life that resulted in corruption.  For Irenaeus, Christ provided redemption by going through the entire scope of human life and…reversing the disobedience of Adam….” This was an essential point that Irenaeus emphasized, as it established redemption as a process of restoring creation rather than escaping creation, as in Gnostic heresy. Through Irenaeus, Christian theology became rooted in the truth that without Christ’s full divinity and humanity, salvation is impossible. 

Because of his influence, Irenaeus was called upon to resolve all types of conflicts. One such non-essential conflict was the Quartodeciman controversy, which centered around whether Easter should be celebrated on Passover (the Quartodeciman position) or on Sunday. After much debate, Victor, the bishop of Rome, was so fed up with the Quartodecimans that he excommunicated them from the church. Although Irenaeus believed that Easter should be celebrated on Sunday, he admonished Victor to preserve unity in the body of Christ. For Irenaeus, the fact that the Lord’s resurrection was being celebrated by both parties was sufficient.  This is to say, as far as this Church Father was concerned, Gnosticism had to be opposed and disfellowshipped; but not so with the Quartrodecimans with whom he disagreed theologically but still desired some level of fellowship. 

As Christians, may we not only learn from Irenaeus’ writings but also from his eagerness to “maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” Let’s pray for wisdom to engage in essential conflicts and to preserve unity otherwise.

Prayer: Lord, as I often engage in arguments and conflicts for the sake of doing so, give me the wisdom to fight over what is crucial and the discernment to look over non-essential issues. Help me to mediate the conflicts around me with Your peace and love. In Your Name I pray.  Amen. 

Bible Reading for Today: Acts 27


Lunch Break Study 

Read 1 Cor. 1:10-12: I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought. 11 My brothers and sisters, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. 12 What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ.”13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Paul?

Questions to Consider


1. What appears to be the problem described in the above passage?  What would be its modern equivalent?

2. What is so sad and tragic about this problem?

3. What realization is necessary in order to keep the believers with a strong conviction from beating each other up? 

Notes


1. The Christians who favored or followed different Bible teachers became divisive probably because they insisted that their teacher was more biblical and spiritual than others.  This would be equivalent to Calvinists and Arminians arguing over who is more faithful to the Scripture. 

2. The believers, while arguing over matters relating to the Bible and God, end up losing their Christian testimony before the world.  It shows that the Christians are no different than the feuding politicians and contentious businessmen.

3. They have to realize that Christ cannot be divided, that no human teacher can be placed above Him.  Sometimes, the best policy is to agree to disagree, and leave it at that.  As long as we agree on the essentials of our faith, we have reason to maintain the Christian unity in Christ. 


Evening Reflection

As you wrap up this day, think about those situations that are slowly dividing your family and/or church:  Are you part of the problem or solution?  Please spend some time in prayer to ask God what to do.  If you are the one causing the division, repent and ask for forgiveness; if not, then, ask God for boldness to address the divisive individual.  Remember what Christ said: “I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— 23 I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity” (Jn. 17:22-3).