October 22, Tuesday

Today’s blog, written by Pastor Sam Lee of Catalyst Agape Church in New Jersey, was first posted on July 22, 2014.

 

Devotional Thought for Today

“The Weapon of Choice”

1 Peter 2:11-12

Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. 12 Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.

Interestingly, Peter addresses his readers as “Dear friends,” putting himself in a position not only as their teacher but their friend; a friend who is genuinely concerned about their welfare concerning sin. He doesn’t want to just give impersonal techniques and programs to overcome sin, but his exhortation comes from a deep sense of care for them.                                                               

He reminds the believers that as “foreigners” in this world, we are called to be different from the world.  Though the people of the world spend much energy to fulfill their sinful desires, not caring about the consequences or how much sin hurts others and themselves, for the believers, the sinful desires “wage war against your soul.”  Peter reminds us that we can’t just blindly be dragged through the alleys by these desires; but rather, we need to take up arms and fight the good fight.  

But how do we fight the battle?  Not with the weapons of this world; we have a different kind of weapon.  Whereas the enemy wants us to lose hope and become bitter when we are faced with sin, Peter tells us to do the opposite of what the devil tells us to do:  “Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us” (v. 12).  Or, as Paul puts it, “Do not be overcome by evil, overcome evil with good” (Rom. 12:21). He reminds us that when good is done in the midst of evil, it’s like light shining brighter in the midst of darkness.  

Prayer: No weapon forged against me will prevail. Lord, thank You that I will overcome in Christ. Though I walked in the valley of death, I will fear no evil for You are with me.

Bible Reading for Today: Isaiah 2


Lunch Break Study

Read 2 Corinthians 10:3-5: For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. 4 The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. 5 We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.

Questions to Consider

  1. Many use guilt (condemnation) to motivate themselves to do better (live a holy life).  Upon what basis can we root our faith (that is not guilt driven) so that we may live a holy life (Rom. 12:2)?
  2. This passage says, “We do not wage war as the world does.” What is one spiritual battle you are going through that you can apply this teaching? What would you do differently?

Notes

  1. Here, Paul is talking about the importance of a clear, biblical thinking that sees right through thoughts and beliefs that are detrimental to our faith.  In Romans 12:2, the apostle talks about renewing of our mind, which leads to approving what God’s will is –his good, pleasing and perfect will. When we live accordingly, a holy life (separated from the worldly values) will be its outcome.
  2. When we have a problem with a person, the first thing we think of doing is to talk to that individual.  This verse teaches us that we ought to pray before we speak to anyone. It is not just a problem between people; there may be a spiritual dimension that needs to be addressed.  After praying, we may no longer feel the need to talk to that person, but instead keep on praying.

Evening Reflection

Pray for one person that seems to be dragging you down spiritually. How can you move in the opposite spirit of this person?

October 21, Monday

Today’s devotional, prepared by Pastor Jason Sato, was originally posted on November 4, 2014.  He and his wife Jessica (along with their three young children) recently moved to Japan to serve as missionaries. 

 

Devotional Thoughts for Today

Proverbs 2:1-8 

My son, if you receive my words and treasure up my commandments with you, 2 making your ear attentive to wisdom and inclining your heart to understanding; 3 yes, if you call out for insight and raise your voice for understanding, 4 if you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures, 5 then you will understand the fear of the LORD and find the knowledge of God. 6 For the LORD gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding; 7 he stores up sound wisdom for the upright; he is a shield to those who walk in integrity, 8 guarding the paths of justice and watching over the way of his saints.

Proverbs 2 invites us to receive, treasure, make our ear attentive, incline our hearts, and cry out for wisdom (v.1-3).  Simply put, we’re called to desire and ask for insight and instruction. The act of asking presupposes trust.  

Sometimes my son “accidentally” breaks apart the tracks to his train set while I am working at the kitchen table.  Then, I would hear his voice, “Dad…Dad…help!” He asks for help because he assumes two things. First, I am able to help him (train sets are still within my abilities); second, I am willing to help him.  I suppose I could walk over and flip his train table upside-down but my son trusts that I want to help, not hurt.

Do we trust that God is able and willing to answer our prayers for wisdom and understanding?  In other words, is God a personal-infinite being worth speaking to when we need insight and help?  The author of Proverbs answers with a resounding YES!  

Proverbs 1 speaks of the fear of the Lord as the beginning of wisdom.  Fearing the Lord is the path to becoming wise. But as we become wiser, we will gain a greater reverence and fear of the Lord as well (v. 5).  It turns out that the fear of the Lord is both the beginning and the end of wisdom!

How does this happen?  As we walk with God in reverence, our fear increases based not only on abstract knowledge but through personal experience.  As we seek and ask for help, we come to find that the Lord is the one who shields, guards, and watches over his saints (v. 6-8).

As we ask for wisdom and experience God’s faithfulness when our petition is granted, we know with that much more certainty that God will come through and His ways lead to righteousness and life.

Take a moment to remember the faithfulness and answered prayers God has given to you in the past.  Then come to Him for the wisdom you need for today.

Prayer: Father, thank You for Your faithfulness throughout my life, for you have always been good to me.  Grant me the wisdom I desperately need that I might always honor You as I labor at work, love my family, and steward Your gifts.

Bible Reading for Today: Isaiah 1


Lunch Break Study  

Read Luke 11:9-13: And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 10 For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. 11 What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; 12 or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 13 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

Questions to Consider 

  1. What does v. 9 tell us about how we ought to pray?
  2. What causes us to fail to persist in prayer?
  3. How are you tempted to believe that you are (or would be) a better parent than God?

Notes

  1. We ought to pray with persistence, effort, and faith.
  2. We doubt whether God will answer.  Ultimately, we question whether God gives good gifts to his children.
  3. Answers will vary but could include the following: we feel as if we are more generous and attentive than God, or we care more about our children’s needs.

Evening Reflection

What opportunities did you have today to ask the Lord for His help and insight?  How did the Lord provide His fatherly care for you today? Take a moment to thank God for His faithfulness.

October 20, Sunday

Spiritual Food for Thought for the Weekend

“Everybody, Do Your Share”

1 Corinthians 3:5-9 

What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task. 6 I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. 7 So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. 8 The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, and they will each be rewarded according to their own labor. 9 For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building.

One of my favorite children’s books is The Trumpet of the Swan. The story is about a swan named Louis who is born mute. At first, everybody is worried about him, because a mute swan cannot attract a mate, and therefore he cannot lead a normal swan life. The book follows how his life changes as he uses a trumpet to communicate. Louis ends up having a far more adventurous life than an ordinary swan, eventually playing in nightclubs and even wooding the love of his life. How’s that for a transformed life?

However! This story would be incomplete without a host of other characters who help and support him along the way. There’s a boy named Sam who identifies that Louis can’t talk and first brings him to school, so he can learn other forms of communication. Louis’s swan father obtains a trumpet so his son can practice. Yet others offer him jobs. And so it goes.

In this passage, Paul admonishes the Corinthian church for picking sides and favoring some of God’s servants over others. But instead of focusing on what he says about unity, let’s focus today on how Paul reinforces that individuals all have different roles to play in building one another up. Someone’s job is to water, and someone’s job is to plant. In the process of God bringing growth, it can never be attributed to just one person; our lives are the fruit of a community project over time.

We all have a critical role to play in the church. Knowing this, we should be gladly engaged in growing others as they achieve transformation. You might be responsible for tilling hard soil, or planting seeds of thought, or watering and refreshing others.

At most AMI churches, the ministry year has begun. Have you intended to join God as He transforms His people? There are more ways to serve than just the visible titles and roles you might normally think of. All of us are engaged to do life together and have the privilege to encourage one another in growth. As we go to God’s house today, let’s ask for open eyes and commitment to see how to aid our brothers and sisters in growing.

Prayer: Father, thank You that we are called to one another and that You have given each person such purpose in Your family. Help us not to neglect the spiritual gifts You have given to us but to use them well in building each other up. Lord, give us hearts that love to serve one another. Amen.
Bible Reading for Today: Revelation 22

October 19, Saturday

Spiritual Food for Thought for the Weekend

“No Longer Your Own”

1 Corinthians 6:17-20 

“But whoever is united with the Lord is one with him in spirit. 18 Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body. 19 Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; 20 you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.”

 There’s a great scene in the movie Ratatouille when the wannabe chef, Linguini, and a rat, Remy, begin to team up together. Up to this point, the boy has been downcast because he has little skill, but Remy, the rat, is passionate about food, and they learn that Linguini’s actions can be controlled when Remy tugs on his hair. Suddenly, it becomes a puppet situation; his body is no longer his own, but now he is completely at the disposal of a rat with incredible culinary talent. He raises his hands, grabs ingredients, chops, and cooks, all by the directions from this rat sitting inside his hat!

This is a useful depiction of what it looks like to be mastered by God. Today’s passage specifically references sexual immorality and the physical expression of honoring God; however, the sense of being owned by God applies beyond our sexuality and extends into all other fleshly behavior: jealousy, selfishness, pride, etc.

Without Him and left to our own devices, we are hapless and hopeless. But a life mastered by Him means that we can seriously exceed what we think our human capabilities are. We find ourselves more generous and patient than we would normally be. We find ourselves more gracious and compassionate. We find ourselves fighting the wars of the flesh with strength and diligence. A life mastered by God’s powerful Spirit is victorious in more ways than we can imagine.

Today, let’s take an inventory of areas in which God is Lord and Master over our lives. Are we being mastered by Him in all areas, or is there something we are withholding? Let’s ask Him to help us cede our control and let Him take over so that we can live in the freest, fullest, and best way.

Prayer: Father, thank You that You have offered me the abundant life. I want to take hold of it, but I confess that I often want control over how things go. Help me to surrender wholly to You and be mastered by You. Use me and change me so that I may life the full and abundance life in You.

Bible Reading for Today: Revelation 20-21

October 18, Friday

Devotional Thought for Today

“Who’s Got Talent?”

1 Corinthians 1:26-31 

Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28 God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, 29 so that no one may boast before him. 30 It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. 31 Therefore, as it is written: ‘Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.’

I was watching a couple videos of America’s Got Talent while babysitting recently. The premise of the show is that performers come before a panel of judges and demonstrate one skill or another that they’ve practiced. I watched one video in which the judges began by smiling politely at a young girl who was skinny and seemed nervous. Once her number started, a powerful voice suddenly erupted from her. The judges were shocked— flabbergasted to the point of dropping their jaws—and it was evident that they had severely underestimated her talent. (The girls I was with gleefully replayed that moment over and over again.)

While not a perfect analogy, Paul reminds us that we are also susceptible of determining someone’s worth, but God can easily overturn our prejudices. We gravitate easily towards external shows of power: beauty, strength, riches, education. However, we underestimate others who do not exhibit those same traits, and then we end up eating humble pie when we find out how God has actually equipped them and uses them powerfully! 

God often likes to remind us that we are too fixated on the outward appearance of things. He is not interested in our accomplishments and our attempts to impress Him through skills, talents, and looks. (In fact, to do so would be to completely miss the nature of how He gifted us with those in the first place). He has made grace a great leveler so that people we look down on—the foolish and the weak— are elevated, and we have nothing to boast of. 

Let’s ask God to change our vision of those around us. We may not always accurately gauge who He means to use, but when He imbues us with His Spirit, it is undeniable. Let’s ask for humility to not measure our fellow person based on what he or she seems to offer, but let’s ask God to give us discernment to properly value and honor a person’s capacity to glorify Him. 

Prayer: Father, I confess that I am guilty of judging my fellow brothers and sisters based on their strength and wisdom in my own standards. Give me Your grace to be reminded that none of us have anything to boast about; give me humility to understand that You often use those we underestimate. Help me to see Your people with Your eyes and not mine. Amen.

Bible Reading for Today: Revelation 19


Lunch Break Study

Read James 2:1-7: My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism. 2 Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. 3 If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” 4 have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? 5 Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? 6 But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? 7 Are they not the ones who are blaspheming the noble name of him to whom you belong?

Questions to Consider

  1. James recognizes that discrimination always happens, even within the worship service. What’s the problem with this kind of favoritism?
  2. James also asks the believers to think about both the present life and the one to come. How does that help us here?
  3. How do you discriminate against others, even in the church setting? Let’s reflect on how to apply this passage in our own lives. 

Notes

  1. Favoritism and discrimination are ungodly behaviors because we set ourselves as the judge of a person’s worth and value. God loves all His children, but when we show favoritism, we essentially try to override His decision on who is worthy of love
  2. While we might find people of a certain status compelling, we have not properly thought about how or whether we can live freely among them in this life. James mentions that the rich, who we love to show special attention to, give us no mercy on this side of Heaven; they also do not fear God and therefore do not practice justice correctly. We fail to understand that the poor inherit the kingdom, and so we are also being shortsighted when we do not consider what true success means in light of eternity.
  3. Personal reflection.

Evening Reflection

How did today go? Did God give you an extra measure of grace and vision for someone unexpected? Let’s ask Him to keep changing our perception of those around us and be humbled to see them used mightily in His kingdom.

October 17, Thursday

Devotional Thought for Today

“A Sympathetic Ear”

Hebrews 4:14-16

“Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven,[f] Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. 16 Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

Early in my college days, I went through a series of eating disorders. Though I felt healed from it, the road in recovering was riddled with moments of struggle that I hadn’t expected. Because so few of my friends understood the experience, I often felt that I didn’t know how to navigate my problems. But one day, while meeting with an older sister, I decided to share in order to stay vulnerable. In doing so, I learned that she experienced the same things! Immediately, I felt relieved, safe, and understood. I knew that I could ask for her guidance. Realizing that someone had gone before me in this experience encouraged me to persevere and comforted me with the reminder that I was not alone. 

The Scripture says that, for us, Jesus has gone through every temptation and trial that we face. In fact, the writer of Hebrews says that He was tempted in all things yet remained without sin. While we may know in our minds that Jesus went through some sufferings, we rarely take the time to reflect on how Jesus can and will understand us when we come to Him. 

We can go to Him for everything! He experienced abandonment and betrayal. He understands how it feels to be misunderstood by family and strangers. He understands weariness and the struggle to honor the Father to the very end. He understands the barrage of temptations that arise when we want to react to each of those situations. And He overcame! So we can come to Him, knowing that we will find a friendly and sympathetic ear and knowing that we will surely be understood.

Our Christ has gone ahead of us and overcome. Let us come to Him with confidence, knowing that He will provide the mercy, grace, and guidance that we crave. Is there something weighing your heart that makes you feel all alone in your experience? I urge you to call on Jesus today. Better than any human comfort, He understands perfectly, and He is always available and present.

Prayer: Jesus, thank You for going before me in every way. I know that I can come to You as a friend and confidant. Show me more of Your understanding so that I could be even more forthcoming in my life and see how safe and wonderful it is to share my heart with You. Amen.

Bible Reading for Today: Revelation 18


Lunch Break Study

Read John 15:13-17: Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command. 15 I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. 17 This is my command: Love each other.

Questions to Consider

  1. Why is it significant that we are now counted as friends of God?
  2. What is the command that Jesus gives to His friends to follow?
  3. Jesus describes a oneness in mind and spirit that comes from friendship with God. What does this oneness result in?

Notes

  1. Friends are different from servants because friends have a level of exchange and intimacy that a master-servant relationship would not. Friends disclose their hearts and thoughts in a mutual exchange. Masters only tell servants commands and tasks to do but never disclose their intentions and plans. Friendship with God is not just a warm relationship; He willingly chose us to become friends and grants us access to His ideas and plans. 
  2. The command that Jesus gives is to love each other. The love that He specifically calls us to (and emphasizes) is a sacrificial love that honors others’ lives above our own. This is not always about dying in place of one another, but a consideration of others above ourselves.
  3. Oneness with Jesus when we are exchanging our thoughts with His and also obeying His commands becomes a lifestyle in which our desires and wishes are also totally fulfilled. If our lives are bent on serving / loving others and being wholly devoted to God’s people, we can be more sure that our wishes and desires are more pure and in-line with what God desires; they are the very things He will grant.

Evening Reflection

How did today go? Were there any instances as you sought God that it felt more certain that He understood and sympathized? Let’s ask Him to be at the forefront of our thoughts so that we can always turn to Him for counsel and support.

October 16, Wednesday

Devotional Thought for Today

“Caught in the Act of… Doing the Right Thing?” 

Matthew 25:14-19 

“Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them. 15 To one he gave five bags of gold, to another two bags, and to another one bag, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. 16 The man who had received five bags of gold went at once and put his money to work and gained five bags more. 17 So also, the one with two bags of gold gained two more. 18 But the man who had received one bag went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. 19 After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them.” 

When I was in high school, I would study in my own room. But I was always looking for a way to take a break, maybe watch a drama secretly on my computer or browse some internet wormhole. My mom would sometimes pop in with fruits, dessert, or tea to help me along. The reaction on my face whenever she burst in would completely betray me. If I was calm, she would know that I had been working hard. But if I was tense or nervous, I was totally busted! She could tell that I had been caught in the middle of my procrastination.

I use this story to illustrate what I’m always reminded of when reading this parable, especially because I don’t often live with this urgency. Most of us don’t live as though Jesus is coming back soon; in fact, we seem to live as if He is certainly going to return in another lifetime. This attitude begins to give us a free pass to take it easy when it comes to our work. After all, we might have another time to make it up, or someone later on could pick up the slack. 

But as the text reminds us, we should not live like this; rather, we should faithfully make the most of each day and be productive in the tasks He’s set before us. If He does come back, what kinds of workers will He find?

To be careful because we want the right motives, I propose that the key to diligent faithfulness should not be fear that we would be found wanting if He drops in. Rather, our motivation is that He is worthy of our faithfulness. Out of love and a desire to witness to others that we serve a good and wonderful God, we work hard joyfully and vigorously! 

The King is coming back one day, and our work will have to be accounted for! Let’s work hard today not out of fear, guilt, or shame that He might be displeased. Instead, let us work hard because He’s worthy for us to say to a watching world: my King deserves all my diligence and faithfulness.

Prayer: Father, thank You for this life You’ve given me. I want to honor You with faithfulness and diligence. Help me to be a good witness and steward of the time and opportunities You’ve set before me, and free me from laziness and procrastination. I want my work ethic to show that You are worthy of my best efforts. Amen.

Bible Reading for Today: Revelation 17


Lunch Break Study

Read Galatians 6:7-10: Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. 8 Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. 9 Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. 10 Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.

Questions to Consider

  1. Why is it important to state upfront that God cannot be mocked and a man reaps what he sows?
  2. What are the two things we can sow? Why might it be important to know there are only two options?
  3. What is the motivation for perseverance that Paul states here?

Notes

  1. This is important for Paul to establish and remind us that there are no inconsequential actions and investments in our lives. Every action does beget some reaction. 
  2. There are only two possible investments we can make: destruction or eternal life. Paul says to us that we either sow for the flesh or sow for the Spirit; we either invest in worldly pleasures or eternal life. 
  3. The fruit of not giving up is that a harvest is assured. We should not become weary in doing good because we will always find a yield when our efforts go towards eternal life; God will never disappoint us in that reward.

Evening Reflection

Let’s think back to the day. Were there ways that we were faithful? Let’s celebrate those. Are there places where we can improve? Let’s ask God for increased faithfulness and for His Spirit to overcome any laziness or sloth in the coming day.