April 6, Monday

Today’s AMI QT Devotional is provided by Cami King who servs as associate pastor at Remnant Church in Manhattan.  She is a graduate of University of Pennsylvania (BA) and Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary (M.Div.).

Devotional Thought for This Morning

“What Is God Actually Doing?”

Acts 2:22-24, 36-39

“‘Fellow Israelites, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. 23 This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. 24 But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him . . . 36 Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.’ 37 When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’ 38 Peter replied, ‘Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.’”

rebekah-baines-41sErK-Xkz8-unsplashOver the years, I’ve noticed a repeated trope in the Church (both in Scripture and in present day): Folks who identify themselves as the people of God or followers of Jesus are inclined to miss (misidentify or ignore) what God is doing in their present time. And, it’s only after the fact, when they find themselves under God’s judgment (1 Pet. 4:17) or when their descendants look back, that the error is identified (and occasionally corrected). And the few, like the prophets, who are aware of what God is doing at the time—well, things don’t end so well for them (e.g., Jeremiah/Jer. 38:6).

In the Hebrew Bible (the Old Testament) we read story after story of God’s personal revelation to the descendants of Abraham, oddly coupled with their continued confusion about what God is like and who God is calling them to be. They get hung up on technicalities of the law when God is instead inviting them to build a just world (Mic. 6:8). They focus on religious rituals (Mk. 7:5-13), when God is calling for acts of love and mercy to both neighbor and stranger. They look for ways to build empires and kingdoms in the world, when God is inviting them into loving community that transcends this world. God sent numerous prophets to signal a large-scale redemptive work, and yet when Jesus came, most were confused about the nature of his ministry, of salvation, and of the Kingdom of God (Lk. 24:21). The history of the Church (our history) tells a very similar story.

We are inundated with woefully unhelpful and often irresponsible speculations about the times in which we are living, particularly within charismatic and evangelical church spaces. There is a temptation to spend more time arguing about things that are deeply subjective and nonessential and speculating about things we literally can’t know (Acts 1:7-8, Matt. 24:36), than we spend actually practicing what we already do know (Mic. 6:8; Isa. 58:6). And in so doing, I wonder if we miss what God is up to in our time and inadvertently reject an invitation to get involved (Matt. 16:2-3).

What is the nature of the redemptive work God is doing in the world? How is the Spirit that work doing that work right now today (in our neighborhoods or cities)? How is God inviting us to get involved?

Bible Reading for Today: Acts 6


Lunch Break Study

Read Acts 2:14-21: Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. 15 These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! 16 No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:

17 “‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. 18 Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.
19 I will show wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below, blood and fire and billows of smoke. 20 The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord. 21 And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’

Question to Consider

  1. What do you learn from these verses about what God is doing “in the last days”?  What do they teach us about the nature of the Kingdom of God and His plan for the world?
  2. What is God’s ultimate mission or goal in these verses (v. 21)?
  3. How do these verses speak to you (encourage and/or challenge)? How might you respond in faithfulness to God’s work in the world.

Notes

  1. God’s work is Spirit-empowered and done through the Church. The Spirit of God is empowering individual believers to bring forth the Kingdom of God as they do life together in community. This is done as believers prophesy (see as God sees and speak accordingly), dream dreams (of life in the Kingdom of God) and see visions (of God’s wisdom for our present time). These verses teach us that God’s Kingdom and God’s work in the world is available to all people (vs. 17). God’s Spirit is doesn’t discriminate but moves powerfully through any willing participant. The intentional naming of specific groups makes this point clear.  The mention of sons and daughters eliminates limitations based on gender. The mention of young and old eliminates limitations based on age. And the mention of servants eliminates limitations based on class or social status. All are invited into the Kingdom and all can be empowered by the Spirit to do God’s work in the world.   
  2. Salvation is available to all who will come because God’s goal is to save the world and redeem all of Creation.
  3. Maybe you don’t feel empowered by the Holy Spirit. Maybe you’re not sure God can work through you. Maybe you’re learning for the first time that God’s Spirit can move powerfully through all people. Maybe you’ve become distracted or disconnected from God’s work in the world. Wherever you are, ask God to speak to you in light of the passage above.

Evening Reflection

chua-bing-quan-Sg7eWHKrxrA-unsplash

Tonight, we’ll end the day reflecting on the final segment of this passage: 2:46-47:

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. (Acts 2:42-47)

What do you think it means for believers to be together and have everything in common? What, if anything, keeps you from this kind of radical togetherness? How can you live out the heart of these verses in your present context?

April 5, Sunday

Today’s AMI QT Devotional is provided by Pastor Peter Yoon of Kairos Christian Church in San Diego.

Spiritual Food for Thought for the Weekend

“Encountering God in Slovakia”

Proverbs 19:21

“Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.”

evie-s-uuCjYxJVf4o-unsplash

There are times when God clearly reveals Himself to remind and reassure us that He is sovereign. Through circumstances, He lets us know that He is still in control and is working through His perfect plans.  Those encounters with God build our confidence in Him.

After finishing college, I spent a year as a mission intern in Eastern Europe. One weekend, I was on my way back from Germany to the town of Komarno, Slovakia where I was living. The train ride was about 16 hours long, and unfortunately, this was the time with no smartphones, tablets, mp3 players, etc. So what can one do other than stare out the window?

For the most part of the trip, I was alone. Even when other passengers came into my 6-seater cabin, there wasn’t really a way of communicating, so I just continued to stare out the window to the landscape of Slovakia. The train must have passed by numerous small towns, the kind of towns that an urbanite would ask, “Why would anyone live here?”

As a mission intern, I couldn’t help but to think, “Lord, what about these people? How will they ever know who You are? Who will ever come to share the gospel in such a remote place?” As the long trip home continued, those thoughts and questions continued to circulate in my mind to the point that they began to trouble me.

With no clear answers to such questions, I arrived at my final transfer city, where the last train would not depart for another three hours; and then finally, I would arrive home in two hours.  Since it was late evening, there were only a few passengers traveling, and again, without much else to do, I sat on a depot bench with my small Bible open on my lap. I would like to tell you that I was reading and meditating, but I think I was just staring into the pages, still wondering whether the people in the small remote towns were hopelessly beyond the reach of the good news.

Suddenly, two young men approached me. One of them actually spoke just enough English and some German so that we were able to carry out some small talk. I supposed there were two noticeable factors as to why they took interest in talking with me:  First, I was Asian, and I don’t believe that was common in the area at the time. Second, I believe the compact Bible sitting on my lap caught their attention, because one of the men asked me what book I was reading, and I told him that it was the Bible. They smiled, which was actually unusual in that culture at that time. Again, with their broken English and German, my elementary Slovakian language, lots of hand gestures, and what seemed to be a game of charades, they communicated that they, too, were believers. As we continued our slow conversation, I found out they were returning home from their church. Their home was a small town two hours away from the train station; probably one of the remote towns that I had passed on my journey.

In that conversation, I felt as though I had encountered God. He was not only answering my questions, but He was reassuring me that He had all things under control, that no city or town would go unnoticed from His love and care. I only met two, but I’m sure God had many more. I would take the final leg of my train ride home with a sense of joyful trust in a God whose plans and purposes always prevails.

As I continue to serve the Lord, I try to avoid two extremes: One is passivity, where I think God doesn’t need us so why do anything at all. The other is extreme activity, where I think that it’s all up to me. It’s not easy, but I would rather serve the Lord diligently, but all the while with a joyful trust in God who accomplishes His purposes in a world full of cities and towns and villages that He loved so much that He gave His Son.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, give me strength and wisdom to avoid a faith of passivity and extreme activity.  Instead, empower me to serve You diligently with a joyful trust.  Thank You for loving me. Amen.

Bible Reading for Today: Acts 5

April 4, Saturday

Today’s AMI QT Devotional is provided by Pastor Ryun Chang (AMI Teaching Pastor).

Spiritual Food for Thought for the Weekend

“Be Spiritually Smart”

Matt. 14:22-26

Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. 23 And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, 24 but the boat by this time was a long way from the land, beaten by the waves, for the wind was against them. 25 And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. 26 But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out in fear.

azfan-nugi-TSD6MXgkHac-unsplash

At times, we are so full of ourselves that we cannot see what’s really in our hearts.  Our growing accomplishments and burgeoning bank accounts have gone to our heads; we really think we are something to behold.  Yuck!  And that’s one reason God “tests our hearts” (1 Thess. 2:4).

When Jesus, before feeding the 5,000, tested Philip (“He only asked this to test him”), asking, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat,” the Lord “already had in mind what he was going to do” (Jn. 6:6).  Then why test him?  One reason: Jesus gave his man a chance to see for himself what was truly in his heart. In this case, Philip’s answer that showed his lack of faith (“Eight months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each one to have a bite”—Jn. 6:7) revealed that he wasn’t all that great!

What does this all mean?  What Jesus saw in his disciples were men who could do nothing apart from him (Jn. 15:5).  In contrast, his men, often “argu[ing] about who was greatest” (Mk. 9:34), saw things differently! So confident of their own abilities, one day, two of them, John and James, made a stunning request to Jesus: “We want you to do for us whatever we ask . . . Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory” (Mk. 10:35, 37).  Yes, something had to be done to let the air out of their swelled head.   

So, one day, Jesus let his men row a boat in high winds, without him, into the wee hours of the night. The result?  These veteran fishermen behaved like children, crying out in fear when they mistook Jesus walking on water as a ghost.  And after rowing for about 7-8 hours, they covered only about 3.5 miles (Jn. 6:19). In this way Jesus showed them that they weren’t all that great. But once the Lord, after having calmed the storm and assured the disciples (“It is I. Don’t be afraid”—Mk. 6:50), entered the boat, it “immediately reached the shore where they were heading” (Jn. 6:21).  To put it differently, without Jesus, the disciples, whose favorite pastime was arguing about who was the greatest, were stuck and going nowhere fast; with Him on board they quickly reached their destination.

Of course, it is because we are often oblivious to our own pride and self-sufficiency that God stirs up storms in our lives (a.k.a., test) to get us to see what’s really lurking in our hearts.  At the very least, COVID-19, a tsunami of our lives, should be serving that purpose for all of us.  So let us be spiritually smart by humbling ourselves before the Lord—Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up (James 4:10)—and reach our “destination” promptly.

Prayer: Dear God, open wide my dull eyes so I can see the true condition of my heart.  Help me to renounce arrogance and self-sufficiency; empower me, instead, to cling unto You and rely on the sufficiency of Christ.  Amen.   

Bible Reading for Today: Acts 3-4

April 3, Friday

Today’s AMI QT Devotional is provided by Cami King who serves as associate pastor at Remnant Church in Manhattan.  She is a graduate of University of Pennsylvania (BA) and Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary (M.Div.).

Devotional Thoughts for This Morning

“What Is Our Witness?”

Acts 1:8; 2:5-13

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” . . . 5 Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. 6 When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. 7 Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? 9 Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome 11 (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” 12 Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?”13 Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.”

photo-of-person-holding-green-leaf-1029844A topic of much discussion at the present moment is how will churches respond to our current global crisis. There are those who feel we waited too long to close our doors (signaling a lack of consideration for the surrounding community) and others who feel churches shouldn’t close their doors at all (because it signals faithless and fear). There are those who believe we should all just stay at home (respecting city mandates out of care for our neighbors) and others who feel it’s our duty to be out and about looking for ways to serve. There are those who feel we should double down and lean into the Lenten Season, not focusing so much attention on the anxiety of a global pandemic (because God knew it was coming) and others who believe it’s best to embrace the present moment, abandon all regularly scheduled programming and lean fully in (because can move uniquely in this time).

There are many convictions, judgements and opinions, many of which are valid, albeit varied, and rooted in the best of intentions. Yet at the heart of them all is the issue of witness. How will the church bear witness in a season of suffering and uncertainty? You may have heard stories of Early Church Christians who responded to plagues by staying behind to care the sick, almost always at the expense of their own lives. Their witness has stood the test of time – their actions a tangible and distinct display of God’s love. While we’re not facing a plague and we thankfully have modern healthcare systems that can, for the most part, support the sick during a pandemic, the question of witness still stands.

When we think about our Christian witness, we often think in terms of something we should be doing. But the New Testament usually uses “witness” to describe what Christians are. In other words, our lives are saying something about Jesus regardless of what we do. Thus, witness is not primarily a matter of doing (figuring out the right thing to do amid crisis), but a matter of being (what we call in the Church Christian formation). Are we the kind of people God can move through when the need arises? Better yet, are we the kind of people God is already moving through for the sake of the life of the world?

Prayer: Heavenly Father, You have sent me into the world to be a light and a blessing. May my faithfulness in even the most menial tasks and during the most trying times be pleasing unto You and a blessing to those around me. Amen.

Bible Reading for Today: Acts 2


Lunch Break Study

Read Hebrews 12:1-3, 12-17: Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart . . . 12 Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. 13 “Make level paths for your feet,” so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed. 14 Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. 15 See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many. 16 See that no one is sexually immoral, or is godless like Esau, who for a single meal sold his inheritance rights as the oldest son. 17 Afterward, as you know, when he wanted to inherit this blessing, he was rejected. Even though he sought the blessing with tears, he could not change what he had done.

Question to Consider

  1. What is the context of the instructions above? (i.e. what does the writer mean when saying “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses?) Why is this important.
  2. What instructions are given in verses 1-3? What is the difference between weights and sin?
  3. What instructions are given in verses 14-17? What’s at stake if believers fail to heed these warnings?
  4. In what ways do you need to strengthen feeble limbs and make straight paths for your feet (verses 12-13)? What are the weights slowing you down? What are the sins over which you need victory? In what ways do you need to pursue peace, extend grace, or practice self-discipline?

Notes

  1. In the previous chapters the writer of Hebrews outlines a list of believers who leveraged their lives and ultimately died in faithful anticipation of God’s redemptive work in the world (God’s plan of salvation through Jesus and coming Kingdom through the Church). Their stories give us hope and confidence as we do the same.
  2. (1) Throw of every weight and the sin that clings closely. (2) Run with endurance – we do this by fixing our eyes on Jesus who is not only the object of our faith but our greatest example of a faithful life. Sin is missing the mark of God design for creation or falling short of God’s law. Sins are specific and well-articulated in the Bible. Weights, on the other hand, can be neutral things, even good things, that are simply hindering our ability to run well the race before us (distracting or restricting our ability to faithfully follow Jesus).
  3. (1) Make every effort to live in peace with everyone – if we don’t, it will be hard for others to see God through us. (2) Be gracious with one another – if we don’t, bitterness and division will rise up and destroy fellowship. (3) Do not be controlled by the passions of your body or self-indulgence – if we are, we risk missing out on the blessings of God.
  4. Spend time in prayerful reflection.

Evening Reflection

scott-webb-eA2z1JSzZFI-unsplash

Let’s end day by way of reflecting on Acts 2:44-45.

42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. (Acts 2:42-47)

What do you think it means for believers to be together and have everything in common? What, if anything, keeps you from this kind of radical togetherness? How can you live out the heart of these verses in your present context?

April 2, Thursday

Today’s AMI QT Devotional, provided by Pastor Ryun Chang (AMI Teaching Pastor), is an updated version of his blog first posted on February 28, 2013.

Devotional Thought for This Morning

“Avoid the Bible’s Unintended Effect”

Psalm 19:12-14

By [God’s laws] is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward. Who can discern his errors?  Forgive my hidden faults. 13 Keep your servant also from willful sins; may they not rule over me. Then will I be blameless, innocent of great transgression. 14 May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.

alabaster-co-oZP9Em00cXo-unsplash

Inventors are often horrible predictors of how their inventions would eventually be used.  Consider Gutenberg (1400-68), a devout Catholic, whose invention of mechanical movable print led to the Printing Revolution.  Its social impact was greater in scale than that of the internet because, overnight, staggering number of printed books became available for the common people to read—including the Bible that the Catholic Church once placed on the list of forbidden books. Unbeknownst to Gutenberg, he inadvertently played a key role of ushering in the Protestant Reformation rooted in the belief that every believer should read the Bible for him- or herself.     

The same can be said about Christian schools.  Sure, sending our kids to Christian schools is a blessing, but it has certain drawbacks (i.e., unintended effect).  When young people, without any personal experience with God, regularly study doctrine and memorize verses as part of classroom activity (which is possible because we all have bibles—thanks to Gutenberg), this familiarity, in time, can breed contempt for sermons, as in “I heard that before” or “I already know it.” As a result, the heart becomes unresponsive to God’s word and the Spirit’s leading.  I would dub that as “the Bible’s unintended effect.”

But today’s Psalm shows why God said that David was “a man after my own heart.” In short, he was like a child before God, hiding nothing and always desiring to please the LORD in all that he did, including every word he spoke.  We know all too well David’s failures later in his life, but we also know that he always found his way back to God, confessing his sins and seeking forgiveness.

Knowledge, of which our brain has plenty—again, thanks to Gutenberg, and now the internet, can puff us up, but with a broken and contrite heart, God will not despise (Ps. 51:17).  How is your heart?  Has it hardened? Ask God to soften it!  Then read the Bible which will now become the nourishment to your soul.

Prayer: Dear LORD, I lift up Your holy name on high this morning in recognition of Your patience and tolerance.  How many times have I been inattentive to sermons, thinking that I knew more than the preacher or I heard this before. God, thank You for forgiving my haughtiness; please replace it with the heart of a child so that I, too, can become a man after God’s own heart.  Amen.

Bible Reading for TodayActs 1


Lunch Break Study

Read Matt. 22:23-30: The same day Sadducees came to him, who say that there is no resurrection, and they asked him a question, 24 saying, “Teacher, Moses said, ‘If a man dies having no children, his brother must marry the widow and raise up offspring for his brother.’ 25 Now there were seven brothers among us. The first married and died, and having no offspring left his wife to his brother. 26 So too the second and third, down to the seventh. 27 After them all, the woman died. 28 In the resurrection, therefore, of the seven, whose wife will she be? For they all had her.” 29 But Jesus answered them, “You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God. 30 For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.

Questions to Consider

  1. Jesus made this statement to the Sadducees.  Who were they (look it up) and why was this remark so stunning?
  2. Jesus made another stunning statement, this time to the Jews who knew the Law (Jn. 5:37-40, 45-47)?  What does this imply?
  3. Merely having the right info about God is not enough; our heart needs to be like God’s.  What does it look like (Mt. 18:1-5)?

Notes

  1. The Sadducees were a religious party (of Judaism) of learned men who accepted only the written Torah as their authority and rejected all “oral” Torah or later traditions.  In some sense, they held the “conservative” line of interpretation because they heavily emphasized the first five books of the OT. What was so stunning was that Jesus said to these learned men that they didn’t know the Scriptures.
  2. A similar thing happened here: While acknowledging that the Jews have diligently studied the Scriptures, Jesus stated that they didn’t actually believe anything they had read and studied.  Had they believed, then they would have accepted Christ since Moses wrote about him. This implies that merely having the right knowledge does not result in faith; rather, it may become quite harmful.
  3. The heart that God wants us to have is the heart of a child, i.e., a humble heart. (“Whoever humbles himself like this child . . .”). That means we are never too spiritual to not repent and never too smart to not learn from others.

Evening Reflection

annie-spratt-hX_hf2lPpUU-unsplash

Have you gotten much out of Sunday sermons recently?  Before blaming the preacher, let’s examine our own hearts.  Did some things (e.g., attitude, habit, preoccupation) already predispose you from really listening and engaging with what was said?  Be honest.

Meditate: “Unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” Where is your heart?

Anyway, another day has come and gone, and for some of us, hearts remain restless. Why?  As you recount this day, share your thoughts here.

April 1, Wednesday

Today’s AMI QT Devotional is provided by Cami King who serves as associate pastor at Remnant Church in Manhattan.  She is a graduate of University of Pennsylvania (BA) and Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary (M.Div.).

Devotional Thoughts for This Morning

“What Will We Choose?”

Acts 2:1-4

When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. 2 Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

henry-perks-fp8z5C03jCs-unsplash

In Acts 2, The followers of Jesus find themselves in a moment not unlike our own as they were facing a season of uncertainty, anxiety, fear, and confusion. Jesus was executed and their movement rendered them enemies of Empire (both State and Temple) and thus endangered their lives. And to make matters worse, after resurrecting, Jesus subsequently ascended, leaving them with nothing but hope and His promises of a Spirit that would come (but none of them actually knew what Jesus meant by this).

They were anxious. Worried and fearful, they huddled together waiting to see how everything would play out. They were unsure. They were faithful, but unsure. Although they knew the Spirit would come, no one knew how or when or what the Spirit’s coming would mean. They were fearful. Their lives were at risk. Not by the threat of a global pandemic but by the threat of violence from the Empire. They were confused. Armed with the command to be a witness, no one knew what they were actually supposed to do.

In the face of anxiety and uncertainty —these followers of Jesus chose two important things: togetherness and anticipation. They chose to be together— praying for one another and reminding each other of the Jesus they loved and the things he taught them. They stirred their hearts toward anticipation of what God promised to do, readying themselves and waiting expectantly. And, when the Spirit did finally come, they were able to bear witness in their local community both in word and in deed (see Acts 2 & 3).

What will we choose in our moment of anxiety and uncertainty? Will we choose togetherness – finding creative ways through technology and virtual connectivity to encourage and support one another? Will we turn our thoughts and energies toward anticipation of how God might move through us in this season, reminding ourselves of God’s promises and redemptive work in the world? Will we ready ourselves and stay alert? And when the opportunity arises, will we sense the Spirit moving and move too – in love and compassion, hope and healing for our neighbors?

We can choose to see our present moment as a profound opportunity, an invitation even. Amid a global pandemic and on the tail end of the Lenten season, may the Church be sobered into reflection, repentance, and renewal, remembering who we are and why we are here.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank You for Your and gentleness and compassion from which I benefit everyday. Open my eyes to see all life around me—especially amid our chaotic world—the way you do. Help my heart to be so full of your kindness and compassion that it marks my dealings with all that You’ve created.  Help me to choose You everyday. Amen.

Bible Reading for Today: Isaiah 66


Lunch Break Study

Read Ephesians 5:1-2, 15-20: Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children 2 and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God . . . 15 Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. 18 Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, 19 speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, 20 always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Question to Consider

  1. According to verses 1-2, how do we walk in the way of love? Why is it important that we do this “as dearly loved children”?
  2. What are Paul’s instructions in verses 15-20 and how is each of these commands to be carried out?
  3. In the rest of chapter 5, Paul offers practical steps he believed would help the recipients of his letter in Ephesus to “walk in the way of love” in their context and “make the most of every opportunity” in their time. Considering your context and our present time, what practical steps might you take to “walk in the way of love” and “make the most of every opportunity” today?

Notes

  1. We walk in the way of love by giving ourselves up (as a fragrant offering – Romans 12:1-2) to God for the sake of others. Jesus modeled for us love that is self-sacrificial and not self-serving. We are to immolate this example in our relationships with one another. This kind of love is sustainable only when we are secure in our identity (as God’s children) and assured that we are loved (by God) and empowered by the Spirit (who lives in the children of God).
  2. (1) Be careful how you live – we do this by seeking out wisdom and making the most of every opportunity. Paul is calling for thoughtfulness and intentionality and awareness. (2) Understand what the Lord’s will is – we do this by seeking wisdom (knowing how to apply God’s truth to the present moment), which is the opposite of foolishness. (3) Be filled with the Spirit – we do this by speaking to one another in psalms, hymns and songs. We must encourage each another with God’s word and through God’s Spirit. (4) Praise and thank God for everything – we can do this because we know that in all things God works for good (Rom. 8:28).
  3. Personal Reflection. To start, it may be helpful to identify the people around you (who you are called to love) and the opportunities before you. Ask God what practical steps you can take in light of those people and opportunities.

Evening Reflection 

Let’s end the day by way of reflecting on Acts 2:42-43. We will consider the rest of the passage on this Friday and the following Monday, respectively.

augustine-wong-T0BYurbDK_M-unsplash

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. (Acts 2:42-47)

To what are you devoted? It may help to think about how you spent your time today or how you spend your time in an average week. It might also help to think about what typically occupies your thoughts on any given day. How might you practice devotion to the Church and the work of God through your local church community, particularly in a season of social distancing?

 

March 31, Tuesday

Today’s AMI QT Devotional, originally posted on May 14, 2013, is written by Pastor Matt Ro who formerly pastored Journey Church in Atlanta.  It has been updated.

 

Devotional Thought for This Morning

“Taking Refuge in the Lord during the Storms of Life”

Psalm 57:1-4 (ESV)

Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me, for in you my soul takes refuge; in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge, till the storms of destruction pass by. 2 I cry out to God Most High, to God who fulfills his purpose for me. 3 He will send from heaven and save me; he will put to shame him who tramples on me. Selah. God will send out his steadfast love and his faithfulness! 4 My soul is in the midst of lions; I lie down amid fiery beasts— the children of man, whose teeth are spears and arrows, whose tongues are sharp swords.

How apropos is this psalm for us even as the storms of destruction, COVID—19, passes by ever so deliberately!  Aren’t we all looking for a safe space?

As for David, as he is hiding in a cave to run from those whom he refers to as “fiery beasts”, he finds God, not the cave, to be his “refuge”.  Though darkness is around him, he knows that it is actually under the shadow of the wings of God in which he has found safety.  

The use of the phrase “shadow of your wings” is also found in Psalm 17:8; 36:7, 61:4, and 63:7. Though God does not have wings, the image casts the idea of God being a protector.  And we certainly find refuge in Him. In vv. 2-3, David gives a testimony of God’s faithfulness to him. And in v. 4, David believes he is as safe as Daniel was in the lions’ den (Daniel 6:22).

What a timely reminder to all of us!  Online family group and prayer time is all good but do not let those worthy things to take you away from spending time alone with God, in intimate prayer and being immersed in God’s word.  Hear the voice of the Spirit within your heart (2 Cor. 1:22), “remind[ing us] of everything [Christ] said to [us]” (Jn. 14:26). Allow God’s eternal words to remind us of His wonderful attributes and promises.  And that’s how we take refuge in the shadow of His wings. Do it today!  

Prayer:  Father, thank You that I can find safety in Your shadow.  Again and again, You show mercy to me. I ask again for the shadow of Your wings to give me deliverance, hope, and refuge.  Amen.  

Bible Reading for Today: Isaiah 65


Lunch Break Study

Read Ephesians 4:1-3 (ESV): I 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.

Questions to Consider

  1. How does Paul call us to live in light of the Ephesians Chapters 1-3 (v. 1)?
  2. What does that calling look like (vv. 2-3)?
  3. In what situation(s) or relationship(s) is God calling you to show more gentleness and humility?  In what area or relationship is the Lord calling you to be more diligent in order to bring about unity?  How are you going to do that?

Note

  1. Paul says that we should live a life worthy of the calling we have received. What does he mean? He means that we follow directions from the Head of the church, Jesus, instead of shallow counsels of men. The church is not expected to devise its own strategy or to set its own goal. The church is an army under the command of a King, and an army that will not obey its leader is useless as a fighting force. The church is a body under the control of the Head, and what a tragedy it is when the human body refuses to respond to the direction of the head.  This, then, is the word of the apostle to us: Live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Follow the goal that has been set before you by your Leader. Also, we shouldn’t neglect the gifts that we have been given, but to use them for the benefit of the church and to the glory of God.  
  2. That life looks like Jesus, completely humble and gentle, patient, bearing with one another in love. When unbelievers see Christians live contrary to the character of Christ, they would conclude that the Christian message is not authentic. When the world sees us fighting amongst ourselves, splitting churches, refusing to humble ourselves and take the lowest place, it certainly does not see Christ in us (Heb. 12:14). We may keep telling our believing friends and coworkers that He will make a difference in their lives, but they won’t believe it until they see it in us.  Paul emphasized this expression of Christ’s likeness in our relationships with other believers. We have the same Lord, the same faith, the same baptism, so why are we arguing over the trivial issues? Pride! We insist on being the one who is right. Thus, the humility and gentleness of Christ is the last thing we are willing to exhibit. Consider how many things around Jesus He refused to address because they were not essential.
  3. Personal response

Evening Reflection

Pinpoint any discrepancies between how you see your identity and how God calls us to see ourselves according to Ephesians 4:1-3. Ask God to help you to embrace and be directed by your identity in Christ, aware that He has called us to be His and calls us to follow Him.  Are you currently in need of God to remove any pride that lurks in your heart and undercuts the spirit of humility? Are there any relationships where we need God to help us to love one another from the heart, with the love He has demonstrated for us? Is God calling you to be a peacemaker in any way?

Prayer:  Father, help me to see that the only impact I can have in this world is by being faithful to You and to the message that has been given to me. May your church be made up of people who, above all, obey Your commands and live in a manner worthy of the Gospel that we have received.

March 30, Monday

Today’s AMI Devotional QT is a reprint of Kate Moon’s blog originally posted on May 6, 2014.  Kate continues to serve the Lord in E. Asia. 

 

Devotional Thoughts for This Morning

“Meaningless Talk and Its Effect”

Titus 1:10-11

“For there are many rebellious people, full of meaningless talk and deception, especially those of the circumcision group. 11 They must be silenced, because they are disrupting whole households by teaching things they ought not to teach—and that for the sake of dishonest gain.” 

charlie-deets-TKgOIwPVmkg-unsplash

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W7jlGRq8xZ4

“Smelly Cat, Smelly Cat what are they feeding you? / Smelly Cat, Smelly Cat it’s not your fault / They won’t take you to the vet / You’re obviously not their favorite pet / You may not be a bed of roses / And you’re no friend to those with noses . . .”

~Phoebe Buffay, Friends

This song is ridiculous; no one can take it seriously.  It’s almost not even funny how bad this song is. Meaningless talk.  And this is what Paul calls the talk of some people in the church.

What is interesting is that Paul focuses on the heart motive and effect more than the content.  It’s as if the content almost didn’t warrant mentioning: that is how meaningless it was. For Paul, the main issue was that some people’s hearts were full of rebellion, deception and greed, and the effect of their teaching was disruption and confusion.  These were serious issues which needed to be addressed.

In the video above, when Phoebe teaches this meaningless talk to her friends, it is relatively harmless – even somewhat entertaining.  But there is another kind of teaching and influence that, though the content is just as devoid of true significance, can have a great negative effect on the community.

While a majority of us may not be in an official position to teach in the church, each of us does influence others with the words we say.  Those of the “circumcision group” told others that they needed to be circumcised as well as believe in Jesus in order to be truly saved. Today, we can see how meaningless and silly this sounds, but back then, it was an idea that seriously confused people because of the cultural background they were coming from, where circumcision was a sign that you belonged to the people of God.

What do we truly believe about the gospel?  Do we ever tell others that they need to do certain things if they are “true” Christians, putting a burden on them that Christ never intended?  What is our heart behind saying these things?

Prayer: Dear Lord, would you check my heart and see if there is any deception in me?  Any area in which I’m confused? Or any heart motive that is not right? Would you watch over the words of my mouth?  Rather than meaningless talk, may they be filled with your life-giving words of truth. Amen.

Bible Reading for Today: Isaiah 64


Lunch Break Study

Read Philippians 3:1-5, 7-9: “Further, my brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord! It is no trouble for me to write the same things to you again, and it is a safeguard for you. 2 Watch out for those dogs, those evildoers, those mutilators of the flesh. 3 For it is we who are the circumcision, we who serve God by his Spirit, who boast in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh— 4 though I myself have reasons for such confidence . . .  5 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews . . . 7 But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ 8 . . . I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ . . . .”

Questions to Consider

  1. When Paul warns the Philippians against people who insisted that circumcision was necessary for salvation, why do you think he tells them to rejoice (v. 1)?
  2. What were the true signs of belonging to God (v. 3)?
  3. What is Paul calling “loss” and “garbage” (vv. 7-8)?  How about us? Where do we place our confidence?

Notes

  1. This kind of teaching (i.e., telling people they need to do something more in order to be truly saved) has the effect of robbing people of their joy.  To counter this effect, Paul exhorts them to rejoice!
  2. Faith in Jesus and good works produced by faith (service to God done through the filling and power of the Holy Spirit).
  3. All his prior achievements that he felt justified his standing before God, no longer held any value to the apostle.  Yet how often do we have it backwards, placing our confidence in the “garbage,” while considering our identity in Jesus to be of little worth.

Evening Reflection

Did I walk through this day, confident and secure, because of who I have found myself to be in Jesus Christ?  Or did I respond to people and situations in insecurity because I had been basing my confidence on my abilities, performance, or being well-liked?  What idea of the gospel did I give others today?

If you lost sight, ask Jesus for forgiveness and the grace to help you raise him to the highest place once again, as the only Savior, the one and only true source of confidence.  Then praise him. And rejoice!

March 29, Sunday

Today’s Spiritual Food for Thought, prepared by then-staff at RWC in Manhattan, was originally posted on September 29, 2013.

 

Spiritual Food for Thought for the Weekend

“Worth Living in the Fear of the Lord”

Psalm 92:6-11

The stupid man cannot know; the fool cannot understand this: 7 that though the wicked sprout like grass and all evildoers flourish, they are doomed to destruction forever; 8 but you, O Lord, are on high forever. 9 For behold, your enemies, O Lord, for behold, your enemies shall perish; all evildoers shall be scattered. 10 But you have exalted my horn like that of the wild ox; you have poured over me fresh oil. 11 My eyes have seen the downfall of my enemies; my ears have heard the doom of my evil assailants.

In this morning’s Psalm, we find that wisdom comes with knowing our own mortality. Even if people engage in evil and seem to flourish, they are like grass that withers. This theme and truth is also seen in the book of Ecclesiastes. All people, whether they live righteously or pursue evil, will meet the end in this life. Yet, there is hope in the life that God will establish. In the midst of the flourishing of evil, God still exalts the psalmist and anoints his head with oil.

Following God and living righteously are difficult when seeking to do it on our own strength. We see people who cheat and work the system to get ahead, and it seems as though they succeed without being held accountable for their unethical behavior. As in Psalm 73, we look at all of this and are tempted to go along with the rest of the world. 

Yet, the psalmist here shows us that it is worth living in the fear of the Lord, in righteousness, because God will exalt us and bless us. There is fullness of life in God, and even if the evil and the wicked seem to flourish, we are encouraged to trust that God will exalt us. 

Prayer: Lord, thank you for continually directing my steps and guiding me into truth.  You continually show me your will and teach me your ways. You have always been my Guide even when I did not perceive that you were there, and you will never stop being my Guide.  Declare that God will guide you in all your ways!

Bible Reading for Today: Isaiah 63

March 28, Saturday

Today’s Spiritual Food for Thought, written by Pastor Sam Lee who leads Catalyst Agape Church in Northern New Jersey, was first posted on October 9, 2013. 

 

Spiritual Food for Thought for the Weekend

“Connection with God”

Luke 10:40-42

But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” 

It is important to be committed to building our personal prayer life. This is the reason we are still on the topic of prayer. If you want a healthy body, there needs to be consistency in healthy living. Likewise, if you want a healthy prayer life, you have to work on consistency.

Martha chose to serve instead of choosing to connect (i.e., intimate, close relationship with the Lord). It took me a long time to learn that connection with God is not the same thing as serving in ministry for Christ. If our service is not from connection, we will have similar reactions as those of Martha; we will get upset and get angry at the people close to us and even get angry at Jesus by saying, “Lord, don’t you care?” 

Are things bothering you? Are you getting upset at people around you? Let’s take some time to connect with and abide in Christ. It is not His will that we serve out of brokenness or hurt, for He cares about our heart. He cares about what is inside of the cup more than what is on the outside. We can put much effort cleaning the wrong things, which was Martha’s focus. 

In your connection today, give Him all your bitterness and judgmental attitudes toward others. Take time to receive and release forgiveness in your prayer time. What Jesus wants to do in the house of our hearts is more important than what we can do in our service for Him.

Prayer: Dear Jesus, help me to forgive those toward whom I feel bitter.  Lord, help me to forgive that one person in my life whom I just cannot seem to forgive.  Powerfully remind me of your forgiveness of my unpayable debt. Fill me with the Holy Spirit that I may forgive.  Amen. 

Bible Reading for Today: Isaiah 61-62