January 18, Tuesday

REPOSTToday’s AMI QT Devotional, provided by Pastor David Kwon who heads Journey Community Church in Raleigh, North Carolina, was first posted on May 12, 2015.  He is a graduate of Drexel University (BS) and Columbia International University (M.Div.).

Devotional Thought for This Morning

“Indecisiveness and Unwanted Consequence”

2 Samuel 13:21-22

When King David heard of all these things, he was very angry. [22] But Absalom spoke to Amnon neither good nor bad, for Absalom hated Amnon, because he had violated his sister Tamar.

Have you ever had a moment of indecisiveness that resulted in unwanted consequences?  I remember about a year ago, I was trying to buy an airplane ticket online, but when I saw how high the price was, I figured I would wait.  I kept checking the price in the days after, but the ticket price was not going down.  I became indecisive of whether to purchase the ticket and after a few more days of waiting, I ended up paying more than when I first started to look.  I was met with unwanted consequences because of my indecisiveness.  

When King David learned about the rape of Tamar, he was furious, but his anger did not amount to anything. David could have sought out justice and set things right but nothing became of David’s anger—he was indecisive and failed to pursue justice despite the power to do so. The text also fails to mention that David grieved over the situation or even went to comfort Tamar.  At the very least David should have confronted Amnon, rebuking and punishing him.  Here is how one commentator describes David’s actions: We have known David as a man of decisive action, but in this and subsequent episodes narrating the drama of his own family, David is curiously passive and indecisive.  Perhaps David is himself so morally compromised by his own flagrant crimes that he cannot confront the excesses of his sons.  David may be angry, but he joins the conspiracy of silence around the rape of Tamar, and in doing so he unwittingly allows Absalom’s murderous revenge to run its course”(Bruce C. Birch, “The First and Second Books of Samuel,” The New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. II).

What can we learn from this passage?  First, we must learn how to decisively and quickly deal with sin in our own lives.  We cannot let sin linger hoping that things will get better; rather, we should identify and repent of sin immediately.  We also must learn how to confront others about sin in their lives with love and wisdom.  As a body of Christ, we are called to help one another, but by ignoring sin in people’s lives, it hurts the person as well as others.    Silence provides room for sin to fester and grow.  Absalom was probably hoping that his father, King David, would respond to Tamar’s rape.  The fact that David remained silent probably caused Absalom to despise David, so Absalom, being infuriated with Tamar’s disgrace, planned for Amnon’s death later on in the chapter.  

Prayer: Lord, open my eyes to my own sin that I’m often blinded by.  Help me to always repent and not let sin linger in my life.  Also, give me the courage to confront others who are living in sin so that I would do it wisely and out of love for them.  Amen.  

Bible Reading for Today: Isaiah 20 


Lunch Break Study 

Read Romans 6:5-14: For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. [6] We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. [7] For one who has died has been set free from sin. [8] Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. [9] We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. [10] For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. [11] So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.[12] Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. [13] Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. [14] For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.

Questions to Consider

  1. What do we learn about sin in this passage?
  2. What does it mean that Christ has set us free from sin?  What does it mean to you?
  3. How do these verses help you in your fight against sin?

Notes

  1. We are no longer slaves of sin, but we are slaves of righteousness.  Practically, this means that sin is not our master and we have victory because of what Jesus has done.  We have the power to overcome sin in our daily lives.
  2. We need to depend on Jesus through the power of the Spirit.  Since Christ has given us the power, we cannot overcome sin by our own flesh and will power.  
  3. We can have hope over sin in our lives.  It should give us immense motivation today to continue to fight against sin knowing that the fight will end in victory—sin, shame, failures, and guilt no longer have rule over us because of Christ. Glory to God!

Evening Reflection

Reflect and spend time thinking on Christ’s great love for you.  In our constant fight against sin, we must always remind ourselves that we have a God who loves us unconditionally, despite all of our weaknesses and failures.  Thank Him for His constant love that never ceases.   

January 17, Monday

REPOSTToday’s AMI QT Devotional, provided by Pastor Barry Kang who heads Symphony Church in Boston, is an updated version of his blog first posted on October 6, 2015.  He is a graduate of Stanford University (BA), Fuller Theological Seminary (M.Div.) and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary (D.Min.). 

Devotional Thought for This Morning

“God and Non-Christian Leaders”

Ezra 1:1-4 (NLT)

In the first year of King Cyrus of Persia,the Lord fulfilled the prophecy he had given through Jeremiah.  He stirred the heart of Cyrus to put this proclamation in writing and to send it throughout his kingdom:  This is what King Cyrus of Persia says: “The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth. He has appointed me to build him a Temple at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Any of you who are his people may go to Jerusalem in Judah to rebuild this Temple of the Lord, the God of Israel, who lives in Jerusalem. And may your God be with you! Wherever this Jewish remnant is found, let their neighbors contribute toward their expenses by giving them silver and gold, supplies for the journey, and livestock, as well as a voluntary offering for the Temple of God in Jerusalem.”

Can God use unbelievers?  Apparently so because God’s promise to return His people from exile was fulfilled through a non-Jewish, pagan king – Cyrus of Persia – who conquered Babylon in 539 BC.  While Cyrus sounds like a believer in Ezra 1, we know from the historical record (particularly from a document known as the ‘Cyrus Cylinder’) that he primarily worshiped Marduk; in addition, he was a respecter of regional gods (as Cyrus would have seen them).  

In the Cyrus Cylinder, Cyrus describes some of his works in the following manner: I returned to (these) sacred cities on the other side of the Tigris, the sanctuaries of which have been ruins for a long time, the images which (used) to live therein and established for them permanent sanctuaries. I (also) gathered all their (former) inhabitants and returned (to them) their habitations (Pritchard, Ancient Near East, 1:208).  Amazingly, the prophet Isaiah names Cyrus as one “anointed” by God — a “messiah” who has been raised up by God to do His bidding (Isaiah 45:1).  

I confess that I am not heavily involved in praying for national politics (here or abroad).  I do not convene with other pastors to intentionally pray for local political leaders.  But this passage encourages me to pray much more for them.  Why?  Because the story of Cyrus tells us that God can and does use leaders (even non-Christian leaders) to bring about God’s will.  God is sovereign over all the nations.  He doesn’t need national leaders to believe in Him to be their ultimate ruler!

Prayer: Dear Lord of lords, I am reminded by Your word to pray for all leaders—even those who don’t acknowledge You or seem to have a wrong understanding of You.  I pray for the leaders of countries where Christians are officially persecuted.  I pray especially for Syria.  I ask that you guide leaders there as you once guided Cyrus, and that they might be used as instruments of Your will.  May Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.  Amen.

Bible Reading for Today: Isaiah 19


Lunch Break Study

Read 1 Timothy 2:1-4: First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

Questions to Consider

  1. Who does Paul instruct us to pray for?  How might this change our prayers?  
  2. Why does Paul ask us to pray for national leaders?
  3. In respect to your answer to question 2, why is this pleasing to God?

Notes

  1. Paul instructs us to pray for everyone in general; and in particular, kings and those in high positions. Our prayers ought to be global and broad in scope—particularly for leaders who have been given great influence.  It is instructive to note that in Paul’s time, no national leaders were believers in Christ.
  2. We are to pray for leaders so that “we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.”  The basic benefit of good government is peace –from war and civil strife–so that free worship of God can be given and people can live “dignified” or holy lives. 
  3. God is pleased with this kind of peace as it is His desire that “all people” will be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth.  We are to pray for leaders to effect an environment where the gospel can be advanced freely.

Evening Reflection

I encourage you to journal some ways that you can be praying for national leaders, international leaders and local leaders (including, perhaps, your boss).  How is God encouraging you to pray more globally and broadly?

January 16, Sunday

UPDATEDToday’s Spiritual Food for Thought was first posted on August 21, 2013.

Spiritual Food for Thought for the Weekend 

“The Dread of Having to Love Them

Luke 6:27-36

“But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. 29 To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic[a] either. 30 Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. 31 And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.  32 “If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. 35 But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. 36 Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.”

Loving, doing good things, blessing, and praying for others are not that difficult, and these are things we all try to do.  Yet, it is almost impossible for us to do such noble things for others if they are “undeserving” because of their bad character and misdeeds.  

Then there is this other problem.  Each subsection to today’s passage concludes with the real reason behind practicing the kingdom characteristics (vv. 31, 36).  Now, after reading “as you would have them do to you,” immediately you have a problem since no one has, does, or will do those things to you.  There is that sense of dread since you will be the only one making the effort to do good, while there may be no reciprocation nor reward; this is to say, doing good to others does not guarantee that others will do the same in return.  

But when we read from the next verse 32, the reward is not from this world or from others.  God give us a “credit” for what we have done.  Our goal in life is to receive rewards from our Heavenly Father. James 1:17 says, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights.”  In addition, Proverbs 19:17 says, “Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will repay him for his deed.”   Our goal in life is to be like our Father in heaven (v. 35).  

Perhaps, we are called to do good to the undeserving because, if we don’t, we may be tempted to retaliate. When we do not love others the way that Jesus tells us to, as in this passage, we will not be in a neutral position; but rather our attitude will be the extreme opposite: hatred, doing evil, cursing, and prayerlessness.  

Pray that you walk in a manner worthy of your identity—as God’s child.

Prayer: God, You have been so good to me more and beyond what others could possibly do for me.  Thank You for Your mercy.  I pray that my identify as Your child is renewed today. Amen.

Bible Reading for Today: Isaiah 18

January 15, Saturday

REPOST Today’s Spiritual Food for Thought, provided by Pastor Ryun Chang (AMI Teaching Pastor), was first posted on October 4, 2014.

Spiritual Food for Thought for This Weekend

“The Heart Problem”

Jeremiah 17:9

“The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure.  Who can understand it?” 

Many years ago, following the showing of “Schindler’s List” on national TV, the director Steven Spielberg made a special appearance to talk about why he founded a state-of-art facility museum called “Shoah” (“holocaust” in Hebrew).  Here, people can access, among other things, interviews with the holocaust survivors.  After stating that humans are not born with hatred, he asserted that they were taught and conditioned to hate by their social environment.  Spielberg’s hope was that by exposing children to the kind of educational tools available in his facility, they would learn not to hate.  

Of course, if education fails to eradicate hatred, then, there is always the force of law, such as hate crimes and ethnic intimidation laws, to eliminate prejudice against racial, sexual and cultural minorities.  

If that fails, then there is always the prison.  My wife and I, early in our marriage, led a weekly Bible study at a California Youth Authority that incarcerated serious young criminals.  Its founding philosophy was to rehabilitate the criminal mind through education, social programs, and job training.  One day, impressed by the positive responses I received from some inmates, I nonchalantly asked the guard as to what percentage of them return to prison after being released.  His response: “Close to 80 to 90 percent.”  During my involvement, I came to realize that one major problem in the prison continued to be hatred between races and gangs.  

Should this surprise us?  Not really, because though the sincerity of Spielberg and prison officials should not be questioned, the fundamental premise behind social problems is seriously flawed.  The truth is, social liberals have always clamored for more education and social reforms to combat various social problems (e.g., teenage pregnancy, racism), being convinced that all social problems are inherently due to either ignorance and/or bad social institutions.  

But that’s not how Jesus saw it, stating: “Nothing that enters a man from the outside can make him ‘unclean’?  For it doesn’t go into his heart but into his stomach, and then out of his body. . . .What comes out of a man is what makes him ‘unclean.’  For from within, out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly” (Mk. 7:18-22).   And there is only one cure for the deceitful heart: regeneration wrought through the Holy Spirit. 

This happens when we acknowledge our sinful ways and trust that Christ’s death has paid for the penalty of our sins (death).    It is in that moment that God renews us “by the Holy Spirit, whom he pour[s] out on us generously through Jesus Christ” (Tit. 3:6).  That’s the big start we need for a changed heart, followed by a lifetime of learning to walk with Christ.  

Are you lost?  Look inside, not out.  Ask God to give you the Holy Spirit. The Scripture says He will (Lk. 11:11). 

Prayer: Lord,let my heart be broken by the things that break the heart of God” (Bob Pierce).  Amen.    

Bible Reading for Today: Isaiah 16-17

January 14, Friday

REPOST Today’s AMI QT Devotional is a reprint of Kate Moon’s blog originally posted on August 28, 2015.  Kate continues to serve the Lord in E. Asia. 

Devotional Thought for This Morning

“Favor: What Does It Look Like?”

2 Kings 13:4-5

Then Jehoahaz sought the LORD’s favor, and the LORD listened to him, for he saw how severely the king of Aram was oppressing Israel.  The LORD provided a deliverer for Israel, and they escaped from the power of Aram. 

Jehoahaz had been leading the nation in evil practices, and the oppression was a situation allowed by God because of their disobedience (vv. 2-3).  So God had no particular reason to grant His favor when Jehoahaz sought it; they had done nothing to earn or deserve it.  And yet He granted it all the same.

What does favor look like?  I was once on a flight where the attendants were especially attentive to me but seemed almost to not even see the person sitting next to me.  When there was only one blanket left, I got the last one and he had to go without.  When there was a last cup of water on the tray, they offered it to me and then actually skipped him when they came back to finish passing out the water, starting the row behind us.  When they accidentally spilled Coke on the one blanket left that I had been using, they somehow found a magic cupboard on the plane where there was another blanket after all.  I was so favored that I could get a second blanket even when theoretically there should have been no more blankets.  Technically, if they had found it earlier, this would have been his blanket.  I’d never met these attendants before in my life; there was no reason for them to be nicer to me than the person sitting next to me.  And yet it felt like such a clear distinction was being made between the two of us; one favored, the other not—at least in my mind as I was having this personal little mini-epiphany (to his credit, the person sitting next to me didn’t seem to be feeling particularly slighted).  But through this experience, God was speaking to me.

For no particular reason, other than that He has chosen us, He hears us when we cry.  No matter how wicked or rebellious we have been up to that point, when we repent and turn to Him, He looks on us with mercy in His eyes and delivers us from our self-inflicted misery.  This is our God.

Prayer: Lord, I am humbled when I think of how You’ve chosen me.  And yet how I wish that others around me could also experience Your kindness.  Would you have mercy and deliver them, too?  In Jesus’ name I pray.

Bible Reading for Today: Isaiah 15


Lunch Break Study 

Read Romans 9:1-3: I speak the truth in Christ—I am not lying, my conscience confirms it through the Holy Spirit— 2 I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. 3 For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my people . . .

Questions to Consider

1. What does Paul (the author) feel when he thinks about his people (v. 2)?

2. Why is his heart so troubled (v. 3)?

3. What heart does his “almost” wish express (v. 3)?  How do we feel when we think about people close to us who don’t know Christ?

Notes

1. He feels great sorrow, continually conflicted within, and great burden.

2. His people are cursed and cut off from Christ because they have rejected the gospel.

3. How much he wants to share Christ with his people; how not content he is just to be saved himself.  Like a child who’s received a special treat but wants so much for his brothers and sisters to have it, too, he’s almost willing to give his own away; but if he did, it would defeat the purpose as his desire is that they all share in this same wonderful experience together.


Evening Reflection

What evidences were there of God’s favor in my life today?  Was I able to share it with any others?  Take a moment to pray for those you’d most like to share this Christian life with.

January 13, Thursday

REPOST Today’s AMI QT Devotional, provided by Pastor Ryun Chang (AMI Teaching Pastor), was first posted on October 9, 2014.

Devotional Thoughts for This Morning

“The Sins of the Parents”

Proverbs 15:27

“The greedy bring ruin to their households . . .”

While traveling in Mexico, I stayed in many different homes, but none was like the home I stayed in Guerrero.  At first, the husband told me that his wife was visiting relatives in the states, but his melancholy face and subdued children told another story.  Later in the week, the husband told me everything: his wife, after crashing her car into someone’s property, fled the city when an unfavorable ruling resulted in grave consequences.  The husband had no idea when she might return; he wasn’t even sure where she was.  In the meantime, what’s left of the family was passing another lonesome, silent night.

The prophet Ezekiel made it clear that the children do not share the guilt of their parents, saying, “The soul who sins is the one who will die” (Ez. 18:20).  However, the sins of parents can hurt their children.  Long before the time of Ezekiel (6th century BC), there was a period in Israel when God “punish[ed] the children for the sins of the fathers” up to the fourth generation (Ex. 20:5).  No incident better illustrates this than what greedy Achan (15th century BC) did, which led to God punishing him and his family (Jos. 7:24-6).  Instead of obeying God by destroying the devoted things that belonged to the enemy, Achan stole and then buried them.  Consequently, Israel, “hav[ing] been made liable . . ., [couldn’t] stand against their enemies” (v.12).  

On the one hand, God certainly punished Achan’s children for their father’s sin, but on the other hand, it can be said that the sin of Achan hurt his children.  While parents can hold to Ezekiel’s revelation in believing that the children do not share their guilt, that does not, of course, mean that the children do not get hurt because they do; just like the children of the Guerrero mother who fled.  

No sin graphically illustrates this better than the sin of divorce: even the “no-fault” divorce hurts the children—a lot.  Are you married?  Do something nice this weekend to strengthen the marriage.  Have you committed something wrong that affects others?  Own up to it; rectify it today.        

Prayer: Father, I confess that I continue to fall short of your holiness and righteousness.  Because of it, I have hurt the very people whom I love.  God, I need your help to turn this around.  I look to You only to draw the strength I need to live a life that pleases You.  Lord, minister to those whom I have hurt.  Amen. 

Bible Reading for Today: Isaiah 14


Lunch Break Study

Read 1 Samuel 30:3-4, 6-10: When David and his men reached Ziklag, they found it destroyed by fire and their wives and sons and daughters taken captive. 4 So David and his men wept aloud until they had no strength left to weep . . . 6 David was greatly distressed because the men were talking of stoning him; each one was bitter in spirit because of his sons and daughters.  But David found strength in the Lord his God.  7 Then David said to Abiathar the priest, the son of Ahimelek, “Bring me the ephod.” Abiathar brought it to him, 8 and David inquired of the Lord, “Shall I pursue this raiding party? Will I overtake them?” “Pursue them,” he answered. “You will certainly overtake them and succeed in the rescue.”

9 David and the six hundred men with him came to the Besor Valley, where some stayed behind. 10 Two hundred of them were too exhausted to cross the valley, but David and the other four hundred continued the pursuit.

Questions to Consider

1. What is the main reason the men wanted to stone David?  What does this say about how they felt toward their children?

2. Two hundred men stopped searching for their kidnapped children on account of being exhausted, while the rest, who was just as tired, continued the mission and eventually recovered everyone, including the children belonging to the fathers who stayed behind.  Describe how this kind of situation could have affected these children?

3. Why did these fathers make a choice that, in effect, was indifferent to the pains of their children? How is our Heavenly Father different from these fathers?

Notes

1. Each one was bitter in spirit because of his sons and daughters.  This shows that they really cared and were concerned about them. 

2. These children had to be devastated, realizing that while other fathers risked everything to save their children, their own fathers chose not to rescue them.   Since this was a matter of life and death, the effect of this de facto rejection wouldn’t have been resolved overnight.

3. This happened because these fathers put meeting their need to rest above the need of their families to be rescued from those who could have killed them at any moment.   Yes, even parents can become supremely selfish, unlike the Heavenly Father who gave us His Son to save us.  


Evening Reflection

As this day draws to its end, reflect on the faithfulness of our Heavenly Father who never does anything to harm us but always “looks” for ways to bless us.  Thank Him.

January 12, Wednesday

REPOST Today’s AMI QT Devotional, provided by Pastor Yohan Lee, a friend of AMI, who in the past has served as a staff at several AMI churches, is an updated version of his blog first posted on June 3, 2015.  He is a graduate of University of Pennsylvania (BA) and Cairn University (MA).

Devotional Thought for This Morning

“Making Friends”

2 Samuel 23:13-17

During harvest time, three of the thirty chief warriors came down to David at the cave of Adullam, while a band of Philistines was encamped in the Valley of Rephaim. 14 At that time David was in the stronghold, and the Philistine garrison was at Bethlehem. 15 David longed for water and said, “Oh, that someone would get me a drink of water from the well near the gate of Bethlehem!” 16 So the three mighty warriors broke through the Philistine lines, drew water from the well near the gate of Bethlehem and carried it back to David. But he refused to drink it; instead, he poured it out before the Lord. 17 “Far be it from me, Lord, to do this!” he said. “Is it not the blood of men who went at the risk of their lives?” And David would not drink it.

The state of California has this thing called “transitional kindergarten,” which is basically an extra year of kindergarten for kids who are months too young for regular kindergarten.  What is interesting is that in San Francisco, transitional kindergarten is not done at the elementary school where the kids will eventually matriculate—meaning, just because kids are in the same school for TK doesn’t mean they will be in the same elementary school.  As a result, my son will be separated from his “bff” (as they call each other) next year.  My wife and I are heartbroken over this, but I think we are taking this worse my son is. 

One of the unique attributes of King David that we see in the Bible was his ability to draw people to himself—to make friends if you will.  Although we do not often think about David’s mighty men as his friends, these men were drawn to serve David out of a love that resembled friendship more than a sense of duty that soldiers have for their king—why else would these three men risk their necks to make this incredible water break? (As an aside, husbands, if your pregnant wife asks you to make a “craving run” and you don’t want to do it, think of this story.)  David also is to be admired, for he understood and respected their commitment and service and did the best thing he could do with such a humbling gift—he devoted it to the Lord.  

While at GCC, Pastor Young probably spoke on or mentioned the value of Christian friendships at least every month or so.  Sheepishly, I must admit that it has taken me almost 20 years to start to take to heart what he was talking about.  I’ve always had friends, but I think in my younger years, I relied on them less and trusted in myself more.  As I am getting older, and the stakes in my life get bigger and bigger (marriage, kids, ministry, etc.), I realize how important it is to have friends who can help me think through things, share prayer requests with—and yes, even laugh with.  

What kind of friendships do you have?  Do you truly value these relationships?  What kind of friend are you?  Do you share and speak with your closest friends about things that truly matter?  Do you push each other on to love and serve Christ more?  If not, let’s make it a goal today to deepen some of the relationships we have.  

Prayer: Thank you, Lord, for the friendships I have.  Help me to be someone who sharpens my friends, and grant me the humility to allow them to speak into my life as well.  Ultimately, help me to love others.  Amen.

Bible Reading for Today: Isaiah 13


Lunch Break Study

Read Acts 2:42-47: And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43 And awe[a] came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. 44 And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts,47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.

Questions to Consider

1.  What was the community devoted to?

2.  How did the early church take care of one another?

3.  What happened in this community?

Notes

1.  The early church was devoted to the apostle’s teaching (consider it the Bible), fellowship (being together), breaking of bread (communion or remembering Christ), and prayer.  

2.  They shared their possessions, continually met together, ate together, and won the favor of people.  It is also important to note there was power in this community.  

3.  God added to their number those who were being saved.  


Evening Reflection

How do your views of or commitment to community/church need to change?  Do you have friends who help you love Christ more?  Do you help your friends love Christ more?  Is there giving and sacrifice, as well as genuine love for one another in your church or cell group? 

January 11, Tuesday

REPOST Today’s Spiritual Food for Thought, provided by Pastor Ryun Chang (AMI Teaching Pastor), was first posted on October 6, 2014.

Devotional Thought for This Morning

“A Man Who Wasted His Life”

Matthew 25:25, 6 

“I . . . went out and hid your talent in the ground . . . His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant.’”

When I first met Carlos at the church we were attending in Mexico, he was part of a construction crew to add another floor to the church for the expanding Sunday school.  During this period in his life, Carlos, a proud father of three daughters who sang like professionals, was heavily involved in the choir, was happy, and apparently not drinking. 

When the job ended, though, he hit the bottle– again, and nothing could stop him; and soon, he hit rock bottom– again.   During his binges, he had even hocked his daughter’s precious violin for quick cash to buy more drinks, and would frequently leave home. Though claiming to be a Christian, he once joined a cult, soliciting donations on the streets.   Desperate, he checked himself into a rehab center, but that didn’t help him either. Sometime afterwards, Carlos was found dead in a run-down hotel, presumably after drinking.   He was barely 50.

The funeral was truly sad, but his wife kindly said many wonderful things about him.  But me, as his friend, I was “mad” at him for fumbling away the potential to have a wonderful life and even his family.  The pastor of the church who knew the family well, and who once told the wife to show tough love to her wayward husband, was judicious with his words: He didn’t say where Carlos went, not convinced that he had shown any  fruits (James 2:26); he wanted to avoid emboldening the conscience of those who were straddling the fence.  Instead, after reading Hebrews 9:27, “Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment,” the pastor simply said, “Carlos’ journey has ended and now he stands before the judge of the universe.  If he really believed in Jesus, he would be with him forever.”

One sad thing about Carlos’ life: he wasted it.   Not only did he bury it, but he let it rot.  How are you doing with the life, family and talent that God has given you?  Don’t bury them; don’t let them rot.  Get right with God; find a body of Christ that really cares for you; stick with them; and serve God.     

Prayer: Dear Lord, I admit that I could have gone astray and could have completely destroyed myself.  It certainly wasn’t because I’m so smarter or more spiritual that people like Carlos, but simply because of your overwhelming grace and mercy in my life.  Keep them coming Lord, because I need them.  Thank You.  Amen.

Bible Reading for Today: Isaiah 12


Lunch Break Study

Read Luke 13:6-9: Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree growing in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it but did not find any. 7 So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, ‘For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?’  8 “‘Sir,’ the man replied, ‘leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. 9 If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.’

John 15:1-3: “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. 2 He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.”

James 2:14, 17: “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds?  Can such faith save them?  . . . . 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.”

Question to Consider

1. Is God merely content that we are saved?  What do these verses indicate?

2. Why is this so important to the Lord?

3. What is God willing to do so that the believers can bear fruits?   Are you bearing good fruits?

Notes

1. God, as the owner of the fruit tree and vine, wants to see more fruits.   Evidently, the Lord isn’t content with just us going to heaven; He wants us bring many people there.  That’s the ultimate fruit: sharing and living our lives in such a way that others would want to join our faith in Christ.

2. For one thing, good works prove our salvation.  Martin Luther was correct when he said, “We are saved by faith alone but not by faith that is alone.” A true faith, soon or later, produces good fruits.

3. Cutting the tree and pruning (no doubt a painful experience for the plant) suggest God’s discipline to jolt or motivate the lethargic believers to actively participate in their spiritual growth to be able to bear good fruits. 


Evening Reflection

Did you make the most of what God gave you today?  Briefly write down some positive and negative things you did today with what God gave you to make Christ known and to serve others.

January 10, Monday

REPOSTToday’s AMI QT Devotional, first posted on December 22, 2015, is provided by Phillip Chen who is associate pastor at Kairos Christian Church in San Diego.  Phil is a graduate of University of California, San Diego (BS) and Talbot School of Theology (M.Div.).

Devotional Thought for This Morning

“Spiritual Amnesia”

Hosea 8:14 (ESV)

For Israel has forgotten his Maker and built palaces, and Judah has multiplied fortified cities; so I will send a fire upon his cities, and it shall devour her strongholds.

The purpose of Thanksgiving Day is to give thanks and be content. For Christians, it is to remember the faithfulness of God, as He is the source of every blessing. Yet the tragedy of Black Friday is that not even a day later, many who supposedly gave thanks and were “content” end up being consumed by greed and selfishness. Now, we might look at these people and think that we are not like them, but we are all similar to a certain degree. Although Thanksgiving was a month and a half ago, I can already think of the many times I have forgotten the faithfulness of God. We all are guilty of forgetting His goodness.

So why did Israel turn from God even after He had demonstrated His faithfulness time and time again, from leading them out of slavery into the Promised Land? Perhaps this passage serves as an explanation of why we often turn to other idols and worship them alongside our God. We suffer from a condition called gospel amnesia—that is, we forget God’s faithfulness and love towards us. This is not something that is unique to Israel, as this is a constant trend in the relationship between God and man. Whether it is the Israelites wandering through the wilderness, grumbling at every turn even as God was providing for them and showing them signs and wonders, or our own grumblings today of where God is when we need Him the most, we all forget God’s faithfulness to us.  

We forget, and that is why the Lord specifically reminded His people not to forget, lest when they have “eaten and are full and have built good houses and live in them… then their hearts be lifted up, and they forget the Lord their God, who brought them out of the land of Egypt” (Deut. 8:12-14). Too often we live a life that says to God: “What have you done for me lately?” We can be grateful in the moment when we see the direct correlation of God’s blessing in our lives, but we forget Him soon thereafter. When we forget who our God—our Provider and Sustainer— is, then we start turning to our own strength and idols,  and to finite and trivial things (money, success, relationships, knowledge) to fulfill our needs. Today, remember the faithfulness of God in your life—He is the true source of every blessing!

Prayer: Lord, how easy it is for me to forget Your goodness towards me. In the visible and invisible ways You are moving in my life, I give thanks and desire to remember Your goodness and faithfulness. Forgive me for the times I forget; and even when You strip things away from my life, help me to understand that it is so that my gaze might be directed back to You.  Amen.

Bible Reading for Today: Isaiah 11


Lunch Break Study

Read Deuteronomy 8:11-18 (ESV): Take care lest you forget the Lord your God by not keeping his commandments and his rules and his statutes, which I command you today, lest, when you have eaten and are full and have built good houses and live in them, and when your herds and flocks multiply and your silver and gold is multiplied and all that you have is multiplied, then your heart be lifted up, and you forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, who led you through the great and terrifying wilderness, with its fiery serpents and scorpions and thirsty ground where there was no water, who brought you water out of the flinty rock, who fed you in the wilderness with manna that your fathers did not know, that he might humble you and test you, to do you good in the end. Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’ You shall remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your fathers, as it is this day.

Question to Consider

1. What is the context of this passage, and why does God need to remind them to remember Him?

2. Why was the wilderness experience good for the people, according to the Lord?

3. From this passage, what is the biggest temptation for us when we are in a time of comfort and prosperity? 

Notes

1. God led Israel out of Egypt from slavery, through the wilderness and times of hunger and thirst, and leading them into Promised Land.  Here, they were about to cross the Jordan to enjoy the riches of that land. He was preparing them so that they would know it was God who had blazed the trail for them into the Promised Land. 

2. Often, wilderness seasons are meant to strip away things—particularly identities that we should not hold so tightly on to. For the Israelites, they needed be stripped of the spirit of slavery and learn how to live as inheritors of the promises of God. For others, like Israel in the time of Hosea, it might be a time to strip off the arrogance and idolatry that they were holding on to so that they might once again turn towards the true God. We all go through seasons of wilderness because we need realignments for our identities.

3. We might be tempted to say in our hearts that it is by our own power and might that we have become accomplished and have become wealthy. Let us not deceive ourselves, but know that it is the Lord our God who has even given us the strength to have what we have—He is the source of the fruitfulness of our lives.


Evening Reflection

It’s extremely important for us to have methods that work for us in remembering the goodness of God. Do you need to set reminders in your calendar? Maybe you need to get away on a personal retreat and reflect on His goodness? Or you need an accountability partner, a friend, a spouse—someone that will re-direct your gaze to the source of blessing? Whatever works for us, we need to have tangible means of remembering the faithfulness of God so that we might attribute the blessings in our lives correctly. 

January 9, Sunday

REPOST Today’s Spiritual Food for Thought, provided by Pastor Ryun Chang (AMI Teaching Pastor), was first posted on October 5, 2014.

Spiritual Food for Thought for the Weekend

“The Power of God to Change Worthless Lives”

Philemon 1:11 (NIV)

“Onesimus . . . formerly he was useless to you, but now he has become useful both to you and to me.”

I used to teach and preach at the CERESO prison of Chihuahua while living and serving in Mexico during the 2000s: at first, every week, later, once a month.  A comical thing happened one Sunday as our group was entering the prison building in order to have our service there.  An inmate named Javier met us by the entrance door, for he was released that day, but when Javier motioned to re-enter the prison with us, the guard swiftly rebuffed him.  All Javier wanted was to not miss the Sunday service!  This ex-drug dealer, who served 12 years in a prison known for trying to rehabilitate inmates, was so changed, upon embracing God’s love expressed in Christ, that after his release, the largest Baptist congregation in the city made him their custodian.  Javier’s story reminds of me another convict whom I read about many years ago.  

Ron Sharp was an ex-con, ex-drug addict and a dealer!  He was only 25 years old when he was sentenced to 25 years for armed robbery of a drug store.  He didn’t get much education, and was tested at the fifth-grade reading level in the prison. Twenty years went by after he was paroled when Sharp again found himself in prison.  But, “unlike the 75 percent of ex-prisoners who return prison” for recommitting crimes, Sharp was back, this time, as an invited guest.  At that time, he was a Regional Director for Prison Fellowship Ministries who oversaw $1 million each year and directed 12 employees and thousands of volunteers.  This man, who could not read, “supervised men and women who had master’s degrees!”  Sharp, who became a believer after getting out of the prison, was using the leadership ability he once used in the drug world, for rebuilding the ruined lives of prisoners.  He had already personally mentored some 75 ex-prisoners over the past 20 years.

This is what God’s power can accomplish: completely and thoroughly transforming wasteful lives.  The apostle Paul was under no doubt that one reason God chose him was because his life clearly demonstrated that no one, regardless how bad, was outside of His power to be transformed.  Paul confessed that he was the “worst of sinners,” because “formerly [he] was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent” of the Christian faith.  The apostle felt that “for that very reason [he] was shown mercy so that in [him], the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and received eternal life” (1 Tim. 1:16 NIV).  

Many moviegoers have chosen “The Shawshank Redemption” (1994), which, at the end, shows two ex-inmates about to enjoy a life on the beach with stolen money, as the best movie ever.  No, that flick isn’t as good as “The Javier, Ron and Paul Redemption” that shows how God can transform anyone to be fit for His kingdom work, including Onesimus, a runaway slave who stole from his master, but after his conversion to Christ, became a useful servant to the Lord!  

Many are locked in prisons without bars because we continue to make self-centered decisions that keep us away from the abundant life that God wants for us.  Turn to Christ today.  Begin with a confession and repentance; and then plug yourself into a church or Christian group that can mentor and encourage you.  Do it today!

Prayer: Dear Father, awaken me from my despair and apathy to smell and taste the real hope available in the redeeming love and power of Jesus Christ.  In this new year, help me to make tangible and concrete steps to live up to the potential You have vested me in Christ.  Amen. 

Bible Reading for Today: Isaiah 10