January 9, Monday

Pastor Ryun Chang (AMI Teaching Pastor, Ph.D.) will present a series of blogs, dealing with various issues raised in the recent election that showed a deep divide, impacting both society at large and the church.  The thoughts presented are processed through the lens of the Radical-Middle (both/and), personal narratives, and pastoral concerns.  Your rational feedback is welcomed.

Disclaimer: The views expressed here do not necessarily represent the respective views of AMI pastors.

DEVOTIONAL THOUGHT FOR TODAY

Those Who Go Back for Reasons the World Will Never Understand

Ezra 1:2-5 (ESV)

“Thus says Cyrus king of Persia: . . . 3 ‘Whoever is among you of all his people, may his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and rebuild the house of the Lord, the God of Israel—he is the God who is in Jerusalem. 4 And let each survivor, in whatever place he sojourns, be assisted by the men of his place with silver and gold, with goods and with beasts, besides freewill offerings for the house of God that is in Jerusalem.’ 5 Then rose up the heads of the fathers’ houses of Judah and Benjamin, and the priests and the Levites, everyone whose spirit God had stirred to go up to rebuild the house of the Lord that is in Jerusalem.”

9aI first met Jaime Echaveste, a middle-aged man and a father of four children, in the mid-2000s when I spoke to a Hispanic congregation in Southern California.   That day, I talked about how God told the Israelites, exiled in Babylonia and Persia for nearly 70 years, to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the Lord’s temple that had been destroyed.  I noted that those who returned possessed two things that they didn’t when they were first taken to Babylonia: faith and money.

9bFirst, it was because of Israel’s faithlessness, “hav[ing] turned away from [God’s] commands and laws” (Dan. 9:5), that God allowed her to “become a desolate wasteland” (Jer. 25:11).  Yet, it was during the captivity that the Israelites returned to God, weeping and longing to “sing the songs of the LORD” (Ps. 137:4); their faith in God had been renewed.

Second, whereas they came to Babylonia with nothing in their pockets, they now possessed plenty of gold and silver.  Unlike the Israelites enslaved in Egypt, the Jews in Babylonia were allowed to carve out a decent living; in fact, these returnees shelled out about $20 million worth of gold toward the rebuilding of the temple (Ezra 2:69).

Against the backdrop of this narrative, I pointed out to my audience, made up mostly of Mexican immigrants, how they first came to the U.S. without faith and money, but now they have both: faith in Christ and more money than they ever had, just like the Jews exiled in Babylonia.   At that moment, after reading Ezra 1:5—“Everyone whose heart God had moved—prepared to go up and build the house of the LORD in Jerusalem”—I challenged my Mexican brothers and sisters, saying, “Return to your country and rebuild it with the gospel and the money the Lord gave you.”  Although some shouted, “Amen,” I wasn’t entirely sure whether they really heard what was said, but Jamie certainly heard.  After the service, he shared with me how the Lord told him to return to his homeland in Jalisco, Mexico, to preach the gospel.  In a later newsletter, he wrote, “On Monday we said goodbye to our home of 15 years. It was painful for some of us, yet we know that God is the One who is directing our life, Amen.”

Some people will never understand why anyone would leave the comforts of an American lifestyle to serve in parts of Mexico that are exceedingly dangerous and unreceptive to the gospel.   Are you one of them?  Listen—don’t buy the hype that living in America is the ultimate high; it is not, but serving the Lord is.  Whether you are an immigrant or not, pray about going to somewhere in this world where what little we know and possess can be stretched to bless hundreds and thousands of people who do not know Christ.

Prayer: Lord, I’m so thankful that You became a man to bear our sins so that Your death on the cross could be the perfect atonement for us.  What, then, could we not do for Your sake?  May the gospel and the wealth that You gave us be reinvested into the rebuilding of broken lives in this world.  We pray for Jaime and his family that their labor of love may result in abundant harvests in Mexico.  Please protect and provide for them, especially the children.  Amen.

Bible Reading for Today: 2 Kings 9


LUNCH BREAK STUDY

Read Jeremiah 29:10-4 (NIV): “This is what the Lord says: “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my good promise to bring you back to this place. 11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. 12 Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back from captivity I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.”

Questions to Consider

  1. Why do you think Jeremiah 29:11 is one of the most quoted verses by evangelicals?
  2. Since these once “poverty-stricken” Jewish exiles in Babylonia had amassed enough gold to contribute 20 million dollars worth of it to the rebuilding of the temple, what is one key purpose behind God’s blessing and favor in our lives?
  3. Based on how you have been managing your wealth, does your life agree with your response to question 2?

Note

  1. Without any consideration to the context of Jeremiah 29, this verse can easily be construed as God wanting to prosper us materially, and we simply enjoying it. No wonder we love it!
  2. Evidently, wealth was given to these Jews so that, besides enjoying it, it could be used to rebuild the temple. 1 Timothy 6:17 says, “Put [your] hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. . .. Do good, . . . be rich in good deeds, . . .be generous and willing to share.”
  3. Personal response

EVENING REFLECTION

You are likely a child or grandchild of immigrants.  Would you say you are better off economically and even spiritually (e.g., having more knowledge about the Bible, for instance) than they?  What are you doing with what has been given to you to better the spiritual and physical lives of others?  Would you give it some thought and prayer; perhaps, it is the time for you to make a decision like the one made by Jaime Echaveste who continues to serve in Mexico.

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