January 5, Saturday

The AMI Spiritual Food for Thought for the weekend of January 5-6 is provided by Mei Lan Thallman who is currently serving as a staff at Grace Covenant Church in Philadelphia. Mei Lan, originally from Taiwan, is a graduate of Asbury College and Asbury Theological Seminary (M.A.) in Kentucky.  She and her husband Pastor Kirt have two children, Nate and Naomi

 

Spiritual Food for Thought for the Weekend

“Serving Jesus”

 Luke 1:38

“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.”

In preparation for the past advent season, I was struck by Mary’s character, childlike trust and deep faith in God. Though just a teenager, she displayed maturity beyond her years.  And while tracing the progression of her life recorded in Scripture, I, as a child of God, and a wife and mother, have been convicted and challenged by her example.

First, her response to angel Gabriel’s visit and revelation—“I am the Lord’s servant”—revealed an identity strongly rooted in God.  Before the visit, she was a daughter, fiancée, and a member of her community; but now she was first and foremost God’s child and servant.  Evidently, she grew up in a family that had nurtured her faith in God, which led to having an intimate personal relationship with Him.  Thus, having recognized God’s voice and leading, she trusted Him with unconditional surrender and submission to His will, believing that God could fulfill His yet-unknown plan for her life.  God’s redemptive plan was made in eternity past, and now she would be called upon to serve a crucial role in bringing it about; she responded with a wholehearted surrender to His sovereign will without any hesitation.

Mary was willing to do whatever God asked of her because she understood that the primary purpose of her life was loving and serving God above all else.  She trusted God as her defender who would be able to convince her future husband of the divine conception.

It’s easy to see why God chose and entrusted both Joseph and Mary to be Jesus’ earthly parents.  Individually and as a couple, they made a conscious choice to love God above themselves and each other. They were willing to put Him and His plans above their own and make necessary adjustments and sacrifices to be obedient to His leading.  So they deferred the consummation of their marriage and humbly embraced and endured the journey to Bethlehem and later to Egypt.

As I reflected on Mary and Joseph’s life, I see a sharp contrast from my own.  With all my heart I want to love God; yet, when push comes to shove my response to God’s own plan is more often self-centered rather than God-centered.  When I was confronted with uncertainties of my future, and as I struggled with making necessary but risky changes to my life, I tended to retreat in doubt and fear rather than move forward with a firm faith, and say “Yes” to Jesus continuously without reservation, hesitation and condition.

Praise God that in those moments of questions and doubts, He reminded me that the secret to faith is found in Christ Jesus who now lives within me. God already knows that I can never love and serve him wholeheartedly on my own, no matter how sincere my desires are.  In my own strength and effort, I am guaranteed to fail. But with Jesus all things are possible.  In Him I can rest assured by trusting Him and entrust my all to Him one moment, one step at a time.

Prayer: God, please help me to begin 2019 with Mary’s heart and obedience.  I am a servant to the Holy Spirit; please help me (and my family) to center my life around You and make necessary adjustments to do Your will above my own.   God, I know I cannot do this without Your help, bring me to a place of total surrender to Your control and plan for my life.  Amen.

Bible Reading for Today: Genesis 5-6

January 4, Friday

The AMI QT blogs for January (weekdays), provided by Pastor Ryun Chang, are extended to cover important sociopolitical matters that have serious ramifications for the Christian faith.  Pastor Ryun (PhD), who serves as the Teaching Pastor of AMI, is the author of Manual de Misionología, Theologizing in the Racial Middle, and a contributor to The Reshaping of Mission in Latin America.

Disclaimer: AMI, as a consortium of several churches, allows the expression of multiple standpoints on non-essential biblical matters. My views expressed here do not necessarily represent the respective views of AMI pastors.  I am also mindful that not every reader will agree with my stances on sensitive and contentious issues addressed in this month’s blogs. Where that may be the case, I invite you to utilize the comment section below, so that we may have an open dialogue; I highly encourage all readers to share their thoughts and experiences. Thank you.  

 

Extended Devotional Thoughts for Today

“One Trait Women Don’t Share with Men”

1 Thessalonians 2:7

“But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children.”

In the Wednesday blog I said some things that might have alarmed some readers: “While many social roles and responsibilities are mutually inclusive between the two sexes, they do not always perform at the same level relating to certain tasks attributable to differences in physicality and to a lesser extent, psychology.” Perhaps it was yet another attempt made by a male to put women in their traditional place, even justifying inequality in the workplace in terms of pay and promotion.  

That, of course, wasn’t my intent; however, what is undeniable is how differences in physicality and psychology between the two sexes may affect their performances in the workplace.  For instance, while a female soldier, on any given day, can outperform male soldiers, the latter, on average, will outdo female soldiers with tasks requiring strength and durability for the simple reason that, on average, men are bigger and stronger.  While pointing that out seems self-evident, how differences in character traits between the sexes affect their job performances may be neither as clear nor easy to talk about.

So then, which set of character traits between the sexes are valued in today’s feminism? Recall that, according to a study cited in Psychology Today, women were found to be more sensitive, warm and apprehensive, and men, more stable emotionally, dominant and rule-conscious. Some years back, a female soccer player at the collegiate level drew heavy criticism after yanking an opponent to the field by her ponytail.  A woman columnist defended her rough playing by insisting that no one would have batted an eye if the player was male. The same logic was used to defend Serena Williams’ “furious rant” at the chair umpire during the 2018 US Open Final. To my own shame, watching Serena’s rage reminded me of what I did to people close to me at times–it was a type of “anger [that] does not bring about the righteous life that God desires” (James 1:20 NIV). However, several observers, including the tennis legend Billie Jean King, praised Serena’s actions, saying that Williams “was right to speak her mind, to put a voice to the injustice.” Perhaps King would exonerate me as well since my rage at home was always triggered by my intent (real or imagined) to right the wrongs done by others. It appears then that aggressiveness associated with males is valued among some women as a key to success.

It is in this context that what Simone de Beauvoir, a pioneer of modern feminism, said is telling: “Women should not be judged to be equal only insofar as they are like men . . . Women and men are different”—in other words, women don’t need to act like men to succeed.  Jeanne Deroin, another French feminist from an earlier era, would have agreed, when she declared, “Women are less selfish than men because as mothers, they know how to care for others. Because women are less selfish than men, they are well qualified to participate in public life.”

What Deroin alludes to is the maternal instinct, and while cultural conditions can affect its cultivation, its root is entirely biological, for no male can ever experience the nine months of pregnancy, the pain of giving birth, and the bonding relationship built during the first years of nursing. While on any given day, a stay-at-home dad can be a better nurturer than stay-at-home mothers, on average, women are better at “taking care of her own children” because they possess a maternal instinct, an innate trait unique to females mainly due to their physical makeup. Some women readers are probably suspicious of where I’m headed: Is he going to say, “Therefore, be stay-at-home-mothers”?  Of course, it isn’t as simple as that in real life, which I will address in later blogs; for now, consider how maternal instincts can be powerfully utilized in the workplace.

For Serena Williams, arguably the greatest female tennis player ever, her workplace is the tennis court; and she was having a terrible day at work during the women’s singles final. But Williams, a new mother, upon seeing her much younger opponent Naomi Osaka (by 16 years) who had beaten her for the championship, crying amid a booing pro-Serena crowd during the awards ceremony, “intervened,” writes BBC sports writer, “as her maternal instinct kicked in. ‘Let’s not boo anymore,’’ she pleaded. “Congratulations, Naomi. No more booing.”  Perhaps, this is what maternal instinct bestowed on a competitive coworker having a bad day of her own looks like. 

Truth be told, women’s success in the workplace and public life without emulating men can only happen under one condition: the removal of any barrier that limits what women can do without needing to act like men.  For that to happen, character traits such as sensitivity, warmth and unselfishness need to be valued along with other characteristics associated with success (e.g., working hard—Prov. 14:23). The Scripture says it like this: “In humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Phil. 2:3a-4).

So I say to young women who aspire to be the next Sheryl Sandberg or Nikki Haley, remember that the maternal instinct is not a social construct invented by chauvinistic men to keep women down; rather, it is a gift of God for you to nurture and protect not only our own children, but also those who are being booed at your school, work, and even church.  What a privilege! Use it.

Prayer: Lord, we thank You for the women in our lives. While we praise You for our mothers who, after giving birth, sacrificially nursed us, we also thank You for the presence of women in all walks of life because their sensitivity and selflessness make our world a better place. Amen.

Bible Reading for Today: Genesis 4

Monday’s Blog: “Eavesdropping on Conversation between Sheryl Sandberg and Michelle Obama.” (The weekend blogs will be provided by Mei Lan Thallman.)


Lunch Break Study

Read Isaiah 66:13:

“As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you; you shall be comforted in Jerusalem.”

Luke 13:34-35:

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! 35 Behold, your house is forsaken. And I tell you, you will not see me until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!’”

Hosea 2:8:

“And she [Israel] did not know that it was I [God] who gave her the grain, the wine, and the oil, and who lavished on her silver and gold, which they used for Baal.”

Questions to Consider

Since “God is spirit” (Jn. 4:24), and “spirit does not have flesh and bones (Lk. 24:39),” it is safe to say that God is neither male nor female. Though the masculine pronoun is used to signify, among other things, God’s sovereign leadership in the Bible, there are some biblical references that depict God’s maternal instinct.

  1. What aspects of the maternal instinct are spoken of in these two passages?
  2. What is humanity’s typical response to God’s maternal caring for us?  What does God do when we do that?
  3. How has God revealed Himself to you as a hen that gathers her brood under her wings?”

Note

  1. Isaiah 66:13 speaks of mother’s comfort bestowed on her child, Luke 13:35 speaks of mothers protecting their children from impending dangers, and in 1 Thessalonians 2:7, Paul’s thoughts reflect a nurturing heart of God who gently cares for His children.
  2. Humanity often rejects God’s offer of nurture and protection, choosing to go its own way. But God, like a caring mother, continues to provide for those who continue to reject Him.
  3. Personal response.

Evening Reflection

Let’s wrap up this day with another biblical reference that captures the hearts of parents for their children.  2 Corinthians 12:14-15 says, “Here for the third time I am ready to come to you. And I will not be a burden, for I seek not what is yours but you. For children are not obligated to save up for their parents, but parents for their children. 15 I will most gladly spend and be spent for your souls. If I love you more, am I to be loved less?” Here, once again, the apostle Paul captures the heart of God as he tries to love the Corinthians with this parental/maternal love.  Meditate on this passage and offer up a praise of thanksgiving to the Lord for loving us so dearly.

January 3, Thursday

The AMI QT blogs for January (weekdays), provided by Pastor Ryun Chang, are extended to cover important sociopolitical matters that have serious ramifications for the Christian faith.  Pastor Ryun (PhD), who serves as the Teaching Pastor of AMI, is the author of Manual de Misionología, Theologizing in the Racial Middle, and a contributor to The Reshaping of Mission in Latin America.

Disclaimer: AMI, as a consortium of several churches, allows the expression of multiple standpoints on non-essential biblical matters. My views expressed here do not necessarily represent the respective views of AMI pastors.  I am also mindful that not every reader will agree with my stances on sensitive and contentious issues addressed in this month’s blogs. Where that may be the case, I invite you to utilize the comment section below, so that we may have an open dialogue; I highly encourage all readers to share their thoughts and experiences. Thank you.  

Extended Devotional Thoughts for Today

“What Do You Say When Your Child Says I Feel Like a Boy/Girl?”

Ephesians 2:12 (ESV)

“Remember that you were at that time separated from Christ . . . having no hope and without God in the world.”

Romans 15:7 (NIV)

“Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.”

Upon learning about “Klinefelter syndrome”—an abnormal male genetic condition—I wondered whether a character called “Klinger” from the old ‘70s hit TV show M.A.S.H. was maybe named to sound like this syndrome. Sergeant Klinger, desperately seeking a military discharge, habitually wore women’s clothing to feign mental illness. Affecting one in every five hundred male births, those affected have an extra X chromosome in addition to the normal male match XY in the 23rd chromosome that determines sex. They are “phenotypically males but with tendency toward femaleness” (e.g., enlarged breasts, underdeveloped body hair, long legs and hands, etc.). Then there is “Turner Syndrome” that affects 1 in 2500 females. Missing the X in the usual female pair of XX, the adult females “have virtually no ovaries, lack most sexual characteristics and are sterile.” I am not certain what portion of those people who struggle with transsexual tension actually come from those who have these syndromes; perhaps some; in fact, there may be other physical factors more pronounced behind transsexuality. Whatever the case may be, these conditions are predispositional, not predeterminate—meaning that environmental pull, including, on the one hand, the plodding from influential institutions, and on the other, traumas, is still necessary for anybody among those affected to identify themselves as the opposite sex. In fact, a physician related to me that for some, their transsexual struggle is entirely due to having suffered traumatic events.

But enough about the exact science of these conditions. How do we minister to people afflicted with looking one way while feeling another? If most of you are like me, who have never struggled with sexual identity, we hardly know how those genuinely struggle with this feel; but, looking wistfully to our own past, perhaps we can recall a moment that can bring us closer to understanding their pains. While obviously I could never truly identify with how they must feel, I imagine that it can be a bit like how I felt at my predominantly white college in Virginia, where I began to feel very self-conscious about Asian physical features. My self-loathing for my Asian-ness was so intense that more than once I would hate myself for it. Looking one way but feeling another, I wanted to be white on the outside so much. Once, to appear like my taller Caucasian friends, I carved out the sole of an old shoes and stuck it inside my Nike high tops to gain an inch. Before long I was so enslaved to appearing taller that I couldn’t go anywhere without wearing those shoes.

Later, while studying at UCLA, I met a professor of clinical psychology, Stanley Sue (of Chinese descent), whose study of Asian-Americans with similar experiences as mine identified them as “marginal men,” to whom rejecting their Asian heritage in order to be accepted by whites is the key to happiness. That was once me when I was young, unsure of myself, and easily influenced. Pejoratively dubbed as a “banana”—yellow on the outside, white on the inside—I often felt frustrated, anxious, and hyper-sensitive when people didn’t perceive me the way I preferred. I wonder if that’s anything remotely similar to how young men or women who want to identify themselves as the opposite sex feel. That’s my own story, and I would gently tell it to those struggling with how they appear on the outside versus how they feel inside, to convey that I empathize, however tangentially, with them.

I’d then point out that the rejection of our own selves stems from the brokenness within, because of our willful separation from our Creator for wanting to live independently from His guidance (Rom. 3:11-12). Then I’ll share the following from my heart: Thirty-eight years removed from those miserable days, I haven’t struggled with that sort of confusion for a long time. How? First, at age 20, my Creator found me. It was a powerful encounter that began the process of accepting myself the way God uniquely made me. Second, I found a Christian community in which my worth wasn’t tied to my looks or ability but to Christ’s unconditional acceptance of us; so I was accepted on that basis, and in time I ditched the shoes. Third, my maturation in Christ gradually helped me take my eyes off myself, and instead focus on others who felt alienated from themselves, because they were separated from their Maker.

This is how I’d speak to those confused over their sexuality, who believe that self-acceptance and happiness are waiting to be found through becoming someone else. Now find your own story, and share with those who feel the same way.

Prayer: Father, we are living in an time where the foundations that You established are being brought down by otherwise intelligent people who may be acting very foolishly. We fear for our children and their future. Lord, we cannot do it. Help us! Help our kids! Please. Amen.

Bible Reading for Today: Genesis 3

Tomorrow’s Blog: “One Trait Women Don’t Share with Men”


Lunch Break Study

Read Romans 12:2:

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

Proverbs 22:24-25:

“Make no friendship with a man given to anger, nor go with a wrathful man, 25 lest you learn his ways and entangle yourself in a snare.”

Proverbs 22:6:

“Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.”

Questions to Consider

  1. What do these three passages assume about human behavior?
  2. What is one factor the parents hold to increase the possibility that their children will walk in the Lord and uphold biblical values later in life?
  3. Is a positive outcome guaranteed if the parents diligently ply themselves to “train up a child in the way he should go?” If not, then, what are we do to?

Note

  1. These passages imply that our cultural condition, including pop culture, peer groups and authority figures, can and will affect how we live, even our personality and faith.
  2. Parents can control the environment in which their children grow up. Wise parenting discerns good influences from bad, so that their children are given every opportunity not to conform to secular beliefs and values, and model behaviors that are unhealthy and harmful.
  3. Ultimately, human behaviors are not formulaic, meaning nothing we do guarantees a positive outcome. To believe otherwise is to uphold positivism, a belief that applying observed facts about human behavior that elicit happiness will always produce harmony and order. This may work with pets, but not with inherently sinful humans endowed with freewill. Despite even a perfect upbringing, at any given moment one bad choice can undo much of good parenting.

Evening Reflection

How was your day? Did something happen today that reminded you of your brokenness from within? Yes, the believers can still experience brokenness, because we are both sinners and righteous at the same time. Observing from my own life, I’d describe brokenness as feeling self-condemning, shameful, lonesome, etc. How would you describe it from your own experience? Whether it is the same or different from mine, its short and long-term resolution is the same. The Hebrews writers puts it like this: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:15). Shall we go to God right now?

January 2, Wednesday

The AMI QT blogs for January (weekdays), provided by Pastor Ryun Chang, are extended to cover important sociopolitical matters that have serious ramifications for the Christian faith.  Pastor Ryun (PhD), who serves as the Teaching Pastor of AMI, is the author of Manual de Misionología, Theologizing in the Racial Middle, and a contributor to The Reshaping of Mission in Latin America.

Disclaimer: AMI, as a consortium of several churches, allows the expression of multiple standpoints on non-essential biblical matters. My views expressed here do not necessarily represent the respective views of AMI pastors.  I am also mindful that not every reader will agree with my stances on sensitive and contentious issues addressed in this month’s blogs. Where that may be the case, I invite you to utilize the comment section below, so that we may have an open dialogue; I highly encourage all readers to share their thoughts and experiences. Thank you.  

 

Extended Devotional Thoughts for Today

“The Real Issue Looming over Sexual Identity and Gender Identity Roles”

Genesis 1:27

“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”

Psalms 139:14

“I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.”

Meet French philosopher Simone de Beauvoir (1908-86), a pioneer of modern feminism, who once declared, “One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman.” Her outlook would serve as a forerunner to modern conceptions of gender, including Harvard’s own policy on identity: “We understand that gender identity can be expressed in a variety of ways.” Its unmistakable message: Since “sexual identity is determined not by biology but by cultural condition” (Colson), one can choose their own sex/gender.  This, however, isn’t the real issue in modern feminism except for relatively few who struggle with sexual identity due to their genetic predisposition (discussed tomorrow).  When the smoke of politics clears, several questions regarding the nature of gender and sex still remain to be answered.

The first question is whether sexual identity is fixed or fluid.  The reason that question is even raised is because sexual identity and gender are deemed as synonymous terms.  While they are certainly related, they shouldn’t represent the same thing. Whereas sexual identity is a biological distinction between male and female (thus, fixed), gender goes better with social roles attributed to the two sexes, which Beauvoir certainly thinks are fluid.  And once these terms are fused as synonyms, fluidity associated with gender roles is transferred to sexual identity, which, then, is looked upon as fluid as well. But while gender roles may be fluid, no cultural condition can change the biological reality that, first, the 23rd chromosome pair for male and female, except in rare occasions, is always XY and XX, respectively; second, females have ovaries while males have testes; third, females have more estrogen than males, and males have more testosterone than females. That’s just for starters—there are other physiological differences between the two sexes accepted by nearly everyone.  So when Scripture declares that God created “male and female” (Gn. 1:27), it means, among other things, the two sexes are biologically distinct.

The second question is whether physiological differences between the two sexes generate distinctive character traits (i.e., psychology). The answer is yes. A 2012 Psychology Today article, citing a study based on over 10,000 samples, states, “Women scored much higher than in men in Sensitivity, Warmth, and Apprehension, while men scored higher than women in Emotional Stability, Dominance, Rule-Consciousness, and Vigilance.” And this is why Beauvoir states, “Women should not be judged to be equal only insofar as they are like men . . . Women and men are different.”  

This then brings us to the final question—and the issue at heart: Can gender roles at home and in the workplace change with the passing of time despite biological and psychological differences between the sexes? Put differently, do these differences between males and females mandate what roles each sex should play in society?  For instance, are women better suited physically and psychologically than men to raise children (thereby becoming stay-at-home mothers), or can men do that just as well? Can women serve in combat roles and perform, on average, at the same level as men?  Can men work as nurses in the military just as effective as women? (Note that men were allowed back to serve as military nurses only in 1955.) In the church, can women preach over men despite Scriptures that say or seemed to say otherwise (1 Tim. 2:11-12; 1 Cor. 14:34-35)?

What would Beauvoir say?  First and foremost, she does not mean that there is no biological or psychological distinction between male and female.  To believe otherwise is to ignore the warning in Proverbs 22:28: “Do not move the ancient landmark that your fathers have set.”  The landmark represents, according to a commentator, “the inviolability of the sacred order established by God.” When a society ignores God’s basic order by asserting that sexual identity is fluid (thus, calling a boy a “she” and vice versa), it distorts the mindset of the vulnerable and will cause a long-term harm that outweighs any short-term happiness for some.  

What Beauvoir means is that the existing cultural condition is discouraging women from assuming sociopolitical roles traditionally held by men. It’s a valid question that demands answers without having to mangle English grammar.  So can cultural condition affect gender roles regardless of biological and psychological differences between the sexes? If a girl is given a gun, would that condition her to be more aggressive or assertive, thereby becoming, in a manner of speaking, a leader instead of a follower?  If a boy is given a doll, would that condition him to be more passive and pliant, thereby becoming a follower instead of a leader?

Essentially, we come back to the nature vs. nurture debate. In general, a sensible answer is a combination of both.  My specific answers, which are expounded in later blogs, are as follows: first, women should be encouraged to pursue whatever vocational choices deemed fit for themselves, and society should remove any barriers to that end.  If this seems to suggest that gender roles in the work place are fluid and can be culturally conditioned, you are right. Second, while many social roles and responsibilities are mutually inclusive between the two sexes, they do not always perform at the same level relating to certain tasks attributable to differences in physicality and to a lesser extent, psychology. Third, regarding the women’s role in the church, the reality is that women must navigate with grace between two schools of thoughts: complementarianism that upholds mutually exclusive yet complimentary roles between the two sexes, and egalitarianism that sees their roles as being equal (e.g., preaching and teaching).  

Meanwhile, we should “be sympathetic” (1 Pet. 3:3 NIV) with those who genuinely struggle with looking one way while feeling quite another.  But rather than calling a boy a “she” and vice versa, I would greet the affected person with, “Hello, the one who is ‘fearfully and wonderfully made’ (Ps. 139:14).  How are you?” And I’ll figure out a way to turn that into a third person pronoun. 

Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank You for the gift of life and allowing us to receive so many undeserving privileges by virtue of living in the West. Before I think of myself as a woman (or man), I am a child of God—remind me, therefore, to not only live my new life in You, but to share it with those men and women who are still living without the hope in Jesus Christ. Amen.

Bible Reading for Today: Genesis 2

Tomorrow’s Blog: “What Do You Say When Your Child Says, ‘I Feel Like a Boy/Girl’?”


Lunch Break Study

Read Judges 21:25:

“In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”

1 Kings 12:25-31:

“Then Jeroboam [the first king of Northern Kingdom—Samaria being its capital] built Shechem in the hill country of Ephraim and lived there. And he went out from there and built Penuel. 26 And Jeroboam said in his heart, “Now the kingdom will turn back to the house of David. 27 If this people go up to offer sacrifices in the temple of the Lord at Jerusalem, then the heart of this people will turn again to their lord, to Rehoboam king of Judah, and they will kill me and return to Rehoboam king of Judah.” 28 So the king took counsel and made two calves of gold. And he said to the people, “You have gone up to Jerusalem long enough. Behold your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt.” 29 And he set one in Bethel, and the other he put in Dan. 30 Then this thing became a sin, for the people went as far as Dan to be before one. 31 He also made temples on high places and appointed priests from among all the people, who were not of the Levites.”

1 Kings 17:6:

“In the ninth year of Hoshea, the king of Assyria captured Samaria, and he carried the Israelites away to Assyria and placed them in Halah, and on the Habor, the river of Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes.

Questions to Consider

  1. Many people in our world are doing what is right in their own eyes; those who advocate that sexual identity is determined by cultural condition certainly are doing that. Now look at what Jeroboam did—in what ways he also did what was right in his own eyes?
  2. What is the ulterior motive that drove this king to completely ignore God’s sacred order?
  3. What became of the Northern Kingdom? That is to say, what is the final outcome of a society that defies God’s inviolable order, whether spiritual or sociocultural?

Note

  1. King Jeroboam did two things to radically alter the sacred order established by God with respect to temple worship (essential to fostering the covenant relationship between God and Israel). First, he replaced the center of worship from Jerusalem to Bethel and Dan; second, whereas God had decreed that only Levites could become priests, Jeroboam chose anyone he deemed right in his own eyes.
  2. His reason for breaking with God’s sacred order is obvious: he was afraid that when his citizens go to Jerusalem (the capital of Southern Kingdom) to observe their temple duties, they might desire to side with his rival kingdom, thereby losing his own kingdom. It was to safeguard his own personal and political interest.
  3. The Northern Kingdom was destroyed by the Assyrian Empire in 722 B.C. after about 150 years of existence. All empires of the past have fallen—and the quicker they defy God’s sacred order, the quicker and swifter their demise will be.  Psalm 9:17 says, “The wicked shall return to Sheol, all the nations that forget God.”

Evening Reflection

We began the day talking about biological and psychological differences between males and females. I think it behooves us to wrap up this day with this question: Men, how do you view women? Is your default mode to objectify them? They are not things but humans who bear God’s wonderful image.

Women, how do you view men? Is your default outlook to see them as chauvinistic, insensitive, even predatorial humans? The MeToo movement has sadly exposed that many men are still behaving very badly. The next time you witness such actions or someone defending them, tell them, “Stop, in the name of Jesus; I will not allow you to demean a child of God like this.”  If you have been a victim, then I would pray that you find healing in Christ and strength to forgive the perpetrator at some point. At the same, please do not be given to think that all men are looking to take advantage of women—many of us follow Christ who admonishes husbands to “love their wives as their own bodies” (Eph. 5:28a).  

If you are married, pray with your spouse right now. For the rest, pray for members of the opposite sex whether at home, work or church.

January 1, Tuesday

The AMI QT blogs for January (weekdays), provided by Pastor Ryun Chang, are extended to cover important sociopolitical matters that have serious ramifications for the Christian faith.  Pastor Ryun (PhD), who serves as the Teaching Pastor of AMI, is the author of Manual de Misionología, Theologizing in the Racial Middle, and a contributor to The Reshaping of Mission in Latin America.

Disclaimer: AMI, as a consortium of several churches, allows the expression of multiple standpoints on non-essential biblical matters. My views expressed here do not necessarily represent the respective views of AMI pastors.  I am also mindful that not every reader will agree with my stances on sensitive and contentious issues addressed in this month’s blogs. Where that may be the case, I invite you to utilize the comment section below, so that we may have an open dialogue; I highly encourage all readers to share their thoughts and experiences. Thank you.  

 

Extended Devotional Thoughts for Today

“A Culturally Sensitive and Biblically Valid Response When They Say . . .”

Matthew 10:16 (ESV)

“Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.”

1 Peter 3:15b (NIV)

“Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect . . .”

Last year one of my children sent me the biographical information section in a Harvard application, thinking it would amuse me. It sure did, for the application states, “We understand that gender identity can be expressed in a variety of ways.” Each applicant is then given several choices for personal pronoun to identify one’s gender, some of which include: “his,” “hers,” “zim,” “they” and “theirs.” If language is indeed a representational system, then what these pronouns are made to signify fails to convey the right meaning.  If grammar still counts for something, using third person singular or plural pronouns to stand for first person singular subject is incorrect, no matter how one feels inside.

So what would happen when the protocol of calling a student by his or her preferred gender is not complied, at least in public schools?  A Virginia high school teacher was recently fired for not calling a transgender student by personal pronouns preferred by the latter. The principal who did the firing said, “I can’t think of a worse way to treat a child;” the fired teacher said his Christian faith kept him from addressing the student as a male who had been previously identified as female the year before.   

Upon seeing these seismic sociocultural changes, I wonder what E. V. Hill, the late African-American pastor from Los Angeles who spoke at my college’s commencement ceremony in 1984, would say today. Whatever disturbing changes Hill witnessed 35 years ago prompted him to quote Psalms 11:3 in his speech: “When the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do?” In no uncertain terms, the changes back then pale in comparison to what’s going down today.  Make no mistake: What we are witnessing today (e.g., redefining marriage and family, extreme tribalism that breaks with e pluribus unum, i.e., “out of many, one,” etc.) is the deconstruction of most fundamental building blocks of any society, let alone Western, established by God (Ps. 24:1).  

So then, what do we say to our kids when they think that their parents are as unkind as this teacher for being concerned more about, among other things, repercussions from such a drastic cultural shift than transgender people’s feelings? What do we say to our coworkers or classmates who think that we are simply intolerant and hateful when we break with politically correctness?  If there ever was a time for believers to heed Jesus’ words—“Be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves”—it’s now in what is already a post-Christian America in the academia, media and Hollywood. Truth be told, sociopolitical views of Christians who are enamored with social justice than the justice of God (Rom. 1:17), are affected more by the trifecta of these leading institutions, which disproportionately shape the public discourse, than the Bible, which they read selectively.

Here, Jesus underscores the importance of being tactful—“be wise in the way you act toward outsiders” (Col. 4:5a)—while not “distort[ing] the word of God . . . by setting forth the truth plainly” (2 Cor. 4:2). If our responses err on the side of being culturally tone-deaf and insensitive, then it would greatly diminish our credibility and relevancy when appealing to secular and post-Christian world with the gospel; in fact, they will turn hostile.  However, if our responses misrepresent God’s eternal truth, which does not change with time, then we would end up with a flawed message that does more harm—both spiritual and social—than good to what is fast becoming a rudderless and anchorless America.

Therefore, plan to join me in January to think critically on several sociocultural matters, so that we are “always be prepared to give [culturally sensitive and biblically valid] answer” (1 Pet. 3:15) to those who undermine God’s established order. We must try for the sake of our children and those around us who are indifferent or hostile to Scripture and biblical worldview. We need to clear out these roadblocks so that they can clearly hear the gospel: “That [they] may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing [they] may have life in his name” (Jn. 20:31). Make 2019 a year of reaching out to the lost and confused.

Prayer: Father, perhaps every generation has felt this way, but I believe we are living in the most unhinged moment when everything You placed in order is being questioned and discarded. It concerns me and frightens me at the same time.  Give me wisdom, knowledge and boldness to be a culturally sensitive, as well as being a biblically correct witness in a world that no longer fears You. Amen.

Bible Reading for Today: Genesis 1

Tomorrow’s Blog: “The Real Issue Looming over Sexual Identity and Gender Identity Roles”


Lunch Break Study

Read 1 Peter 3:15-16:

“But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, 16 having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. 17 For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.”

Questions to Consider

  1. In ancient Rome, people looking for anything to malign Christians slandered them as being immoral (e.g., incestuous on account of loving brothers and sisters; cannibals for eating the flesh of Jesus) and unpatriotic.  In view of that, what are some unflattering things that are said to the Bible believing Christians today?  What have you heard?
  1. What are we told to do in anticipation of being slandered by the world against our Christian faith?
  1. What does Paul assume that may happen when the person wondering about our faith hears our reasonable responses? What does that imply for us at the personal level?

Note

  1. Typical charges are: “homophobic” for Christian’s dissenting view on same-sex marriage; “Islamophobic” for correlating terrorism to certain segments within global Islam; “xenophobic” or even “racist” for not supporting illegal immigration and an open border, “closed-minded” or “unenlightened” for upholding the exclusivity of Christ for salvation, etc.
  1. The apostle Paul commands the believers to preemptively prepare adequate responses in anticipation of questions raised by both earnest seekers and slanderers of the Christian faith. This command demands studying on our part. We are also told to respond in a gentle and respectful manner.
  2. In verse 17 Paul assumes that those asking questions will not be satisfied and therefore continue to slander. In response, we are told to “suck it up” for Christ, that is, suffer for Christ for having done what is right, not because we have done something criminal.  Elsewhere Jesus says, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you” (Jn. 15:18).

Evening Reflection

A psalmist laments, saying, “Why should the nations say, ‘Where is their God?’” (Ps. 79:10a); “My tears have been my food day and night, while they say to me all the day long, ‘Where is your God?’” (Ps. 42:3).  

As you look back to all that you heard or read today, do you recall anything that slanders the character of God the Father, Jesus the Son and Scripture itself. How does your typical response to these things say about your own faith? If you aren’t offended by this (not to suggest, therefore, you should do something extreme or violent in response), then, what does that mean?

While reflecting on this question, ask the Lord to reveal to you whether you are being wise?  Commit yourself to equipping yourself with culturally sensitive and biblically correct responses to better represent God’s interest in the world.

December 31, Monday

Today’s AMI QT Devotional is provided by Joe Suh who serves as a pastor intern at the Church of Southland (Anaheim, California). Joe, who was a practicing attorney in the area of civil litigation, is currently enrolled at Talbot School of Theology. He and his wife Betty have been blessed with two beautiful children.  

Devotional Thoughts for Today

“God’s Gift of Second Chance in Life”

As we close this year, it is a great time to reflect and take stock of what God is doing all around us.  As I look back on my life, I am reminded of a miracle and second chance I was given by God. In 2009, just 3 weeks after our first child was born, I suddenly collapsed at my office.  The last thing I remembered was telling my secretary (I was a litigation attorney) that I was going to the restroom and then headed to my deposition for the day. I never made it.

To make a long story short I had suffered from a ruptured brain aneurysm and was in an induced coma for 24 days.  The next thing I remembered was a nurse, who stood at the edge of my bed, asking me what had to be the scariest question for my wife Betty.  Pointing at her, the nurse asked, “Do you know who this is?” I said “yes,” and relief came over Betty. The next question was, “Do you know where you are?” to which I responded, “Seems like a hospital.”  Correct! That was another good sign. “Do you know how long you have been here?” was the final question and my answer of 3 days was about four weeks too short. The nurse informed me that it had been a month.  That’s when I felt like I was smacked in the face and snapped out of the haze.

This long hard month may have taken a toll on me physically, but for my wife, it was another story.  She was 3 weeks postpartum with our daughter and had a husband in the hospital with a dire prognosis.  At the time my doctors were not so sure I was going to make it, since I did not respond well each time they tried to wake me from the induced coma.  They first tried on the 7th days, then at the 14-day mark, and on the 21st day my surgeon informed my wife that he had not kept someone in a coma longer than 21 days.  My wife insisted that they do whatever they could to wake me. You see a couple of days into my ordeal, Betty’s friends came over to pray with her.  At that time Betty heard from God. In a still small voice He let her know that He was not done with me yet. So, in faith, she knew I would wake up; she was just not sure of what my condition would be.  Amazingly, by the grace of God I was miraculously healed with no known deficits.

Fast forward to where I am now, I clearly see that God was truly not done with me.  Since that time, we added a second child to our family and, in February 2017, I transitioned from my career as an attorney to fulltime staff at the Church of Southland.  In reflection, this God-given opportunity to serve came at the right time and most definitely the right place. With a lot of prayer, fasting, and faith, my wife and I obeyed the call God placed on my heart.  I am thankful every day for the miraculous healing, the second chance, and many opportunities to serve. His fingerprints are all over our lives; we just have to open our eyes to see them. Look and see what our God is doing.  In 2019, let’s join Him and His ongoing work more readily and joyfully.

Prayer: Lord, thank You for the life I have received from you.  Forgive me not being grateful at times. Give me wisdom to seek You first during my journey on earth and not try to do things by my own strength.  I praise You and worship You for being a loving Father. Amen.

Bible Reading for Today: Jude 1


Lunch Break Study

(By Joshua Chzen at Kairos Christian Church)

Read Colossians 3:5-8, 12-14 (NIV): Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. 6 Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. 7 You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. 8 But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips . . . 12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

Questions to Consider

  1. What does Paul tell the Colossian church to put to death or get rid of? Why?
  2. What does Paul tell the Colossian church to clothe themselves with or put on? Why?
  3. How does love relate to the other virtues in this passage?

Notes

  1. Paul tells the church to put off sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires, greed/idolatry, anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language. These are part of the earthly nature and the old self that leads to incurring the wrath of God.
  2. Paul tells the church to put on compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, and love. He also instructs them to forgive one another. These are the virtues God’s chosen people, who are holy and dearly loved, are to demonstrate.
  3. Love binds the rest of the virtues together in perfect unity. We can deduce from this that love plays a role in each of these qualities that we are to demonstrate as God’s beloved.

Evening Reflection:

Oftentimes we are unaware of what’s going on in our own hearts. Who are the people you love the most? Does your love for them reflect the heart of Christ, and demonstrate the virtues of someone who is holy and dearly loved by God? Is your heart for them shaped more by your earthly nature or fleshly desire? Ask God to guide you through these questions of reflection, and to give you an openness to being changed by Him in 2019.

December 30, Sunday

Devotional Thoughts for Today

“Spiritual War”

Ephesians 6:10-18

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.  18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.

For fun, I did a little research on wartime rationing during World War II.  According to Wikipedia, in January 1942, the U.S. War Production Board (WPB) ordered a temporary ban on civilian automobile sales.  Although the WPB wanted to conserve fuel, the resource they were most interested in saving was rubber, which back then, was mainly sourced from Japanese occupied countries in Southeast Asia.  By June 1942, metal became the valued commodity, and products such as appliances, furniture, and radios were no longer being manufactured. Gasoline was eventually rationed, which meant non-essential driving was limited and people were more reliant on public transportation.  Sugar supplies were cut in half, and since German submarines were sinking Brazilian cargo ships, coffee was rationed to about 1 lb. per five weeks (about the half the average usage at the time—that would have killed me the most). By 1943, ration books and stamps were distributed to control the amount of sugar, fruit, oil, cheese, milk, and other items civilians could purchase.  

While researching I realize I’ve never lived through a war that dramatically impacted the way I have lived.  Sure, conflict in the Middle-east raised gas prices, but I’ve never been told I could only have five gallons this week.  Generally, I’ve had the privilege of being relatively unaffected by the wars and conflicts our country has been in. Our country’s military involvement hasn’t even stopped me from going on vacations.  I guess what I’m saying is that I’ve always been a civilian, and I’ve always had a civilian’s mentality.

Here’s my point.  Whether we know it or not, we are at war.  And while it seems that Paul exhorts us to take up the armor of God and take up arms, perhaps, we think we are just playing the part of a civilian.  But even civilians have responsibilities to make sure they are living in a manner that aids the war effort. Of course, the question we want to ask ourselves is this: Are we living as if we are in a spiritual war, or are we totally oblivious to the conflict around us?  The apostle Peter warns us, saying, “Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Pet. 5:8b). What should we then do? The front end of that passage reads, “Be sober-minded; be watchful.” Paul, at the end of today’s passage, says, “With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying.” As we turn the page into the new year, remember those warnings and let us adjust our lives accordingly.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, please help me to put on Your full armor.  Help me to be aware of my surrounding and to spiritually alert.  Let me pray and intercede for my friends, neighbors, and especially those who don’t know Jesus.  Let me be ready to engage with Your word.

Bible Reading for Today: 2 John 1