January 24, Saturday

Editor’s Note: The AMI Quiet Times for January 24-25 are provided by Jabez Yeo of TRPC, NYC.

Devotional Thoughts for This Morning 

Matt. 18:1-5 (NIV): “At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” He called a little child to Him, and placed the child among them. And He said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes one such child in My name welcomes Me.”

Karl Barth (1886-1968) was a Swiss Reformed theologian who is regarded as one of the greatest Protestant theologians of the twentieth century. Though he grew up influenced by liberal theology that was predominant in 19th-century European Protestantism, God eventually gave him a firm conviction about the victorious reality of Christ’s resurrection and this greatly influenced his theology. Out of this conviction emerged The Epistle to the Romans and Church Dogmatics; some of the most widely acclaimed theological works ever produced. Yet when asked on a trip to America to summarize his many works, Barth replied “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so”

24Indeed, one of the many beautiful things about the Gospel is that it is profound enough to study for one’s lifetime but simple enough for a child to understand. And this fact is important as in this passage, Jesus instructs His disciples to become like little children, lest they find themselves outside the kingdom of heaven. When we think of children, many character traits might come to mind (especially for parents or babysitters!) but one appropriate trait is this: vulnerability. Children are vulnerable because they are weaker (physically, spiritually, mentally, etc.) than they will be in the future. They are vulnerable because most of them are dependent on their parents for their sustenance and survival. And they are vulnerable because of their innocent faith; rarely do children refrain from trusting others, even those whom they have just met.

So when Jesus tells us to become like little children, it is most likely the case that He is instructing us to acknowledge our vulnerability: our vulnerability that stems from our limited strength and our dependence on God for everything we possess. In addition to that, Jesus is most likely instructing us to have faith like that of a child, a faith that may question but not distrust our Abba father. Oftentimes, the blessings and resources we receive from God Himself prevent us from developing this child-like heart. But whether we are AMI pastors, students or (un)employed professionals, we all depend on God for our daily bread. We are all beggars at His table of grace and this truth alone helps us put Jesus’ instruction in perspective.

So today, let’s come as children to the Almighty God, to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Let us remember who we truly are in His eyes and thank Him for His provision in all things; His provision that works through our innate vulnerability and dependency.

Prayer: Abba. I thank You for choosing me and loving me before the foundation of the world. I thank You that I am Your beloved child, no matter where I am in my life. Help me to follow You as Your Son Jesus did. Help me to do nothing by myself but only what I see You doing. Help me to always remember my need for You. In Your Name, I pray, Amen.

Bible Reading for Today: Isaiah 27-28

January 23, Friday

Devotional Thoughts for This Morning 

Note: Matthew’s wedding banquet parable elaborates on what happens after the original invitees refuse to come for similar reasons why they didn’t come to the great banquet in Luke: “They paid no attention and went off—one to his field, another to his business” (Matt. 22:5).

Matt. 22:8-13: “Then [the king] said to his servants, ‘The wedding feast is ready, but those invited were not worthy. [9] Go therefore to the main roads and invite to the wedding feast as many as you find.’ [10] And those servants went out into the roads and gathered all whom they found, both bad and good. So the wedding hall was filled with guests. [11] But when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment. [12] And he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?’  And he was speechless. [13] Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness.  In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’”

22aRestaurants can ask people who don’t comply with their dress codes to leave after they have somehow snuck in.  Likewise, anyone who enters a ticketed event with a counterfeit one can be removed if found out later.  This parable shows that the same applies to an event held just before the ushering in of eternity: the wedding of the Lamb where Christ and his bride, referring to the church (believers), are officially unified.  And the dress code for the participants? “Fine linen, bright and clean, was given [to his bride] her to wear” (Rev. 19:7-8).  John explains that “fine linen stands for the righteous acts of the saints.”

Before concluding that “righteous acts” imply a work-based salvation, note what Jesus said to the legalistic Jews who asked, “What must we do to do the works God requires?”: “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent” (Jn. 6:28-9).  So, our work begins with believing in Jesus and continues with, “Work out your salvation” (Phil. 2:12).  Jesus said, “Make a tree good and its fruit will be good” (Matt. 12:33), meaning the true believers will produce righteous acts.  It is not “either/or” (“you have faith; I have deeds” [James 2:18]), but “both/and” (“faith and actions . . . working together” [2:22]).

22bAlso, this parable isn’t implying that some unbelievers will be mistakenly allowed into the wedding of the Lamb only to be removed later.  What it does highlight is that there are some resemblances between the true gospel and the false, where in some cases, their differences won’t be clearly revealed until the end.  In the parable of the weeds, when the servants noticed that the wheat and the weeds were growing together, they asked the master, “Do you want us to . . . pull them up?” But the master responded, “No. . . because while you are pulling the weed, you may root up the wheat with them” (Matt. 13:29).

The true gospel, nicely summarized by Martin Luther, is this: “We are saved by faith (in Christ) alone, but the faith that saves is never alone”—meaning that faith is always evidenced by good works.   Any teaching that doesn’t uphold this is false.  So today, do an act of kindness because of Christ who is changing us.

Prayer

O God, I uphold your word that is “a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Ps. 119:105). “I do not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4); “Your word is truth” (Jn. 17:17).   I will daily “buy the truth” (Prov. 23:23) to get wisdom, discipline and understanding.  Amen.

Bible Reading for Today: Isaiah 26

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Lunch Break Study 

Read 2 Cor. 11:4 (ESV): “For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or if you accept a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it readily enough.”

Gal. 1:6-7 (ESV): “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— [7] not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ.”

1 Tim. 4:16 (KJV): “Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee. (Timothy was the pastor of church in Ephesus.)

Question to Consider

  1. What do these phrases “another Jesus,” “a different spirit” and “a distorted gospel” imply?
  2. What is implied by Paul giving the same warnings to the three churches (Corinthians, Galatians and Ephesians)? What does he command that we do?
  3. What are some questions you have about salvation? Do you any problems accepting some aspect of salvation?   Why?  Have you resolved it?

Notes

  1. In short, “another Jesus,” “a different spirit,” and “a distorted gospel” are not efficacious to save. It comes down to what kind of doctrines are attached next to the word “Jesus,” “Spirit,” and “gospel.”  The Jehovah’s Witnesses believe in a created Jesus who is inferior to Jehovah God and the Holy Spirit as a force instead of a person: these distortions are what constitute a different gospel.
  2. This strongly suggests that the distortion of key doctrines is not uncommon; actually, it is rampant today, even in churches. Therefore, we must know and understand important doctrines and guard them.
  3. A Methodist student in my class said that belief in the eternal security (“once you’re saved, you’re always saved”) is like the 007 movie, “The License to Kill,” that is, they promote a license to sin. I explained to him that there are two sides to this view: the irresponsible and unbiblical version of this, which, in effect, promotes licentiousness; but the other view is that if one is truly saved, the result will be bearing of fruits.

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 Evening Reflection

As you are about to turn in, reflect on a great doctrine of the Bible and present a prayer based on it.   For instance, “In light of the Trinity, O God, empower and motivate me to seek unity in my relationships.”

January 22, Thursday

Devotional Thoughts for This Morning 

Lk. 14:17, 20 (NIV): “At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready’ . . . . [20] “Still another said, ‘I just got married, so I can’t come.’”

1 Cor. 7:29, 32-34 (NIV): “From now on those who have wives should live as if they had none. . . . [32] I would like you to be free from concern.   An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord’s affairs—how he can please the Lord. [33] But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world—how he can please his wife— [34] and his interests are divided.  An unmarried woman or virgin is concerned about the Lord’s affairs:  Her aim is to be devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit.  But a married woman is concerned about the affairs of this world—how she can please her husband.”

22“Kyle” served at our church, then later became a youth pastor at another church and got married.  I called him up, one day, in order to catch up; and when I asked about his present ministry, he said, “My present ministry is focusing on my wife.”  Since the word ministry comes from the Greek word diakoneō, meaning to serve, Kyle certainly ought to love his wife (Eph. 5:28) and “treat [her] with respect” (1 Pet. 3:7).

Nevertheless, what he misunderstood was that while a good marriage/family is necessary for an authentic ministry (1 Tim. 3:4), it’s not sufficient to equate it with the ministry to the Body of Christ, which consists of believers who are uniquely gifted to “serve others” (1 Pet. 4:10).  “Others” could be people in my church, neighborhood, or other nations, depending on God’s call at that particular moment.   And when we fail to comply on account of marital or familial concerns, that’s tantamount to, “I just got married, so I can’t come.”  At that juncture, regardless of how wonderful our marriage is, it becomes not being “concerned with the Lord’s affair.”  And as we respond to God’s call, sometimes we might not be able to spend as much time with our spouse or family because we are ministering to others—and that could be what it means to live as if we had no wife or husband.

Now, God is neither against marriage nor romance.  Once the work is finished, the Scripture says, “Do not deprive each other except by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer (i.e., ministry done apart from your spouse).  Then come together again” (1 Cor. 7:5).  Though Paul didn’t use the romantic language of the “Song of Songs,” he meant it when he wrote: “The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband” (7:3).

In 1997, I didn’t want to go to Uganda for 3 weeks because, among other reasons, I didn’t want to be separated from my wife and children.  But I went because God called me to go.  And it was during this trip that God planted a missionary vision, the one that my wife already had, which eventually led to our move to Mexico (2000), where my wife and I were rejuvenated both spiritually and mentally.

Prayer

Dear God, thank You for my precious family whom I love dearly.   Provide for them and protect them especially when I am not with them, as I may be away responding to the call in my life.  As You lend your Son Christ on our behalf, I avail myself to You and Your cause to be part of what You are doing to redeem this fallen world.  Amen.

Bible Reading for Today: Isaiah 25

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Lunch Break Study 

Read Mk. 4:32-5 (NIV): “A crowd was sitting around him, and they told him, ‘Your mother and brothers are outside looking for you.’ [33] ‘Who are my mother and my brothers?” he asked. [34] Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! [35] Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.’”

Jn. 18:26-7 (NIV): “When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, ‘Woman, here is your son,’ [27] and to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’  From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.”

1 Tim. 3:4-5 (NIV): Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”

Question to Consider

  1. In Christ, who becomes part of our primary relationship?
  2. Does that mean we disregard our physical families? What does Jesus’ action and Paul’s teaching suggest?
  3. What do you think God is calling you to participate these days or in foreseeable future? It may or may not be something that will take you away from your family.  Think.  Reflect.  Pray about it.

Notes

  1. Christ teaches us that fellow believers, particularly those who seek to obey God’s will, become part of our primary relationships. And, “as we have opportunity, [we are to] do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers” (Gal. 6:10).
  2. “All people” in Gal. 6:10 do not exclude our physical families. For example, before Jesus died, He wanted to make sure that his earthly mother was taken care of; Paul is adamant about providing for one’s own physical family; not doing so is tantamount to denying Christ.  Again, it is an on-going balance act in which, too often, evangelicals err on the side of preferring marriage and family at the cost of serving God.
  3. For some, it is going on a vision trip, short-term missions, retreat; it could be ministering to a broken family or doing favors for the needy when you can spend that time with your wife or family. And in light of 1 Cor. 7:5, it could be praying by yourself apart from your spouse for a fixed duration.

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 Evening Reflection

Did you minister to your loved ones today, like praying with them, sharing God’s word, or by being kind?  Did you do the same for those who are not part of your family?  Review your day and pray.

January 21, Wednesday

Devotional Thoughts for This Morning 

Lk. 14:17-9 (ESV): “And at the time for the banquet he sent his servant to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’ [18] But they all alike began to make excuses. . . . [19] And another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them.  Please have me excused.”

1 Cor. 7:29-30, 35 (NIV):  “What I mean, brothers, is that the time is short.  From now on . . . [30] those who mourn, [live] as if they did not; . . . those who buy something, as if it were not theirs to keep; those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them. . . . [35] I am saying this for your own good, not to restrict you, but that you may live in a right way in undivided devotion to the Lord.”

21aWhen we have a lot on our mind, it’s difficult to think about serving God, much less pray or read the Bible.  Thus, the Bible exhorts us to avoid circumstances that sap the desire to grow in our spiritual life.  Peter says that husbands should treat their wives with respect (thereby avoiding marital conflicts) “so that nothing will hinder your prayers” (1 Pet. 3:7).  On the night of Jesus’ arrest, Peter, John and James failed to stay up to pray along with Jesus because they were “exhausted from sorrow” (Lk. 22:45).

21bIn addition, Paul declared, “Do not be anxious about anything” so as to “present your requests to God” (Phil. 4:6).  Adding to the list of things that produce anxiety, it is buying things and then using them.   Once, I counseled a newly-wed couple who, despite making over $100,000 a year (in the 1990s), still racked up a debt of $40,000.  In contrast, I was making one-third of that amount, with two kids, but without any debt.  The source of their problem?  They were part of the average American who spend 110% of their income each year, thanks to credit cards and easy loans.

While the person in the parable may have used cash to purchase the oxen, he shares one thing in common with today’s consumers: making impulsive purchases.  He bought the animals, ostensibly to till the land, without first examining them (ESV). That’s like buying a used car without test-driving it, which is very impulsive.  The problem with modern consumers is buying things with money they don’t have, not thinking about how the ever-increasing debt will make their lives more anxious—that’s very impulsive.  Of course, once you buy new toys, gadgets and places, you need to devote time and effort to enjoy them.  A typical outcome of this lifestyle is less time spent getting to know and serving God.

If apostle Paul were alive today, besides saying, “Don’t get too attached to the things you buy” (the nutshell of 1 Cor. 7:30), the Holy Spirit would lead him to say:  “Don’t buy things you cannot afford; buy things you need instead of trying to impress people”; and avoid debt anxiety so you can pray.”

Prayer

Father, I acknowledge that You are the sovereign King who has lordship over my life.  As your vassal, I ought to be totally devoted to You in every aspect.  Lord, give me wisdom so that I won’t let my buying habits get in the way of getting to know and serve You.  May the Spirit fill me continuously.  Amen.

Bible Reading for Today: Isaiah 24

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Lunch Break Study 

Jn. 14:1 (ESV): “Let not your hearts be troubled.  Believe in God; believe also in me.”

Matt. 26:38, 39 (NIV): “[Jesus] began to be sorrowful and troubled. [38] Then he said to them, ‘My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. . . . Yet not as I will, but as you will.’”

Phil. 4:19, 6-7 (ESV): “And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus”. . . . [6] “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. [7] And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Question to Consider

  1. Some preachers equate worries and anxiety as not having faith. How would you respond to that?
  2. How can we better manage our worries and anxieties? What do these verses suggest?
  3. What worries or anxieties are you experiencing right now? How should you manage them?

Notes

  1. It depends on what is behind our worries. The admission by Jesus, fully human and divine, before facing the cross indicates distress and anxiety; what human wouldn’t be?  How to pay for children’s college or being able to make the car payment (bought at a reasonable price to meet a need) can be stressful, but it doesn’t mean we do not have faith.  But there are types of worries that show lack of faith: it is when, despite God’s assuring words about our secure position in Christ, we constantly worry about what people think about us to the point of always exaggerating, making purchases to impress, etc.
  2. I use the word “manage” here. It is not like worries and anxieties are going to leave us for good.  They are going to be around and unless we don’t manage them well, they will stick to us like glue.  Through our daily time with God, we need to be reminded that we can trust Jesus, his promise to meet all our needs, and to ultimately say to God, “Not my wishes or will but your will be done in my life.”  That’s how we can decrease the size of anxiety that aims to bring us down.
  3. Right now, what causes me distress is where my last child (senior) will go to college, and whether we can pay for it. This is ironic because God has already shown us through our first two children that He is ready, able, and willing to help us: I need to be reminded of that daily.

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 Evening Reflection

Things (more bad than good, it seems) happen every day, right?  So what happened today that increased your anxiety level?  How did you manage it?  Go to God now; let go of your anxiety through Christ.

January 20, Tuesday

Note: The devotion for Jan 20-23 is based on the Parable of the Great Banquet; read it in its entirety today.

Lk. 14:15-23 (ESV): When one of those who reclined at table with him heard these things, he said to him, “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!” [16] But he said to him, “A man once gave a great banquet and invited many. [17] And at the time for the banquet he sent his servant to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’ [18] But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it. Please have me excused.’ [19] And another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them. Please have me excused.’ [20] And another said, ‘I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.’ [21] So the servant came and reported these things to his master. Then the master of the house became angry and said to his servant, ‘Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame.’ [22] And the servant said, ‘Sir, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room.’ [23] And the master said to the servant, ‘Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled.’”

Devotional Thoughts for This Morning 

Lk. 14:18 (NASB): “But they all alike began to make excuses. The first one said to him, ‘I have bought a piece of land and I need to go out and look at it; please consider me excused.’”

 Phil. 3:18-9 (NIV):  “For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. [19] Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things.”  

My father (who died in 2007) had powerfully encountered God in his 30s, but drifted away from Him as he experienced success in the business world.   So since our family lived a very wealthy life in Korea, coming to America was disadvantageous for us economically.   When my aunt from Korea once visited us in the U.S., she was shocked and dismayed seeing that we were living a very simple, non-luxurious lifestyle.

20aAfter becoming a believer in 1981, I began praying for my father’s salvation, but he didn’t seem to respond at all.  At that time, he was doing well financially operating a cafeteria in an affluent section of Washington D.C.   Sensing that his god was his wealth and his mind was set on earthly things, I began praying, “Lord, allow his business to fail if that’s what it’ll take for him to come to You.”  Fast forward to 1986, when my parents came to California for my engagement—grabbing my hand, my father said, “I’m so happy right now even though I lost my restaurant because Jesus is in my heart!”  No sooner than I was reminded of my earlier prayer, my father added, “Your uncle gave you $1,000 as a gift but I can only give you $100; I need the rest for the engagement.”  A bittersweet moment?  No, it was all sweet!

20bIn the parable, the first man rejected God’s offer of salvation on account of his business, saying, “I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it.”  Either he was lying or wasn’t a good businessman: who buys a field without first seeing it?  Ultimately, “whoever loves money never has enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income” (Eccles. 5:10).  Meanwhile, he neglects the things of God until the very day when God says, “You fool!  This very night your life will be demanded from you.  Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself” (Lk. 12:20).  Don’t be a fool by bartering away eternal life in Christ with the momentary enjoyment of earthly things.  Take a pause and reflect: are you right with God?  Confess.  Repent.

Prayer

Lord, thank You for richly providing everything for me so that I can enjoy (1 Tim. 6:17) it as well as serve You with it.  Too often, however, I set my mind on earthly things, thereby neglecting to promote your Kingdom business.  Forgive me; may the Spirit in me stir my heart to truly live for You.  Amen.

Bible Reading for Today: Isaiah 23

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Lunch Break Study 

1 Tim. 6:9-10, 17-8 (NIV): “Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. [10] For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. . . .  [17] Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. [18] Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share.”

Question to Consider

  1. In what ways can money (wealth) entrap those who are consumed by it?
  2. What is the divine purpose behind God giving us wealth?
  3. Finding the right balance between enjoying the wealth and using it for good deeds is an issue that we all struggle with. Make an honest appraisal of yourself and if found lacking, take actions.

Notes

  1. The love of money elicits the following feelings: “I don’t have enough”; “Someone is going to steal it”; “They like me for my money”; “I’m better than anyone else”; “They’re looking down on me because I don’t have enough, so I better earn more,” etc. The result: Wandering from the faith.
  2. For us to enjoy; this means we shouldn’t feel guilty when we take vacations or buy things, hopefully to meet a real need, and to do good deeds with it (which many don’t).
  3. To break away from a life centered on money, an intentional act of generosity may release the grip the love of money has on us.

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 Evening Reflection

Did you make money today?  How do you plan to spend it?  Based on how you have spent money today, what does that tell you about your priorities?  Reflect on this and make an appropriate prayer unto God.

January 19, Monday

Devotional Thoughts for This Morning 

2 Cor. 10:4 (NIV):The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world.”

Is. 53:7 (ESV): “He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth.”

The 18th century historian Edward Gibbon argued that Christianity contributed to the demise of the Roman Empire in two ways: first, a belief in a better afterlife discouraged people from making sacrifices for a greater cause; second, pacifism fostered by Christian “doctrines of patience and [cowardliness]” weakened Rome’s warrior spirit.  Gibbon’s first point has some merit even today: yearning for the rapture to come, some Christians seem unconcerned about making this world a better place.  Gibbon’s second point, however, shows his ignorance on how human hearts are really changed: it is “not by might nor by power but by [the] Spirit” that enables us to valiantly uphold a just cause.

19aWhen the 4th century monk named Telemachus came to Rome from the East, he was shocked by the gladiatorial combats.  So, “stepping down into the arena, [he] endeavored to stop the men who were wielding their weapons against one another” (Theodoret).  The spectators, indignant at the interruption, stoned him to death.  Emperor Honorius, impressed by the monk’s conviction, officially put a stop to gladiatorial fights at the outset of 404 A.D.

19bThe Civil Rights movement, inspired by Rosa Parks and led by Rev. Martin Luther King, was no different. King, using the biblical narrative of Exodus to inspire African-Americans in their fight for freedom from racial repression, never wavered from the just cause even when batons and fire hoses were used to halt the marchers.  The conscience of the indifferent American public was stricken upon seeing on television the images of African-Americans being treated like lambs being slaughtered by butchers.  While neither the terrorism of the Black Panther Party nor the radicalism the Nation of Islam melted America’s hardened heart, the valiant and non-violent Civil Rights marchers did.

On this day, remember that the spiritual unity in Christ triumphs over any other affiliation, even racial, for “there is neither Jew nor Greek, slaves nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28).  This is why the church, as salt and light of the world, can strive for a just cause (but not with the weapons of the world), even if it affects people who do not look like us.

Prayer

O God, we’re ashamed that despite the unity in Christ, we’ve allowed every sociological barrier, including racial, to divide your church.  We’re guilty of relying on the weapons of this world—violence, false information, dishonest analysis, to get our ways.  Lord, let your truth reign in our hearts! Amen.

Bible Reading for Today: Isaiah 22

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Lunch Break Study 

Read Matt. 26:52-3 (NIV): With that, one of Jesus’ companions (Peter) reached for his sword, drew it out and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear.  ‘Put your sword back in its place,’ Jesus said to him, ‘for all who draw the sword will die by the sword. [53] Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?  But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?’”

Zech. 4:6 (NIV): So he said to me, “This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord Almighty.”

Question to Consider

  1. Contrast Peter’s action with that of Christ’s. How are they fundamentally different?
  2. How would you interpret Zechariah 4:6 in light of the examples of Telemachus and Rev. King?
  3. Racial tension has been escalating since last year. What can you do to be part of the solution rather than the problem?

Notes

  1. Peter’s action represents waging a spiritual war with the weapons of the world; it always results in the escalation of the problem; Christ’s way shows that the road to victory, that is, after a temporary setback, is submission to God’s will that does not involve violence.
  2. The “Spirit” in these contexts would mean demonstrating essential aspects of Christ’s character and work, which means willingness to suffer for a greater good and not resist, as well as to strive for justice and peace, etc.
  3. I know many people who are making a difference: teachers in inner-city schools who tough it out with students, many of whom need extra attention. Also, this includes people who serve in a shelter for the homeless to help the children as well as the women by sharing of God’s love, etc.

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 Evening Reflection

You probably heard and/or saw some public demonstration of Martin Luther King’s day.  No one except Christ is flawless; King was no exception.  While we recognize that God used him, we worship Christ.  Pray for the relief of racial tension in America.  Pray about getting involved in the inner-city ministry.

January 18, Sunday

Devotional Thoughts for Today

Mk 4:20 (NIV): “Others, like seed sown on good soil, hear the word, accept it, and produce a crop—some thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times what was sown.”

18aIn the NBA, no one could stop Shaquille O’Neil in his heyday; once this powerful player had the ball in the paint area, any strategy used against him mattered very little him—he almost always made a basket.

18bWhile the quality of the soil certainly affects whether the seed reaches its fullest potential, it can grow, however anemic, under almost any soil.  In another parable, Jesus spoke of how “night and day, whether the [sower] sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how” (Mk. 4:27).  Still in another parable, the Lord explained that as long as a kernel “falls to the ground . . . it produces many seeds” (Jn. 12:24).  Apostle Paul, in speaking of those who preached God’s word (i.e., sowed the seed) with a wrong motive, said, “The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached” (Phil. 1:18).  What do these verses indicate?  Regardless of the listener’s receptivity or the preacher’s motive, because “the word of God is living and active[,] sharper than any double-edged sword , it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (Heb. 4:12 NIV).

One main issue with Shaq’s teams was always getting the ball to him when he was in the paint area near the basket.  But it was up to the point guard who, after bringing the ball up the court, could either pass it to Shaq or shoot it himself. However, Shaq was much more likely to make a basket from his sweet-spot than a guard who shot from afar.   The question to us is how to make that pass from the outside (i.e., attitudes not conducive for effective listening) to the sweet-spot, which is inside (i.e., the right attitude), so that we can consistently score a basket (i.e., bearing much fruits in terms of character, right conduct, winning souls, etc. ).

First, no matter who may be the speaker, obligate yourself to receive a blessing even if the only coherent thing done was reading the Scripture, since that is God’s word.  Paul says to the Thessalonians, “We also thank God . . . because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the word of God” (1 Thess. 5:13).  What’s the outcome of this?  The apostle concludes that verse with this: “…which is at work (i.e., produces a crop) in you who believe.”   Second, imitate the Bereans “who received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true” (Acts 17:11).  Luke, instead of saying, “How dare you examine Paul’s words!” but rather described them as “noble character.”  Lastly, “do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says” (James 2:22).  Start practicing this today.

Bible Reading for Today: Isaiah 21

January 17, Saturday

Devotional Thoughts for Today

Mk. 4:18-20 (ESV): “And others are the ones sown among thorns.  They are those who hear the word, [19] but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it proves unfruitful.”

17aIt had been nearly 70 years since many Israelites (including Daniel and Ezekiel) were forcibly taken to Babylonia as exiles, but unexpectedly, their life there was comfortable as Jeremiah had prophesized: “Seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I carried you into exile” (Jer. 29:7).   But one day, God moved their heart (Ez. 1:5) through Cyrus, the king of Persia, who said to the Jews, “Anyone of his people . . . let him go up to Jerusalem . . . and build the temple of the LORD” (1:3).

Whereas all the Jews in Egypt who suffered as slaves left for the Promised Land, only a minority of the Jews (42,000) of Persia left for Jerusalem.  It was understandable since the Jews had settled comfortably in Persia and moving to Jerusalem, which was still lying in ruins, didn’t appear attractive.   In addition, the dangerous trip would last four months (7:9).  Instead, those who stayed just contributed funds (1:6); those who left contributed funds as well—1,100 pounds of gold, which would be equivalent of about $20 million (2:69).

Upon arrival, they worked feverishly to lay the foundation of the temple, and when this phase was finished, some “wept aloud” while “others shouted for joy” (3:12).  Unfortunately, their enemies, who opposed the temple project from the outset, managed to halt the work after convincing the new Persian emperor that the reconstructed temple wouldn’t be in Persia’s best interest (4:1-24).

17bBut around the time the work had ceased for 16 years, God sent Haggai to remind the exiles about why they had left Persia in the first place.  Their response was so underwhelming that God said, “These people say, ‘The time has not yet come for the LORD’s house to be built. . . .’ Is it a time for you and yourselves to be living in your paneled houses, while this house remains a ruin” (Hag. 1:2-3)?  These once-committed people had become callous, and instead of admitting their unwillingness to rebuild the temple, they flippantly said that it wasn’t the right time.  Meanwhile, they busied themselves by building a mansion (paneled house) for their own home.

What happened?  Like weeds that sap nutrients that the plant needs to grow, “the worries of the world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things choke[d] the word” (NASB), making them unfruitful.   This happened to the best of the committed; so watch out!  Try to live as close to Apostle Paul’s philosophy of life: “But godliness with contentment is great gain.  For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it.  But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that” (1 Tim. 6:6-8 NIV).

Bible Reading for Today: Isaiah 19-20

January 16, Friday

Devotional Thoughts for This Morning 

Mk. 4:16-7 (NIV): “Others, like seed sown on rocky places, hear the word and at once receive it with joy. [17] But since they have no root, they last only a short time.  When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away.”

I got to know Bruno when we were part of a short-term mission trip, but around the time his mother was diagnosed with cancer, he stopped coming to church.  Tran, a Vietnamese student in the Bible institute I was teaching, was absent on my fourth visit to Vietnam, so when I asked around, he apparently left the church because of trouble (misunderstanding) with the pastor.

16aThese examples point to a “shallow faith” (i.e., seed sown on rocky places) in which the initial joy of hearing God’s word (the gospel) is short-lived because of trouble or persecution.  Typically, having no root refers to Christians who lack knowledge of God’s word, resulting in their faith being destroyed (Hos. 4:6).   This doesn’t necessarily mean having no biblical knowledge; rather, whatever knowledge they had was incorrect, therefore, their faith was utterly helpless to withstand trouble or persecution.  It is as if they were caught by surprise because they didn’t know or no one taught them that “in this world you will have trouble” (Jn. 16:33); or even if you are a Christian, “It has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him” (Phil. 1:29).

16bAt the root of our faith, what’s crucial is not so much the extent of biblical knowledge but whether we know correctly the crux of God’s will revealed in the Scripture.  For instance, some know by heart numerous verses that allegedly back the health and wealth gospel.  One prosperity teacher declared, “If I walk justly and according to the Word of God, I am completely convinced that I can be free of sickness and pain.”   Another declared, “God’s top priority is to shower blessings on Christians in this lifetime.” But when a loved one gets really sick, or you are barely making ends meet despite giving generously, the very teaching that appeared so promising becomes a stumbling block; you may fall as a result.

So, know your Bible correctly; don’t have false assumptions about the Christian faith that will greatly disappoint you one day; heed the “whole will of God” (Acts 20:27).

Prayer

Keep me safe, O God, as You ground me in your Word; may I be like a tree planted by streams of water through the Word.  Lord, grant me wisdom so that every time I read your Scripture, my mind would be illuminated by the eternal truth of Your Word, for your Word is truth.  Amen.

Bible Reading for Today: Isaiah 18

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Lunch Break Study 

Read 1 Tim. 3:12 (NIV):  “In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.”

Jn. 15:18 (NIV): “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first.”

1 Jn. 2:15 (NIV): “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them.”

Question to Consider

  1. What should Christians expect especially when they are sincere about upholding their faith through their confession and deeds?
  2. Why are Christians destined for trouble and hatred from the world?
  3. No one should seek trouble or persecution but if you really uphold your faith at work or school, what kind of trouble or persecution can you reasonably expect?

Notes

  1. The fact is, many Christian beliefs (e.g., exclusivity of Christ for salvation, intelligent design) and practices (e.g., waiting until the wedding day for sexual relations) are seen as outside of mainstream. So when we express these and other views in a public setting, you are bound to be criticized.
  2. In short, to love God is not to love the world; since Jesus was hated by the world, his followers should not be surprised if the world does not love them either.
  3. We should be prudent and not overly aggressive in disagreeing with those who espouse anti-Christian views, but it behoove s us to “always be ready to given an answer to everyone who asks [us] to give the reason for the hope [we] have” (1 Pet. 3:15).

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 Evening Reflection

Looking back, did you encounter any trouble or persecution because of your Christian belief?  How did you fare?  What does that tell you about your readiness?  Pray about how you can be better prepared.

January 15, Thursday

Note: The devotion for Jan 15-18 is based on the Parable of the Sower; read it in its entirety today.

14aMk. 4:2-8 (NIV):  “He taught them many things by parables, and in his teaching said: [3] ‘Listen! A farmer went out to sow his seed. [4] As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. [5] Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. [6] But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. [7] Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants, so that they did not bear grain. [8] Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up, grew and produced a crop, some multiplying thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times.’”

Devotional Thoughts for This Morning 

Mk. 4:14-5 (NIV):  “The farmer sows the word. 15 Some people are like seed along the path, where the word is sown. As soon as they hear it, Satan comes and takes away the word that was sown in them.”

14bOnce, there was this elderly pastor (Hong) whose sermon I didn’t care to listen to.  At the time, I was part of an in-house discipleship training at my church along with other young men.  Our day began with a 5:30 AM prayer meeting, which we attended mostly out fear of our pastor who would discipline us if we didn’t attend; so whenever he was out-of-town, most of us slept in.  But this greatly upset Pastor Hong who used every pulpit opportunity to call us out as hypocritical, lazy bums.  Naturally, whenever he spoke, I gladly let the evil one snatch away his word.

When we don’t like or understand a sermon, it’s easy to blame the speaker for not delivering the message well.  But oftentimes, the listener may have thought that he was listening, when in reality he really wasn’t.  Once, Jesus was sharing a serious message about not disowning God before men, not blaspheming against the Holy Spirit, and being persecuted for one’s faith (Lk. 12:8-12).  At that moment, “someone in the crowd said to [Jesus], ‘Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me’” (Lk. 12:13).   Evidently, this person was so preoccupied with losing out on the family inheritance that he failed to pay any attention to Jesus’ words.  This had nothing to do with whether the teaching was inadequate or the delivery was off, but everything to do the listener’s predisposition that kept the word from being planted in the heart.

Maybe there is a 3-step method to having the right attitude when listening to God’s word, but what happened to me in 1983 was definitely the work of the Holy Spirit.   One day, while I was reading a book on servanthood, I became convicted that I was far from it.   In the evening service in which Pastor Hong spoke, again calling us out as hypocritical bums, I, having come with a broken and contrite heart, responded to his message by coming to the altar to repent with tears.

So, the next time you’re about to hear God’s word proclaimed, pray for an unpreoccupied and contrite heart so that the powerful Word of God can penetrate into your soul and spirit (Heb. 4:12).

Prayer

LORD, how precious and wonderful that You have given us a Book that we can readily access to obtain the knowledge of salvation as well as the instruction for guiding this life.  Thank You also for the office of preaching through which we hear God’s word being proclaimed in the power of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Bible Reading for Today: Isaiah 17

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Lunch Break Study 

A man blind from birth, after being healed by Jesus (without knowing that it was him), was brought  to the Pharisees who wanted to investigate how or what happened.

Read Jn. 9:28-34 (NIV): “Then they hurled insults at him and said, ‘You are this fellow’s disciple! We are disciples of Moses! [29] We know that God spoke to Moses, but as for this fellow, we don’t even know where he comes from.’ [30] The man answered, ‘Now that is remarkable! You don’t know where he comes from, yet he opened my eyes. [31] We know that God does not listen to sinners. He listens to the godly person who does his will. [32] Nobody has ever heard of opening the eyes of a man born blind. [33] If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.’ [34] To this they replied, ‘You were steeped in sin at birth; how dare you lecture us!’ And they threw him out.”

Lk. 18:17: “Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”

Question to Consider

  1. How did the Pharisees respond to the answer given to them by the formerly blind man?
  2. Why did the Pharisees reject the truthful words spoken by him? Does this happen today?
  3. Describe your typical attitude whenever you are listening to someone expounding the Bible.  What kind of an attitude should we have?

Notes

  1. They categorically rejected it, meaning it didn’t matter what the formerly blind man said; the Pharisees came to the meeting with a mindset determined to not consider anything he had to say.
  2. For the Pharisees, well-educated people with great credentials, it was quite easy to dismiss those who were considerably inferior to them in every aspect: religious pedigree, social status, and theological knowledge.  Yes, it happens today for the same reason.
  3. If what is taught or preached makes any kind of sense, just accept it like a child; don’t fight too hard to criticize the sermon; don’t let some negativity outweigh the positives. Don’t be a wise guy!

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 Evening Reflection

Did you read Psalm 81 yet?  If not, read it now and meditate on it.   If you have, read Psalm 42 and reflect on this psalm.