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.

January 14, Wednesday

Editor’s Note: The AMI Quiet Times for January and February are provided by P. Ryun Chang, Teaching and Resource Pastor of AMI.

Devotional Thoughts for This Morning 

Matt. 24:44-50 (NIV):  “So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him. [45] Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom the master has put in charge of the servants in his household to give them their food at the proper time? [46] It will be good for that servant whose master finds him doing so when he returns. [47] I tell you the truth, he will put him in charge of all his possessions. [48] But suppose that servant is wicked and says to himself, ‘My master is staying away a long time,’ [49] and he then begins to beat his fellow servants and to eat and drink with drunkards. [50] The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of.”

14aThe church where I became a believer in 1981 was steeped in end-times Bible prophecy.  My fascination with this grew all the more after seeing Christian movies, such as “A Thief in the Night” and “Image of the Beast,” which portrayed a terrifying world following the rapture.  My ears perked up when several respectable pastors predicted the Lord’s coming in 1988.  The fact that the prediction didn’t come true that year hasn’t stopped others from setting other dates (e.g., Harold Camping-2011).

14bOne consequence of failed date-setting is an increased disinterest in Christ’s coming.  Anticipating this, Peter wrote: “They will say, ‘Where is this “coming” he promised?  Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation’” (2 Pet. 3:4).  I plead guilty to that because I went from passionately teaching the end time prophecy to becoming somewhat unenthused about reading the book of Revelation (always as the last book while reading the Bible in a year).

The above parable suggests that a pitfall of not taking seriously of Christ’s return is apathy towards fulfilling our responsibilities from God.  The servant in charge of taking care of others became selfish and irresponsible, assuming that the master wouldn’t return any time soon; consequently, instead of being faithful, nothing was denied in the pursuit of pleasure for here and now.

Ironically, those who take Christ’s return seriously can be just as callous as those who don’t.  For instance, in a mission’s conference organized by a church known for its strong emphasis on end-time prophecy, the speaker chided some in the audience who cheered over a war that just broke out in Russia, believing it to be a fulfillment of a prophecy.  He said, “We should be mindful that people die in a war without knowing Christ.”

Peter asks, “What kind of people ought you to be?” (2 Pet. 3:11).  Regardless of when Christ will actually return, we need to live each day as if he is coming today.  Unlike the irresponsible servant, we should continue being faithful to God’s task; “[we] ought to live holy and godly lives as [we] look forward to the day of God” (3:11).  So, approach today with eagerness to let Christ be known through your faithfulness.

Prayer

O God, I glorify and praise You this morning for your Son Jesus who, in His first coming, died for the sins of the world so that we might live with You eternally.  Father, help us to rely on the Holy Spirit to keep our focus on the responsibility that you gave us, even as we wait for your second coming. Amen.

Bible Reading for Today: Isaiah 16

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Lunch Break Study 

Read 1 Thess. 5:1-8 (ESV): “Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers, you have no need to have anything written to you. [2] For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. [3] While people are saying, ‘There is peace and security,’ then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. [4] But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief. [5] For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness. [6] So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober. [7] For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, are drunk at night. [8] But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation.”

John 9:4 (ESV): “We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work.”

Question to Consider

  1. In what sense (biblical and current) would the Lord’ coming be a surprise to many?
  2. Should this day catch us off guard? If we are found to be unprepared, what does that imply?
  3. How should we live in anticipation of his eventual coming? Hide on a mountain top?

Notes

  1. Being creatures of comfort and habit, it doesn’t dawn on people that something cataclysmic can happen, destroying peace and security that they’ve always known. In our current world, since many are secularists, they simply don’t believe in anything divine and supernatural.
  2. The expression “A thief in the night” is reserved for the unbelievers; Paul tells the believers that that day should not surprise us like a thief since we have been forewarned. This doesn’t mean we should set a date of His coming, but to live in the present by faith, love, and in hope.
  3. We are the children of light, which means that instead of withdrawing from the world in anticipation of the world’s end, we “must work the works of him who sent [Jesus] while it is day.” It calls for engagement and involvement with the world to let Christ be known, particularly among the scoffers.

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 Evening Reflection

If you knew for sure that Christ is coming by midnight tomorrow, are there things that you would want to change immediately?  What does that say about your faith right now?  Make changes; be ready.

January 13, 2015

Editor’s Note: The AMI Quiet Times for January and February are provided by P. Ryun Chang, Teaching and Resource Pastor of AMI.

Devotional Thoughts for This Morning

Matt. 25:24-5 (ESV): He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, [25] so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ [26] But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! . . . [28] So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents.’”

Marx 2In Marxism, ideas are a later development to justify an unjust economic structure so that the rich can continue to exploit the workers under a false pretense.  The Scripture, however, begins with divine ideas originating from the mind of God. It posits that beliefs based on wrong ideas, in time, will produce actions detrimental to individuals, society, and ultimately the Kingdom.

The Bible is replete with people with bad ideas. The servant with one talent did nothing with it because he held to an idea that his master was unfair and unreasonable. The master, displeased, called him “wicked” and “lazy”; his lone talent was given to those who had produced more with their talents.

The older son in the Parable of the Lost Son held fast to the idea which formed a self-perception of a hired servant under a harsh master. Balking at the father’s favorable treatment of his wayward brother, he said, “All these years I’ve been slaving for you. . . yet you have never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends” (Lk. 15:28). As a result, he lost out on a life of freedom and plenitude, despite the fact that “everything [the father] had was [his]” (15:31).

Idea Are Not Created Equal

Bad ideas among Christians also affect the missions of the church. For instance, an elderly preacher, frowning on those who advocate missions, declared, “The world was already been reached in the first century”; he then quoted Col. 1:6: “All over the world this gospel is bearing fruit and growing.” Sadly, those hearing this, shouted “Amen!” Then there are those, being so afraid that they might teach work-based salvation, who propagate that “Jesus guarantees eternal life to all who come to faith in Him, even if they later stop believing in Him.”  But, the Parable of the Talents teaches us to work, not for salvation, but to demonstrate it.

Paul’s idea to combat bad ideas is this: “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will” (Rom. 12:1). Seriously study the Bible; learn to interpret it correctly; boldly put it into practice.

Prayer

Dear God, I praise You for your holy Scripture that clearly declares your wonderful attributes and will for our lives. Forgive me for spending more time reading and watching worldly sources to be informed than reading your Word. I pray that the Spirit in me stirs my mind so that I may truly understand your Word. Amen.

Bible Reading for Today: Isaiah 15

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Read Ez. 8:12 (NIV):  He said to me, “Son of man, have you seen what the elders of Israel are doing in the darkness, each at the shrine of his own idol? They say, ‘The Lord does not see us; the Lord has forsaken the land.’”

1 Pet. 3:12 (NIV): “For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”

1 Cor. 15:32 (NIV): “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.”

Heb. 9:27 (NIV):Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment,. . .”

Ps. 14:1 (NKJV): “The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God.’ They are corrupt, they have done abominable works, there is none who does good.”

Question to Consider

1. Why are these ideas bad and incorrect?

2. What are the consequences of these bad ideas?

3. What are some ideas that you hold that really are incorrect in view of God’s ideas in the Bible?

Notes

1. God, being omniscient, sees and hears all things at all times; death is not the end; judgment awaits; and God certainly does exist.

2. Believing that God doesn’t see and hear would lead us to do whatever we want; believing that death is the end encourages us to live for pleasure; and not believing in God’s existence makes moral laws relative since there is no law-giver. In such a world, anything goes.

3. Theologically, I no longer uphold certain doctrines that I was taught in my first church and seminary:prosperity theology, demons are the spirits of the deceased unbelievers; God always heals, etc.

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Evening Reflection

You have probably spent enough time listening and reading the news and talking to interesting people. What ideas did you hear today? Are they agreeable to God’s ideas? What is the most important idea from God’s word that is also important to you? Offer up a prayer centered on that idea.

January 12, Monday

Editor’s Note: The AMI Quiet Times for January and February are provided by P. Ryun Chang, Teaching and Resource Pastor of AMI.

Devotional Thoughts for This Morning 

Acts 11:19 (NIV): “Now those who had been scattered by the persecution that broke out when Stephen was killed traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, spreading the word only among Jews.”

Rom. 16:26 (NIV): “But now revealed and make known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God, so that all nations might believe and obey him.”

Azusa MenHistorically, the conservative churches in America have done poorly in the area of racial relations.  For instance, the Pentecostals, who should’ve set an example, were segregated from the very outset.  Even though the major Pentecostal denominations were begun by the whites who were anointed during the Azusa Street revival in Los Angeles (1906-9) under the leadership of the African-American clergy William Seymour, the black and white Pentecostals didn’t officially reconcile until 1994!

12aLuke, being a Gentile, knew that the Jews didn’t want to share God’s blessing with people like him.  In his later book, Acts, he recounted how the Jews sought to kill Paul (“Rid the earth of him!  He’s not fit to live!” 22:22) just because he declared, “The Lord said to me, ‘Go; I will send you far away to the Gentiles” (22:21).  Luke also noted that the Jews who were dispersed from the persecution in Jerusalem, shared the gospel only with other Jews—most of them simply didn’t care about the spiritual welfare of the Gentiles. Having been tossed around by the Grecian, Ptolemaic, Seleucid, and Roman Empire for four centuries, the Israelites were in no mood to share God’s blessings with them.

12bEvidently, Luke, writing his Gospel to Theophilus—likely a high Roman official—had a mission to declare to the Gentiles that the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son in the parables represented them, and a search would be made to find them.   Unlike the older son who didn’t care whether his brother lived or died, another Son, “the firstborn of all creation” (Gal. 1:15) “came to seek and to save the lost” (Lk. 19:10).  That is, the Gentiles are the other sheep that Jesus came to find: “I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen.  I must bring them also. . . . There shall be one flock and one shepherd” (Jn. 10:16).

To many, global evangelism may seem like a distant matter; but the next time you face a major trial, consider whether that was allowed in your life so that you may prioritize God’s mission.  Apostle Paul, wrapping up his monumental book of Romans, ends with, “So that all nations might believe and obey him.”

Prayer

God, I hold You in awe, knowing that You’re not a territorial deity, but a God of the whole universe who has created all things.   How majestic is your transcendence (beyond this world) and immanence (in this world) at the same time.  May my heart capture Yours so that I may love the nations as You do. Amen.

Bible Reading for Today: Isaiah 14

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Lunch Break Study 

Read 2 Kings 5:2-3, 15 (ESV): “Now the Syrians on one of their raids had carried off a little girl from the land of Israel, and she worked in the service of Naaman’s wife. [3] She said to her mistress, ‘Would that my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy’. . . . [15] [Naaman] stood before [Elisha] and said, ‘Now I know that there is no God in all the world except in Israel.’”

Acts 8:1, 20 (ESV): And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria. . . . But there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who on coming to Antioch spoke to the Hellenists also, preaching the Lord Jesus.”

Question to Consider

  1. How would you describe the circumstances that led the Israelite girl to Syria and how the Jerusalem Christians were led to Antioch? How do you think they might’ve felt?  How did they handle it?
  2. What is the significance of their respective accomplishment?
  3. How do you personally feel about missions? What adjustments do you need to make to take missions more seriously.

Notes

  1. Their lives were suddenly and forever changed by hostile outsiders who took them away from the comforts of their home. Even though this major trial must’ve made them feel sad, angry and fearful, evidently, they didn’t let go of their faith.
  2. They shared the blessing of God with non-Jews. Had the Jewish servant girl not told Naaman about Elisha, the leprous general would’ve never gone to Israel for a cure, which eventually led to his salvation. The Gentile church in Antioch, which eventually became a great missionary church (Paul and Barnabas), was initiated by the Jews who escaped from the persecution in Jerusalem.
  3. As a pastor, I never wanted to talk about missions for the longest time because I didn’t want to go. A serious of personal setbacks in the 1990s led me to hear God telling me to go missions; we did.  Maybe for some, you need to take a vision trip to see what God is doing in other nations.

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 Evening Reflection

Do you work with people of other ethnic backgrounds, perhaps followers of Islam or other religions?  Have you ever tried to befriend them?  That’s always the first step toward expressing God’s love to them.  Pray for them right now; reflect on what you can do to share God’s love with them.

January 11, Sunday

Editor’s Note: The AMI Quiet Times for January and February are provided by P. Ryun Chang, Teaching and Resource Pastor of AMI.

Devotional Thoughts for This Morning 

Luke 15:4, 8, 28 (NIV): “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it. . . . 

[8] Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Doesn’t she light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? . . . .

[28] “The older brother became angry and refused to go in.  So his father went out and pleaded with him.”

11aThe Christian faith in the wrong hands can turn into a weapon to condemn others, thereby one can feel superior about oneself.  Recall the prayer of the Pharisee who said, “I thank God that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers” (Lk. 18:10).  But in Luke 15, Jesus presents the parable of lost sheep, coin and son to show that “the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Lk. 19:10).  So, we see that the shepherd and the woman immediately set out to find what was lost; both say, “Rejoice with me” (Lk. 15:6, 9) upon finding it.  However, no one is looking for the younger son.  Theologian Edmund Clowney, when asked if culturally the father would’ve gone out looking for the son, responded, “The older brother would have done that”; but the older brother in the parable stays put.

11bAt the very least, the Pharisees, whom the older son represents, were known to “travel over land and sea to win a single convert.” Their problem was the message which made their convert “twice as much a child of hell as [they] are” (Matt. 23:15).  But the older son is acting worse than the Pharisees: first, he thinks worst of his brother, assuming his association with prostitutes (something Jesus never said); second, he doesn’t care whether his brother is alive or dead.  While the older son has always been near his father physically, his heart is as far from the father’s as east is from the west; while the father rejoices, the older son growls at the return of his brother.

Where the older son in the parable fails, another steps in: “His Son (Rom. 8:29 NASB), the firstborn among many brothers and sisters” (NIV).   There have been discussions over whom the father in the parable represents.   While the traditional answer is God the Father, some note that since the father is the one who suffers (i.e., shame and humiliation), he represents Jesus who suffered in order to redeem.  But unlike the elder brother in the parable who doesn’t care, the elder brother in God’s family does: he runs after the younger brother to keep him from being condemned by the villagers (Qetsatsah ceremony—see Jan. 8); he goes out to the older son who had been lost as well, to save him.

Those who have been believers for a while tend to become disgusted by sinners around them.  It is always easier to judge than reach out to them.  “On hearing this, Jesus said to them, ‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners’” (Mk. 2:17 NIV).

Bible Reading for Today: Isaiah 13

January 10, Saturday

Editor’s Note: The AMI Quiet Times for January and February are provided by P. Ryun Chang, Teaching and Resource Pastor of AMI.

Devotional Thoughts for This Morning 

Luke 15:25-30 (NIV): “Meanwhile, the older son was in the field.  When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. [26] So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. [27] ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’ [28] The older brother became angry and refused to go in.  So his father went out and pleaded with him. [29] But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. [30] But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’”

Is. 28:10 (NIV): “For it is: Do this, do that, a rule for this, a rule for that; a little here, a little there.”

10aDuring my earlier days as a Christian, I made up some good rules for myself so that I could please God.  Each day in my monthly calendar, I recorded how long I prayed (timed to seconds), how many chapters of the Bible I read, etc.  I felt great about myself for a while (partly because I was out-performing others), but once I couldn’t keep it up (lots of zeroes), I felt like God was displeased and even angry with me; as a result, I was joyless and felt bound.

10bThe Pharisees, Israel’s religious leaders, to whom this parable was told (15:2), knew that the “older son,” who couldn’t stand his younger brother, represented them.   They, too, couldn’t stand the sight of those whom they dubbed as “sinners,” consisting of tax collectors, who corroborated with the hated Romans, and prostitutes.   Why?  Because these spiritual lowlifes weren’t as holy and righteous as they who kept God’s laws.   Thus, they prayed, “God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evil doers, adulterers. . . . I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get” (18:11-2).   In their zeal to further differentiate themselves, the Pharisees tagged on additional rules, “such as the washing of cups, pitchers, and kettles” (Mk. 7:4).   Upon seeing those who didn’t keep their rules, the Pharisees condemned them, even saying to Jesus, “Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders” (7:5).

Part of the reason behind the spiritual descent of the Pharisees was because they grossly mishandled the benefits that came their way as a result of honoring God.  During the intertestamental period, when Israel was under the Gentile domination, many of them died as martyrs for defending the Torah; subsequently, they became very prominent and were highly respected by the Jewish people.   Liking the attention, the Pharisees looked for ways to make certain that they sustained their position.  In fact, they couldn’t hand out a bag of groceries to the poor without calling in the press to make sure that everyone was aware that they were obeying God (Matt. 6:2).   This is how the Pharisees and the “older son” became legalistic about their own faith, while judging the rest who couldn’t keep up with them.

As for my earlier spiritual journey, after months of feeling bad, I began to see that God’s acceptance of me is based on His acceptance of Christ’s works performed on my behalf; since I’m in Christ, God accepts me apart from my own “works, so that no one can boast” (Eph. 2:9).  Now, I can obey God out of gratitude and love towards Him instead of having to earn what has already been obtained in Christ.

Bible Reading for Today: Isaiah 11-12

January 9, Friday

Editor’s Note: The AMI Quiet Times for January and February are provided by P. Ryun Chang, Teaching and Resource Pastor of AMI.

Devotional Thoughts for This Morning 

Luke 15:23-4 (NIV): “Bring the fattened calf and kill it.  Let’s have a feast and celebrate. [24] For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.”

Matt. 21:28-31 (NIV): “What do you think?  There was a man who had two sons.  He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard.’ [29] ‘I will not,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went. [30] Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing.  He answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but he did not go. [31] Which of the two did what his father wanted?  ‘The first,’ they answered.”

Many years ago, our youth group drama team, for a Sunday service, did a skit about the Prodigal Son who now needed to work; after all, he had left the farm because he chose play over work.   Following the skit, I planned to show in my sermon that true salvation produces changes, like the first son in the Matthew parable who, after changing his mind (i.e., repenting), obeyed his father and went to work in the vineyard.

James, frowning on “faith” that elicits no changes, says, “What good is it . . .  if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds?  Can such faith save them?”  (James 2:14).   That is, merely saying that I believe, like “the demons [who] believe . . . and shudder” (2:19), is not an adequate evidence for a true faith.

8As for the skit, the team presented two prodigal sons who, after the weeklong party, are told by the father to rise up early to work; being grateful, they eagerly assure him that they would.  But once the morning arrives, the undisciplined sons struggle to rise: while son #1 never does, son #2 shows up late.  The father isn’t upset, but understanding.   By the end of the week, son # 1 finally arrives on time, while the other son, seeing that he doesn’t get punished, becomes brazen and makes no effort to get up to work.   Finally, the father pays the sleeping son a visit; meanwhile, the audience assumes that he is going to punish the son for taking his grace for granted.   Instead, the father says to his lazy and ungrateful son, “Let’s go have lunch.”  At that moment,  the song based on Romans 2:4 is played: “It’s your kindness that leads us to repentance, O Lord, knowing that you love us, no matter what we do, makes us want to love you too.”

The right information is necessary but is insufficient to change our selfish heart; rather, it is the realization of God’s amazing love bestowed upon callous and ungrateful people like us.  Today, be more mindful of being grateful to God; show it by being kind to undeserving people around you.

Prayer

O God, how beautiful and precious is Your amazing love for me! Your grace and mercy are like a deep well where there is no end to life-giving water that quenches thirst for meaning and life.   I love You, Lord, for the way You always take me back no matter what I do.  That motivates me to change.  Amen.

Bible Reading for Today: Isaiah 10

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Lunch Break Study 

Read James 2:20-4 (NIV): “You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? [21] Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? [22] You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. [23] And the scripture was fulfilled that says, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,’ and he was called God’s friend. [24] You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.”

Matt. 7:17-20 (NIV): “Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. [18] A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. [19] Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. [20] Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.”

Tit. 3:5-6 (NIV): “He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior. . .”

Question to Consider

  1. What is the clear teaching found in all the passages?
  2. Why are changes expected in a person who is saved? That is, is salvation a matter of agreeing to a set of correct information about salvation, or along with that, the Holy Spirit coming into our hearts?
  3. What are some inherent dangers when we wonder about the salvation of those who do not show much changes? What are some areas that you need to work on to bring your shortcomings under the Lordship?

Notes

  1. Jesus and Apostle James expected that those who say they are saved demonstrate it by corresponding work or changes. Faith alone without work is grounds for questioning the authenticity of that faith.  Martin Luther: “We are saved by faith alone but not by faith that is alone.”
  2. The gospel is the necessary information without which salvation is not possible; and the Holy Spirit turns that information into the truth that organically changes the heart. This doesn’t necessarily mean visible changes right away, but it does mean initial changes in intent, desire, will and attitude (inward dimension).
  3. There are several dangers: one, judging people based on a small sample; two, since the faith journey fluctuates for many, it would be unfair to judge them when they are momentarily down. I prefer that we examine our own salvation (2 Cor. 13:5) instead of someone judging it (1 Cor. 4:5).

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 Evening Reflection

As you review today, what were some good and constructive things you did today that you wouldn’t have done if you weren’t a believer.  That, in short, may be part of the work that affirms your salvation.