January 25, Monday

Devotional Thoughts for This Morning 

Matt. 13:24-30: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field, [25] but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away. [26] So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also. [27] And the servants of the master of the house came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have weeds?’ [28] He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ So the servants said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ [29] But he said, ‘No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. [30] Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’”

25aDuring my morning jog in Villahermosa, Mexico, I slowed down to share the gospel with a young man coming my way.  After a few minutes into the conversation, he said he’ll return to his former church—“Kingdom Hall.”  Then I realized that he was a backslidden Jehovah’s Witness, but knew very little of its teaching (See Lunch Break Study 1/23).  So, I was in an awkward position of having to inform him of their beliefs, and then to refute them afterwards.

“Why bother,” some would argue, especially those who agree with this megachurch pastor who once quipped, “I’m too busy preaching the Gospel to split hairs. . . . Many . . . are dying . . . not . . . for the lack of theology, but for lack of love.”  But I think John, though known as the apostle of love (1 Jn. 3:11), would disagree.  Pointing to those who denied that Christ came in the flesh, thereby diminishing his humanity, he called them “the deceiver and the antichrist” who “do[] not have God” (I Jn. 1:7-8).  Folks, doctrine is serious business.

In the parable, which Jesus himself explained, (Matt. 13:36-42), “the good seed is the sons of the kingdom” while “the weeds are the sons of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil.”  More precisely, the seed is God’s word (Mk. 4:14) that produces the sons of the kingdom, while the weed is “a different gospel—which is really no gospel at all” (Gal. 1:7).  The one who stands behind the false gospel is “Satan himself [who] masquerades as an angel of light” (2 Cor. 11:14).  What then will be the final outcome of “sincerely” believing in a different gospel?  Jesus said, “At the end of the age . . . [the angels] will throw them into the fiery furnace.”

25bIt seems that many who “love” theology (e.g., “I’m a 5-point Calvinist”) lack love, while others who promote love find doctrine not as essential; yet instead of an “either/or” attitude, we should be  balanced and have both doctrine and love: “Speak[] the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15).  So, in love, I shared with the young Mexican some guidelines to find a church that preaches the true gospel.

Prayer

O LORD, You are the God who saves, and I am eternally grateful for your truth and the gospel!  Forgive me for keeping the truth of the gospel to myself, rarely sharing it with anyone.  May the Spirit stir my heart and sharpen my mind to earnestly and accurately share the good news with those around me, in love.  Amen.

Bible Reading for Today: Isaiah 30

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Lunch Break Study 

Read Acts 18:24-26 (NIV): “Now a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was an eloquent man, competent in the Scriptures. [25] He had been instructed in the way of the Lord. And being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, though he knew only the baptism of John. [26] He began to speak boldly in the synagogue, but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately. [27] And when he wished to cross to Achaia, the brothers encouraged him and wrote to the disciples to welcome him. When he arrived, he greatly helped those who through grace had believed, [28] for he powerfully refuted the Jews in public, showing by the Scriptures that the Christ was Jesus.”

Question to Consider

  1. What made the situation very sensitive between Apollos and Priscilla/Aquila?
  2. How did Apollos respond to what Priscilla/Aquila tried to do for him? What does this suggest about the manner in which this couple approached this sensitive matter?
  3. Is there something really important (spiritually or otherwise) that you have been wanting to share with this person whom you care about but have been putting it off? What is keeping you?  What do you need to do?

Notes

  1. Although Apollos was a formally trained teacher, this lay couple knew more about the actual life and ministry of Jesus Christ. Apparently, while Apollos knew all about the Messianic prophecies, he didn’t know that those have been fulfilled in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.
  2. Evidently, Apollos received the correction since he immediately applied it to his ministry. This suggests that Priscilla and Aquila spoke the truth in love, meaning they avoided insulting their teacher (“You don’t even know this”) while maintaining respect.
  3. Once, I corrected this godly Mexican pastor who made a mistake.  It was on my mind for a while but I finally decided to address it.  Having said that, no one should rebuke or correct anyone unless he is praying for that individual.  I guess this man thought that I did that in love; we still keep in touch.

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 Evening Reflection

Throughout the day, we have many different conversations.   Today, did anyone share a truth that you needed to hear (hopefully in love)?   How did you respond?  Perhaps, it was you who did that for someone—was it truthful and done in love?  Review your day; ask God to sanctify you with His truth (Jn. 17:17).

January 25, Sunday

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

Devotional Thoughts for This Morning 

Jn. 4:27-8; 39-42: “Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?” They came out of the town and made their way toward Him. . . . Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in Him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I ever did.” So when the Samaritans came to Him, they urged Him to stay with them and He stayed two days. And because of His words many more became believers. They said to the woman, “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.”

One movie released in 2014 that I enjoyed enough to watch more than once was Interstellar. Among other things, I loved the movie’s breathtaking setting of space; the suspenseful narrative which showcased the best and worst of humanity; the deeply moving Hans Zimmer soundtrack, etc. So whenever there was a discussion among friends or co-workers about good movies to watch, I would (and still do) enthusiastically recommend them to watch Interstellar. Seeing it for the second time with my sisters and watching them get engrossed in it only made me enjoy the movie even more than before

Perhaps you are not a movie watching person or have a different opinion about Interstellar. The point is that whatever activity you enjoy or person you admire; you will naturally praise it amongst others. To praise is to express admiration or approval and praise is so reflexive that we don’t even think about it. Great food from a restaurant, a person’s lifelong accomplishments; a highlight from one of our favorite athletes: all of these can be sources of praise. And whatever or whoever your praise may be about; it will most likely make its way into your conversations in person or perhaps into your statuses and tweets.

25The Samaritan woman mentioned in the verses above has often been described as one of Jesus’ first evangelists. After meeting Jesus, she enthusiastically praised Him and shared about His impact in her life with others; and as a result, many became believers. As people who have encountered Jesus in our lives, we too should praise Him and share about His life-changing effect with others. No doubt we may face barriers, but keep in mind that the Samaritan woman had her own obstacles as well. Her inferior status as a woman in Middle Eastern society and her reputation as an adulterer did not prevent her from sharing about Jesus in wise ways (i.e. using a rhetorical question instead of the declaration “He is the Messiah”, which others might have scoffed at or ignored).

But before we begin to praise Jesus amongst others, have we encountered Him recently? Have we remembered His goodness during our times of prayer or our reading of His Word? Methods and strategies are good for evangelism but what’s also important is a heart alive from meeting Christ. Let’s reach out our hands and ask Him to meet us where we are at this Sunday; that He will meet us so that we will naturally declare like David did, “I will praise you, Lord, with all my heart; I will tell of all the marvelous things you have done” (Psalm 9:1).

Prayer: Lord Jesus, I want to share about You with others but I know that I cannot out of my own limited strength and hesitancy. Help me to encounter You today and to tell of all the marvelous things that You have done. May my praise to You overflow from my lips unto the hearts of many this day and in the future. In Your name, I pray, Amen.

Bible Reading for Today: Isaiah 29

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