January 20, Tuesday

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

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

Devotional Thoughts for This Morning 

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

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

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

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

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

Prayer

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

Bible Reading for Today: Isaiah 23

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Lunch Break Study 

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

Question to Consider

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

Notes

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

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 Evening Reflection

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

January 19, Monday

Devotional Thoughts for This Morning 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prayer

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

Bible Reading for Today: Isaiah 22

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Lunch Break Study 

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

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

Question to Consider

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

Notes

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

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 Evening Reflection

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

January 18, Sunday

Devotional Thoughts for Today

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

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

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

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

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

Bible Reading for Today: Isaiah 21

January 17, Saturday

Devotional Thoughts for Today

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bible Reading for Today: Isaiah 19-20

January 16, Friday

Devotional Thoughts for This Morning 

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

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

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

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

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

Prayer

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

Bible Reading for Today: Isaiah 18

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Lunch Break Study 

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

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

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

Question to Consider

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

Notes

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

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 Evening Reflection

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

January 15, Thursday

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

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

Devotional Thoughts for This Morning 

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

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

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

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

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

Prayer

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

Bible Reading for Today: Isaiah 17

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Lunch Break Study 

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

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

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

Question to Consider

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

Notes

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

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 Evening Reflection

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

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