January 9, Friday

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

Devotional Thoughts for This Morning 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prayer

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

Bible Reading for Today: Isaiah 10

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Lunch Break Study 

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

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

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

Question to Consider

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

Notes

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

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 Evening Reflection

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

January 8, Thursday

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 15:20 (NIV): So he got up and went to his father.  “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

Rom. 8:33-4 (NIV): “Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. [34] Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.

In the 1980’s, no Christian song touched me like “When God Ran” (Benny Hester).  The powerful lyrics were sung passionately: “The only time I ever saw Him run, was when He ran to me, took me in His arms, held my head to His chest. . . Looked in my face, wiped the tears from my eyes, with forgiveness in His voice he said son, do you know I still love you.”

8Then in the 1990’s, an article (Kenneth E. Bailey) about the cultural significance of the “running father” jolted me.   According to the Jerusalem Talmud, during the time of Jesus, a ceremony called “Qetsatsah” was given to young Jews who lost their family inheritance to the Gentiles.  The villagers “would bring a large earthenware jar, filled it with burned nuts and burned corn, and break it in front of the guilty individual while shouting, ‘So-and-so is cut off from his people’. . . . Th[is] . . . shun appears to have been a total ban on any contact with the violator of the village code of honor.”

So, why did the father run?  He “realizes full well how his son will be welcomed in the village when he returns in failure.  Thus, the father also prepares a plan to reach the boy before the boy reaches the village.  The father knows that if he is able to achieve reconciliation with his son in public,” no one would dare perform the Quesatsah ceremony.   The father, in effect, was declaring, “I’ve forgiven my son, therefore, I won’t condemn him.”  Paul says it like this: “Who then is the one who condemns? No one. . . . Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1).

Mull on the running God, represented by an elderly Middle-Eastern father wearing a long cloak, who, in order to run, had to lift up the hem with his hands, thereby showing his bare legs—another act of humiliation to keep the son from being condemned.  And that’s what Jesus did for us by taking our place, humiliated and condemned to the cross, so that we may have life.  Share this good news with someone today.

Prayer

Oh Lord, I lift up Your holy name on high above all things in my life.  You are the supreme Ruler and King of my life.  How stunning it is to realize that You would run after me, even though I have said and done so many things to betray and deny You.  No words are apt to capture my gratitude.  Thank you.   Amen.

Bible Reading for Today: Isaiah 9

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Lunch Break Study 

Read Col. 2:13 (NIV): “When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ.  He forgave us all our sins, [14] having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross.”

Rev. 12:10 (NIV): “For the accuser* of our brothers and sisters, who accuses them before our God day and night….” *Satan

Gal. 5:1 (NIV): “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”

Question to Consider

  1. On what basis does the enemy (Satan) condemn and accuse us?
  2. In what manner was this condemnation taken away from us?
  3. If we truly understand and believe what was accomplished in Jesus for us, how should we live?

Notes

  1. “The charge of legal indebtedness” refers to all the laws of God that we have violated, which the devil (as if he were a prosecutor) uses to accuse and condemn us before God the Judge.
  2. God, as the law-giver, simply cannot forgive the violators as if they hadn’t done anything. Someone with a clean record (i.e., one who cannot be accused by the devil) must take the rap, which is what Christ did when he assumed the charge on our behalf by allowing himself to be nailed on the cross.
  3. We are now in a position to live in freedom. Other spiritual measures, such as discipleship, fellowship and inner-healing (for some), are also needed to make freedom an everyday reality, but it all starts with knowing that we’ve been set free through Christ’s victory over sin, death and devil.

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 Evening Reflection

In looking back to today, was there a moment when you tangibly sensed God’s awesome love for you?   Maybe it was an accident that you avoided, or an embarrassing situation that didn’t happen.  Look for God in small things in the context of everyday life.   Offer up a prayer of thanksgiving.

January 7, 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 

Luke 15:20-4 (NIV): So he got up and went to his father. “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. [21] “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ [22] “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. [23] Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. [24] For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.” 

1aWhat was the younger son thinking when it became evident that the blurry object from afar running towards him was his father? Perhaps, the son was assuming that the father was still fuming with anger, and even might have appeared to be so; his eyes might’ve been closed and his teeth clenched as the father lunged forward. But instead of a blow, the son was warmly embraced with a kiss, and given a hero’s welcome: a robe and ring of the highest quality, fancy footwear, and a party where nothing was spared. 7The stunned son was speechless; it was so unexpected. The words out of his mouth, initially part of a soliloquy to impress his father, now came out of the heart: “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.” The father’s grace had deeply moved him.

Many years ago, I used to exchange long e-mails with this seminarian, discussing many theological matters, including the order of salvation. Being a Calvinist who firmly upheld the doctrine of depravity of man (i.e., the corrupt man is unable to contribute anything to his salvation), he insisted that regeneration precedes faith because sinful humans, who are spiritually dead (Eph. 2:5), are unable to respond to the gospel on their own; thus, God must first make them spiritually alive so that they could believe. I used to tell him, “Don’t make science out of salvation; all aspects of salvation—regeneration, faith, repentance, justification—happen simultaneously.”  Now a seminary professor, he wrote me recently, saying, “I believe that regeneration and faith occur at the same time.”

However, one thing does precede everything else, and that’s what the younger son received from a father who not only forgave him, but gave him gifts that he didn’t deserve. This is called “grace,” of which Paul states, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God” (Eph. 2:8).

Not every day can be great, right? So, if today doesn’t go your way, remember that you’ve been tremendously blessed because the gift of salvation that was graciously given to you by God. Share that good news with someone today.

Prayer

My Lord and my God, how I love and praise You this morning.   All the glory and honor belong to You, especially in light of your amazing grace that no words can aptly capture. I am just thankful that your grace was more than sufficient to melt my crusty heart. Thank you. Amen.

Bible Reading for Today: Isaiah 8

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Lunch Break Study 

Read 1 Sam. 30:3, 8-10, 18-24 (NIV): “When David and his men reached Ziklag, they found it destroyed by fire and their wives and sons and daughters taken captive . . . [8] and David inquired of the Lord, ‘Shall I pursue this raiding party? Will I overtake them?’ ‘Pursue them,’ he answered. ‘You will certainly overtake them and succeed in the rescue.’ [9] David and the six hundred men with him came to the Besor Valley, where some stayed behind. [10] Two hundred of them were too exhausted to cross the valley, but David and the other four hundred continued the pursuit. . . . [18] David recovered everything the Amalekites had taken, including his two wives. [19] Nothing was missing: young or old, boy or girl, plunder or anything else they had taken. David brought everything back. [20] He took all the flocks and herds, and his men drove them ahead of the other livestock. . . . [21] Then David came to the two hundred men who had been too exhausted to follow him and who were left behind at the Besor Valley. They came out to meet David and the men with him. As David and his men approached, he asked them how they were. [22] But all the evil men and troublemakers among David’s followers said, ‘Because they did not go out with us, we will not share with them the plunder we recovered. However, each man may take his wife and children and go.’ [23] David replied, ‘No, my brothers, you must not do that with what the Lord has given us. He has protected us and delivered into our hands the raiding party that came against us. [24] . . . The share of the man who stayed with the supplies is to be the same as that of him who went down to the battle. All will share alike.’”

Question to Consider

  1. How would you describe the action taken by the two hundred men who quit the dangerous mission of rescuing their families? Do the four hundred men have the right to be upset at them?
  2. How would you differentiate the response by David and some of the four hundred men? Note: The two hundred didn’t have many supplies to guard since the Amalekites had taken everything.
  3. In what sense do David in this historical narrative and the father in the parable typify Jesus Christ? What is one thing that you can do today that would reflect that attitude/spirit of Christ?

Notes 

  1. The two hundred men were totally irresponsible, callous and selfish (like the son in the parable). In effect, they were saying to the four hundred, “Risk your life to save my families while I get my tan.” Of course, the four hundred men had a legitimate beef with them.
  2. On the one hand, the four hundred men treated the two hundred according to what they deserved: why should they get a portion of the plunder when they didn’t lift a finger to help out? On the other hand, David was being gracious with them, equally sharing the plunder with those who clearly didn’t deserve it.   “Staying with the supplies” was said in “love” because that wasn’t really true.
  3. David and the father typify the ministry of Christ in which he would die for an undeserving people to give them what they could never merit or earn. They beautifully capture the grace of God—a great favor imparted to those who least deserve it. Look for someone to do the same today.

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 Evening Reflection

Did you experience today God’s grace through someone who embodied it? Were you able grace someone with special favors? As you reflect on God’s grace, pray about gracing someone tomorrow.

January 6, Tuesday

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 

Lk. 15:16-20 (ESV): And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything. [17] But when he came to himself, he said, “How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! [18] I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. [19] I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.’” [20] And he arose and came to his father. . . .

Is. 58:3 (NIV):Why have we fasted,” they (Israelites) say, “and you (God) have not seen it? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you have not noticed?

6aThe 4th century British monk Pelagius, being austere and moral, insisted that man is “still capable of choosing good or evil without special divine aid.” To him, the younger son in the parable was being genuine. That, however, is tantamount to seeing man as capable of saving himself without God’s initiative; the two preceding parables in Luke 15 suggest otherwise.  The lost coin and the lost sheep didn’t return home on their own willpower; instead, they were found by their respective owners who searched for them.

6bThe lost son, who, at this point in the parable, has yet to encounter his father’s grace, is no different.   Lost in his sin, he is still clueless about his father’s heart, believing that his anger will only subside unless he becomes a servant. The son’s decision to return is a desperate attempt by a desperately hungry man who, once again, was scheming to get what he wanted: it worked once (making him rich) and it should work again, that is, if the right things are said with the right emotions, so that he can eat.

Once, the Israelites were upset at God for not noticing their fasting and humility. So God responded, “[You] . . . seem eager for [me] to come near [you]. . . yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please. . . . You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high” (Is. 58:2). Like the younger son, the Israelites were scheming to get what they wanted from God, thinking, if we skip a few meals and shed some tears, God will be moved to see things our way.

But that’s not how it works, since God knows “what [is] in man” (Jn. 2:25). God is not moved by our cheap ploys, however holy they may appear to others.   Instead, what He wants is this: “Experience first my kindness expressed in my Son Christ, then allow that to ‘lead you toward repentance’” (Rom. 2:4). Are you scheming these days to bend God’s arm to get what you want? Don’t.   Encounter once again His grace; repent then obey.

Prayer

Father in heaven, I adore You this morning for your kindness towards me. Though I have tried numerous times to trick You with my superficial spirituality, thank You that the Spirit in me has always shown me a better way—loving You with all my heart and obeying You wholeheartedly. Amen.

Bible Reading for Today: Isaiah 7

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Lunch Break Study 

Read Luke 5:4-8 (ESV):  “And when he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, ‘Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.’ [5] And Simon answered, ‘Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.’ [6] And when they had done this, they enclosed a large number of fish, and their nets were breaking. [7] They signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink. [8] But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, ‘Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.’”

Luke 19:5-8 (ESV): “And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, ‘Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.’ [6] So he hurried and came down and received him joyfully. [7] And when they saw it, they all grumbled, ‘He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.’ [8] And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, ‘Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.’” 

Rom. 2:4 (ESV): “Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?” 

Question to Consider

  1. What did Peter and Zacchaeus first encounter; and afterward, how did they respond to Christ?
  2. In what ways was Christ being kind to Peter and Zacchaeus?
  3. In what ways is God showing His kindness toward you these days? How should you respond to it?

Notes 

  1. They first experienced Christ’s kindness expressed towards them; as a result of being touched by Christ in this manner, they responded with penitence and repentance.
  2. Regarding Peter who obviously was both tired and disappointed over not catching a single fish despite working all night, Christ cared that he had enough fish, among other reasons, to feed his family. With respect to Zacchaeus, the chief tax collector whom everyone hated, Christ showed kindness by befriending him, even willing to stay at his house. Zacchaeus was moved and felt very grateful.
  3. Personally, God has been very kind to our two children by allowing them to complete college without incurring any debt. A proper response should consist of a grateful heart and being generous with those in need.

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 Evening Reflection

As you reflect on this day, did you scheme to somehow bend God’s arm to get Him to do what you want? While God will never do that, it is amazing how frequently we choose that route.   What is the situation that is causing you to scheme? What should you do instead?

January 5, 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 

Luke 15:14-6 (NASB):  “Now when he had spent everything, a severe famine occurred in that country, and he began to be impoverished. [15] So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. [16] And he would have gladly filled his stomach with the pods that the swine were eating, and no one was giving anything to him.”  

Lev. 11:7-8 (NASB): And the pig, for though it divides the hoof, thus making a split hoof, it does not chew cud, it is unclean to you. [8] You shall not eat of their flesh nor touch their carcasses; they are unclean to you.”

6Jesus has the penniless, younger son work alongside of, not sheep, but swine—the very animal he was told from a young age not to touch, much less eat.  The downward spiral of sin had reached its destination; there was no place to sink lower for this Jewish man who wished to eat the very pods that the pigs were consuming only if someone would offer them.  Perhaps, he whispered to himself, what good are the lessons my father taught me when my stomach is empty?

His spiritual regression was now complete: “After desire [for self-autonomy was] conceived, it [gave] birth to sin; and sin, when it [was] full-grown, [gave] birth to death” (James 1:15).  Having broken the father’s heart with ease, and wasted all his wealth on a reckless lifestyle, nothing sacred remained in his life; now, everything was negotiable.

King Ahaz of Judah grew up under a godly father (Jotham) who “did what was right in the eyes of the Lord” (2 Ki. 15:34).  But unlike his father, Ahaz “follow[ed] the detestable ways of the [pagan] nations.”  While it was hunger that made the younger son let go of the values he grew up with, for Ahaz, it was the invasion launched by a united army of Aram and the Northern Kingdom that led to forsaking his values.  Though desperate, instead of calling upon the God of his father for help, Ahaz sent messengers to the Assyrian king, saying, “I am your servant and vassal.  Come up and save me.”  To bolster his request, Ahaz “took the silver and gold found in the temple of God . . . and sent it as a gift” (16:7-8).

An unchecked sin has a snow ball effect: once allowed to reach a critical stage in our lives, we “may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness” (Heb. 3:13); as a result, we “remain[] stiff-necked after many rebukes . . . [and] suddenly be destroyed—without remedy” (Prov. 29:1).  Thus, it is imperative that those who live in sin heed Isaiah 55:6: “Seek the Lord while He may be found; call upon Him while He is near” (NASB).   Don’t wait until God is in the disciplinary mode (Heb. 12:7-12).  Repent today.

Prayer

O holy and righteous God in whom there is neither darkness nor deception, I worship and exalt You this morning.  Strengthen me, Father, to hate sin and to flee from the evil desires of youth; help me to pursue righteousness and a pure heart instead.  Thank You always for Your loving kindness.  Amen.

Bible Reading for Today: Isaiah 6

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Lunch Break Study 

Read Ezekiel 18:1-5, 10, 13-14, 17 (NIV): The word of the Lord came to me: [2] “What do you people mean by quoting this proverb about the land of Israel: ‘The parents eat sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge’?”  [3] “As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, you will no longer quote this proverb in Israel. [4] For everyone belongs to me, the parent as well as the child—both alike belong to me. The one who sins is the one who will die. [5] “Suppose there is a righteous man who does what is just and right. . . . [9] He follows my decrees and faithfully keeps my laws.  That man is righteous; he will surely live. . . .[10] Suppose he has a violent son, who sheds blood or does any of these other things. . . . [13] He lends at interest and takes a profit. Will such a man live?  He will not!  Because he has done all these detestable things, he is to be put to death; his blood will be on his own head. . . . [14] But suppose this son has a son who sees all the sins his father commits, and though he sees them, he does not do such things: . . . [17] He withholds his hand from mistreating the poor and takes no interest or profit from them.  He keeps my laws and follows my decrees. He will not die for his father’s sin; he will surely live.”

Question to Consider

  1. While we recognize parental influence over our children’s thoughts and behavior, this passage shows a different side to parenting. What is it?
  2. What does this passage reveal about free will and the basis for God’s judgment (2 Cor. 5:10)?
  3. What are some issues in your life which you have failed to take full responsibility for? Make a short list and then own them—meaning confess your sins to God and to the wronged party.

Notes

  1. Children do not automatically imitate the examples set by their parents, whether good or bad. A righteous father may end up with a wicked son; while from a wicked father may derive a righteous son.
  2. This passage ultimately dismisses any excuse offered by men who would rather blame their parents or social environment for their spiritual failures; God will hold each individual responsible for his actions because the proper exercise of free will can overcome even the worst parental example.
  3. Once, I found out to my horror that I came to the airport without my luggage. So as I began to shift the blame on my wife who drove me there, she reminded me, “I came out of the house first.”  Oops.  So I ended up taking this international flight without any clothes other than what I was wearing.

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 Evening Reflection

For most of us, at the end of day, it is hard to tell whether we actually sinned or not.  One reason is because our conscience has been so dulled to the point of normalizing what is clearly sin.  Take a moment to reflect whether you lied today or told something that wasn’t completely true for some gain.  Did you say anything that was intended as an insult or slight?  Confess; ask the Lord to help you not to repeat these sins.

January 4, 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 15:13-5 (NIV): “Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. [14] After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need.”

What was this guy thinking? Did he think that the money he had was going to last forever? Of course, when a person is preoccupied with seeking pleasure, he rarely thinks about the future, much less prepare for it.

Drinking Up Without SpanishI know this all too well from my wild college days. With three weeks left in school, I had no permanent place to sleep because my roommates and I had been evicted from the rented house near the campus because of too many loud parties. Being worldly and immature, I kept partying every day, without having secured a place to sleep on some evenings, only to realize at midnight that I had no place to go. So on several occasions, I snuck into my old, vacant house and slept in the cold basement with newspapers as my blanket. A few weeks later, when I read this parable for the first time after becoming a Christian, I readily saw myself in this younger son who lived the life of a fool.

There are a lot of things overrated in our trend- and viral-happy society—one of them is pleasure, whether physical, emotional or material. But nothing lasts; it gets mundane and boring.   King Solomon who once declared, “I denied myself nothing my eyes desire; I refused my heart no pleasure,” had this to say at the end of his days: “Everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind” (Eccles. 2:11). And anyone (not named Solomon or Bill Gates) “who loves pleasure will become poor; whoever loves wine and olive oil will never be rich” (Prov. 21:17).

So, what is your pleasure? Accumulation of wealth, moving up the corporate ladder, being seen with the right people, or wearing trendy, name brand clothes? Or is it still living a life of a party animal with lots of booze and drugs, and chasing after members of the opposite sex? Enjoy these moments, that is, if you can, because nothing in life apart from God brings lasting and permanent satisfaction.  The great church father St. Augustine, whose earlier lifestyle would rival that of a modern gigolo, confessed, You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.”

Take a moment right now to reconnect to your Creator whohas . . . set eternity in the hearts of men” (Eccles. 3:11); that longing for everlasting life as well as a meaningful life here-and-now can only be filled by the One who has made us.

Bible Reading for Today: Isaiah 5

 

January 3, Saturday

Devotional Thoughts for This Morning 

Luke 15:12-3 (ESV):   “And he divided his property between them. Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country….”

Is. 57:17 (NIV): “I was enraged by their sinful greed.”

partycityIn an agrarian society as in the biblical times, what was given to the younger son wasn’t like a cashier’s check worth one-third of the net asset (since the oldest received a double portion), but a deed transferring the ownership of the land and animals.  The son, before leaving for a distant country, first had to liquidate the property; thus, the Good News Translations says, “The younger son sold his part of the property and left home with the money.”

Imagine a knock on the door by a potential buyer and the clueless father who, upon opening it, was told by the stranger that he came to buy the land as advertised.   As the father was about to say, “You have the wrong house,” he is rudely interrupted by the younger son who says, “Dad, that’s for me.”   “Son,” says the trembling father, “that land has been part of our family for generations.”   The son, totally driven by self-interest and utterly indifferent to how his selfish action is affecting his old father, responds, “It’s my land now; I will do as I wish.”

That is what the human heart, ravaged by sinful greed, is really like: “More deceitful than all else and is desperately sick” (Jer. 17:7 NASB).  It is totally committed to the advancement of self-interest, whether relational or financial; it hardly thinks about its effect on others.  Every adultery or lie to bring someone down to advance one’s career is driven by selfishness and indifference.  And Jesus has the younger son embody that, to show its final outcome.

Of course, social science has long tried to obliterate the word “sin” out of existence, but that hasn’t stopped its destructive effect on people.   Over half a century ago, Hobart Mauer, who was the head of the American Psychological Association, declared, “If a psychologist is going be able to deal with the reality of shame and guilt, we have to somehow understand a new term.  We just can’t talk about it as wrong doing or maladjustment.  We may have to reintroduce the word ‘sin’ into the vocabulary of the psychologists.  I’m neither a believer nor a religious man.  I don’t even like the word ‘sin’ but it carries a greater sense of reality of what it is all about than the words we use.  I am just pragmatically borrowing the word only to be able to alleviate the sense of guilt and shame with which we live.”

sinAs we will discover from further study of this parable, there is only one way to deal with sin; and it is not therapy or psychoanalysis.   Ironically, the clearest response to this problem came from another psychologist, Larry Crabb, who simply said that “repentance” before a holy God was the answer.   Sadly, Mauer never reached that conclusion; he committed suicide.  What would the younger son do once his sin takes him to the deep bottom?  What would you do?  But there is a better way; turn back to God before reaching that gloomy state of hopelessness.  Do it today.

Bible Reading for Today: Isaiah 3-4 

January 2, Friday

Devotional Thoughts for This Morning 

Lk. 15:11-2 (TLB):  To further illustrate the point, [Jesus] told them this story: “A man had two sons. [12] When the younger told his father, ‘I want my share of your estate now, instead of waiting until you die!’ his father agreed to divide his wealth between his sons.”

Gn. 2:16-7 (NIV):You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil.”

2To a typical Middle-Eastern father, this was a preposterous request.  A brazen son making such an inappropriate request would’ve been thrown out of the house instead of being “coddled.”  So why does Jesus allow this father to appear so weak?   While that certainly doesn’t depict the Father in heaven whom we love and fear, Jesus is implicitly showing what free will is capable of: rejecting or accepting God; or obeying or disobeying Him.

Who hasn’t complained to God who allows evil in the world, but have we considered its alternative:  A world without free will wherein the push of a divine button set in motion human actions that would be predetermined?   Loving God in this manner wouldn’t glorify Him in the least.   Thus, one great gift that God bestowed upon humanity is free will, beginning with the first man; and whatever man decides—whether good or bad—God will honor.   And God has equipped us to make the right choices, but the responsibility of making those decisions belong squarely to man.

Around Christmas time in 1981, I made an important decision that would affect the rest of my life.   A few months after I became a believer in Los Angeles, my church sent me to Fresno to study at a Bible college.  While there, my faith had become so weakened that I decided to return home to Virginia.   Despite a friend’s plea to reconsider, I took a ride with another friend who lived in Silver City, NM.  While there, I was hoping to earn enough money to fly home, but while attending the church pastored by my friend’s father, an inner voice (i.e., the Holy Spirit) kept telling me to go back to L.A.   After struggling with this decision, I took a bus back to L.A. with borrowed money.   Upon meeting my pastor, I asked him to disciple me at his church, which he did for the next two years; and that became the spiritual foundation for the rest of my life.

So, what decision are you facing today?  Don’t be hasty; spend time in the Word and prayer to discern God’s will for your life.  You are free to disobey, but that would be an unwise usage of God’s great gift to us: free will (to choose His will).

Prayer

Dear God, I praise and exalt You this morning.  I especially thank you for the gift of free will that I would choose You out of my own volition.  What an awesome and terrifying responsibility, but at the same time, I am at peace knowing that You have not left me alone to figure this out on my own.  Amen.

Bible Reading for Today: Isaiah 2

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Lunch Break Study 

Read Joshua 24:15 (ESV): “And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

 John 14:26 (ESV): “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.”

Question to Consider

  1. What similarity do you see between what Joshua did with the Israelites to what the father in the parable did?
  2. What are some important ways in which God helps us (the believers) to make the right decisions?
  3. What are some decisions you are facing right now? How are you approaching them?  What changes do you need to make to wisely use your free will to submit to God’s will for your life?

Notes

  1. Joshua, recognizing the free will that the Israelites possessed, showed what the choices were. The father in the parable simply honored the choice his son made, even though it wasn’t the right choice.  They both showed the importance of making the right decision.
  2. At the moment of salvation, God pours out the Spirit on us generously (Tit. 3:6). The Holy Spirit’s main task is to guide the believers toward the right path by reminding them of the Words of Christ.  In this way, God has provided the necessary means—the Spirit and the Word— to make the right decisions.  Of course, this works best in the context of belonging to a body (i.e., church) where the different parts with unique giftings can minister to each other.
  3. As I am writing this, I am thinking about how I can help my children to make the right decisions for their lives that would honor God (such as, why go to college, and what to do afterwards).

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 Evening Reflection

As you look back to today, what important decisions did you face?  Did you already make them?  If not, spend some time in prayer, reflecting on the Scriptures (e.g., Proverbs 16:1-4), and to be led by the Spirit.

January 1, Thursday

Note: The January Quiet Time is based on the parables of Jesus.  The devotionals for Jan. 1-14 is based on the Parable of the Lost Son; read the entire parable today.

Luke 15:11-32 (ESV): And he said, “There was a man who had two sons. [12] And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he divided his property between them. [13] Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living. [14] And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need. [15] So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. [16] And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything.

[17] “But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! [18] I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. [19] I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.”’ [20] And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. [21] And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ [22] But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. 23 And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. [24] For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.

1a[25] “Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. [26] And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. [27] And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.’ [28] But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, [29] but he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. [30] But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’ [31] And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. [32] It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.’”

Devotional Thoughts for This Morning 

Luke 15:1 (ESV): “Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. [2] And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, ‘This man receives sinners and eats with them.’”

Certain stories are worth retelling, though their meaning may be slightly different when told to different audiences. My favorite story that I love to retell is what my father told his Hindu doctor, when told that he had only 4 months to live because of terminal lung cancer.

1bBut going back to today’s passage, isn’t it amazing that if Luke hadn’t included the oft-cited Parable of the Lost Son in his Gospel, no one would’ve known about it?  When this story was first shared by Jesus, his listeners were all Jews consisting of “tax collectors and sinners,’” and “the Pharisees and the teachers of the law” (15:1-2), respectively.  The legalistic older son represented the latter who mercilessly judged the reckless younger son who represented the former.   However, when Luke, the Gentile writer, retold this story, it was addressed to Theophilus (1:3), “the normal title for a high official in the Roman government” (Barclay).  So, in the context of making appeals to the Gentiles, the older son represented the Israelites who had no love for the Gentiles whom the younger son represented.  Subsequently, the original message aimed at the Pharisees—“Don’t be judgmental”—was now applied to the entire Israel; and the promise of God’s love and acceptance of Jewish sinners was now extended to the Gentiles who saw that Israel’s God was universal.   And that’s a story worth retelling!

As for my father, he said, “You say cancer; I say no problem. I like Jesus Christ. God blessed my life; I go when God calls.” The Hindu doctor, instead of being offended, was moved, saying, “I am happy to be here, to be in the moment with you because people do not respond this way with this kind of devastating news.”  When I retell this powerful story, I say it like this: “My dad’s apologetics was quite simple: When you get terminal cancer, then, tell the doctor, ‘No problem because of Jesus.’  That’s nothing like my apologetics, full of clever arguments that may titillate the mind but not much else.”

As we start the New Year, let’s really live for Jesus, building many memories worth sharing with our loved ones.

Prayer

Heavenly Father, I praise you and glorify You on this first day of 2015.  My heart is full of gratitude and thanksgiving because of Your continuous and ceaseless love toward me in Christ.  May this year be full of special memories in my walk with You, so that I can tell of your greatness to others.

Bible Reading for Today: Isaiah 1

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Lunch Break Study 

A very popular god among the Greco-Romans was Dionysus, the god of wine.  Believing that god was in the wine, its followers consumed much wine to get intoxicated.   John, now living in the Greek city of Ephesus in Asia Minor (Turkey today), wrote his Gospel to appeal to the Greeks.

Read John 2:7-10 (ESV): Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. [8] And he said to them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.” So they took it. [9] When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom [10] and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.”

Hosea 14:7: “They shall return and dwell beneath my (God’s) shadow; they shall flourish like the grain;
they shall blossom like the vine; their fame shall be like the wine of Lebanon.”

Eph. 5:18-9 (ESV): “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit,

[19] addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart,. . .”

Question to Consider

  1. What was John implying by including this story in his Gospel (the only gospel writer to do so) to reach out to the Dionysus-following and wine-drinking Greco-Romans?
  2. Utilizing these passages, how would you communicate the gospel to those who are chasing after worldly pleasure at the expense of knowing God?
  3. Paul says that we “are a letter from Christ . . . known and read by everybody” (2 Cor. 3:2). If you are the wine from Christ, known and drank by people who see you every day, how would it taste?  What areas do you need to improve so that they will say, “Ah the good wine!”

Notes

  1. John is implying that Jesus makes better wine than Dionysus; that is, while the consumption of literal wine only leads to debauchery, being filled with another kind of wine, the Spirit, will lead to security, joy and growth.
  2. Much like a hangover after a night of drinking much wine, the worldly pleasure outside of the will of God only leads to more problems, like loneliness, emptiness and broken relationships.  But when we live in God, under His protection, we can truly be content and joyous.
  3. For me, when I preach, I need to be more calm and collective; I need to be more patient with my children and wife (again!).

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 Evening Reflection

As you wrap up the first day of the year, share a moment through which God spoke to you today.  It doesn’t have to be loud or spectacular, but something that caught your attention, however brief.

AMI Quiet Times Evaluation

Hello Faithful Quiet Time Readers,

As we wrap up this year of AMI Quiet Times, we would like to get your feedback on the AMI Quiet Times thus far.  We plan on continuing the daily quiet time entries throughout the next year, and would like to hear how we can improve in the new year.

Please take some time to answer the following questions.  You may respond either directly to this post or email your answers to bkuboyama@gmail.com.

1) How have the AMI Quiet Times blessed you?

2) Which aspect of the quiet time entries did you enjoy the most?

3) How could we improve it for next year?

Thank you for your time, and may you be blessed as we wrap up this year together!

Warm regards,

AMI General Editors