February 5, Thursday

Devotional Thoughts for Today

Lk. 10:29-31 (NASB)“A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among robbers, and they stripped him and beat him, and went away leaving him half dead. [31] And by chance a priest was going down on that road, and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. [32] Likewise a Levite also, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.”

Lev. 21:1 (ESV):Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Speak to the priests, the sons of Aaron, and say to them:

‘No one shall defile himself for a dead person among his people. . . .’

Many Korean churches list the names of the church members who tithe in their Sunday bulletin.   Naturally, most people would check to see, first, whether their name is included in the list, and second, whose name is not there.  So, does this practice generate more revenues for the church?  Not necessarily, since some people put whatever amount in an envelope and then write, “Tithe.”  Apostle Paul would refer to that as “having a form of godliness but denying its power” (2 Tim. 3:5).

5In many ways, the priest and Levite in the parable were no different: they appeared quite godly since they obeyed God’s law that kept the priests from touching the dead lest they became defiled.  Especially on this day, the priest and Levite couldn’t afford to do that since, presumably, they were heading to Jerusalem because it was their division’s turn to serve in the temple.   Knowing full well of the consequence of touching a dead body—“Whoever touches the dead body of any person shall be unclean seven days” (Num. 19:11)—they weren’t about to jeopardize this long awaited opportunity to shine.

But there was just one problem: the man wasn’t quite dead.  Before these two made a wide turn to pass by the other side, they were close enough to hear and see a man writhing in pain.   Had they touched him to help, while their fine outfit might’ve been stained by the man’s blood, it wouldn’t have made them unclean.   Thus, not helping wasn’t so much that they were concerned about being defiled but that they eschewed being inconvenienced and “look[ing] out for . . . the interests of others” (Phil. 2:4); nothing was going to stop them from getting what they wanted.  And like a criminal with a perfect alibi, these two had a perfect excuse: We thought he was dead and didn’t want to be late for the temple work.

Is looking good before people and getting what you want really important to you?  When we live like that, we miss out on opportunities to love our neighbors in need.   Let’s live our lives with a form of godliness without denying its power.  When you see an opportunity love a neighbor today, just do it!

Prayer

Lord, who isn’t guilty of desiring the praise of men rather than God?  I’m guilty of that a thousand times over.  How many times have I pretended to be holy before men when I was full of envy and resentment!  Forgive my sins and help me to care more about what You think than what men think.  Amen.

Bible Reading for Today: Isaiah 40

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Lunch Break Study

Read Matt. 6:1-4 (NASB): “Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven. [2] So when you give to the poor, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be honored by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full.  [3] But when you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, [4] so that your giving will be in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.”

Heb. 6:10 (NIV): God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them.”

Question to Consider

  1. What drove these people to do good deeds?
  2. What drives people to act like that? What do they want?
  3. What should motivate us to do good deeds? What are some areas in your life that are driven by your desire to appear godly while denying  its power?

Notes

  1. They really craved for people’s approval; they wanted people to think that they were really righteous, generous and kind. Is it insecurity or having been reared without receiving much love?  Or, is it a result of being praised too often?
  2. Ultimately, it is because they have no relationship with God, by choice. They have little or no relationship with God because they don’t prioritize spending time with God.  People who hunger for immediate gratification find God’s response too slow and God’s presence too intangible.
  3. By faith we do good because it matters to God; we do good because of its inherent goodness; we do good because it helps people; and it is okay to do good, knowing that God will reward us.

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 Evening Reflection

Did we face a situation today where we acted and talked holier and more loving than what we really were inside?  How can we walk more authentically with others and with the Lord?  Among other things, it won’t happen without spending some alone time with Him: “Be still, and know that I am God” (Ps. 46:10).

February 4, Wednesday

Devotional Thoughts for Today

Lk. 10:30 (NIV):  “In reply Jesus said:  ‘A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers.  They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead.’”

Matt. 7:24-6 (NIV):  “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. 26 But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”

In 1981, Rabbi Harold Kushner, after tragically losing a young son, wrote a book entitled, When Bad Things Happen to Good People.   If some preachers were to write a book based on Luke 10:30, they would name it, When Bad Things Happen to Bad People.  Noting that the man in the parable went from Jerusalem, the city of God, to the pagan city of Jericho, which was cursed by Joshua (6:26), many preachers have said that he was being punished for rebelling against God.

4a “Bobby” who was in my youth group in the early 1980s would’ve agreed with that conclusion.  After a teaching based on the wise and foolish builders, I had the students draw a picture to show what they’ve learned.  But when I saw Bobby’s drawing, it dawned on me that many Christians think this way:  In the world according to Bobby, the natural disasters (rain, flood, and wind) in the parable struck only the house built on the sand (i.e., “bad Christians”), but the house built on the rock (i.e., “good Christians”) was completely spared.

4bThe first time I really felt how illusory Bobby’s world was when my sister-in-law died of cancer at the age of 32; she left behind two small children.  The second time was when my brother-in-law also died of cancer at 43; he, too, left behind two small children.   Both were believers.   And I didn’t find much solace in Kushner’s words: “I can worship a God who hates suffering but cannot eliminate it, more easily than I can worship a God who chooses to make children suffer, for whatever exalted reason.”  But I felt that you should let the grieving parent mourn, while you bite your tongue and speak not.  Elihu bit his while listening to Job defend himself against his misguided friends, saying, “It profits a man nothing when he tries to please God” (34:9), until he could bear no more.

Job was wrong.  So was the rabbi.  At no time did God fail to be good and all-powerful.  Living in a fallen world, we’re grateful for the life that God has given us—mostly good things, but some bad—until we are called home.  Ultimately, we bite our tongue before a God who let his Son suffer so that we might live.

Prayer

Lord, I praise You for the life that You have given me.  While I complain when misfortunes come my way,  ultimately, I am thankful that these are golden opportunities for me to realize how good I really have it, especially living in the West.  This is all due to your unmerited favor. Help me to live for You.  Amen.

Bible Reading for Today: Isaiah 39

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Lunch Break Study

Read Jn. 5:14 (NASB): “Afterward Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, ‘Behold, you have become well; do not sin anymore, so that nothing worse happens to you.’”

Ps. 103:8-10 (ESV): “The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. [9] He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever. [10] He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities.”

Job 38:1-5 (ESV): “Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind and said: [2] ‘Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? [3] Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me. [4] Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. [5] Who determined its measurements—surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it?’”

Question to Consider

  1. Can sin cause sickness? If yes, give some examples.
  2. Does sin always cause calamities in life? Why or why not?
  3. Based on Job 38:1-5 (38-42), what is God saying to Job? What would God say to Rabbi Kushner?  What would He say to you the next time you complain about God because of something bad that has happened?

Notes

  1. Yes it can, but not always (Jn. 9:3: “Neither his man nor his parents sinned”). My brother-in-law died of lung cancer even though he never smoked, but things like drinking and smoking can shorten the average life span.   An example would be many deaths resulting from drunken driving.
  2. We never fully get the full consequences of our sins because God is always merciful. This is why complaining to God when bad things happen in our lives is a form of ungratefulness.  But we are all too human and God allows us to pout—we see this in psalms.  My favorite: “Awake , O Lord!  Why do you sleep?  Rouse yourself!” (Ps. 44:23).
  3. God is saying, “Don’t forget that I am the Creator, but you’re a creature with many limitations. You don’t understand everything that is going around you because of your finiteness.   Harold, I grieve with you over your son (Jn. 11:35) and because of your loss of confidence in me.  Believe in my Son Jesus; I let him suffer so that you might live.”

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 Evening Reflection

Did anything happen today that caused you to question God’s goodness or His power even for a moment?  It happens!  But let’s regroup before turning in; reflect on what God said to Job; and dwell on His infiniteness, while being very personal.  He can be trusted.  Proof?  A suffering Messiah Jesus.  Pray.

February 3, Tuesday

Devotional Thoughts for Today

Lk. 10:25-9 (ESV): And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” [26] He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” [27] And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” [28] And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”[29] But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

We read many conversations between Jesus and individuals in the Gospels; and these similar conversations continue to take place today.  So, when asked, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” did Jesus answer, “You’re asking the wrong question; everlasting life is not earned through good deeds; it is ‘by believing you may have life in [my] name’?” (Jn. 20:31).  We would assume that would be His answer, but that’s not what Christ said; rather, he asked, “What is written in the Law?”  Seeing that the lawyer responded correctly (“Love God and your neighbors”), Jesus said him, “Do this and you will live.”

But isn’t that a wrong response?  Didn’t Paul say, “It is by grace you have been saved, through faith . . . not by works” (Eph. 2:8-9)?  Here, Jesus wasn’t giving the lawyer the gospel; rather, Christ was helping him to recognize the spiritual blindness that was undermining his need for the gospel.

3To do that, Jesus went along with this man’s thinking based on the Law of Moses: “Keep my decrees and laws, for the man who obeys them will live by them” (Lev. 18:5), that is, obtain eternal life.  Therefore, “Do this and you will live” implies that the lawyer had failed to keep God’s law perfectly, and as a result didn’t have eternal life.   Feeling slighted, since he thought otherwise, the lawyer “wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’”  This is when the parable of the Good Samaritan is given, not necessarily because Jesus wanted to emphasize a lesson on loving our neighbors, but to help the lawyer see that “all our righteous acts are like filthy rags” (Is. 64:6).  Once the lawyer recognizes that, he is ready, not only to hear the gospel, but to believe it as well.

Too many of us believe the right facts about Jesus and stop there; but he wants us to grow as a person.  Therefore, he continues to engage in probing dialogues with us through the Holy Spirit so that we can own up to our mistaken assumptions about life, God, and us.  Listen to him: believe and live.

Prayer

O God, we eagerly keep up with our Facebook, posting that one photo out of 100 that makes us look attractive and having fun, as if our significance depends how many likes we get.  But seeing that the Son of God desires to have dialogues with me as if I matter to him, I feel very significant.  Thank you!  Amen.

Bible Reading for Today: Isaiah 38

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Lunch Break Study

Jesus said that his “sheep listen to his voice” (Jn. 10:3).  That means Christ continues to speak, but in what sense?  Since the voice isn’t referring to a new revelation apart from the Scripture, what is it?

Rom. 8:16 (NIV): “The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.”

Jn. 16:13 (NASB): “But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come. [14] He will glorify Me, for He will take of Mine and will disclose it to you.”

Acts 16:19 (NIV): “During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us’”; 17:11: “For [the Bereans] received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.”

Question to Consider

  1. How does Christ continue to speak to us today?
  2. What is the basis for the voice of Christ spoken through the Spirit to our spirit?
  3. What do we need to do in order to hear and discern what Christ is saying to us?  If you were to do that today, what would you hear?

Notes

  1. He speaks to us through the Holy Spirit who is in communication with our own spirit, making it possible for us to hear what Christ wants us to know and/or do at a given moment. This doesn’t just happen; or even if He speaks, we may not hear due to allowing too many noises in our lives. Nevertheless, Jesus himself told us that we will be guided to all truths through the Spirit.
  2. Whether it is an image, vision, word or impression that we believe came from the Spirit, it must correspond to what is plainly stated in the Scriptures. That’s what the Bereans did with Paul’s teaching, and we should do the same as well.  For example, I know of a person who felt that the Spirit told him to divorce his wife and marry this other woman to become a missionary.   That cannot be from God.
  3. Any measures taken to improve our physical hearing would apply to our spiritual hearing as well: get rid of noise (e.g., too much entertainment); lower the volume of other sounds (e.g., perhaps reading too many theological books), pay attention to what is being said (e.g., praying in a quiet place); if not clear, ask questions (e.g., staying in prayer); jot down what you hear.

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 Evening Reflection

We began the day thinking about how Christ, who, while on earth, conversed literally with people, continues to speak to us today in our spirit.  Let’s tune out any noise and stand before “the council of the LORD to see and hear his word” (Jer. 23:18).   His sheep listen to the Shepherd’s voice.

February 2, Monday

Note: The devotionals for Feb. 2-6 are based on the Parable of the Good Samaritan; read the entire parable today.

Lk. 10:30-6 (ESV): Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. [31] Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. [32] So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. [33] But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. [34] He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. [35] And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ [36] Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?”

Devotional Thoughts for Today

Lk. 10:25 (NIV): On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. ‘Teacher,” he asked, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’”

Matt. 11:28 (NASB): “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.”

2aWhile some teenagers may come to church to meet cute boys or girls, and some grownups for business opportunities, this lawyer came to Jesus for an entirely different reason.  Here, the lawyer came “to test” Jesus, which the Greek word ekpeirazō is used; but the same Greek word is used when Jesus tells the devil, “Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God” (Matt. 4:7 KJV).  While testing measures a student’s progress, tempting is to seek his downfall; this lawyer “tempted Jesus” (KJV).  He probably belonged to a group of “Pharisees and Herodians” who tried “to catch [Jesus] in his words” (Mk. 12:13) to accuse him.

So, is there any unacceptable motive for going to church or reading the Bible?  Absolutely none.  Simon Greenleaf, Professor of Law at Harvard in the middle of 19th century, believed the resurrection of Christ to be a hoax.  Ironically, after setting out to expose its “myth,” his research led to the exact opposite conclusion.   Greenleaf, then, wrote a book, Examination of the Testimony of the Four Evangelists by the Rules of Evidence Administered in the Courts of Justice, in which he said, “It was impossible that they could have persisted in affirming the truths they have narrated, had not Jesus actually risen from the dead.”

2bThe first film to win 11 Oscars is “Ben-Hur,” based on the bestselling novel, Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ, by Lew Wallace in 1880.  He began that project with “no convictions about God or Christ”; writing was only an outlet for his creativity.  But, an unexpected thing happened.  Wallace said, “I need to do the research; I need to learn the Bible. . . . Long before I was through with my book, I became a believer in God and Christ.”

This lawyer in the parable came with the worst motive possible, but Christ would soon place him where he would be a step away from salvation.   So, what is keeping you from going to church or reading the Bible?  For whatever reason, go to church and read the Bible; and if you’re intellectually honest, you will find that Christ makes sense—you will find rest in him.

Prayer

No motive is hidden before you, Lord; for You know what is in a man.  Regardless, You do not reject any person for coming to you, even one with the worst motive, like Judas and like this lawyer.   Your love is so unfathomable; so unlike anything this world has to offer.   I love and worship You!  Amen.

Bible Reading for Today: Isaiah 37

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Lunch Break Study

Read Is. 55:1-3 (ESV): “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat!  Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. [2] Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food.[3] Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live . . .”

Jn. 6:35 (ESV):Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.’”

Question to Consider

  1. What is the irony of this contrast? Give an example of what some people “buy” to be happy.
  2. Is God talking about a balanced diet of meat and vegetables, or is it something else?
  3. How is your spiritual diet? Are you eating healthy spiritually?  What is lacking in your present eating habit?

Notes

  1. People don’t take advantage of the free things which are so good for them; rather, they pay for things of the world which are harmful for them. A good example is plastic surgery: it may improve the outside but without the change inside, nothing really changes.
  2. Bread refers to Jesus as well as the Word of God. Jesus said, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God’” (Matt. 4:4).  Without eating for a long time, people die of hunger; without consuming spiritual food for a long, people die spiritually being alienated from God, others, and even self.
  3. Some people fill their spiritual diet with Christian music or books; those are good fillers but not the main staple—a biblical spiritual diet, consisting of a solid understanding of God’s Word (to be applied immediately) and a consistent prayer life that has depth and length.

 

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 Evening Reflection

Did anything you did today make you feel distant from God?  Did you entertain some wrong motives in what you did or say?  We learned today that nothing should keep us from coming to Him.  Come to the Lord right now; buy from Him that which we can never buy from app stores or Amazon.

February 1, Sunday

Editor’s Note: The AMI Quiet Times for January 31 and February 1 are provided by Christine Li of TRPC, NYC.

Devotional Thoughts for Today

Mark 9:17-8, 23-4: “Teacher, I brought you my son, who is possessed by a spirit that has robbed him of speech.  Whenever it seizes him, it throws him to the ground.  He foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth and become rigid. . . . Jesus [said,] ‘Everything is possible for him who believes.’  Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, ‘I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!’”

This father desperately wanted his sick son to get better; but even with Jesus at his side, he doubted whether anything will change.  Isn’t that like us?  Though we know that God is all-powerful, when it comes to changing people’s hearts, we tend to give up based on our experience that nothing is changing.

1There was a girl I knew very well when growing up. Though she was not a believer, she was curious about what we believed and sometimes attended my local youth group. However, during a one-on-one conversation, a member of my church told her without further explanation, “You are going to hell!” Deeply offended, she stopped speaking to us and stopped showing any interest in coming out again. Nobody knew how to explain the Gospel with great sensitivity, and though we tried to mend some bridges and attempted to explain more fully each person’s true need for Christ, it seemed too much damage had been done.

Not too long after, she and I fell out of our friendship, and I gave myself many convenient reasons not to approach her again. Occasionally, I would think back but always concluded that too much time had passed and too much hurt was caused. I felt that her lingering bitterness was justified, and though I hoped this would not be the end of the journey for her, I also thought, more “realistically,” that we had ruined her for any desire to hear the Gospel message again.

Imagine my surprise (more than ten years later) to see on Facebook that this girl is now happily attending a local church through a friendship with some other girls from our hometown! The person I thought who would never be open to anything to do with church again, by God’s amazing grace, had come to know Him. To me, this came as not only a miraculous display of God’s power but also a sharp rebuke, as I had long since put any thought into this hopeless situation.

Our abilities and efforts will naturally fall short when we meet challenges regarding the people in our midst, and our failure should be a reminder to us that only by God’s power do circumstances and people miraculously change.  It is easy for us to let present failures dictate our faith and much harder to put our hope in the power of God. If your strength, your brain, and your heart have failed, then, be vulnerable and humble before God and say, “Lord, help me overcome my unbelief, discouragement and hopelessness.” You can be sure that He will either use you to work and bring the situation to a close, or He Himself will do all the work and provide a miracle for all to see.

Let us draw near to God again, today, asking for strength to battle our unbelief.

Prayer: Father, I come before You knowing that I am poor in power and poor in Spirit, but You are rich beyond measure in love and in means. My failures cannot stop You from doing Your work. Do not let the present circumstances tell me something different about what You are able to do; help me to live by faith and not by sight! Help put away my unbelief by reminding me of the firm foundation of Your power and Your love today.

Bible Reading for Today: Isaiah 36

January 31, Saturday

Editor’s Note: The AMI Quiet Times for January 31 and February 1 are provided by Christine Li of TRPC, NYC.

Devotional Thoughts for Today

Matthew 8:32: [Jesus] said to [the demons], “Go!” So they came out and went into the pigs, and the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and died in the water. Those tending the pigs ran off, went into the town and reported all this, including what had happened to the demon-possessed men. Then the whole town went out to meet Jesus. And when they saw Him, they pleaded with Him to leave their region.

31In this recounting, Jesus drives demons out of two demon-possessed men who had been living among the tombs. Either by the demons’ choice or their own, these men were isolated from society due to their condition. Upon meeting them, Jesus frees them by sending the demons into a nearby herd of pigs (which promptly drowns), much to the shock of those tending the pigs.

What a tragedy it seems that, on the heels of a great miracle, the townspeople’s foremost reaction was to ask Jesus to leave.  Driving out the demons could have been a glorious display of God’s power; it could even have been a source for great joy for the town to be able to take the two men back home. However, thinking instead of the great costliness of losing those pigs, they did not welcome the work that Jesus was doing. They would have rather kept their pigs than the two restored men or even Jesus, who exhibited a power that had not been seen in generations.

It would be so easy to shake our heads at the citizens and think about how much they missed out in turning Jesus away. But we are no better; we make similar decisions each day. We know that if we let Christ into our lives, He intends to drive out every sin that causes spiritual sickness. So we do not welcome Jesus into our lives as eagerly as we ought because we have a suspicion that He will want to change too many things. He might make us give up some things we want to have. He might even have us lose some material security that we hold onto tightly.

With the hindsight of 2000 years since Jesus’ life, we know that the townspeople made a poor decision, choosing to lose out on the very presence of God incarnate. Let us pray that we will not have the same foolishness in our lives and that we will far prefer the changed life that He wants to give us. May we never turn Christ away from the gate in order to keep our pigpens.

Prayer: Father, I know that if I were to bring my life under Your examination, I would surely fail Your standards. Perhaps that is why I do not ask You to search my heart more frequently. But, LORD, if You cleanse me, then I will be a thousand times more satisfied than if I keep You at arm’s length. Do what is best for me, LORD. Come into my life and heal me so that I may live for You.

Bible Reading for Today: Isaiah 34-35

January 30, Friday

Devotional Thoughts for This Morning 

30aLk. 7:37-50 (ESV): And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, [38] and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment. [39] Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.” [40] And Jesus answering said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” And he answered, “Say it, Teacher.” [41] “A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. [42] When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?” [43] Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.” [44] Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. [45] You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. [46] You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. [47] Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” [48] And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” [49] Then those who were at table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this, who even forgives sins?” [50] And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

Just two months after I arrived in Mexico, when my Spanish was still shaky, I was asked to speak at the men’s regional retreat of the United Methodist church.  But I still understood most of what was said during testimony time. Three words summed up their past life: drinking, violence and women.  Their testimony was that now, having been redeemed, they felt like the man whose great debt was cancelled; they felt like the woman with a sordid past whose sin Christ forgave.  And they were grateful to God.

This parable seems to suggest that those who are redeemed from a sinful lifestyle can sense God’s love and grace more readily than those who have always behaved; as a result, they love God more than others. After all, Jesus tells this story in response to a Pharisee, a moral person, who questions him for allowing the sinful woman to touch him.

But this parable isn’t saying that at all; in fact, those who have sinned less can love God even more.  On the last day of conference, the bishop, a man in his mid-40s, said this: “While I thank God for these wonderful changed lives, my story is different.  Having grown up in a Christian home, I’ve never drank, been given to violence or cheated on my wife.  But it was all because of God’s grace, and that is my testimony.”

Additionally, this parable isn’t saying that some sinners owe more to God than others (500 vs. 50 denarii). Whether we’ve broken God’s laws a thousand times or just once, we’re equally lawbreakers before God (James 2:10-1).  A spiritual danger that Christ points to is our tendency to assume that we aren’t as sinful because of our impressive piety (“I fast twice a week and I give a tenth of all I get”); so, we further assume that we’ve been forgiven of 50 denarii worth of sin instead of 500.  That is what kills spirituality because that leads to loving and appreciating God less.

Instead, be like the woman in this parable (and not like the Pharisees) who wasn’t concerned about what people thought, but showed love for God in earnestness and humility.

Prayer

O God, You are to be exalted and lifted on high, for your loving kindness towards me continues to be unfathomable!   How awful for me to fathom that I can contribute something toward my own salvation or that I’m not as sinful as others.  Forgive me for my arrogance and foolishness.  I love you Lord.  Amen.

Bible Reading for Today: Isaiah 33

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Lunch Break Study

Read James 2:8-10 (NASB):If, however, you are fulfilling the royal law according to the Scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing well. [9] But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. [10] For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all.”

Ps: 143:5 (NASB): “I remember the days of old; I meditate on all Your doings; I muse on the work of Your hands. [6] I stretch out my hands to You; My soul longs for You, as a parched land.”

Phil. 3:7-8 (NASB): “but whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. [8] More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ. . . .”

Question to Consider

  1. What would you say to someone who feels like he/she is less of a sinner than others?
  2. What spiritual/mental exercise can help us to appreciate God more even as we are becoming more pious (meaning sinning less than before)?
  3. What are some spiritual conditions in your life that cause you to be less appreciative of God, thereby loving Him less? What can help us to stay humble?

Notes

  1. It only takes one break in a rope for a mountain climber to fall to his death. Likewise, one who commits a crime once or ten times is deemed as a criminal before the law. Similarly, one who breaks God’s law once or hundred times is the same: they’re both law-breakers who face the same consequences.
  2. First, we constantly remind ourselves (like during our prayer times) the miserable state that we were in (sordid lifestyle, loneliness, alienated self, etc.) before meeting Christ; second, we quickly forget the good works we have done or the accolades we have received from men.
  3. One thing that can keep us in check is people’s criticism of us. While in Mexico, most pastors who I worked with really appreciated my ministry and liked me as a person.  But there were exceptions: I always tried to use their criticisms to remind myself to stay humble.

 

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 Evening Reflection

Review your day.  Did anything occur today (good or bad) that helped you to appreciate and love God more?   Reflect on what happened; thank the Lord for such an opportunity; be grateful for your salvation.

January 29, Thursday

Devotional Thoughts for This Morning 

Lk. 18:1-8 (NIV): Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. [2] He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought. [3] And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’ [4] “For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, [5] yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!’” [6] And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. [7] And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? [8] I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”

Perhaps, the widow facing injustice is in a situation similar to that of another widow who says to Elisha, “. . . you know that [my husband] revered the LORD.  But now his creditor is coming to take my two boys as his slaves” (2 Ki. 4:2).  Whereas Elisha is willing to help the widow, the judge in the parable is not.

Sometimes, to stress a point, an absurd argument is used.  Ruth Graham once said, “If God doesn’t soon bring judgment upon America, He’ll have to go back and apologize to Sodom and Gomorrah!”  She meant that Americans were steeped in sin.  Jesus does the same here: to show the effectiveness of persistent prayer, he has to make the judge (who represents God) out to be indifferent and uncaring.  If the judge were to be kind and willing, then there would be no story to tell.

29aFor a long time, the judge shows zero interest in addressing the widow’s grievance; her lack of stature only adds to his indifference.  But the judge’s mind wavers as she keeps shouting and even banging on the door; he is clearly overwhelmed by it.  As the days turn into weeks, the judge, out of sheer exhaustion, relents; she gets what she came for: justice.

Ultimately, although God isn’t like an uncaring judge, He still may not respond right away so that we can learn to pray persistently.  On the other hand, God may respond immediately, as Elisha says to the widow, “How I can I help you?” and immediately provides a miraculous way for her to pay the debt (2 Ki. 4:7).

Praying consistently both in depth (“[Jesus] prayed more earnestly” [Lk. 22:43]) and length (“Could you men not keep watch me for one hour” [Matt. 26:40]) may just come down to developing it as a habit.   Some scientists say that a typical person needs at least 3 weeks to form a good habit.  Two components are necessary to develop any habit: intentionality and a plan.  So decide that you are going to develop a prayer life where you pray daily for a significant length; develop a prayer strategy that includes adoration (praise), confession, thanksgiving, supplication and intercession.   Just pray!

Prayer

Lord, what am I that the God of this universe would heed to my words!  It is beyond comprehension that I matter that much to You.  O God, if I just stop for seconds to think about this amazing reality, nothing in life can make me really sad.  Father, accept my prayer as a fragrant offering unto You.  Amen.

Bible Reading for Today: Isaiah 32

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Lunch Break Study 

29bRead Lk. 2:46-55 (NIV): And Mary said: ‘My soul glorifies the Lord [47] and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, [48] for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant.  From now on all generations will call me blessed, [49] for the Mighty One has done great things for me—holy is his name. [50] His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation. [51] He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. [52] He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. [53] He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty. [54] He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful [55] to Abraham and his descendants forever, just as he promised our ancestors.’”

Question to Consider

  1. How does Mary begin her prayer? Why is that important?
  2. What does Mary pray after that? What is the significance of doing that?
  3. Consider structuring your prayer under this acronym: A-C-T-S: adoration, confession, thanksgiving and supplication (including intercession, that is, praying for the needs of other people; this part should be the longest). Write out a quick prayer under each letter.

Notes

  1. She begins with a declaration, praising God: “My soul glories the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God.” When speaking to a waiter, we don’t say, “My stomach glorifies the chef”; we just get to the point.  However, we shouldn’t speak to God as if He were taking our order (“easy on the butter”).
  2. She recalls all the powerful, faithful and merciful things that the Lord has done in the past on behalf of her people; this, no doubt, gives her confidence that He can help her cause as well.
  3. A: Father, I acknowledge You as my loving yet sovereign Ruler of my life; C: I confess that I have repeatedly failed to acknowledge You in my everyday life; T: I thank You for always forgiving me and providing for my needs; S: Lord, I pray that you will provide for the education of my children.

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 Evening Reflection

As we wrap up this day, I think it is appropriate to end it with a heartfelt prayer as we meditate on this verse: “How much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask Him!” (Matt. 7:11).

January 28, Wednesday

Devotional Thoughts for This Morning 

Matt. 13:44-46 (NIV): The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field. [45] Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls.  When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.”

I still remember a story told by a stranger some 30 years ago.  It was a dialogue between the merchant looking for a fine pearl and its owner.

28a“How much?” asks the merchant, to which the owner responds, “It’ll cost you everything you have.”  Although the buyer offers all his cash and property, the seller demands even more.  Upon being told, “I’ve nothing else except my wife and children,” the owner says, “They become mine too.”  Though the merchant is troubled by what this is costing him, he reluctantly gives them up, but the seller isn’t done, saying, “There is one more thing I want.”  Feeling indignant, the buyer shouts, “I don’t have anything else!” But the seller retorts, “You become mine, too.”  Does the merchant want the pearl that desperately?  He must have, since the phrase “sold everything he had” could extend to selling himself as a slave, especially in the antiquity when this was practiced (Gn. 44:16).  But as the pearl is being handed over to the buyer, the seller says, “You can take back everything—cash, property, you and your family –I’m lending them to you; when I need it, I’ll take it back.”

On the surface, the two parables in which seekers sell all their possessions to buy treasure and pearl, respectively, appear to suggest human effort to get into the kingdom of heaven.   But that’s exactly what Christ paid for—everything—in order to purchase (i.e., redeem) us from the slave master for God.

John writes, “For You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation” (Rev. 5:9 NASB).  Subsequently, while we’re now free from the slavery to sin and death (Heb. 2:14), we now belong to God: “You are not your own; you were bought with a price” (1 Cor. 6:19-20).

28bThis parable tells us not to “offer sacrifice to the LORD . . . that cost [us] nothing” (2 Sam. 24:24).  Since everything we own belongs to Christ who paid for them with His life, when He calls for them, whether it be our availability, money, career, kids or spouse, we “give . . . to God what is God’s” (Matt. 22:21).  What is He asking  you for right now?

Prayer

How precious, O God, is the sacrifice of your Son on my behalf so that I may be removed from the kingdom of darkness where hopeless reigns, to the kingdom of light where righteousness, peace and joy reign.  Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unending love and grace.   I love You.  Amen.

Bible Reading for Today: Isaiah 31

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Lunch Break Study 

Read Lk. 14:25-28, 33: “Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: [26] ‘If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. [27] And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. [28] Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? [29] For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, [30] saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish. . . . [33] In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.’”

Question to Consider

  1. What did Jesus mean by “hating” father and mother for His sake?
  2. What is a sensible and yet biblical way to approach our commitment to God?  If we are not careful, can this approach can backfire or lead to stagnancy?
  3. What is the hardest thing for you to give up for the Lord? How can you obey God in this area?

Notes

  1. It simply means that we must love God first, so much so that when compared to our love for anyone else, including parents and children, it is as if we are hating the latter.
  2. Our commitment level must reflect our present capacity to reach it; setting the bar too high without having been discipled to reach it will lead to personal disappointment and public ridicule. But the bar should be placed a bit higher than our present capacity so that it will take faith to reach it. As the bar is increased incrementally, so will our faith and capacity in Christ to reach it.
  3. For me, it is my temper. Lord, help me to give it up!

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 Evening Reflection

During the course of this day, did you sense that God wanted you to do something (e.g., reaching out to a friend, being generous to someone in need, praying instead of doing FB)?  How did you respond?  Review the day and ask the Lord to give you a better day of obedience tomorrow.

January 27, Tuesday

Devotional Thoughts for This Morning 

Matt. 13:31-3 (ESV): “He put another parable before them, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field. [32] It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.’ [33] He told them another parable. ‘The kingdom of heaven is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened.’”

27aA famous author on leadership (a former pastor) was impressed by how Enron got so huge, very fast (“A decade later . . . the revenues were $101 billion . . . its assets . . . $53 billion”). No one knew then that the heads of this energy company hid, using deceptive accounting methods, enormous debts from bad deals. The oversight made by this author is the kind that some pastors and businessmen make: being mesmerized by anything that grows very fast, and then copying what appear to be impressive methods.

God’s kingdom, however, doesn’t grow like that. Seed and leaven have this in common: its growth is gradual, but once grown, it affects the whole in influence (“all leavened”) and size (“larger than all”). True kingdom growth isn’t fuelled by upgrades or clever ads; instead, it’s predicated upon two things working in unison: God’s word and sacrifices.

Certainly, for God’s kingdom to be initiated, it’s our responsibility to faithfully sow the word; once that is done, “the word of God that is sharper than any double-edge sword” (Heb. 4:12) can grow it all by itself. “This is what the kingdom of God is like,” said Jesus, “A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how” (Mk. 4:27-8). The soil is fertilized by sacrifices of true believers who “shar[e] in [Christ’s] suffering, becoming him like him in his death” (Phil. 3:19) by dying to their agendas and carrying out God’s plan.

27bA while back, I met a Vietnamese pastor who suffered for 3 years in prison for his faith. But his church, instead of dwindling during his absence, grew; and some 30 years later, it had 423,213 members in 2,388 churches. In China, after the communists drove out all western missionaries following the Cultural Revolution in 1949, many in the West worried that the church would die out under communist persecution; instead, it flourished throughout China: from 840,000 to 100 million believers by 2007.

So, whether it be pursuing career, relationship or ministry goal, stay with God’s word and do the right thing over short-cuts and expediency, even if it results in a loss. That honors God.

Prayer

O God, I exalt and praise You this morning for your kingdom. I am heartened by the fact that “the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” Lord, remind and empower me to live the life of kingdom through patient endurance. Amen.

Bible Reading for Today: Isaiah 30

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Lunch Break Study 

Read Lk. 16:15 (NIV): What is highly valued among men is detestable in God’s sight.”

Lk. 18:15-7 (ESV): “Now they were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them. And when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them. [16] But Jesus called them to him, saying, ‘Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. [17] Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.’” 

Lk. 21:1-4 (ESV): ”Jesus looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the offering box, [2] and he saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. [3] And he said, “Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them. [4] For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”

Question to Consider 

  1. What are some key differences between those things valued in the world and what is valued in God’s kingdom?
  2. Why are they different? What is the root difference between the two?
  3. How we should we live when “What is highly valued among men is detestable in God’s sight”?

Notes

  1. The children were not welcomed because the disciples didn’t see how they could help their cause.  That’s how the world sees people: they look for strong, rich and capable people who can extend “my” cause.   But Christ’s kingdom takes the weak and the lowly, and transforms them to be useful for God’s work (1 Cor. 1:27-29). While the amount of the offering isn’t unimportant, the heart behind it weighs more with the Lord.
  2. The world is about exalting great men defined by power, wealth and beauty; those who do not have these things are not welcomed. In contrast, God’s kingdom is about accepting the weak and the powerless (Rom. 14:1) in Christ, thereby demonstrating God’s infinitive love and grace. Thus, it gives new hope to the hopeless.
  3. We should constantly examine ourselves whether what we do (even in ministry) is to build our own little kingdom or God’s kingdom. If it is really for God, then we have to use His methods!

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 Evening Reflection

Did you experience kingdoms in conflict today? What would that mean to you? Doing it my way versus doing it Christ way? Reacting according to my natural disposition or under the control of the Spirit? Reflect on one or two events that didn’t go so well and ask God to help you do better tomorrow.