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.

January 25, Monday

Devotional Thoughts for This Morning 

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

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

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

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

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

Prayer

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

Bible Reading for Today: Isaiah 30

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Lunch Break Study 

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

Question to Consider

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

Notes

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

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 Evening Reflection

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

January 25, Sunday

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

Devotional Thoughts for This Morning 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bible Reading for Today: Isaiah 29

January 24, Saturday

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

Devotional Thoughts for This Morning 

Matt. 18:1-5 (NIV): “At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” He called a little child to Him, and placed the child among them. And He said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes one such child in My name welcomes Me.”

Karl Barth (1886-1968) was a Swiss Reformed theologian who is regarded as one of the greatest Protestant theologians of the twentieth century. Though he grew up influenced by liberal theology that was predominant in 19th-century European Protestantism, God eventually gave him a firm conviction about the victorious reality of Christ’s resurrection and this greatly influenced his theology. Out of this conviction emerged The Epistle to the Romans and Church Dogmatics; some of the most widely acclaimed theological works ever produced. Yet when asked on a trip to America to summarize his many works, Barth replied “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so”

24Indeed, one of the many beautiful things about the Gospel is that it is profound enough to study for one’s lifetime but simple enough for a child to understand. And this fact is important as in this passage, Jesus instructs His disciples to become like little children, lest they find themselves outside the kingdom of heaven. When we think of children, many character traits might come to mind (especially for parents or babysitters!) but one appropriate trait is this: vulnerability. Children are vulnerable because they are weaker (physically, spiritually, mentally, etc.) than they will be in the future. They are vulnerable because most of them are dependent on their parents for their sustenance and survival. And they are vulnerable because of their innocent faith; rarely do children refrain from trusting others, even those whom they have just met.

So when Jesus tells us to become like little children, it is most likely the case that He is instructing us to acknowledge our vulnerability: our vulnerability that stems from our limited strength and our dependence on God for everything we possess. In addition to that, Jesus is most likely instructing us to have faith like that of a child, a faith that may question but not distrust our Abba father. Oftentimes, the blessings and resources we receive from God Himself prevent us from developing this child-like heart. But whether we are AMI pastors, students or (un)employed professionals, we all depend on God for our daily bread. We are all beggars at His table of grace and this truth alone helps us put Jesus’ instruction in perspective.

So today, let’s come as children to the Almighty God, to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Let us remember who we truly are in His eyes and thank Him for His provision in all things; His provision that works through our innate vulnerability and dependency.

Prayer: Abba. I thank You for choosing me and loving me before the foundation of the world. I thank You that I am Your beloved child, no matter where I am in my life. Help me to follow You as Your Son Jesus did. Help me to do nothing by myself but only what I see You doing. Help me to always remember my need for You. In Your Name, I pray, Amen.

Bible Reading for Today: Isaiah 27-28

January 23, Friday

Devotional Thoughts for This Morning 

Note: Matthew’s wedding banquet parable elaborates on what happens after the original invitees refuse to come for similar reasons why they didn’t come to the great banquet in Luke: “They paid no attention and went off—one to his field, another to his business” (Matt. 22:5).

Matt. 22:8-13: “Then [the king] said to his servants, ‘The wedding feast is ready, but those invited were not worthy. [9] Go therefore to the main roads and invite to the wedding feast as many as you find.’ [10] And those servants went out into the roads and gathered all whom they found, both bad and good. So the wedding hall was filled with guests. [11] But when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment. [12] And he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?’  And he was speechless. [13] Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness.  In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’”

22aRestaurants can ask people who don’t comply with their dress codes to leave after they have somehow snuck in.  Likewise, anyone who enters a ticketed event with a counterfeit one can be removed if found out later.  This parable shows that the same applies to an event held just before the ushering in of eternity: the wedding of the Lamb where Christ and his bride, referring to the church (believers), are officially unified.  And the dress code for the participants? “Fine linen, bright and clean, was given [to his bride] her to wear” (Rev. 19:7-8).  John explains that “fine linen stands for the righteous acts of the saints.”

Before concluding that “righteous acts” imply a work-based salvation, note what Jesus said to the legalistic Jews who asked, “What must we do to do the works God requires?”: “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent” (Jn. 6:28-9).  So, our work begins with believing in Jesus and continues with, “Work out your salvation” (Phil. 2:12).  Jesus said, “Make a tree good and its fruit will be good” (Matt. 12:33), meaning the true believers will produce righteous acts.  It is not “either/or” (“you have faith; I have deeds” [James 2:18]), but “both/and” (“faith and actions . . . working together” [2:22]).

22bAlso, this parable isn’t implying that some unbelievers will be mistakenly allowed into the wedding of the Lamb only to be removed later.  What it does highlight is that there are some resemblances between the true gospel and the false, where in some cases, their differences won’t be clearly revealed until the end.  In the parable of the weeds, when the servants noticed that the wheat and the weeds were growing together, they asked the master, “Do you want us to . . . pull them up?” But the master responded, “No. . . because while you are pulling the weed, you may root up the wheat with them” (Matt. 13:29).

The true gospel, nicely summarized by Martin Luther, is this: “We are saved by faith (in Christ) alone, but the faith that saves is never alone”—meaning that faith is always evidenced by good works.   Any teaching that doesn’t uphold this is false.  So today, do an act of kindness because of Christ who is changing us.

Prayer

O God, I uphold your word that is “a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Ps. 119:105). “I do not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4); “Your word is truth” (Jn. 17:17).   I will daily “buy the truth” (Prov. 23:23) to get wisdom, discipline and understanding.  Amen.

Bible Reading for Today: Isaiah 26

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Lunch Break Study 

Read 2 Cor. 11:4 (ESV): “For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or if you accept a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it readily enough.”

Gal. 1:6-7 (ESV): “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— [7] not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ.”

1 Tim. 4:16 (KJV): “Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee. (Timothy was the pastor of church in Ephesus.)

Question to Consider

  1. What do these phrases “another Jesus,” “a different spirit” and “a distorted gospel” imply?
  2. What is implied by Paul giving the same warnings to the three churches (Corinthians, Galatians and Ephesians)? What does he command that we do?
  3. What are some questions you have about salvation? Do you any problems accepting some aspect of salvation?   Why?  Have you resolved it?

Notes

  1. In short, “another Jesus,” “a different spirit,” and “a distorted gospel” are not efficacious to save. It comes down to what kind of doctrines are attached next to the word “Jesus,” “Spirit,” and “gospel.”  The Jehovah’s Witnesses believe in a created Jesus who is inferior to Jehovah God and the Holy Spirit as a force instead of a person: these distortions are what constitute a different gospel.
  2. This strongly suggests that the distortion of key doctrines is not uncommon; actually, it is rampant today, even in churches. Therefore, we must know and understand important doctrines and guard them.
  3. A Methodist student in my class said that belief in the eternal security (“once you’re saved, you’re always saved”) is like the 007 movie, “The License to Kill,” that is, they promote a license to sin. I explained to him that there are two sides to this view: the irresponsible and unbiblical version of this, which, in effect, promotes licentiousness; but the other view is that if one is truly saved, the result will be bearing of fruits.

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 Evening Reflection

As you are about to turn in, reflect on a great doctrine of the Bible and present a prayer based on it.   For instance, “In light of the Trinity, O God, empower and motivate me to seek unity in my relationships.”