February 18, Wednesday

Devotional Thoughts for Today

Lk. 19:12, 14, 27 (NIV): He said: “A man of noble birth went to a distant country to have himself appointed king and then to return. . . . [14] But his subjects hated him and sent a delegation after him to say, ‘We don’t want this man to be our king’. . . . [26] He replied,. . . ‘But those enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them—bring them here and kill them in front of me’”

Lk. 20:9-16 (NIV): He went on to tell the people this parable: “A man planted a vineyard, rented it to some farmers and went away for a long time. [10] At harvest time he sent a servant to the tenants so they would give him some of the fruit of the vineyard. But the tenants beat him and sent him away empty-handed. [11] He sent another servant, but that one also they beat and treated shamefully and sent away empty-handed. [12] He sent still a third, and they wounded him and threw him out. [13] “Then the owner of the vineyard said, ‘What shall I do? I will send my son, whom I love; perhaps they will respect him.’ [14] “But when the tenants saw him, they talked the matter over. ‘This is the heir,’ they said. ‘Let’s kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’ [15] So they threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. “What then will the owner of the vineyard do to them? [16] He will come and kill those tenants and give the vineyard to others.”

Israel’s Davidic monarchy was broken when Babylonia destroyed Jerusalem and its temple in 586 B.C., and exiled its king (1 Chron. 36).   When a remnant returned some 70 years later, their hope of restoring the Davidic monarchy never materialized.  But they never gave up hope, especially because Israel continued to suffer the indignity of being conquered by foreign invaders for the next 400 years; at the time of Jesus’ earthly ministry, Israel had been under the Roman’s control for 100 years.

Now, when Christ came and did amazing miracles, like feeding thousands of people with just five loaves and two fish, the Israelites said, “‘Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world’. . . . [Then] they intended to . . . make him king” (Jn. 6:14-5).  This means that the subjects themselves wanted the nobleman to be their king; the tenants initially welcomed the heir of the owner.

18Then, what went wrong?  It was a case of an unfulfilled expectation.  After Jesus had been crucified, a disillusioned Israelite said, “We had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel” (Lk. 24:21), meaning to defeat the Romans and then restore the world order with Israel on top (Is. 14:2).  But, instead of plotting to defeat the enemy, they heard Jesus talk about “Bread from heaven.”  “At this the Jews began to grumble” (Jn. 6:41), became offended (61), and finally, “many . . . turned back and no longer followed him” (66), presumably to look for another king who will do their bidding.  That’s how the subjects ended up rejecting their king; and the tenants, the son.

Do you expect Christ to do for you what you want?  If so, you will be disappointed.  Instead, align your life to God’s plan; that’s the secret to happiness in life as well.  What are you struggling with at the moment?  Submit to Christ’s lordship today.

Prayer

Hear my prayer, O LORD; do not let me disappointed or disillusioned by my false expectation of You.   Help me to set my eyes on You and your plan for me; remind me that true satisfaction in life is found in You and You only.  You are my King and I shall submit my will to yours.  I love You!  Amen.

Bible Reading for Today: Isaiah 55

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Lunch Break Study

Read Lk. 20:19 (NIV) which identifies to whom the Parable of the Tenants was initially given: “The teachers of the law and the chief priests looked for a way to arrest him immediately, because they knew he had spoken this parable against them. But they were afraid of the people.”

Matt. 9:33-4, 27:18 (ESV):And when the demon had been cast out, the mute man spoke. And the crowds marveled, saying, ‘Never was anything like this seen in Israel.’ [34] Bt the Pharisees said, ‘He casts out demons by the prince of demons’ . . . . For [Pilate] knew that it was out of envy that they had delivered him up.”

Jn. 3:26-7, 30 (NASB):  “And they came to John and said to him, ‘Rabbi, He who was with you beyond the Jordan, to whom you have testified, behold, He is baptizing and all are coming to Him’ . . . . [27] John answered and said, “A man can receive nothing unless it has been given him from heaven. . . . [30] ‘He must increase, but I must decrease.’”

Question to Consider

  1. Why did the Pharisees end up disliking Jesus so much? How did they handle this situation?
  2. In what sense did John the Baptist face a similar situation which the Pharisees faced?
  3. What can we learn from John’s handling of the situation? How do you plan to handle your envy?

Notes

  1. The Pharisees envied Jesus because people were more impressed by Jesus and his ministry than their ministry. Once, “the Pharisees said to one another, ‘See this is getting nowhere.  Look how the whole world has gone after him!’” (Jn. 12:19).  So, they resorted to publicly defaming him and ultimately to kill him.
  2. Before Jesus, people went to John to hear his preaching and to be baptized by him. But after Jesus came on the scene, everyone began to go to him rather than John.
  3. John knew and accepted the purpose of his life and ministry; he knew he wasn’t the main attraction but just the opening act. So, John didn’t fret over losing out to Christ because he saw that Jesus’ ministry was more important than his.  He was content, knowing that his job was completed. .

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 Evening Reflection

How is your relationship with the Lord?  Have you been disappointed because God didn’t seem to come through for you?  Reflect on your expectation from the Lord:  Is it from God or your own heart?  Speak to Him in silence; meditate on this: “Yet not as I will, but as you will” (Matt. 26:39).

February 17, Tuesday

Devotional Thoughts for Today

Lk. 19:12-3, 15-26 (ESV): He said therefore, “A nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom and then return. [13] Calling ten of his servants, he gave them ten minas, and said to them, ‘Engage in business until I come’. . . . [15] When he returned, having received the kingdom, he ordered these servants to whom he had given the money to be called to him, that he might know what they had gained by doing business. [16] The first came before him, saying, ‘Lord, your mina has made ten minas more.’ [17] And he said to him, ‘Well done, good servant! Because you have been faithful in a very little, you shall have authority over ten cities.’ [18] And the second came, saying, ‘Lord, your mina has made five minas.’ [19] And he said to him, ‘And you are to be over five cities.’ [20] Then another came, saying, ‘Lord, here is your mina, which I kept laid away in a handkerchief; [21] for I was afraid of you, because you are a severe man. You take what you did not deposit, and reap what you did not sow.’ [22] He said to him, ‘I will condemn you with your own words, you wicked servant! You knew that I was a severe man, taking what I did not deposit and reaping what I did not sow? [23] Why then did you not put my money in the bank, and at my coming I might have collected it with interest?’ [24] And he said to those who stood by, ‘Take the mina from him, and give it to the one who has the ten minas.’ [25] And they said to him, ‘Lord, he has ten minas!’ [26] ‘I tell you that to everyone who has, more will be given, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.’”  

Matt. 25:14-5 (ESV):  For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property. [15] To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability.

Some egalitarians might prefer the Parable of the Ten Minas, since each servant receives one mina, over the Parable of the Talents, where some received more than others (Matt. 25:14-28).  Which one is true?  Based on Jesus’ statement, “Everyone who has been given much, much will demanded” (Lk. 12:48), it’s safe to assume that in God’s economy, not everyone receives the same amount of talents or gifts.  But God is still egalitarian.  How?

17Recall that both the servant with a single talent and the other with one mina did nothing with it, even though they were told to put it to work, on account that their masters were unreasonable and unjust.   Peeking into the vanity of the human nature, the servant with the one talent probably pouted over the fact that others received more: “Since you don’t think much of my ability, I will do nothing.”  What he forgot is that when God judges our works, it isn’t based on how much we have gained; but rather, how much we have gained in proportion to how much we have been given.

At the judgment seat of Christ, where our works will be evaluated for rewards (2 Cor. 5:10), God will treat everyone as if they had received only one mina.  How so?  In God’s equalitarian judgment, it is possible that those who have received less will be given more rewards than those who have received more.  For instance, God will be more pleased with a servant with a single talent who gained three more (300% yield) than one with five talents who made five more (100%).   This is why Jesus said, after seeing a poor widow putting in two small copper coins (about $2) into the temple treasury and others giving much more: “[She] has put in more than all the others.  All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on” (Lk. 21:4).

So, whatever talent God has given you, don’t bury it.  Edify and encourage people with it; help support missionaries and your church; heal the wounded and instruct the young in faith.

Prayer

Dear God, thank You for giving me talents and gifts that I did not earn.  I admit that I’ve spent more time complaining about what I don’t have instead of using what I’ve received to yield more for your kingdom.  May I constantly be reminded that I was given a great privilege; help me to be faithful.  Amen.

Bible Reading for Today: Isaiah 53

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Lunch Break Study

Read  2 Cor. 5:10 (NASB): For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.

1 Cor. 4:5 (NASB): Therefore do not go on passing judgment before the time, but wait until the Lord comes who will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men’s hearts; and then each man’s praise will come to him from God.

Lk. 12:48 (NIV): But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.

Question to Consider

  1. What is the main difference between how we receive salvation and how we receive rewards?
  2. What is one key aspect of our works that will be evaluated at the judgment seat?
  3. So, what does God expect from those who have received talents and gifts from him? How are you doing with God’s investment into to your life?

Notes

  1. Salvation is not earned but is “a gift of God, not by works . . . but by grace . . . through faith” (Eph. 2:8). Rewards, on the other hand, are based on what we do.  But this too is based on God’s grace since He doesn’t have to reward anyone; yet He chooses to do so out of His kindness and goodness.
  2. Our motives will be evaluated—meaning it’s not just what we do or how we do it but why we do it.
  3. God wants us to put to work every talent and gift given to us so that people’s lives are saved and healed: That’s why He takes it so seriously and displeases Him when we bury them (i.e., not use them) instead of using them to reach out to people.

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 Evening Reflection

As you are about to turn in, how do you think you used your talents and gifts today for the Lord?  Was anyone encouraged and strengthened by you?  Did anyone find out God’s grace through you?  Pray that you will put your talent to work tomorrow.

February 16, Monday

Devotional Thoughts for Today

Lk. 6:39-40 (ESV): “He also told them a parable: ‘Can a blind man lead a blind man?  Will they not both fall into a pit? [40] A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher.’”

16aThe seven sons of Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, were really impressed with Paul when he drove out evil spirits.  So, upon seeing a “man who had the evil spirit” (Acts 19:15), they said, “In the name of Jesus, whom Paul preaches, I command you to come out” (13).  The evil spirit, instead of coming out, retorted, “’Jesus I know, and I know about Paul, but who are you?’  Then the man who had the evil spirit . . . . gave them such a beating that they ran out of the house naked and bleeding” (15-6).  What happened?  Without being fully trained and presuming their vision to be 20/20, Sceva’s sons tried to lead a “blind man”; the result was disastrous.

16bMany of us want to take on a bigger assignment from God, but consider the events in Paul’s life.  Soon after his conversion, Paul became aware that he was God’s “chosen instrument to carry [His] name before the Gentiles and their kings” (9:15).   Being a competitive and zealous person (Gal. 1:14), Paul might’ve thought that this international ministry was going to start right away.  But God had other plans: Paul spent the next three years mostly in Arabia (17) where God trained him for ministry in isolation from everyone.   Then he went to Jerusalem where he spoke “boldly in the name of the Lord” (Acts 9:29), but the Jews there “tried to kill him” (29).  So, the church leaders had him return home to Tarsus (350 miles) and stay there until the situation calmed down.  But, by the time Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Paul and bring him to Antioch (11:25-6), which, in time, would launch his international ministry, he had waited 8 years in anonymity.  During those years, instead of looking ahead for his big break, Paul was training hard while no one was looking; he was learning to be “faithful with a few things” (Matt. 25:23).

Don’t be eager to be used by God; if He wants to use you, He will find you.  In the meantime, submit to God’s training so that when He calls, you are ready to serve God in total dependence upon Him.

Prayer

God, I magnify You this morning.  Since I take my job (or study) seriously, I put all my energy to get better, but I don’t put the same effort in serving You.  Often, I just show up without any preparation.  Forgive me for this arrogance.  Help me to change so that I may render a service that is worthy of You.  Amen.

Bible Reading for Today: Isaiah 53

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Lunch Break Study

Read 1 Cor. 11:1 (NASB): “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ.”

2 Thess. 3:6-9 (ESV):Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us. [7] For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you, [8] nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you. [9] It was not because we do not have that right, but to give you in ourselves an example to imitate.”

Heb. 13:7 (ESV): “Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.”

Question to Consider

  1. What is the best and most effective way to be trained for ministry at any level?
  2. What’s the most difficult aspect about people looking to you for modeling?
  3. What was Paul’s concern in relation to the Thessalonians who erroneously believed that the coming of Jesus already happened or was imminent (2 Thess. 2:1-2)? What are some areas where you need training?

Notes

  1. All three passages have this in common as to the best way to be trained: first, be observant of a tangible model of individuals who demonstrate the character and the ways of Christ; two, imitate their ways. We are also to be motivated by the final outcome of people who have maintained a consistent walk with God.
  2. The most difficult aspect is being consistent with what I say and what I actually do. It would be hard to be a model for anyone if I live lazily after teaching people that they should be industrious.
  3. Paul was concerned that several Thessalonians had stopped working on account that the world was about to end (i.e., the 2nd coming of Christ). So Paul reminded them about his example of how he was working to support himself.  Are you working hard or always looking for short-cuts?  Imitate Paul as he imitated Christ.

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 Evening Reflection

God trains us through many ways, formal education being one.  But the most impactful way is through trials and errors that He allows in our lives.  What are some ways that God trained you today?  What did you learn about the Lord and about yourself?  Take a pause and reflect.  “Consider it pure joy . . . whenever you face trials of many kinds” (James 1:2).

February 15, Sunday

Devotional Thoughts for Today

Matt. 13:47-52 (NIV):  “Once again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish. [48] When it was full, the fishermen pulled it up on the shore. Then they sat down and collected the good fish in baskets, but threw the bad away. [49] This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous [50] and throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. [51] ‘Have you understood all these things?’ Jesus asked. ‘Yes,’ they replied. [52] He said to them, ‘Therefore every teacher of the law who has become a disciple in the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old.’”

15aMany Mexican pastors do not have seminary training; some have barely finished elementary school.  One day, a pastor visited my friend who ran a Bible institute in Mexico, begging for an admission.  Having preached and taught the Bible for awhile without any formal training, the warning given in James 3:1 suddenly dawned on him: “Not many of you should become teachers, . . . because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly” (James 3:1).  Subsequently, this pastor became terrified that everything he had ever taught might have been wrong; instead of treasures, he feared that he had brought out poison.  While that is not a healthy attitude, his new found seriousness toward God’s word was refreshing only because too many people take the “teaching of Christ” (2 Jn. 1:9) quite casually.

In the today’s parable, the good fish (i.e., those who hold to the correct teachings of Christ—a.k.a., orthodox) and the bad ones (i.e., those who hold to wrong doctrines—a.k.a., heresy) are in the same net, and they aren’t separated until the end of age.  This indicates that the correct teachings of Christ and the incorrect one are very similar.  And this similarity is what makes teaching of God’s word not so easy.

15bFor instance, do you know why the Mormon Church is not considered as part of the historic Christian faith?  One reason is this: While Christ’s atonement forgives the original sin, it is by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Mormon Church (which there are many) that one’s own sins are forgiven.  How about the Jehovah’s Witnesses?  They certainly believe Jesus as a deity but not as an eternal being; to them, Jehovah created Jesus who, then, created the rest of the world.   While some believers are alarmed by this type of doctrinal deviations, too many folks in the church would “put up with it easily enough” (2 Cor. 11:4).  Referring to teachers who spew out false teachings, Paul commented, “For such people are false apostles, deceitful workers, masquerading as apostles of Christ.  And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light.  It is not surprising, then, if his servants also masquerade as servants of righteousness” (2 Cor. 11:12-5).

Sadly, those who thought that they had the truth are thrown into “blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”  It’s because “a different gospel . . . is really no gospel at all” (Gal. 1:6).

So, even as we seek to be filled with the Holy Spirit and practice all of his gifts to the church, “watch your life and doctrine closely.  Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1 Tim. 4:16).   Study the Bible.  Get good books to help you understand it.

Bible Reading for Today: Isaiah 52

February 14, Saturday

Devotional Thoughts for Today

Acts 19:24-7 (ESV): “For a man named Demetrius, a silversmith, who made silver shrines of Artemis, brought no little business to the craftsmen. [25] These he gathered together, with the workmen in similar trades, and said, ‘Men, you know that from this business we have our wealth. [26] And you see and hear that not only in Ephesus but in almost all of Asia this Paul has persuaded and turned away a great many people, saying that gods made with hands are not gods. [27] And there is danger not only that this trade of ours may come into disrepute but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis may be counted as nothing, and that she may even be deposed from her magnificence, she whom all Asia and the world worship.’  [28] When they heard this they were enraged and were crying out, ‘Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!’”

When I was in college (before my Christian days), St. Patrick’s Day was a day when my friends and I would don something green, and then guzzle green beer at a party held in honor of a man whom I assumed was a wild party animal from antiquity.  So, I was genuinely shocked when I found out, while studying church history at a seminary, that nothing could be further from the truth.

14aAt age 16, Patrick, living in England, was captured by marauding pirates who took him to Ireland as a slave.  During six long years of captivity, Patrick found God.  Fortunately, he escaped and returned home where he eventually became a clergy of the Celtic Church (not Catholic).  But one day, an Irish man appeared in Patrick’s dream, saying, “We beseech you to come and walk among us once more.”  Despite whatever bitterness he might’ve had, Patrick returned in 432 and spent the next 30 years ministering among the Celtics.  As a result, not only was Ireland won to Christ, Western Europe was evangelized by Celtic missionaries who came out of his ministry.  Thus, I am still puzzled by how a day honoring a zealous missionary like Patrick has become a day of drunkenness and lewd behavior.

Valentine of the 3rd century, in whose honor Valentine’s Day is celebrated, was just as committed to God as Patrick.  Because not much is known about him, several versions of his life exist but they all agree on one thing: Valentine was martyred for trying to convince people to believe in Christ and ultimately refusing to deny Christ.  So, how did we end up with flowers, chocolates and cupids to celebrate a day named after a martyr for Jesus?

Businessmen, like Demetrius, have long figured out that the best way to reach into people’s pockets is to appeal to their devotion to God by associating it with slogans they promote (“Great is Artemis of the Ephesians”) to sell things they produce (religious figurines).  Before long, people, having forgotten the true reason for celebration, just celebrate with such things as green beer, chocolates and flowers!

14bSpoiling your Valentine’s Day celebration isn’t the purpose of this blog, but a reminder: “Don’t conform any longer to the pattern of this world” (Rom. 12:1) that shifts with time and always empties your pocket.  Instead, hold onto what men like Patrick and Valentine truly stood for: their love for Jesus and their desire to serve Him.  So, if you have a hot date tonight, give your waitress an evangelistic tract with a good tip!

Bible Reading for Today: Isaiah 50-51

February 13, Friday

Devotional Thoughts for Today

Matt. 12:43-5 (NIV): “When an impure spirit comes out of a person, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. [44] Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ When it arrives, it finds the house unoccupied, swept clean and put in order. [45] Then it goes and takes with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that person is worse than the first. That is how it will be with this wicked generation.”

13aIt’s the job you’ve always wanted, and you thank the Lord for it.  However, after 3 years of the daily grind of meetings, conference calls and business trips, often skipping church on Sundays, you can hardly remember the last time you have prayed or opened the Bible.   The present condition is worse than the first!

The life of King Joash began quite inauspiciously.  His father, King Ahaziah of Judah, and mother were murdered soon after his birth; then, his grandmother Athaliah “proceeded to destroy the whole royal family” (2 Chron. 22:10) so that she could rule Judah.  Fortunately, someone rescued Joash and hid him at the temple for 6 years.  Imagine that—six years of not seeing the sunlight!

But the tide of life turned in Joash’s favor when Jehoiada the priest, after successfully ousting Athaliah, made him the king; he was seven years old.  And despite the sad and painful past, Joash, under the guidance of Jehoiada, “did what was right in the eyes of the LORD” (24:2), which included repairing the temple.

13bHowever, everything changed after Jehoiada died.  Joash, after heeding bad advice, “abandoned the temple of the LORD . . . and worshiped . . . idols” (18).  When Zechariah, the son of his mentor Jehoiada, spoke out, Joash, “not remember[ing] the kindness . . . Jehoiada had shown him” (22), killed him.   Consequently, “because Judah had forsaken the LORD,. . . judgment was executed on Joash” (24).  Not only was Judah defeated and looted by Aram, Joash was severely wounded as well.  What did him in were his officials who “killed him in his bed” (25). The final condition of Joash was worse than the first.

Today’s parable actually had Israel in mind (Matt. 12:38-43).  After comparing Israel’s unresponsiveness to His message to the responsiveness of the Ninevites to Jonah’s preaching, Jesus was underscoring the worsened condition of Israel’s heart.

How can we ensure that this doesn’t happen to us?  For starters, don’t leave your heart and mind unoccupied: Fill your heart with gratefulness (Heb. 12:28 ESV) and humility (1 Pet. 5:6); fill your mind with the knowledge of God’s word (Heb. 4:6).

Prayer

Dear Lord, I confess that I often do nothing about my declining spiritual life because to address it would mean having less time making money and doing the things that I enjoy.  God, I don’t want to hit rock bottom spiritually; there is nothing good there.  Help me to get serious about my spiritual life.  Fill me with the Spirit.  Amen.

Bible Reading for Today: Isaiah 49

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Lunch Break Study

Read 2 Pet. 2:20-22 (ESV): For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. [21] For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them. [22] What the true proverb says has happened to them: ‘The dog returns to its own vomit, and the sow, after washing herself, returns to wallow in the mire.’”

2 Cor. 13:5 (ESV): “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test!”

Rev. 2:4-5 (NASB): “But I have this against you, that you have left your first love. [5] Therefore remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place—unless you repent.”

Question to Consider

  1. What concerns Peter? Why do you think that once the downward spiritual spiral is set off, the eventual condition often becomes worse than the initial condition?
  2. What does Paul suggest that we do to keep us from the downward spiritual spiral? How do we do this?
  3. What should we do once we realize what is causing us to be distant from God?

Notes

  1. He had the same concern that Christ had: the later state becoming worse than the former.Living the Christian life is not easy when temptations lurk everywhere. Anytime Christians sin rather ostentatiously, some probably expect divine punishment.  When that doesn’t happen, they become emboldened to push the envelope.  And once the devil, who always looks for someone (especially Christians) to devour (1 Pet. 5:8) is added to the mix, it can get exponentially worse.
  2. Paul recommends self-spiritual examination. How?  I think we need to be honest about ourselves in the following areas: time spent praying, reading the word, offering, participating in church’s spiritual activities, etc.  Some criteria are a matter of the heart: Do I really love God?  Am I really dependent on Him? Do I even think about God? Do I truly believe in God?”
  3. Once we realize what or who is causing our downward spiritual spiral, God expects us to repent; that is, turn from the situation or person responsible for aiding and abetting our downward spiral. Example:  when we first got married, we had an old black and white television set.  We weren’t T.V. addicts, but we did watch Honeymooners that came on at 11:30 PM.  Once we realize how much we loved that show, yet it affected our getting up in the morning (and morning devotions), we decided to get rid of the T.V.

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 Evening Reflection

Based on how you lived today (what you did, who you hung around with, what you said), examine your spiritual life.  Do you need changes?  In what areas?  Giving?  Character?  Spending?  Viewing habit?  Forgiveness?  Desire?  Relationship?  Figure it out and work on it.  First step is to ask God for help.

February 12, Thursday

Devotional Thoughts for Today

Matt. 12:24-9 (ESV): But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, ‘It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this man casts out demons.’ [25] Knowing their thoughts, he said to them, ‘Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand. [26] And if Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand? [27] And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. [28] But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.

[29] Or how can someone enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? Then indeed he may plunder his house.’”

To someone who says, “There are no absolute truths; everything is relative,” ask him whether he holds to that absolutely.  If he says yes, then say, “You’re inconsistent and arrogant; if he answers no, ask him, “Then, why do you oppose what I believe?”

12aHere, Jesus, likewise, shows the absurdity of an argument aimed to discredit him.  The Pharisees, jealous that “the whole world has gone after [Jesus]” (Jn. 12:19), accuses him of being on the same team as the head of demons.  Jesus’ logic is simple: “If the devil and I are partners, why am I casting out his demons?   Isn’t that like shooting yourself in the foot?”

After silencing them, Jesus explains the spiritual world through this odd parable.  The strong man is the devil, “the prince of this world” (Jn. 12:31); his house, then, is the world.  The goods in the house are people in the world over whom the devil “holds the power of death” (Heb. 2:14).  How did this happen?  When the devil was tempting Jesus, it wasn’t a lie when he said, “All the kingdoms of the world . . . [had] been given to me” (Lk. 4:5-6).  The first man Adam, whom God had put in charge of governing the world, gave it away when he capitulated to the devil’s ploy, “for a man is a slave to whatever has mastered him” (2 Pet. 2:19).  Since “the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23), the devil bullies the descendants of Adam with fear of death.

12bSo Christ, coming into this world as an intruder to take back what was taken by the devil, must first bind the strong man.  He succeeded when his substitutionary death on our behalf “rendered powerless [the devil] who had the power of death” (Heb. 2:14 NASB) since the penalty of sin has been paid.

Now, Christ through the church is plundering the house, meaning telling people that they are now free.  But many choose not to believe that; as a result, they continue to live in “slavery by their fear of death.”  Are you one of them?  Christ has already finished everything to free you; all you need to do is believe.

Prayer

I praise You, Jesus, for coming into this world that had rebelled against God and chose the devil as its god.  Seeing that we are miserable in our sins, You voluntarily took the penalty of our sins to destroy the work of the devil (1 Jn. 3:8), thereby freeing us.  Thank You, Jesus, for your love, kindness and grace.  Amen.

Bible Reading for Today: Isaiah 48

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Lunch Break Study

Read 1 Jn. 5:18 (NIV): “We know that anyone born of God does not continue to sin; the One who was born of God keeps them safe, and the evil one cannot harm them.”

James 4:7 (NASB): “Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.”

Acts 16:16-8 (ESV): “As we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a slave girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners much gain by fortune-telling. [17] She followed Paul and us, crying out, ‘These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation.’ [18] And this she kept doing for many days. Paul, having become greatly annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, ‘I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.’ And it came out that very hour.”

Question to Consider

  1. What are some benefits of Christ’s victory over the devil?
  2. Is there a part that we need contribute in order to experience Christ’s victory over the devil?
  3. The Bible talks about not giving the devil a foothold (Eph. 4:27). What are some casual habits or “harmless” sins in our lives that give the enemy a bigger hold to latch on to enslave us?

Notes

  1. The devil cannot harm those who are in Christ; he will even flee from us; he can be driven out from someone or even from us in the name of Jesus.
  2. We cannot continue to sin (habitual and unrepentant sins); we must resist the devil for him to flee; we must pray with the authority of Jesus by praying in His name.
  3. Sin is much like a snowball rolling downhill: it gets bigger and bigger unless it is stopped.  An attempt to cover a little lie produces more lies; watching soft-porn leads to hard-porn; unforgiveness, in time, turns into a bitter personality; hoarding money always turns into loving it.

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 Evening Reflection

As you review this day, did you face any situation where you felt uncomfortable because of the presence of some people?  Why do you think that happened?  The path to freedom in many cases is honesty and humility.  Pray to the Lord for wisdom and courage to live fully in the freedom that Christ has won for us.

February 11, Wednesday

Devotional Thoughts for Today

Lk. 16:10-13 (NIV): “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. [11] So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? [12] And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own? [13] “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”

11aServing God is not only important, but it can be quite exciting.  Let’s suppose that teaching the Bible interests you, but on what basis will your pastor give you that kind of responsibility?  Similarly, in order for a baseball player to move up the ladder to one day reach the Major League, he needs to demonstrate his ability to hit and pitch better than others in the Minor League.  One major difference:  while God looks for faithfulness and honesty to evaluate, a baseball GM evaluates solely on output.

Now, desiring to do something more influential or substantial for God is honorable: “If anyone sets his heart on being an overseer, he desires a noble task” (1 Tim. 3:1).  So, how does God determine whether someone can handle greater responsibility from Him?

11bFor that, look at Joseph who had every reason to quit on life.  First, after his brothers’ betrayal, he became a slave in the house of an Egyptian official.  Instead of pouting, Joseph so faithfully carried out his task that his boss “entrusted to his care everything he owned” (Gn. 39:4).   But his life quickly hit rock-bottom when a false accusation landed him in jail. (It’s like going from AAA to A league).  But rather than giving up, he continued to work faithfully; seeing this, the warden “put Joseph in charge . . . [of] all that was done there” (39:22).  And it was from that pit that God brought Joseph out and “put [him] in charge of the whole land of Egypt” (41:41).  What does this show? “Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful” (1 Cor. 4:2).

The parable itself deals with another important factor used to determine our faithfulness: how we handle money.  If we’re stingy and not generous toward God and people in need, then it would affect whether or not God will trust us with the true riches, which include greater ministry responsibilities.

So, if you haven’t been faithful in this area, be generous toward God and those in need.  Start today.

Prayer

O heavenly Father, I praise and exalt You.  So often I live with a delusion that I’ve been blessed because I have worked so hard.  But apart from the strength, ability and investment You’ve made in my life, I cannot do anything.  Awake my soul, O Lord, to radically use this worldly wealth for your kingdom work.  Amen.

Bible Reading for Today: Isaiah 47

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Lunch Break Study

Read Col. 3:22-3 (NIV):  “Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to curry their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord. [23] Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters . . . .”

1 Tim. 6:2 (NIV): “Those who have believing masters should not show them disrespect just because they are fellow believers. Instead, they should serve them even better because their masters are dear to them as fellow believers and are devoted to the welfare of their slaves.”

Tit. 2:9-10 (NASB): “Urge bondslaves to be subject to their own masters in everything, to be well-pleasing, not argumentative, [10] not pilfering, but showing all good faith so that they will adorn the doctrine of God our Savior in every respect.”

Question to Consider

  1. What are some factors behind why people, in general, are unfaithful in their work, including God’s work?
  2. What understanding can help us to be more faithful to God’s work as well as our secular work?
  3. How is your faithfulness? What adjustments are needed for you to be more faithful to God?

Notes

  1. We are so accustomed to doing our best only when someone is around that when no one is watching, we take it easy. Sometimes, because we are on friendly terms with our coworkers or bosses, we don’t listen as readily as we should.  And oftentimes, we steal company time to do our own thing (e.g., web surfing, plan our trips with the company time and computer).
  2. First, being aware that God is watching us all the time; second, as far as secular work is concerned, our faithfulness matters to God as well. For example, if you are a carpenter, it matters to God that you make quality chairs.
  3. I think many of us are battling over wasting too much time with our electronic gadgets.   These are necessities, since so much of what we do for work depends on it, but every time we open our iPhone or tablet, it is so easy to get distracted and waste time. For some, it is a matter of reprioritizing:  we need to put God before all things (Matt. 6:33).

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 Evening Reflection

Anything can be God’s work, even giving a cup of cold water to “one of these little ones” (Matt. 10:42).  Do feel like you did God’s work today, or did you pass up some golden opportunities?  Did anyone do God’s work on your behalf?  Pray about how you can be more pro-active in serving God tomorrow.

February 10, Tuesday

Devotional Thoughts for Today

Lk. 16:8-9 (NIV): For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light. [9] I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.

1 Sam. 25:11 (NIV): Nabal answered David’s servants, “Who is this David? Who is this son of Jesse? . . .  [11] Why should I take my bread and water, and the meat I have slaughtered for my shearers, and give it to men coming from who knows where?”

2 Sam. 17:27-8 (ESV): When David came to Mahanaim,. . . Barzillai the Gileadite from Rogelim, [28] brought beds, basins, and earthen vessels, wheat, barley, flour, parched grain, beans and lentils, [29] honey and curds and sheep and cheese from the herd, for David and the people with him to eat, for they said, “The people are hungry and weary and thirsty in the wilderness.

A very successful professional, who also owns many properties, initially agreed to the idea that his wealth ought to be used for God’s work.   But he balked at the suggestion that he sponsor a needy child abroad: a monthly support of $38 was too expensive.

10Nabal from the OT era, described as “very wealthy” for owning 1,000 goats and 3,000 sheep, and this 21st century man have this in common: Not using worldly wealth to gain friends for themselves.  During the days when David and his men roamed around to escape from the murderous pursuit of King Saul, they, in effect, protected Nabal’s sheep that were grazing out on the field.  In fact, Nabal’s servants told their boss, “These men were very good to us” (1 Sam. 25:15).  So, when the festive time of sheep-shearing came, David asked Nabal to share “whatever [he] can find for them” (8).  Nabal didn’t gain any friend when he responded, “Why should I take my bread . . . and give it to men coming from who knows where?” (11).  David, responding to Nabal’s foolishness with his own imprudence, sought to kill him!  Fortunately, though the intervention of Nabal’s wife, Abigail, kept that from happening, Nabal soon died of heart failure upon being told later about David’s plot.

Then there is Barzillai, “a very old man” who is also described as “very wealthy” (2 Sam. 19:31-2).    By this time, David was the king—now being chased by his son Absalom who sought to kill him.  Barzillai, when told of David’s dire predicament (“hungry and weary and thirsty”), “provided for the king during his stay in Mahanaim” (32).  Once restored to the throne, David didn’t forget Barzillai’s act of kindness, saying to him, “Stay with me in Jerusalem, and I will provide for you” (33).

Like Barzillai, let’s use our worldly wealth to help someone in need in Jesus’ name, so that when we arrive in heaven, that person will join God in welcoming us, saying to the Lord, “That’s the person who helped me to experience Your love.”  Do something generous with your worldly wealth today.

Prayer

Dear Lord, I exalt your name on high, especially because of the many blessings given to me.  Forgive me for hoarding it instead of sharing it.  O God, help me to be prudent with what You have given me in light of eternity.  Help me to let go so that I may gain friends in anticipation of joining You in heaven.

Bible Reading for Today: Isaiah 46

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Lunch Break Study

Read Lk. 12:13-21 (NASB): Someone in the crowd said to Him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” [14] But He said to him, “Man, who appointed Me a judge or arbitrator over you?” [15] Then He said to them, “Beware, and be on your guard against every form of greed; for not even when one has an abundance does his life consist of his possessions.” [16] And He told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man was very productive. [17] And he began reasoning to himself, saying, ‘What shall I do, since I have no place to store my crops?’ [18] Then he said, ‘This is what I will do: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. [19] And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years to come; take your ease, eat, drink and be merry.”’ [20] But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your soul is required of you; and now who will own what you have prepared?’ [21] So is the man who stores up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.”

1 Tim. 6:7-8 (NIV):  For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. [8] But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.

Question to Consider

  1. Why was this parable told at this place?
  2. What makes the life of this rich man so foolish?
  3. What insight would have helped his man to have lived more wisely?  How should this change the way you invest toward your future?

Notes

  1. The man in the crowd was solely preoccupied with gaining his rightful share of his father’s inheritance. He didn’t really care its affect on his family; in other words, for the sake of money, he was about to discard the more important things in life.
  2. The rich man is a fool because he never got to enjoy what he had stored in his big barn; instead, someone else was going to enjoy it. In the meantime, assuming that he was a believer, since he didn’t invest any of his wealth toward his eternity, he won’t have any “dividends” waiting for him in heaven.
  3. What Paul wrote was first said by Job: “Naked I came from mother’s womb, and naked I will depart” (Job 1:20). We must distinguish our needs from our wants: once we make our wants as something we need, then, we’re likely to act like this “someone in the crowd” represented by the rich fool.

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 Evening Reflection

Review all the purchases you have made today: What does that say about the values you uphold?  Does it indicate that you are trying to make friends using your worldly wealth?  Reflect on this issue; begin making some changes in how you use the money that God has given you.

February 9, Monday

Note: The devotion for Feb. 9-11 is based on the Shrewd Manager; read it in its entirety today.

Lk. 16:1-9 (NIV): Jesus told his disciples: “There was a rich man whose manager was accused of wasting his possessions. [2] So he called him in and asked him, ‘What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your management, because you cannot be manager any longer.’ [3] The manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do now? My master is taking away my job. I’m not strong enough to dig, and I’m ashamed to beg— [4] I know what I’ll do so that, when I lose my job here, people will welcome me into their houses.’ [5] So he called in each one of his master’s debtors. He asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ [6] ‘Nine hundred gallons of olive oil,’ he replied. The manager told him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it four hundred and fifty.’ [7] “Then he asked the second, ‘And how much do you owe?’ ‘A thousand bushels of wheat,’ he replied. “He told him, ‘Take your bill and make it eight hundred.’ [8] The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light. [9] I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.”

Devotional Thoughts for Today

Lk. 16:14 (ESV): “The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all these things, and they ridiculed him.”

9This isn’t the type of illustration that pastors would dare to use from the pulpit. There are several glaring character defects in this manger which no one should emulate.   First, he is irresponsible, which got him in trouble with his master who lost money due to the manager’s negligence.   Second, he is a lazy freeloader.   About to lose his job, he is sure about one thing: “I’m going to neither dig (i.e., work) nor beg” (i.e., swallow my pride). Third, he is a criminal. Changing the numbers around in the accounting ledger so that the debtors appear to owe far less is no different from a desperate student sneaking into the registrar’s office to alter his grade: a reduction of olive oil by 450 gallons would’ve cost the master as much as $5,400 today.

Nevertheless, Jesus has the victim of this ruse commend his “dishonest manager” on account that he “acted shrewdly.” I would be hard pressed to use this sort of example before a group of businessmen lest they think it is okay to do the same.

Why, then, does Jesus opt for this parable? Desperate times call for desperate measures, and this certainly was a desperate time. The Pharisees, leaders whom God placed in Israel to lead the people spiritually, were too busy fattening their wallets and increasing their own prominence. Jesus told this parable because of “the Pharisees who loved money” (16:14); they also “love[d] the most important seats in the synagogue” (11:44). Consequently, people became “like sheep without a shepherd” (Mk. 6:34).

So to shake up the Pharisees, Jesus elevates the very person whom they would condemn, and justifiably so, because this dishonest manager does one thing better than them: preparing for the future. While the manager plans ahead to secure a better earthly future for himself, the Pharisees are doing nothing—like using their money to reach people for God (“use worldly wealth to gain friends”)—to secure a better heavenly future (“welcomed into eternal dwelling”) for themselves (e.g., God’s commendation, rewards).

So, are you using your money to secure a better future in heaven? It is never late; start today.

Prayer

O God, keep my eyes open so that I never forget to see what this earthly life is for: to receive the blessings and talents You’ve reserved for me so that I can use them to reach more people for Jesus Christ. Thank You that You would even reward me for giving a cup of cold water to someone in need. Amen.

Bible Reading for Today: Isaiah 45

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Lunch Break Study

Read Jer. 35:2, 6-8, 12-4, 19 (NIV): Go to the Rekabite family and invite them to come to one of the side rooms of the house of the Lord and give them wine to drink. . . . [6] But they replied, “We do not drink wine, because our forefather Jehonadab son of Rekab gave us this command: ‘Neither you nor your descendants must ever drink wine. [7] Also you must never build houses, sow seed or plant vineyards; you must never have any of these things, but must always live in tents. Then you will live a long time in the land where you are nomads.’ [8] We have obeyed everything our forefather Jehonadab son of Rekab commanded us. . . .” [12] Then the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah, saying: [13] “This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Go and tell the people of Judah and those living in Jerusalem, ‘Will you not learn a lesson and obey my words?’ declares the Lord. [14] ‘Jehonadab son of Rekab ordered his descendants not to drink wine and this command has been kept. To this day they do not drink wine, because they obey their forefather’s command. But I have spoken to you again and again, yet you have not obeyed me. . . .’” [19] “Therefore this is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: ‘Jehonadab son of Rekab will never fail to have a descendant to serve me.’

Prov. 6:6-9 (NIV): “Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise ! [7] It has no commander, no overseer or ruler, [8] yet it stores its provisions in summer and gathers its food at harvest. [9] How long will you lie there, you sluggard? When will you get up from your sleep?”

Question to Consider

  1. If there is something to be learned from a dishonest manager, then there certainly must be something we can learn from the Rekabite family?
  2. What are we to learn from ants?
  3. Can you think of anyone not necessarily admirable (group or even animal) from whom we can learn something positive?

Notes

  1. The Rekabites obeyed the words of their progenitor even though it restricted their desire (to drink wine) and freedom (live in a permanent housing). God is saying: Obey me even if it hurts at first; in the long run it will actually benefit you (the Rekabites were rewarded for their obedience).
  2. Learn from the ants these things: first, think about your future; second, anticipate needs; third, make appropriate preparations now for your future needs.
  3. From the Mormons we can learn giving (even if they are swayed by wrong theology). It is believed that they give 7.5 percent of their income; from the Jehovah’s Witnesses we can learn tireless sharing of faith door-to-door. They are relentless in proclaiming their misguided message.

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 Evening Reflection

Based on how you spent your money today, are you a good investor in the spiritual realm? Take a moment to reflect; ask God to help you not to love money but save and use it prudently. Pray.