May 8, Friday

NEW Today’s AMI QT Devotional is provided by Christine Li, who serves as a deaconess at Remnant Church in Manhattan, New York.  She is a graduate of University of Pennsylvania.

Devotional Thought for This Morning

“Always Loved”

Matthew 3:16-17

As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.

siyan-ren-H2f9mcHVl2E-unsplashWhen I learned that shelter-in-place would go into effect, one of the first things I did was make a to-do list. I wrote down chores and hobbies that I “didn’t have time” for before. It turns out that having time was not the problem. Six weeks later, the bulk of what I’d hoped to achieve remains untouched. Instead, I have slept a record amount and watched more TV in several weeks than I did in the last several years. Subsequently, one of my most difficult challenges became processing the deep sense of guilt and shame I’d acquired for wasting this time.

In other seasons, I pride myself on being productive and efficient. As time passed and I felt hopelessly behind with all the things I’d wanted to achieve, I began condemning myself: Staying indoors was a golden opportunity, but I had squandered the gift. Friends challenged whether my own standards of productivity had enslaved me to a vision incompatible with the freedom God gives. I was reminded of this story from Jesus’s life explained through Peter Scazzero’s Emotionally Healthy Spirituality. He writes, “We are given a snapshot of Jesus’ understanding of who He is. Heaven opens. The Spirit descends like a dove. And Jesus’ Father speaks audibly: ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased’ (Matt. 3:17). In other words: ‘You are lovable. You are good. It is so good that you exist.’ Jesus has yet to perform miracles or die on the cross for the sins of humanity. Nonetheless, He receives an experiential affirmation that He is deeply loved by His Heavenly Father for who He is.”

Could it be that we are loved even before we do a single thing? Many of us find His acceptance and unconditional love too good to be true; as a result, seasons like these burden us with guilt and shame that we aren’t better. For those who can relate to the disappointment of a seemingly fallow season, I invite you to come back to the Father. He loves you. He loves you beyond what you can do for Him. He will free you from the chains of productivity and help you believe in the easy yoke of His love once again.

God is neither surprised nor derailed by what we have (and haven’t) made of this time, so I urge you not to let it drive a wedge between you and the Father. God does not need our productivity to accomplish His work in the world, but He does want our hearts and our trust in His promises. So today, let’s come to Him, surrender the fruits of this time, and taste the freedom that comes from His unfailing love for His children.

Prayer: Father, I am thankful that I belong to You. You are a good, endlessly good, Father. I confess that I still try to earn Your affection and praise by being useful. Teach me to trust in Your amazing and unconditional love once more. I want to be free in Your love! Amen.

Bible Reading for Today: Isaiah 14


Lunch Break Study

Read Luke 15:18-241‘I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ 20 So he got up and went to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.21 “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ 22 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.”

Questions to Consider

  1. What is the younger son’s plan to come back to his father? What does this tell us about his understanding of his father?
  2. What is the father’s response like to his son? What does this tell us about God?
  3. Reflect on this passage and put yourself in the younger son’s shoes. If this was your experience, how would you accept the father’s love? In the context of yourself and God, how readily do you accept His love, forgiveness, and restoration?

Notes

  1. The younger son has several methods to try and win back his father. He plans to come back to his father humbled and address all his misdeeds and regrettable actions. He also plans to make himself useful and become a hired servant to earn his keep. The son’s impression of the father is that the father will find it difficult to forgive him, and that perhaps the father’s favor can be curried with usefulness.
  2. The father’s response to the son is such: he has been yearning for the son all this while as he seems him a long way off (v.20); he is filled with compassion (v.20); he hurriedly goes to restore his son with a public display of affection (v.20). Furthermore, the father not only welcomes him back home but immediately restores him to a place of honor and belonging in his household once more. This is an unexpected turn for us, as the father has forgiven all the transgressions quickly, and the father did not hesitate to embrace his wayward son. God’s love is like this – always beckoning towards us, always eager to bring us home, always ready to restore.
  3. Personal reflection.

Evening Reflection

martin-adams-uZZw2vh8eqY-unsplashTake some time to think about today’s topic. How do you feel about accepting God’s love? Are you more freed from guilt and shame? Let’s ask Him to continue to reassure us of His love and make it more of our reality for the days to come.

May 7, Thursday

UPDATED Today’s AMI QT Devotional, provided by Pastor Ryun Chang (AMI Teaching Pastor), is an updated version of his blog first posted on February 12, 2013.

Devotional Thought for This Morning

“No One Likes to be Chosen Last, Including the Lord”

Psalm 16:7-9, 11

I will praise the Lord, who counsels me; even at night my heart instructs me. 8 I have set the Lord always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken. 9 Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest secure. 11 You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.

will-truettner-ZrY7I1eEbi8-unsplashNo one wants to be the last person chosen for a pick-up game.  I know how that feels and believe me, you just want to hide.  Yes, no one likes to be chosen last. But when facing life’s troubles—and there’s plenty to go around in our world ravaged by the coronavirus—we often do this to God, seeking Him as a last resort after exhausting all other avenues. Why?  Maybe we don’t think God is that good, or He “plays” the way we do, like winning at all cost, including cheating, if necessary.  Think of Houston Astros who cheated their way to win the World Series.  (Of course, God doesn’t do that!)

Evidently, God doesn’t like to be chosen last either.  To the idol-worshipping Israel who chased after territorial gods such as Baal or Molech, God said, sarcastically, “Go and serve your idols, everyone of you!  But afterward you will surely listen to me” (Ez. 20:39).  Yes, doing things our way may work, temporarily, but ultimately, they will disappoint us.

Today’s psalm shows that, at some point in David’s life, he discovered that setting the LORD always before him was the path toward joy and security in life.  Later, Jesus would echo David’s outlook in life when he said, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matt. 6:33).

So, before seeking man’s counsel, get on your knees and cry out to Him.  Don’t consult the horoscopes, but diligently study God’s word and apply it to your life.  And that’s how we can receive God’s instructions and counsels! Only then will we truly understand what David meant when he sang, “You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.”

Reflect on the immensity of our LORD and how this great God actually cares about you!  Find rest in that today. You will need it as we are wallowing in the mire of COVID-19.  God, have mercy on us, especially when we, in our stupidity, seek You last.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, I praise and exalt You this morning for being a great and awesome God who, astoundingly, cares about an insignificant person like me.  How many times have I insulted You by choosing other means to solve my problems, instead of turning to You to seek Your wisdom, instruction, comfort!  I thank You, LORD, for always making Yourself available to me.  Amen.

Bible Reading for Today: Isaiah 13


Lunch Break Study 

Read Jeremiah 42:1-6: Then all the commanders of the forces, and Johanan the son of Kareah and Jezaniah the son of Hoshaiah, and all the people from the least to the greatest, came near 2 and said to Jeremiah the prophet, “Let our plea for mercy come before you, and pray to the Lord your God for us, for all this remnant—because we are left with but a few, as your eyes see us— 3 that the Lord your God may show us the way we should go, and the thing that we should do.” 4 Jeremiah the prophet said to them, “I have heard you. Behold, I will pray to the Lord your God according to your request, and whatever the Lord answers you I will tell you. I will keep nothing back from you.” 5 Then they said to Jeremiah, “May the Lord be a true and faithful witness against us if we do not act according to all the word with which the Lord your God sends you to us. 6 Whether it is good or bad, we will obey the voice of the Lord our God to whom we are sending you, that it may be well with us when we obey the voice of the Lord our God.”

Jeremiah 43:1-7: When Jeremiah finished speaking to all the people all these words of the Lord their God, with which the Lord their God had sent him to them, 2 Azariah the son of Hoshaiah and Johanan the son of Kareah and all the insolent men said to Jeremiah, “You are telling a lie. The Lord our God did not send you to say, ‘Do not go to Egypt to live there,’ 3 but Baruch the son of Neriah has set you against us, to deliver us into the hand of the Chaldeans, that they may kill us or take us into exile in Babylon.” 4 So Johanan the son of Kareah and all the commanders of the forces and all the people did not obey the voice of the Lord, to remain in the land of Judah. 5 But Johanan the son of Kareah and all the commanders of the forces took all the remnant of Judah who had returned to live in the land of Judah from all the nations to which they had been driven— 6 the men, the women, the children, the princesses, and every person whom Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard had left with Gedaliah the son of Ahikam, son of Shaphan; also Jeremiah the prophet and Baruch the son of Neriah. 7 And they came into the land of Egypt, for they did not obey the voice of the Lord. And they arrived at Tahpanhes.

Questions to Consider

  1. The hostile remark in verse 2 was made to the prophet Jeremiah. Who said this to him (Jer. 42:1-6)?
  2. Appearances can be deceiving.  How was this true in this case?  What did the prophet Jeremiah say that set them off (Jer. 42:7-18)?
  3. What did they do and how did God respond (Jer. 43:2-7, 44: 11-7)?
  4. When seeking God, what should be our posture?

Notes 

  1. After the Babylonian invasions, which left Judah desolate (due to many who were exiled), a small Jewish remnant came to Jeremiah inquiring what they should do.  Their request seemed quite genuine.
  2. In short, Jeremiah told them something they didn’t want to hear.  Egypt was where they wanted to go all along, but once they were told to go elsewhere, they accused Jeremiah of lying.  Apparently, they had come to Jeremiah with their minds already made-up and were determined to insist that their will was God’s will.  They were hoping that the prophet would agree with them but once it became clear that he wouldn’t, they proceeded to discredit the messenger.
  3. They went to Egypt in disobedience, even taking Jeremiah with them.  Nothing provokes God’s indignation more than our active disobedience; thus, God vowed to punish them.
  4. Unless we’ve the willingness to obey God, we shouldn’t seek His counsel.  Neither should we seek God after having already made up our minds nor to appear religious or spiritual.       

Evening Reflection

elizabeth-lies-T9Gsevu_N8Y-unsplashA day can go by so quickly.  Before turning in for the night, consider these questions:

What are some personal or work issues that are causing you to lose sleep at night, or at least make you feel stressed? Did anything happen today that caused you to stress out even more?  What have you done about them? Have you earnestly sought after God regarding these issues?  If not, do you know why you haven’t?  Do you have trust issue with God?  Write out a prayer to Him honestly telling the Lord how you feel.  Pray about your condition.

May 6, Wednesday

UPDATED Today’s AMI QT Devotional, provided by Pastor Peter Yoon of Kairos Christian Church in San Diego, is an updated version of his blog first posted on May 28, 2014.  Peter is a graduate of University of California, Riverside (BA) and Talbot School of Theology (M.Div.).

Devotional Thought for This Morning

“Not Sure Whether the COVID-19 is God’s Judgment but God Does Do This”

Jude 1:8-11

In the very same way, on the strength of their dreams these ungodly people pollute their own bodies, reject authority and heap abuse on celestial beings. 9 But even the archangel Michael, when he was disputing with the devil about the body of Moses, did not himself dare to condemn him for slander but said, “The Lord rebuke you!” 10 Yet these people slander whatever they do not understand, and the very things they do understand by instinct—as irrational animals do—will destroy them. 11 Woe to them! They have taken the way of Cain; they have rushed for profit into Balaam’s error; they have been destroyed in Korah’s rebellion.

oriento-xx69gBoiRXY-unsplashI will let others argue over whether the COVID-19 pandemic is God’s judgment—maybe it is or maybe it isn’t.  Having said that, one thing we really don’t like to think about is the fact that God does discipline His children.  Hebrews 12:6 unequivocally states, “The Lord disciplines those he loves and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.”  This is to say, when we disobey and sin, God responds with correction and discipline.

Now, there are two dangerous thoughts associated with God’s discipline of His children.  First, we may sometimes think that God is passive when He doesn’t immediately take actions.  That is not so, for He is being “patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9). Another dangerous thinking is that we no longer need to ask for forgiveness since we have already received Christ’s righteousness. However, we need to understand that there is still a parental forgiveness that God grants as a loving Father.

Our Father is both grieved and displeased when His children sin. God’s displeasure to our sins demonstrates His ongoing love for us. According to Heb.12:5-11, God’s discipline, though it is painful, actually confirms our relationship to a Father who still loves us. His desire is for us to share in His holiness as He trains us to bear the fruit of righteousness. None of us can claim perfection, for we are all still in God’s sanctifying process. Graham Cooke writes: “Sanctification does not mean that we no longer sin; rather it means that we feel awkward when we do sin.”

So, when you find yourself falling into sins, quickly humble yourself, confess your sins, and submit to His loving discipline. Remorse over sin, regular confession, and a continual attitude of repentance are marks of a healthy Christian life. David testified to the power of confession in Psalm 32: “When I kept silent about my sin, my body wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me; my vitality was drained away as with the fever heat of summer…I acknowledged my sin to You, and my iniquity I did not hide; I said, ‘I will confess my sin to the Lord’; and You forgave the guilt of my sin” (vv. 4-5).  Evidently, the guilt of David’s sin affected him physically and emotionally—he found relief only through full confession.

When you confess your sins, you are restored by a loving Father who delights to shower the brokenhearted and the repentant with His mercy and compassion.  Again, while no one can know for sure whether the COVID-19 is God’s judgment, this season of uncertainty is an apt time to get right with God in Christ.  Do it today.   

Prayer: Lord, I no longer desire to live with the guilt and shame of sin. The effects are burdensome. Grant to me the joy of Your salvation once again. Amen.

Bible Reading for Today: Isaiah 12


Lunch Break Study 

Read Luke 23:32; 39-43: Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed.  39 One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” 40 But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? 41 We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43 Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

Questions to Consider

  1. Compare and contrast the responses of two criminals crucified along with Jesus.
  2. What promise is given to the criminal who defends Jesus and makes a plea?
  3. When it comes to forgiveness, do you sometimes feel as though you need to first fix up your life and then come clean before God? How does this interaction with one of the criminals reveal the grace of God?

Notes 

  1. Though the reactions to Jesus’ crucifixion vary in intensity, the discussion among the thieves sum up the range of responses. While one continues to taunt Jesus, the other has a change of heart as he hears Jesus interceding for others.
  2. In faith, the thief turns to Jesus saying: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”  This man, despite a life full of sin, comes to Jesus and seeks forgiveness. He confesses his guilt and casts himself at Jesus’ mercy and saving power. Luke could not have painted a clearer portrait of God’s grace. Jesus’ reply shows that He gives the man more than he bargained for. The thief hopes that one day in the future, he will share in Jesus’ rule; instead, Jesus promises him paradise from the moment of his death: “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.” 
  3. This career criminal hadn’t done much good in his life to merit this gift from the Lord; he certainly didn’t have any time left in his life to do good in the future.  Now, that’s grace at its best.

Evening Reflection

maite-tiscar-cqBGQc98_eg-unsplashAs you have been spending time confessing and repenting, are you experiencing the Lord’s grace—the freedom and victory that comes through His Spirit?  Be reminded of what 2 Corinthians 4:17 promises: “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.”

May 5, Tuesday

UPDATED Today’s AMI QT blog, written by Pastor Mark Chun of Radiance Christian Church in S.F., was originally posted on March 19, 2013; it has been updated. Mark is a graduate of University of California, San Diego (BS) and Talbot School of Theology (M.Div.).

Devotional Thought for This Morning

“‘The Both/And’ Reality of the Believers”

Psalms 25:16-21

Vindicate me, O Lord, for I have walked in my integrity, and I have trusted in the Lord without wavering.  2 Prove me, O Lord, and try me; test my heart and my mind.  3 For your steadfast love is before my eyes, and I walk in your faithfulness. 4 I do not sit with men of falsehood, nor do I consort with hypocrites. 5 I hate the assembly of evildoers, and I will not sit with the wicked.

joshua-fuller-Vi-KdGEh4d0-unsplash

Say what David? Your integrity and trust in the Lord never wavered?  Ever?

So, it stands to reason that one area of possible confusion in the reading of the Psalms is when David describes himself as blameless or righteous or in this instance full of integrity and unwavering trust.  This seems like self-righteousness, moral superiority, and a denial of our own personal sinfulness.

So, we might ask, “How can this come from the same person—namely, David, who wrote, ‘Surely I was sinful at birth’ (Ps. 51:5) in reflection of the horrendous sins he had just committed: adultery and murder (2 Sam. 11).  For this reason, some believers never allow themselves the joy of having a free conscience.  They are always struggling with guilt over sin and remorse over things that have been left undone.

During the Reformation, Martin Luther rediscovered the solution to this paradox of the Christian life.  Though we are sinners, we are also saints at the same time.  On the one hand, knowledge of our sins keeps us humble before God and men; on the other hand, Christ’s imputed righteousness keeps us from self-condemnation and causes us to strive for the righteousness of God.  If we truly understand the forgiveness of Christ, then our conscience should be free enough to offer ourselves to the scrutiny of God’s testing and proving.  This, then, is the soteriological reality of “both/and” for the believers.

Do you have a healthy sense of who you are spiritually?   Do you wrestle with self-condemnation and guilt?  Spend some time praying for God’s unconditional love to be the source of your freedom and identity.  As you do, be reminded of what God declares through the prophet Isaiah: “I, even, I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more” (Is. 43:25).

Prayer: Lord Jesus, because of your blood, I can live life with the freedom that comes from knowing that my sins are completely forgiven and remembered no more.  Give me confidence today to live the life that you have called me, a life worthy of the Gospel.  Place your word deep in my heart, so that I can be kept from sinning against you.  Amen.

Bible Reading for Today: Isaiah 11


Lunch Break Study

Read Romans 8:1 (NIV): There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life has set you[b] free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. 3 For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. 5 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. 6 For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.

Questions to Consider

  1. What is the basis of our freedom from condemnation (Romans 7:25)?
  2. How can we overcome the tension caused by our two natures, the nature of sin and the new nature (Romans 8:6)?
  3. How can we break the power of sin in our lives (Romans 8:2)?

Notes

  1. Romans 7:25 teaches us that we have been freed from the consequence of sin by the atoning death of Jesus Christ.  This is the objective reality that believers live in and no matter what our subjective emotions and experience might tell us, we no longer live under the threat of condemnation.
  2. We cannot hope to live a life of peace and abundance unless we submit ourselves to the control of Holy Spirit.  Paul points out the difference between a mind that is Spirit-controlled as opposed to one that is dominated by our sinful desires.  Transformation can only come when there is a renewing of the mind and a desire to take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ  (Romans 12:2).
  3. Paul presents two options to live under, the repressive power of sin or the freedom of the Spirit.  The work of Jesus Christ is not the end of the gospel, but the beginning of a life lived by the law of the Spirit.  Unfortunately, many believers are stuck in the old patterns of sin even though the power of sin has been broken.  A classic illustration of this principle involves pigeons that are tied down from birth.  Even when those strings are cut later in life, these pigeons are unwilling to fly because they are still in bondage to the old patterns.  This is where prayer ministry and inner healing can help release a believer from these self-imposed limitations and struggles with sin.

Evening Reflection

megha-ajith-WRST5Pops3E-unsplashReturning to what we talked about this afternoon, at times, it is difficult not to feel like a hypocrite as we try to live out our faith.  We can all appreciate and relate to the words of the apostle Paul when he writes, “For what I do is not the good I want to do.”  This can become a maddening condition in our souls and the only solution is the freedom found in the finished work of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit.

Did you feel the Holy Spirit’s empowering presence during the day?  Reflect on how God guided you through the daily routine of work, family, and life.

May 4, Monday

UPDATED Today’s AMI QT Devotional, prepared by then-staff of Kairos Christian Church in San Diego, was first posted on July 15, 2013; it has been updated.

Devotional Thought for This Morning

“The First Thing”

Psalm 77:1-2

I cried out to God for help; I cried out to God to hear me. 2 When I was in distress, I sought the Lord; at night I stretched out untiring hands, and I would not be comforted.

behy-studio-zapEcsZipng-unsplashThere are many ways to respond to stress or sadness.  What has been our strategies while we have been cooped up at our homes under the ordinance of shelter in place.  We might watch TV, go shopping (online), or play video games in an attempt to distract ourselves with noise.  Some may drink or sleep as much as possible to avoid thinking altogether.  We could replay events and worries, assigning blame to others (e.g., politicians, an entire country or organization, etc.) and even to God.  We may even talk with others about our problems.

But oftentimes, God is the last person we seek out.  Ignoring our problems and talking to no one is not the solution, but neither is talking incessantly to ourselves or even to others.  When Israel sought out Egypt for help, God said of the latter, “That unprofitable nation . . . Egypt, whose help is utterly useless.  Therefore I call her . . . the Do-Nothing” (Is. 30:6b-7).  No, the first thing we do is seeking God, to speak to and hear from Him in His Word and through the Holy Spirit who resides in the hearts of all believers (2 Cor. 1:22).

And that’s what we see here, as the psalmist, amid his distress, chooses to cry to God for help.  His prayer is not calm and collected, but he cries out loudly to God in anguish in order that He might hear him.  He prays day and night.  The psalmist stretches out his hands toward God without ceasing, refusing to be comforted until God Himself answers his cries.

As we encounter stress and other challenges during this season of COVID-19, let us be quick to pray even before mustering up our own strength or devising our own answers.  Pray that God would make us supernaturally aware of His presence and power throughout the day.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, life in this fallen world is hard, all the more so now than ever before.  Forgive me that even after having known You for so long, I am still so foolish as to believe that I can solve the challenges that I face.  May I not rely on my wisdom or strength today.  May I not despair in the face of my helplessness to solve all the issues around me.  Rather, help me to look to You. Amen.

Bible Reading for Today: Isaiah 10


Lunch Break Study

Read James 2:18-26 (NIV): But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. 19 You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that —and shudder. 20 You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? 21 Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. 23 And the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend. 24 You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone. 25 In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? 26 As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.

Questions to Consider

  1. What are the two types of faith that James contrasts in this section?
  2. What three characters does James use to make his point that faith without deeds is dead?
  3. Is there an area in your life that God is leading you to put your faith into visible action?

Notes

  1. James contrasts a faith without any deeds versus a faith that is proven by good deeds. James was a splendid reader of people. He knew that some would respond to his teaching by suggesting that it was just a matter of emphasis. A Christian over here specializes in faith, and one over there specializes in works. But both are true Christians! James will have none of it! He maintains that it is impossible to show faith without works, but it is possible to show faith through works.
  2. James first uses the devil to illustrate his point, noting that even the demons believe in God! They know the truth about God, and the truth they know makes them “tremble” or “shudder.”   But is their belief a saving belief? Of course not! And neither is our belief in God, if it consists of nothing more than nodding in agreement with various propositions and statements about God. James also illustrates with Abraham and Rahab that both put their faith into action, to reiterate that faith without action is dead.
  3. For instance, consider ways you can really be helpful to those who have been greatly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Evening Reflection

carolyn-v-bIwFwR2fSsA-unsplashAs you begin another week, what “distractions” or “noise” can you put aside this week so that you can better hear His voice?

Prayer: Heavenly Father, help me to obey your Word as it speaks to me in my circumstances. Empower my will so I can turn off my devices, so I won’t be distracted so much. Amen.

May 3, Sunday

REPOST Today’s Spiritual Food for Thought is a reprint of Kate Moon’s blog originally posted on May 10, 2014.  Kate continues to serve the Lord in E. Asia.

Spiritual Food for Thought for the Weekend

“One Disadvantage Advantage of Being a Woman”

Titus 2:3

“Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good.”

priscilla-du-preez-6hQ254c7FEI-unsplashYou Just Don’t Understand, by Deborah Tannen, spent four years on the New York Times bestseller list (eight months at number one) because her discussion of the differences between the way that men and women engage in conversation touched a chord.  A look today at some of her insights on the way women use “talking”:

“For most women, the language of conversation is primarily a language of rapport: a way of establishing connections and negotiating relationships. Emphasis is placed on displaying similarities and matching experiences . . .. [In contrast,] for most men, talk is primarily a means to preserve independence and negotiate and maintain status in a hierarchical social order. This is done by exhibiting knowledge and skill, and by holding center stage through verbal performance such as storytelling, joking, or imparting information.”

“Girls’ friendships are made and maintained by telling secrets. For grown women too, the essence of friendship is talk, telling each other what they’re thinking and feeling, and what happened that day: who was at the bus stop, who called, what they said, how that made them feel.”

“There is [a] way that the desire to forge connections may be at work in creating gossip. Talking about someone who is not there is a way of establishing rapport with someone who is there. By agreeing about their evaluation of someone else, people reinforce their shared values and world views.”

“Although gossip can be destructive, it isn’t always; it can serve a crucial function in establishing intimacy–especially if it is not ‘talking against’ but simply ‘talking about.’”

What we can see from the excerpts above is that because of the way women use language to engage with one another, they can be much more susceptible to becoming slanderers.  Addressing this tendency, the Bible encourages older women to use their words in more constructive ways.  Teaching others does not necessarily mean by giving lectures (i.e., in the way that Tannen would say is more natural for men).  Women can teach others through conversations that reach out, connect, build intimacy – sharing their lives with others in ways that encourage and build them up, at the same time making every effort to be watchful that they do not cross the line, falling into “talking against” others in the name of sharing what they are going through.

As we share our lives with one another, can we be more mindful of our words today?

Prayer: Lord, remind us of the power of words.  Help us to be alert so that we don’t “let any unwholesome talk come out of our mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen” (Eph. 4:29).  Amen.

Bible Reading for Today: Isaiah 9

May 2, Saturday

UPDATED Today’s Spiritual Food for Thought, written by Pastor Sam Lee who leads Catalyst Agape Church in Northern New Jersey, was first posted on October 24, 2013.  He is a graduate of University of Wisconsin (BA) and Biblical Theological Seminary (M.Div.).

Spiritual Food for Thought for the Weekend

“Read God’s Word, Meet Jesus”

Matt. 13:14-15b (NIV)

In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah: “You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving. For this people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes.”

sincerely-media-tX0XV9S5CWo-unsplashIntroduction: In a dated-video I (P. Ryun) recently viewed, a pastor from America, who was visiting China at the time, told a roomful of Chinese underground church leaders, “In my country, we have on average two bibles per family, but we don’t read any of them.”  Is that us?  If we do one thing differently as a result of going through the travails of COVID-19 pandemic, let’s really dig into God’s eternal truth embedded in Scripture.

During my seminary years, I had wondered why some (liberal) scholars didn’t have faith in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour.  It is apparent that people read the Bible for many different purposes.  On the one hand, some unbelieving critics scrutinize the Bible to find errors in order to justify their unbelief; that is to say, they read the text but never perceive the truth in it.

Then there are some believers who read it merely to gain information, that is, insights and principles that satisfy their curious or fertile minds.  Of course, this is not necessarily a bad thing; nevertheless, the goal of reading and studying the Bible should be to meet Jesus.  Reading the Bible with our head inevitably leaves our heart untouched; as a result, our lives remain unchanged.  The goal of our devotions is to have a fresh encounter with Jesus Christ; for that to happen, the attitude of our heart must be in the right place when reading the Scripture, which is liken to a double-edged sword (Heb. 4:12) and fire (Jer. 23:29).

In the Gospel of John, we read, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning… The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:1- 2, 14 NIV). Jesus, the Word incarnate, is co-eternal with God from the beginning; Jesus is the same yesterday and today and tomorrow.  Yet, this glorious Son of God came to earth in the flesh, in the form of a servant; that’s humility (Phil. 2:5-8).  My prayer is that, as we approach the Word of God with the attitude of a humble heart—even more so since we have been greatly humbled by the pandemic—we would encounter this Jesus, along with the Father and the Holy Spirit, in every page of the Bible.

Prayer: Lord, help me to be like the Thessalonians who “accepted [the word of God] not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the word of God” (1 Thess. 2:13), so that it will “judge the thoughts and attitudes of my heart” (Heb. 4:12).  Empower and motivate me to discipline myself to really read, study and meditate on Your eternal word.  Amen.   

Bible Reading for Today: Isaiah 7-8

May 1, Friday

UPDATED Today’s AMI QT Devotional, first posted on August 15, 2014, is provided by Mei Lan Thallman who serves at Grace Covenant Church in Philadelphia.  Mei Lan is a graduate of Asbury College (BA) and Asbury Theological Seminary (MA) in Kentucky.

Devotional Thought for This Morning

“Be a FAT Christian”

Psalm 86:11

Teach me your way, Lord, that I may rely on your faithfulness; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name.

tanalee-youngblood-CMdQcxsWZE0-unsplashHow are you doing all cooped up at home?  It’s sort of a “great time” to be lazy because no one will likely judge us for it.  Excuse me for spoiling the party but it’s very important for Christians to continuously cultivate and maintain an attitude of being a FAT disciple of Christ Jesus.  FAT stands for faithful, available and teachable.  I have discovered that the older I get and the longer I serve in ministry, it gets harder to remain teachable.  But, as we avail ourselves to learn from God, often lessons come in unexpected ways and moments, such as the COVID-19 pandemic that has caught everyone by surprise.

The author of this psalm, David, is a prime example.  God sought out and hand-picked the young shepherd boy David and anointed him through the Prophet Samuel to be the future King of Israel.  But David didn’t become king overnight: he went from being a shepherd boy to a national hero when he defeated Goliath, but then he became a fugitive who constantly had to run from the murderous King Saul.  In fact, when David wrote this psalm, he was hiding in the caves in the wilderness from the relentless and determined pursuit of Saul and his best army.  As a matter of speaking, this was his COVID-19.

Yet instead of focusing on his circumstances, his enemy, or his unjust treatment, David focused on his God, and more importantly, God’s faithfulness throughout his life.  From his own outlook of the predicament he was facing, David could easily have fallen into self-pity and a victim mentality.  But, amid this terrible situation, he remained teachable with the following kind of prayer and attitude toward God:  “I may not understand what is happening to me, O LORD, but I can still trust you and I can still love you with my whole heart, despite of everything that is happening to me.  Teach me your way, LORD.  I need to learn to see my circumstances through Your eyes.  I completely trust and rely on Your goodness, faithfulness, and ability to get me out of this trouble.”

For many of us who are really struggling with the onslaught of the present crisis and are, therefore, fearful and discouraged, may you embody the same spiritual outlook that made David to be faithful, available and teachable unto God in his worst moment.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, you are the author and perfecter of my faith.  Thank you that even as I grow in my walk with you, I will never outgrow my need and dependency on you.  Cultivate in me a teachable spirit all the days of my life and teach me always to rely on your faithfulness.  Amen.

Bible Reading for Today: Isaiah 6


Lunch Break Study

Read Luke 5:1-8: On one occasion, while the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he was standing by the lake of Gennesaret, 2 and he saw two boats by the lake, but the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. 3 Getting into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, he asked him to put out a little from the land. And he sat down and taught the people from the boat. 4 And when he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” 5 And Simon answered, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.” 6 And when they had done this, they enclosed a large number of fish, and their nets were breaking. 7 They signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink. 8 But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.”

Questions to Consider

  1. This passage doesn’t appear to deal with life’s great issues; after all, it is only about fishing. But what attitude does Peter display here that is critical when difficult circumstances inundate us?
  2. How would you define trust?  Why is it difficult to do?
  3. What resulted from this encounter?  What, then, is the ultimate goal of trusting God?

Notes

  1. Peter is an experienced fisherman, while Jesus, by trade, is a carpenter.  Nevertheless, sensing that Jesus is more than just a man, Peter, despite being tired from fishing all night, trusts Jesus’ words by lowering the net in an area that he might have covered earlier.   
  2. It is putting into action the words of a person whom you say you believe.  It is not easy since you have your own ideas as well; in fact, you might have more expertise, as in the case of Peter.
  3. Having caught an enormous amount of fish, it dawns on Peter that this Jesus indeed is the Lord, which leads him to say, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man.”  The ultimate goal of trusting God, then, is to experience His greatness, love, and this case, holiness.

Evening Reflection

freestocks-EMQlhm12OfI-unsplashDid anything happen today that really tested your trust in God, like what Jesus did to/for Phillip?

Lifting up his eyes, then, and seeing that a large crowd was coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, ‘Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?’ 6 He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he would do. 7 Philip answered him, ‘Two hundred denarii worth of bread would not be enough for each of them to get a little’” (Jn. 6:5-7).

Pray for a better day tomorrow in which you live by faith in your Lord Jesus Christ.

April 30, Thursday

UPDATED Today’s AMI QT Devotional, provided by Pastor Ryun Chang (AMI Teaching Pastor), is an updated version of his blog first posted on February 13, 2013.

Devotional Thought for This Morning

“A Mixed Bag Christian”

Psalm 17:1-3

Hear, O Lord, my righteous plea; listen to my cry. Give ear to my prayer —it does not rise from deceitful lips. 2 May my vindication come from you; may your eyes see what is right. 3 Though you probe my heart and examine me at night, though you test me, you will find nothing; I have resolved that my mouth will not sin.

bogdan-yukhymchuk-tIvWsbppj5k-unsplashIntroduction: When facing life’s difficult moments, we say awful things we wouldn’t normally say.  Freddie Mercury, in “Bohemian Rhapsody, sings, “Sometimes I wish I’d never been born at all.”  That’s so sad and awful.  As difficult days lie ahead for many of us in the aftermath of COVID-19, let’s guard our tongues: instead of self-inflicted curses or complaining, let’s express words of appreciation and gratitude.  With that in mind, read todays’ blog.

Inspired by this psalm of David— “I have resolved that my mouth will not sin” —some may vow to never sin with their tongues.  A good try but that’s not going to happen, for James declares, “If anyone who is never at fault in what he says, he is a perfect man, but no man can tame the tongue” (James 3:2, 8).

Even a cursory look at the life of King David would indicate how he fell short of his vow; that is, at times, David was guilty of deceitful lips as well, like when he was being duplicitous with Uriah, the husband of the woman with whom he sinned.  While David was telling Uriah, whom he had just summoned to the palace from the battlefield, “Remain here today also, and tomorrow I will send you back” (2 Sam. 11:12), the king was plotting to murder him.

Nevertheless, most of the time, David handled himself well as seen in his dealing with the murderous Saul who repeatedly tried to kill him.  Actually, I don’t recall David ever saying anything negative about Saul even though the latter deserved it; in fact, David continued to refer to Saul as “the LORD’s anointed” (1 Sam. 26:11) even after God had long departed from him (1 Sam. 18:12).  Perhaps, David was thinking of his honorable treatment of Saul when he said, “You will find nothing” (i.e., no fault).   

What these mixed data from the life of David point to is the fact that we are a mixed bag; that is, we are going to have good days as well as bad; on some days we are going to act and speak like a saint; but, on our off days, we may give the devil run for his money.  Considering that, what we desperately need to do is to depend on God who is always good and gracious— “There is only One who is good,” said Jesus (Matt. 19:17).  Because God is good, He forgives us when, “with [our tongues], we curse men” (James 3:9) or utter ungrateful words directed at God (Ps. 44:23).  And He hears our prayers not because we are good; nor does He not hear our prayers because we are bad.  God hears us because He is good, for “every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father” (James 1:17).

As many of us need to wade through difficult circumstances in the aftermath of COVID-19, let’s keep the complaints to a minimum; instead, let’s use our tongues to express thankfulness to God on account of what His Son did for us.  And let’s continue to bring our petitions before the Lord, knowing that He always hears us.

Prayer: Dear LORD, I admit that I often come to You with a sense of entitlement. For every good deed I do, I act as if You owe me a favor.  I am reminded today that apart from having been made in God’s image and Your Spirit dwelling in me, I cannot do anything that is remotely good!  I pray to You, not based on my righteousness, but Yours. Thank You!       

Bible Reading for Today: Isaiah 5


Lunch Break Study

Read 1 Corinthians 1:2, 6:11 (ESV): To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours . . . 11  And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”

Questions to Consider

  1. Paul said that the believers in Corinth were already sanctified (holy). Really? How?  Look at some of their problems (1 Cor. 1:11, 3:1-4, 5:1-2, 6:1, 11:20-21).
  2. On what basis was Paul able to claim this (1 Cor. 6:11; Rom. 4:22-4)?  Can this become dangerous?
  3. Does Paul present another kind of sanctification?  How would you describe this (2 Cor. 7:1; Phil. 2:12)?

Notes

  1. Upon seeing how unholy the Corinthian church actually was, we marvel at the magnitude of Paul’s declaration in 1 Cor. 1:2 and 6:11: “You were sanctified.”  This church was beset by immorality, drunkenness, division, envy, lawsuits, to name a few.
  2. Paul was able to claim this based on the fact that the believers are imputed with the righteousness of Christ; thus, when God sees them through Christ’s righteousness, He sees holy people!  This is called positional sanctification—we are already in Christ, which is true.  However, one danger of this type of positional theology is that it can induce people to be lazy with respect to disciplining themselves to actually live the holy life.  In some cases, this can lead to licentiousness (Jud. 1:4).
  3. Paul introduced the concept of progressive (experiential) sanctification in which the believers are called to actively be involved in their actual sanctification.  Therefore, Paul urged the Corinthians to purify themselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, and the Philippians to work out their salvation with fear and trembling. But if we aren’t mindful that we’re already sanctified in Christ apart from our good deeds, our effort to sanctify us may lead to spiritual pride.  So, we need both.          

Evening Reflection

stil-BJ_BMDHjxhc-unsplashIn view of what we discussed in today’s Lunch Break Study, consider these questions: Do you think about the need to be holy in your life?  If not, why not?  What are some habits that are keeping you from holiness?

Review today from the standpoint of holiness. What temptations did you face?  How did you handle them?  What did you learn?  Write out a prayer asking the LORD to help you to overcome those habits (thoughts and actions) that are your greatest challenge.

April 29, Wednesday

UPDATED Today’s AMI QT Devotional, first posted on November 4, 2013, is provided by Pastor David Kwon who heads Journey Community Church in Raleigh, North Carolina.  He is a graduate of Drexel University (BS) and Columbia International University (M.Div.).

Devotional Thought for This Morning

Who Really Wants to be Disciplined?  Not Me.

Psalm 94:12-15 (NIV)

Blessed is the man whom you discipline, O Lord, and whom you teach out of your law,
13 to give him rest from days of trouble, until a pit is dug for the wicked. 14 For the Lord will not forsake his people; he will not abandon his heritage; 15 for justice will return to the righteous, and all the upright in heart will follow it.

priscilla-du-preez-aSKW9w1DAdo-unsplashTom Landry, former coach of The Dallas Cowboys, once said, “The job of the football coach is to make men do what they don’t want to do, in order to achieve what they’ve always wanted to be.” As true as that may be, very few players are particularly fond of their coach when he institutes a grueling three-a-day practice schedule. Likewise, I’ve yet to meet a child who really believes his parents when they say, “This is going to hurt me more than it hurts you.” or “I’m doing this because I love you.”  Come on, who really wants to be disciplined?

Human aversion to discipline is an age-old reality. Even those who choose to endure it are often doing just that—enduring it.  But in Psalm 94, the Psalmist says the disciplined are blessed (or “happy”) because God’s discipline points to his commitment to his people—his unwillingness to abandon us when we are found lacking or out of shape. Sometimes God’s discipline looks like that of a coach—when He pushes us and stretches us to uncomfortable limits to train us to be more like Christ. Other times, discipline is a bit graver when God, as our Father, must rebuke and correct us when we err. Often this comes through God allowing trying circumstances—like the COVID-19 pandemic that is affecting our lives—into our lives and sustaining us through them.

Either way, we can rejoice as the Psalmist did in God’s faithfulness to us knowing that no matter how out of shape he finds us or how much we misbehave, his commitment to us is unending and his love for us is demonstrated in his patience to discipline us. With this perspective we can truly experience what Richard Foster dubbed a “celebration of discipline.” Important words to remember as we enter a post COVID-19 world full of uncertainties.  May we come out of it as better human beings and children of God.

Prayer: Dear God, thank You for so loving me that You are willing to discipline me to make me better, that is, holier in my actual state.  Thank You also for my permanent standing in Christ in that I am always holy through Your Son. Amen.   

Bible Reading for Today: Isaiah 4


Lunch Break Study

Read Hebrews 12:5-13 (NIV): And have you completely forgotten this word of encouragement that addresses you as a father addresses his son? It says, “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you,
6 because the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.” 7 Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? 8 If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all. 9 Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live! 10 They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. 11 No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. 12 Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. 13 “Make level paths for your feet,” so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed.

Questions to Consider

  1. What kinds of things does the writer of Hebrews say we should endure as discipline? What are some things God has used in your life to discipline you?
  2. According to the passage, why does God discipline us?
  3. What is the end result of divine discipline? Why is this a great source of encouragement?

Are there situations in your life you need to submit to God, welcoming his discipline in anticipation of what it will accomplish? Offer those things to God and ask for His strength to endure.

Notes

  1. The writer says that “hardships” should be endured as discipline. Hardship is a broad term that can include just about any situation of difficulty. The important point to remember is the sovereignty of God. He is in control of all things. Therefore, if He allows difficulties of any kind in our lives, it’s because He has a purpose in doing so, and He promises to work it all together for our good.
  2. Because He loves us (vs. 6); Because we are His children (vs. 6); So that we may share in his holiness (vs. 10) – to purge us of our sins and purify us to be more like Christ.
  3. Righteousness and peace (vs. 11); healing (vs. 13) God’s discipline leads to us being more like Christ – walking in the righteousness and peace He affords us as we are healed from the brokenness of sin.

Evening Reflection

thomas-kinto-hLyGu4QD8E0-unsplashProverbs 15:32 tells us that “If you reject discipline, you only harm yourself; but if you listen to correction, you grow in understanding” (NLT).  While discipline isn’t the most fun thing in the world, it is a means God’s grace. Our loving Father uses the very brokenness we’ve created in our sin to purify us and train us for righteousness. Spend some time thanking God for his faithfulness in the difficult circumstances you may be facing. Acknowledge that He is in control and purifying you through them. Ask Him to grant you understanding as He enables you to endure.