May 3, Friday

Devotional Thoughts for Today

“God’s Guidance Today”

Exodus 23:20-21 (NIV)

“See, I am sending an angel ahead of you to guard you along the way and to bring you to the place I have prepared. 21 Pay attention to him and listen to what he says. Do not rebel against him; he will not forgive your rebellion, since my Name is in him. 

In every season and iteration of doing life with God, in biblical times and today, the people of God are given God’s guidance for life’s journey. For the Israelites after the exodus, a visible manifestation of God’s presence was given. A pillar of smoke by night and fire by day guided their journey through the wilderness. God promised, in the verses above, to send a heavenly messenger ahead of them for the purposes of both guidance and protection. All the people had to do was pay attention to God’s messenger, listen and obey.

It almost seems silly that God would command them to listen and not rebel against the angel. After all, they are in the wilderness with no clue how to get to the place they are going. God brought them out of the place they left and God alone could lead them to wherever they are headed. Furthermore, God is promising both guidance and protection. Why on earth would they rebel against that!? Well, we know how the story goes. The journey through the wilderness was long and hard and the hearts of the people were far from formed in righteousness. And, thus, rebellion was swift and sure.

I often wish we had physical manifestations of God’s presence today. A clear, audible voice to say do this or that and a visible manifestation of Godself guiding and protecting us every day. But even with those things in place, we too would rebel. And although we are without smoke and fire, God has not left us alone—we have the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is our help, who comes alongside us to guide our steps and guard our way. God’s Spirit within us forms our heart so that we are able to not rebel and so are positioned to experience the fullness of God’s promises, the abundant afforded in Christ. But sometimes, at least for me, it’s hard to know when the Spirit is speaking and how God is calling me to obey.

I’ve picked up a few tools over the years that have been helpful:

(1) Time in God’s word (Scripture), time with God’s people (fellowship), and time in God’s presence (prayer): God has revealed Godself in Scripture, God’s presence resides in God’s people, and God has promised to meet us in prayer.

(2) Contemplative practices and Sabbath rest: In contemplation, the heart and mind are able to slow down and become aware of oneself, one’s surrounds, and God’s presence (which is always near). Likewise, rhythms that honor Sabbath leave margin for us to sense God’s movements.

Regardless of your preferred practice, we must each find ways to sense the movement and hear the voice of God’s Spirit.

But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. (John 14:26)

Prayer: Dear Lord, guide me toward Your path, toward Your will, toward Your Son.  Thank You for the Word and the Spirit through which I’m guided by You daily.  Amen.

Bible Reading for Today: 2 Corinthians 2


Lunch Break Study

Read Psalm 139:1-12 (NIV): You have searched me, Lord, and you know me. 2 You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. 3 You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. 4 Before a word is on my tongue you, Lord, know it completely. 5 You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me. 6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain. 7 Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? 8 If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. 9 If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, 10 even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. 11 If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,” 12 even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.

Question to Consider

  1. In the first few verses, what is the psalmist (David) emphasizing about God? Why is this such mind-blowing truth?
  2. How does David respond to God’s intimate knowledge of and constant nearness to him?
  3. How does God’s intimate knowledge of you make you feel? Does it encourage you or make you feel “hemmed in”? How does knowing God is always near make you feel? Fearful or safe? Why might you feel this way?

Notes

  1. David is focusing on God’s intimate knowledge of him. God knows the intricacies of his heart and all the facts of his life. God knows his daily movements and is aware of his mundane activities and even his travel plans. Even when David thinks he’s far from God, God is so near as to know David’s thoughts. God knows his words and everything about him. Because theology teaches us that God is all-knowing, the awesomeness of these statements may be lost upon us. God is infinite and has no reason or need to be so actively mindful of you or me. God chooses this. Just imagine what it would take for you to exist in the kind of relationship with another person that was so intimate that you could make these statements about them.
  2. Not positively… David feels trapped or hemmed in by God. Even if he wanted to escape, he feels like he couldn’t. That’s a fearsome thought. This is of course David’s initial response. Later in the Psalm he is thankful for God’s presence and invites God to “search and know” him.
  3. Personal reflection.


Evening Reflection

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. 2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12:1-2)

Two questions, informed by Romans 12:1-2, have come in clutch for me as I seek to discern the leading of the Spirit in my life. The first is, “God, what do you want me to do for you?” or, to put it a different way, “How can I offer myself to You in worship in this specific situation?” The second is, “What do I want to do for and with God?” or, “In light of my resources (time, talent, treasure) and the sort of person God has formed in me, how can I intentionally and strategically orient and direct the whole of my life toward the end of maximum Kingdom impact?” The first question is a micro kind of question and has been helpful in all the little decisions that come my way on any given day. The second approaches Spiritual guidance on a more macro level and has help me keep the end goal in mind.

What kinds of questions help you discern God’s guidance in your life? Spend time reflecting on Romans 12:1-2. What would it look like for you to offer yourself (your time, talent, and treasures) in worship to God in your present context? In light of your personality, gifts, resources, passions and experiences, what might strategic Kingdom building look like in your life long term?

May 2, Thursday

Devotional Thoughts for Today

“Let’s Celebrate!”

Exodus 23:14-17 (NIV)

“Three times a year you are to celebrate a festival to me. 15 “Celebrate the Festival of Unleavened Bread; for seven days eat bread made without yeast, as I commanded you. Do this at the appointed time in the month of Aviv, for in that month you came out of Egypt. “No one is to appear before me empty-handed. 16 “Celebrate the Festival of Harvest with the firstfruits of the crops you sow in your field. “Celebrate the Festival of Ingathering at the end of the year, when you gather in your crops from the field. 17 “Three times a year all the men are to appear before the Sovereign Lord.

In his book on spiritual disciplines, John Ortberg dedicates a chapter to celebration – the discipline by which one cultivates joy. God is a joyful God, but we, God’s people, are not naturally a joyful bunch. Joy is something that, on this side of heaven, must be intentionally cultivated. One way we do this is through rejoicing and relishing in the good (past and present) in our lives and in the world.

God makes celebration a requirement in the law because God is a joyful God. And when God’s people celebrate, they don’t just remember what God has done but throw an outright party as they do. Scripture tells many stories of God’s people and their festivals. These worshipful gatherings were filled with songs of praise, collective remembering of God’s faithfulness, and table fellowship (good food and drink). These gatherings were central to the life of God’s people. Jesus’ first recorded miracle was literally re-stocking the wine for a party. The culmination of God’s redemptive work in the world is described in Revelation as a wedding feast (think wedding reception, but only the fun parts… none of the awkward couple dances and toasts).

Ortberg retells the story of creation to contrast to the typical human heart with God’s joyful heart.

Imagine Genesis if God approached his work as we so often do:

In the beginning, it was nine o’clock, so God had to go to work. He filled out a requisition to separate light from darkness. He considered making stars to beautify the night, and planets to fill the skies, but thought it sounded like too much work; and besides, thought God, “That’s not my job.” So he decided to knock off early and call it a day. And he looked at what he had done and he said, “It’ll have to do.”… And at the end of the week, God was seriously burned out. So he breathed a big sigh of relief and said, “Thank Me, it’s Friday.”

Thankfully, this is not how the story goes.

On the first day, “God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good.” The first day was a Dee Dah Day [a day of celebration]. And God did a little dance. And the next day God said to the light, “Do it again.” And the light did it again, and God danced once again. And so it has gone every day down to this one—down to the morning of the day you were born; down to the morning of this day in which you read these words (Ortberg, The Life You’ve Always Wanted).

God longs to create in us hearts that embark upon mundane activities with child-like joy. In place

of boredom we can experience wonder. In place of self-important hurry, we can stop and smell the roses.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, You’ve sent me into the world to be a light and a blessing, and to celebrate Your blessed presence. May my faithfulness in even the most menial tasks be pleasing unto You and a cause for celebration in my life.  May it also bless those around me. Amen.

Bible Reading for Today: 2 Corinthians 1


Lunch Break Study

Read Psalm 150 (NIV): Praise the Lord. Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty heavens. 2 Praise him for his acts of power; praise him for his surpassing greatness. 3 Praise him with the sounding of the trumpet, praise him with the harp and lyre, 4 praise him with timbrel and dancing, praise him with the strings and pipe, 5 praise him with the clash of cymbals, praise him with resounding cymbals. 6 Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.

Praise the Lord.

Question to Consider

  1. Where does the psalmist encourage God’s people to praise God? What are some reasons the psalmist encourages the people of God to praise God?  
  2. How does the psalmist encourage God’s people to praise God, and who is called upon to do this?
  3. What are your favorite ways to praise God? To what attributes of God and works of God are you most drawn?

Notes

  1. In the sanctuary – spaces of corporate worship; in God’s mighty heavens (possibly a call to praise in the create world, allowing praises to reach the skies or a call for praise of God by heavenly beings). Essentially, there is no place on earth or in heaven where God should not be praised. God’s acts of power (what God has done); God’s surpassing greatness (who God is)
  2. With musical instruments (accompanied by singing) and with dancing. Everyone! Not just everyone, but everything with breath (so the animals too). And elsewhere in the psalms we see that the earth herself, her rivers and mountains, give praise to God.
  3. Personal reflection.

 


Evening Reflection

Ortberg concludes his chapter by reflecting on the nature of true celebration and joy:

True celebration is the inverse of hedonism. Hedonism is the demand for more and more pleasure for personal gratification. It always follows the law of diminishing returns, so that what produced joy in us yesterday no longer does today. Our capacity for joy diminishes. Celebration is not like that. When we celebrate, we exercise our ability to see and feel goodness in the simplest gifts of God. We are able to take delight today in something we wouldn’t have even noticed yesterday. Our capacity for joy increases.

True joy, as it turns out, comes only to those who have devoted their lives to something greater than personal happiness. This is most visible in extraordinary lives, in saints and martyrs. But it is no less true for ordinary people like us. One test of authentic joy is its compatibility with pain. Joy in this world is always joy “in spite of” something. Joy is, as Karl Barth put it, a “defiant nevertheless” set at a full stop against bitterness and resentment. If we don’t rejoice today, we will not rejoice at all. If we wait until conditions are perfect, we will still be waiting when we die. If we are going to rejoice, it must be in this day. This is the day that the Lord has made.

End today by reflecting on the words above with God. Are there patterns in your life keep you from celebration and joy? What are some practical ways you can cultivate joy by practicing celebration?

May 1, Wednesday

Devotional Thoughts for Today

“Another Look at Sabbath”

Exodus 23:10-13 (NIV)

“For six years you are to sow your fields and harvest the crops, 11 but during the seventh year let the land lie unplowed and unused. Then the poor among your people may get food from it, and the wild animals may eat what is left. Do the same with your vineyard and your olive grove. 12 “Six days do your work, but on the seventh day do not work, so that your ox and your donkey may rest, and so that the slave born in your household and the foreigner living among you may be refreshed. 13 “Be careful to do everything I have said to you. Do not invoke the names of other gods; do not let them be heard on your lips.

When was in college, shortly after I decided to follow Jesus, I was drawn to the scripture “Be still and know that I am God,” in prayer. I naturally concluded that the best response was for me to sit really still (and be very quiet) during my prayer time. ☺ After some days of living with this scripture and thinking through the idea of what it means to rest in God, I read an alterenate translation that translated “be still” as “stop striving,” and realized the Lord was inviting me to trust God with some anxiety-inducing situations I was facing at the time. Rest is about trust.

Every year I was in professional ministry, I taught discipleship courses to church leaders. My favorite segment of the course was one on Sabbath. Sabbath – the seventh day (or year) of rest commanded by God in the Ten Commandments – is so much more than a day to sleep or slack off on one’s regular duties. It’s far more about rest – resting in God’s presence and delighting in God’s provision. Through many books on discipleship and spiritual disciplines, I’ve learned that rest is also about delight. Much like God on the seventh day of creation, we cease our work not just to catch our breath (I imagine God didn’t need a breather from creating), but to delight in the work of our hands, our many gifts from God. Through Sabbath, we trust and delight.

The principle of Sabbath is certainly beneficial for personal wellness and growth. But the observation of this principle by the people of God was also of great benefit to those around them for two reasons: Sabbath creates margin for the needy and refreshment for those in our care. God commanded the Israelites to rest from tending their fields (the primary work in an agrarian society) so that the poor could gather food. God’s people were to organize their lives in such a way that those in need found opportunities to have their needs met. Sabbath was also for the purpose of others finding time for refreshment, particularly for those under one’s care. If we live busy lives, it’s likely our children, natural or spiritual, will too. If we structure our work environments with restless rhythms, those under our charge inherit those rhythms. If we create a society that doesn’t honor rest, the vulnerable among us (e.g. the foreigner) will have the least access to rest and refreshment.  

Honoring the sabbath means leaving margin in our time, talents, treasures so that we (and our resources) are available to be a conduit for God’s blessings to others. It also means choosing life rhythms that allow those in our care and the vulnerable among us to find rest and refreshment in their lives.

Bible Reading for Today: 1 Corinthians 16


Lunch Break Study

Read Philippians 4:4-9 (NIV): Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. 8 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. 9 Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

Question to Consider

  1. What does Paul tell the church at Philippi will enable them to exercise gentleness in their dealings with others? How might this help you do the same? How might this help us to always rejoice in the Lord?
  2. What are the recipients of this letter encouraged to do instead of being anxious? What will be the result? How might this approach be useful to you as well? How have you experienced God’s peace in the face of anxiety in your life?
  3. Why is it helpful to focus on that which is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praise worthy? What can this do for a heart that is facing anxiety-inducing circumstances? Spend some time thinking on such things in your life.

Notes

  1. Paul tells the Christ followers in Philippi to remember that “the Lord is near.” This fact would help them to exercise gentleness in their dealings with “all” people. Remembering who God is, what God has done and will do, and that God is always near in every season will enable us to treat others with kindness.
  2. Paul tells them to pray (talk to God) and petition (specifically, tell God of their needs and desires) while also giving thanks (acknowledging what is good and expressing gratitude). This will give the believer access to a peace, God’s peace, that the mind cannot produce or even fathom.
  3. Difficult circumstances tend to be all-consuming and the mind is not necessarily wired to remember (in any palpable way) our former experiences of good when we are in the depths of pain, fear, or heartache. When a person disciplines herself to remember the true, good, and beautiful, we overcome that limitation and are able to see beyond our present difficult experience. As we do, we begin to remember (as Timothy Wright and the Chicago Interdenominational Mass Choir sang in the 90’s) that “trouble don’t last always!”

Evening Reflection

Exodus 23:13: “Be careful to do everything I have said to you. Do not invoke the names of other gods; do not let them be heard on your lips.”

In the same breath that God gives commandments regarding Sabbath rest, God also warns against idolatry (or worship of anything other than God). What is the connection between the temptation to dishonor the principle of Sabbath and idolatry? What are the other “gods” in your life that tempt you to overwork or fail to stop and rest? In what ways have you seen a lack of resting in God (trusting, delighting, and caring for others) affect your life and the lives of those in your care? Spend some time reflecting on these things with God.

April 30, Tuesday

Devotional Thoughts for Today

“God Who Delivers”

Exodus 23:9 (NIV)

“Do not oppress a foreigner; you yourselves know how it feels to be foreigners, because you were foreigners in Egypt.

This is the second mention of God’s concern for the wellbeing of strangers and foreigners. (This same command is given near the end of Exodus 22.) In this command, what God is calling the people of God to do is have empathy, caring for others in light of their own experiences. While we’ve never been slaves in Egypt and experienced God’s deliverance through the parting of the Red Sea, we have experienced our own forms of bondage and God’s deliverance in our lives, the greatest of which being the salvation afforded us through Christ. We must remember our former state and allow the grace of God in our lives to inform our dealings with those who are oppressed, vulnerable, and in need around us.

In light of this, I’d like share a QT I wrote back in 2013 on Psalm 114 – a song of remembering God’s deliverance.

Psalm 114 (NIV)

When Israel came out of Egypt, Jacob from a people of foreign tongue, 2 Judah became God’s sanctuary, Israel his dominion. 3 The sea looked and fled, the Jordan turned back; 4 the mountains leaped like rams, the hills like lambs. 5 Why was it, sea, that you fled? Why, Jordan, did you turn back? 6 Why, mountains, did you leap like rams, you hills, like lambs? 7 Tremble, earth, at the presence of the Lord, at the presence of the God of Jacob, 8 who turned the rock into a pool, the hard rock into springs of water.

This is a psalm that God’s people would sing at Passover. It tells of God’s deliverance of His people from slavery in Egypt and of his sparing them from the plagues of judgment (particularly the death of the firstborn). As we now know, God’s deliverance of Israel from Egyptian slavery and the Passover celebration (to remember that time) all pointed to Christ’s coming – when God would not only deliver the Israelites, but all of humanity not merely from physical bondage, but spiritual slavery to sin and death.

The notable element of this praise is that it highlights an appropriate response to the salvific work of God. All of nature yields to the work of God. The sea, river, mountains, and hills all tremble before the Lord and move according to His will. We see this literally displayed when the Red Sea parted before the people of God during the exodus. Likewise, the psalmist calls for all of humanity to follow suit and appropriately respond to God’s salvific work in the world. We should tremble before the Lord – in awe of God’s power and in full submission to the amazing things God is doing in the world around us.

Prayer: Eternal God, you alone can save and meet all of our needs. Sometimes I find myself thinking, “If only [fill in the blank with what is relevant for you], then I’d be satisfied.” But that is a lie. You have promised to meet all my needs and I trust that you’ll do it. In Jesus’ name.

Bible Reading for Today: 1 Corinthians 15


Lunch Break Study

Read 1 Peter 1:13-21: Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 14 As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, 15 but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, 16 since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” 17 And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, 18 knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. 20 He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you 21 who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.

Questions to Consider

  1. What three commands does Peter give us in this passage? How are we to carry out each one?
  2. What is our motivation for following these commands?  
  3. Somehow in the mystery of Jesus’ death and resurrection we are given freedom from our old ways of sin. Because of Jesus, we are able to live life to the fullest. Is your hope set fully on Christ? Are you no longer conforming to the ways of your flesh? Are you living in reverence of God above all things? Take some time to commit yourself to God in these areas.

Notes

  1. (1) Set our hope fully on the grace we receive through Christ: Not merely grace in this life but in the life to come. We have to live with eternal perspective of what God is doing for us through Christ – giving us eternal life. We do this by keeping our minds sober and ready for action – not drunk with sin and things of this world.

(2) No longer be conformed to our passions: We should no longer give ourselves over to the desires of our flesh because we are called to be like Jesus (holy). We do this through our obedience to the word of God by the power of the Holy Spirit within us.

(3) Conduct ourselves with fear: Instead of living whatever way we want during our time on earth, we instead live our lives with reverence for God. We do this by being mindful of what He’s done for us through Christ. He sacrificed His own son so that we may have a life free from sin. Our proper response to this is complete devotion (Romans 12:1-2).

  1. Peter ends this section by explaining that Jesus came for us – Christ was made know to us so that we may have faith and hope in God. Therefore we do all these things because of what Christ did for us – not because we’re obligated, but because Jesus makes it possible. Christ died so we could have life to the full!
  2. Personal reflection.

Evening Reflection

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. (Romans 6:3-4)

For those of us who’ve put our trust in Jesus, we have died with Christ so that sin no longer has control over us. And we’ve been raised with him, so that we can (through the power of the Spirit within us) live a new life. Take time to reflect on God’s perfect sacrifice and how you can take full advantage of the new life offered in Christ. In light of yesterday’s quiet time and our passage this morning, how might that new life include caring for those in need around you? In what ways does remembering God’s deliverance lead you to care for the vulnerable folks in your community?

April 29, Monday

The AMI QT Devotionals from April 29-May 5 are provided by Cami King.  Cami, a graduate of University of Pennsylvania and Gordon Conwell Seminary (M.Div.), was a staff at Symphony Church (Boston) and Journey Community Church (Raleigh) for nearly eight years. Currently, she is on home assignment, waiting on the Lord His next assignment for her.  

 

Devotional Thoughts for Today

“God is a god of…”

Exodus 23:1-9 (NIV)

“Do not spread false reports. Do not help a guilty person by being a malicious witness. 2 “Do not follow the crowd in doing wrong. When you give testimony in a lawsuit, do not pervert justice by siding with the crowd, 3 and do not show favoritism to a poor person in a lawsuit. 4 “If you come across your enemy’s ox or donkey wandering off, be sure to return it. 5 If you see the donkey of someone who hates you fallen down under its load, do not leave it there; be sure you help them with it. 6 “Do not deny justice to your poor people in their lawsuits. 7 Have nothing to do with a false charge and do not put an innocent or honest person to death, for I will not acquit the guilty. 8 “Do not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds those who see and twists the words of the innocent. 9 “Do not oppress a foreigner; you yourselves know how it feels to be foreigners, because you were foreigners in Egypt.

If you were to list three words describing God or things most important to God, what words come to mind? Or, to put it another way, how would you finish this statement: “God is a god of _______”?

Love, mercy, grace, faithfulness, forgiveness, kindness, holiness, righteousness, and even judgment are words I hear often in response to this question (and understandably so). But one attribute of God that I take every opportunity to highlight is justice. “Indeed, God is a god of justice.” (Isaiah 30:18b) The laws given to God’s people (like those above), the words recorded in the prophets, and the witness of the life of Jesus all scream that justice is central to God’s character and a priority in God’s heart.

So what is justice? One theologian describes righteousness (which is often mentioned in the same breath as justice in the biblical text) as “conformity to God’s character.” It speaks to our likeness to God, our ethics and character formation. Justice, on the other hand, speaks to our dealings with other persons and flows from a heart of righteousness. Righteous is something we are (we are like God) and justice is something we do (we do as God does).

Oftentimes Christians describe our mission in the world this way: we’re called to love, share the Good News, and build God’s Kingdom. But what does that look like? What does love look like in a broken world? What does God’s Kingdom look like in the face of the world’s broken kingdoms? It looks a lot like justice.    

Recently, I spent a week with Christian artists and influencers brainstorming ways to use their public platforms to advance the cause of education equity. After learning about the problems facing the most vulnerable among us (children), we prayerfully considered how we can get to work making a better world (as it relates to education). The efforts of these artists and influencers are just one example of what it looks like for Christians to begin to do justice.

We are transformed into Christ’s likeness and empowered by God’s Spirit to do good. This requires a willingness to confront interpersonal injustices (when we wrong one another) as well as unjust systems (that are structured to disadvantage and dishonor certain parts of our community). And we do all this because it matters to God how we treat one another. It matters to God that we create societal systems and structures that are equitable and honoring to all those whom God has made… and dismantle any that are not.

If God is a god of justice and we are God’s children, what does it mean for us to “be about our Father’s business” (Luke 2:49) in our world today?  

Prayer: Gracious God, You have made it clear in the Scriptures that You are a God of justice. Open my eyes to areas of interpersonal and systemic brokenness and inequity in my life and community. Give me the courage and creativity to intentionally leverage my resources toward the ends of  justice. Your Kingdom come. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Bible Reading for Today: 1 Corinthians 14


Lunch Break Study

Read Amos 5:21-24 (NIV): “I hate, I despise your religious festivals; your assemblies are a stench to me. 22 Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them. 23 Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps. 24 But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!

Micah 6:6-8 (NIV):  With what shall I come before the Lord and bow down before the exalted God? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? 7 Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of olive oil? Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? 8 He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.

Question to Consider

  1. What do these two passages have in common?
  2. What is the content of each prophet’s rebuke of the people? What were they doing wrong and what was God asking them to do instead?
  3. If God sent a prophet to the church today, what might be the content of the prophet’s rebuke to us? Knowing that we serve the same God we find in the passages above, what might God have to say to us today? What would it look like for us to repent and respond favorably to this rebuke?

Notes

  1. In both passages, God’s prophet is delivering a rebuke or correction to the people of God. God wants them to understand what true worship looks like. And God is very upset (particularly in Amos) – so upset that God will not accept their empty religious rituals (their offerings) and later threatens to send them into exile as punishment.
  2. The people of God were settling for empty religious behavior (festivals and sacrifices) instead of wholistic lives to truly honor God. They were worshiping and praising God in their religious gatherings and making offerings according to the law, but God’s heart had not become their heart. More so than the outward rituals, God wanted them to allow righteousness to penetrate their hearts and justice to mark their dealings with one another. God’s people were supposed to build a community marked by righteousness and justice (as a society) and they failed to do so.
  3. Personal reflection

Evening Reflection

Phil. 2:5-11:  In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: 6 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; 7 rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross! 9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

A dear friend of mine often says that a good place to begin the work of justice and reconciliation (I add reconciliation because injustice breeds fragmentation that doing justice begins to repair) is to take inventory of our privilege and look for ways to divest. By that she means: see what we have that others don’t have (advantages, resources, access, etc.), and find ways to not just share, but to empty ourselves for the sake of those around us.  Spend time reflecting on the passage above. What would it mean for you to “have the same mindset as Christ Jesus” in your present context? Who are the disenfranchised in your community? What would it look like to do justice with them in mind? What resources do you have that you can leverage toward that end?

April 28, Sunday

Today’s devotional is a reprint of Pastor Barry Kang’s blog first posted on April 6, 2013.

 

Spiritual Food for Thought for the Weekend

“Discipling Ourselves to be Like Christ”

1 Timothy 4:7

“Train yourself to be godly”

In my high-school years, I ran cross-country and I remember having aspirations to run a marathon one day.  As the years have gone by, I have given up on those aspirations! One of the reasons being that marathons almost always seem to be held on Sundays, and I’m too holy to miss church!

But it so happens that the Boston marathon is held every year on a Monday, and so the thought once in a while crosses my mind.  What if I could run?  What if someone paid the entrance fee of thousands of dollars for me, and I was given an opportunity to run the Boston marathon this year?  Would I be able to finish?

And the answer would be a resounding NO!  The main reason I wouldn’t enter the Boston marathon is not because of the day it’s held, but because I couldn’t run a marathon right now.  Even if my entire church lined up the entire way and cheered me on, I could not run a marathon the whole way.  I’m just not in good enough shape. I would need to train. A lot.

It takes more than the opportunity to run a marathon.  It takes more than having motivation and determination.  It takes training, lot’s of training. This is obvious. Running a marathon is about training more than trying.

One of the greatest little books I’ve read on spiritual transformation is The Life You’ve Always Wanted by Pastor John Ortberg, from which I drew this nugget of wisdom:

“Spiritual transformation is not a matter of trying harder, but of training yourself wisely.”

Here’s the thought for today.  What if running the race of life is a little like running a marathon?  What if following Jesus isn’t a matter of trying to be like Jesus, but training ourselves to be like Jesus?  What would that entail? For now, consider what the apostle Paul says on the matter: “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. 25 Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. 26 So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. 27 But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified” (1 Cor. 9:24-27).

Prayer: God, help me to take my faith seriously enough to really discipline myself to be like Jesus.  Help me to develop a habit of reading the Bible and praying consistently; help me to develop of a habit of being gracious to those who offended me and generous to people in need. Amen.

Bible Reading for Today: 1 Corinthians 13

April 27, Saturday

Today’s AMI QT Devotional is provided Joe Suh who serves as a pastor intern at the Church of Southland (Anaheim, California). Joe, who was a practicing attorney in the area of civil litigation, is currently enrolled at Talbot School of Theology. He and his wife Betty have been blessed with two beautiful children.

 

Spiritual Food for Thought for the Weekend

“My Plan Sounded Really Good Until . . .”

Psalm 121:1-3

I will lift up my eyes to the mountains; From where shall my help come?  My help comes from the Lord, Who made heaven and earth. He will not allow your foot to slip; He who keeps you will not slumber.

I once heard a very interesting quote from the former boxing heavyweight champion of the world, “Iron” Mike Tyson.  In a prefight interview he stated, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth”.  In boxing this makes a lot sense, but I feel this applies to our daily lives as well.  Basically, we all have a plan, but what happens to that plan when we are faced with adversity?

We all make plans for any number of things.  We plan to have a daily quiet time; we plan to reach out to our family and friends to share the gospel; we plan to get our kids into a great college; or we plan to marry the person of our dreams.  The plans go on and on.  Some plans are more detailed than others, but to some degree we have thoughts of how things will go in our lives.  Having a plan is a good thing; however, what happens when life throws us a curve ball or as Mike Tyson stated, “When we get punched in the mouth”?   Does adversity or an unexpected life event derail us?  Do we lose all hope?  Where do we truly put our trust when things get rough?

I think about my life and the hardships I have had to endure.  Not that my life has been some great struggle, but I would say I faced my share of challenges along the way.  I had always thought that when the struggles came, I would be able to lean upon my Heavenly Father.  In theory, that was what I would do.  However, when challenges came, I would turn to my own strength or knowledge to get me through.  My first thought would be, “what can I do”, rather than look to God.  Sadly, this would generally cause even more struggle and strife.

Here, the Psalmist asks where does my help come from?  We are reminded that our help comes from our Heavenly Father, the creator of everything.  The psalmist is not stating that we will not struggle or fail; rather, he is sharing the promise that our God will be there for us.  He is the one who has never left us and will catch us when we fall.  The degree to which we fall may vary, however the promise is that our Heavenly Father will be there for us.  He is our keeper and will not forsake us.

No matter what trials we may be facing or what plans have gone astray, remember that God’s hand is big enough to cover us all.  There will be a time when we are punched in the mouth; but when that time comes, we have to make sure the wheels don’t come off the wagon.  We need not solely on our own strength but be mindful to look to our Father.  It is a choice that we must actively make.  Let us all choose to know and believe that through it all, our Father is always there for us.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, once again I come to You in need of confessing that You have been an afterthought, a footnote, in my life far too long. Lord, when trials come, instead of calling another human being for comfort or counsel, remind me to get on my knees and cry out to You. Amen.

Bible Reading for Today: 1 Corinthians 11-12