April 26, Tuesday

REPOST Today’s AMI QT Devotional, provided by Pastor Ryun Chang (AMI Teaching Pastor), was first posted on January 13, 2015.

Devotional Thought for This Morning

“Not All Ideas Are Equal”

Matt. 25:24-5 (ESV) 

He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, [25] so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground.  Here you have what is yours.’ [26] But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! . . . [28] So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents.’”

In Marxism that “discount[s] the role of ideas in history” (Kramer 2001:3), ideas are a later development to justify an unjust economic structure so that the rich can continue to exploit the workers under a false pretense (i.e., pie in the sky).  The Scripture, however, begins with divine ideas originating from the mind of God.  It posits that beliefs based on wrong ideas, in time, will produce actions detrimental to individuals, society, and ultimately the kingdom. In this sense not all ideas are equal.

The Bible is replete with people with bad ideas. 

The servant with one talent in the parable of the Talents (Matt. 25:14-30) did nothing with it because he held to an idea that his master was unfair and unreasonable; the master, none too displeased, called him “wicked” and “lazy.” Subsequently, his lone talent was given to those who had produced more with their talents.  The sad outcome of this bad idea: meaningless and boring existence on earth and, at the very least, no rewards in heaven.  The right idea: God, being fair and just, will “judge each man’s work impartially” (1 Pet. 1:17b).

The older son in the parable of the Lost Son (Luke 15:11-32) held fast to an idea that led to identifying himself as a hired servant under a harsh master who happens to be his own father.  Balking at the father’s favorable treatment of his wayward brother, he said, “All these years I’ve been slaving for you. . . yet you have never given me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends” (15:28).  The sad outcome of this bad idea: The older son lost out on a life of freedom and plenitude, despite the fact that “everything [the father] had was [his]” (15:31). The right idea: “If we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ” (Rom. 8:17).

Bad ideas among Christians also affect the missions of the church.  For instance, an elderly Baptist preacher, frowning on those who advocate missions, declared, “The world has already been reached in the first century”; he then quoted Col. 1:6: “All over the world this gospel is bearing fruit and growing.”  Sadly, those hearing this shouted, “Amen!”  The sad outcome of this bad idea: no missions.  The right idea: God of the Bible is a missionary God who has commanded the church to “go and make disciples of all nations” (Matt. 28:19b).

Then there are those, being so afraid that they might teach work-based salvation, who propagate that “Jesus guarantees eternal life to all who come to faith in Him, even if they later stop believing in Him.”  However, the parable of the Talents teaches us to work, not to gain salvation but to demonstrate it.  The sad outcome of this bad idea: a rude awakening (with hell to follow) when the Lord says to those who had adhered to this bad idea, “I don’t know you and where you come from” (Lk. 13:25b).  The right idea: “We are saved by grace alone but not by grace that is alone” (Martin Luther).

Paul’s idea, given through the Spirit’s inspiration, of combatting bad ideas is this: “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” (Rom. 12:1).  Therefore, seriously and prayerfully study the Bible and allow your findings to reform your worldview that has been shaped by progressive secularism, which denies the existence of core truth that is true everywhere and at all times.

Here are some examples: whereas those who are born as biological males cannot get pregnant, those who are born as biological females who have made themselves appear as men and assumed male gender, can get pregnant (Gn. 1:27-28); human life begins at conception (Ps. 139:13-14); favoritism is wrong (Rom. 2:11). And after boldly and prudently articulating God’s eternal truth in your public space, “if the world hates you, know that it has hated [our Lord] before it hated you” (Jn. 15:18).  So make sure to “fix [y]our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith” (Heb. 12:2b).

Prayer: Dear God, I praise you for Your holy Scripture that clearly declares Your wonderful attributes and will for our lives.  Forgive me for spending more time reading and watching worldly sources to be informed than reading your Word.  I pray that the Spirit in me stirs my mind so that I may truly understand your Word.  Amen.

Bible Reading for Today: Genesis 16


Lunch Break Study

Read Ez. 8:12 (NIV):  He said to me, “Son of man, have you seen what the elders of Israel are doing in the darkness, each at the shrine of his own idol? They say, ‘The Lord does not see us; the Lord has forsaken the land.’”

1 Pet. 3:12 (NIV): “For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”

1 Cor. 15:32 (NIV): “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.”  

Heb. 9:27 (NIV): “Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment,. . .”

Ps. 14:1 (NKJV): “The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God.’ They are corrupt, they have done abominable works, there is none who does good.”

Question to Consider

1. Why are these ideas bad and incorrect?

2. What are the consequences of these bad ideas?

3. What are some ideas that you hold that really are incorrect in view of God’s ideas in the Bible? 

Notes

1. God, being omniscient, sees and hears all things at all times; death is not the end; judgment awaits; and God certainly does exist. 

2. Believing that God doesn’t see and hear would lead us to do whatever we want; believing that death is the end encourages us to live for pleasure; and not believing in God’s existence makes moral laws relative since there is no lawgiver.  In such a world, anything goes. 

3. Theologically, I no longer uphold certain doctrines that I was taught in my first church and seminary: prosperity theology, demons are the spirits of the deceased unbelievers; God always heals, etc.


Evening Reflection

You have probably spent enough time listening and reading the news and talking to interesting people.  What ideas did you hear today?  Are they agreeable to God’s ideas?  What is the most important idea from God’s word that is also important to you?  Offer up a prayer centered on that idea.  

April 25, Monday

REPOST Today’s AMI QT Devotional, provided by Pastor Peter Yoon of Kairos Christian Church in San Diego, was first posted on November 9, 2015.  Peter is a graduate of University of California, Riverside (BA) and Talbot School of Theology (M.Div.). 

Devotional Thought for This Morning

“No Thanks”

Nehemiah 7:2 

I put in charge of Jerusalem my brother, Hanani, along with Hananiah, the commander of the citadel, because he was a man of integrity and feared God more than most people do.

People trust and follow spiritual leaders with integrity. Here, we see that Nehemiah places a “man of integrity” into leadership in Jerusalem. 

Years ago, a retail electronic store partnered with an online company enticing consumers with $200 gift card for anyone who signed up on an annual contract. I don’t know whether it was someone’s oversight or not, but consumers soon figured out a way to cancel the annual contract without any penalties, while being able to keep the $200 gift card. As you can imagine, a line formed at the retail store with customers ready to take full advantage of the generous offer. 

So I asked my spiritual leader if he also would like to take advantage of the offer.  Technically, no law would be broken, and after all, it was the mistake of the retail and the online company. But fully aware of the chance for a nice gift, he said, “No thanks.” Like anyone else, he could have purchased a new flat-screen monitor or an appliance for the home or video games for the kids or even all three. Yet he chose integrity—the type of integrity that goes beyond the letter of the law. 

God places such people into leadership and entrusts them to serve His purposes. Such people not only become familiar with God’s commands, but they truly live to honor the Lord who gives them. Nehemiah noted that Hananiah “feared God more than most people do” before placing him in charge of God’s city. 

Will you also seek to fear the Lord and honor Him so that God can use you for His purposes? 

Prayer: Lord, help me to fear you and honor you. Allow me to live a life of integrity that goes beyond the minimum requirements. Please reveal Your glory in my life more fully, so that I will respond with honor to You.  In Jesus’ Name, Amen. 

Bible Reading for Today: Genesis 15


Lunch Break Study  

Read 1 Samuel 2:27-30: Now a man of God came to Eli and said to him, “This is what the Lord says: ‘Did I not clearly reveal myself to your ancestor’s family when they were in Egypt under Pharaoh? 28 I chose your ancestor out of all the tribes of Israel to be my priest, to go up to my altar, to burn incense, and to wear an ephod in my presence. I also gave your ancestor’s family all the food offerings presented by the Israelites. 29 Why do you scorn my sacrifice and offering that I prescribed for my dwelling? Why do you honor your sons more than me by fattening yourselves on the choice parts of every offering made by my people Israel?’ 30 “Therefore the Lord, the God of Israel, declares: ‘I promised that members of your family would minister before me forever.’ But now the Lord declares: ‘Far be it from me! Those who honor me I will honor, but those who despise me will be disdained.

Questions to Consider 

  1. According to verse 29, how did Eli dishonor and despise God? 
  2. What is promised to those who choose to honor the Lord? And what is the inevitable outcome for those who choose to despise Him?  

Notes

  1. The fuller context is found in 1 Sam. 2:12-17: Eli’s two sons were treating the Lord’s offering with great contempt. They were also sleeping with the women who were serving at the temple. It was Eli’s responsibility to bring discipline and correction; however he failed to do so. 
  2. Consider the two outcomes: What will it look like in life to be honored by God? What will it look like in life to be disdained by Him?

Evening Reflection

Think of tangible ways in which you can show honor to the Lord. Write some applications on your journal and ask the Holy Spirit to help you follow through in honoring Him. 

April 24, Sunday

REPOST Today’s AMI QT Devotional, provided by Pastor Barry Kang who heads Symphony Church in Boston, is an updated version of his blog first posted on October 11, 2015.  He is a graduate of Stanford University (BA), Fuller Theological Seminary (M.Div.) and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary (D.Min.). 

Spiritual Food for Thought for the Weekend

“Joy and Sorrow at the Same Time”

Ezra 3:12-13

But many of the priests and Levites and heads of fathers’ houses, old men who had seen the first house, wept with a loud voice when they saw the foundation of this house being laid, though many shouted aloud for joy, 13 so that the people could not distinguish the sound of the joyful shout from the sound of the people’s weeping, for the people shouted with a great shout, and the sound was heard far away.

The referee blows his whistle to signal the end of the game.  From one end, a roar of jubilation erupts.  Exuberant players jump up and down and embrace.  Coaches are baptized in Gatorade.  On the other end, tears flow—not of joy but of regret and bitter disappointment.  Players of a different uniform fling themselves onto the ground and weep.  They tell themselves and one another to never forget this feeling, because they never want to experience it again.  There is something about sports that resonate with the human experience: joy on one hand; sorrow on the other.   

It’s rare that joy and sorrow are experienced by the same team at the same time.  But that’s what is depicted here at the end of Ezra 3—sorrow and joy from the same team.  We can understand the joy of the exiles as they saw tangible evidence for hope and the faithfulness of God.  But as the people gathered to celebrate the laying of the new temple’s foundations, the people could not distinguish the cries of sorrow from the cries of joy.  

Could not distinguish?   Joy is usually much louder than sorrow.  What was behind the sorrow so that its sound matched the sound of joy?  We are told that it was the elderly who had seen the first temple who wept aloud.  Perhaps they mourned as they compared the beginnings of this new temple with their remembrance of the majesty of the former temple.  The prophet Haggai seems to confirm this in Haggai 2. 

But does this explain the intensity of their sorrow?  I suspect that they could have been remembering what had made this day of celebration necessary.  It was their (and their nation’s) sin and idolatry that had brought divine judgment in the form of the Babylonian captivity.  Perhaps they grieved as they remembered how they and their fathers had grieved God.  

I believe Ezra 3:12-13 gives us a whole picture of worship.  We give worship to God in joy and sorrow.  My wife Sunny has been reminding me recently that our worship to God is given in the midst of brokenness and pain.  This is a special kind of worship that we will not be able to offer in heaven where we will worship in the perfection of God’s shalom!  

Even our ability to bring worship to God captures this tension.  We can only come into the presence of God because of an event that also evokes joy and sorrow:  the joy of the resurrected Christ and sorrow that our sin required the death and suffering of the same.  

I believe God is honored as we come to Him with both joy and sorrow.  

Prayer: Father, I want to worship You with the wholeness of my being, bringing worship in the midst of my brokenness and pain, and remembering with sorrow the cost of my sin.  Yet I’m filled with joy and hope because of what You have done.  Thank You for Your compassion and sorrow that moved You to redeem this world.  Thank You that You invite us into the fullness of Your joy.  Help me to grow in each of these areas.  In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.

Bible Reading for Today: Genesis 14

April 23, Saturday 

REPOSTToday’s AMI QT Devotional, first posted on September 19, 2015, is provided by Pastor Shan Gian who leads Remnant Westside Church in Manhattan.  Shan is a graduate of University of Pennsylvania (BA) and Gordon Conwell Seminary (M.Div.).

Spiritual Food for Thought for the Weekend

“I Earned It, Lord!”  Really?

2 Kings 20:1-11

In those days Hezekiah became sick and was at the point of death. And Isaiah the prophet the son of Amoz came to him and said to him, “Thus says the Lord, ‘Set your house in order, for you shall die; you shall not recover.’”2 Then Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the Lord, saying,3 “Now, O Lord, please remember how I have walked before you in faithfulness and with a whole heart, and have done what is good in your sight.” And Hezekiah wept bitterly. 4 And before Isaiah had gone out of the middle court, the word of the Lord came to him: 5 “Turn back, and say to Hezekiah the leader of my people, Thus says the Lord, the God of David your father: I have heard your prayer; I have seen your tears. Behold, I will heal you. On the third day you shall go up to the house of the Lord, 6 and I will add fifteen years to your life. I will deliver you and this city out of the hand of the king of Assyria, and I will defend this city for my own sake and for my servant David’s sake.” 7 And Isaiah said, “Bring a cake of figs. And let them take and lay it on the boil, that he may recover.”

When I was in elementary school, I would sometimes pray to God and say things like, “God, if you give me a new Nintendo, I will read the Bible everyday this week.”  Unfortunately, I never got that Nintendo (and I probably didn’t read the Bible every day that week either).  I’m sure many of us have prayed similar prayers when we were children.  But if you’ve been a Christian for a while, you probably know better than to bargain with God like that; that is, you can’t curry a favorable answer or response to your prayers by promising to do something.

In verse 3, Hezekiah says, “Now, O Lord, please remember how I have walked before you in faithfulness and with a whole heart, and have done what is good in your sight.”  Hezekiah’s prayer for physical healing is not an appeal to God for mercy and grace; instead, he is saying, God heal me and spare me because of all of the good that I have done for you—he was, essentially, bargaining with God.  Because of his own obedience and faithfulness in serving the Lord for his many years, Hezekiah thought that he deserved for God to heal him—he had earned something from God. 

Serving the Lord should be an incredibly important part of our lives.  Throughout the Scriptures, we are encouraged to serve the Lord with our lives, yet there is a very subtle danger we face when we strive to be faithful and serve Him.  Instead of making our service an expression of worship and thanksgiving to God, we can serve with a subtle belief that in doing so, we are earning God’s favor.  Personally, there have been seasons where I felt like I was doing so much for God—pouring out so much time and energy to serve God’s people—that I thought to myself, I think I’ve earned an easier life.  It is so easy for us to think that our hard work has earned God’s favor.

So how can we have the right attitude in our service to God?   Luke 17:10 says: “So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.'”  Jesus doesn’t say this to put us down or to make us feel unworthy, but He wants his disciples to understand how their good works affects their place with God.  And the answer: it doesn’t!  When we serve the Lord, we’re not doing anything that makes us more lovable in God’s eyes; we are only doing what we’ve been called to do.  

While this seems like a rebuke from Jesus, we should be thankful for this!  If our service was actually an indicator of our status with God, what hope would we have?  How much service would be enough service?  Praise God that His favor and His love are unconditional.  Like Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.”  It is by grace we have been saved, and it is by grace that we should approach our service to the Lord.  We should not strive to be faithful and serve the Lord to earn anything from Him; instead, we should serve with joyful and thankful hearts because He has already given us His grace.  

Prayer: Father, help me to remember that my service to you is not about earning your favor or love.  I pray that I will instead serve you with joy and thanksgiving because I know that your favor and love are already with me.  Use me Lord for your glory.  In Jesus’ name, AMEN.

Bible Reading for Today:  Genesis 12-13

April 22, Friday 

REPOSTToday’s AMI QT Devotional, provided by Pastor Charles Choe who leads Tapestry Church in Los Angeles, was first posted on October 29, 2015.  Charles is a graduate of University of California, Riverside (BA) and Fuller Theological Seminary (M.Div.).

Devotional Thought for This Morning

“The Journey of a Thousand Miles”

 Nehemiah 3:1-5

Eliashib the high priest and his fellow priests went to work and rebuilt the Sheep Gate. They dedicated it and set its doors in place, building as far as the Tower of the Hundred, which they dedicated, and as far as the Tower of Hananel. 2 The men of Jericho built the adjoining section, and Zakkur son of Imri built next to them.3 The Fish Gate was rebuilt by the sons of Hassenaah. They laid its beams and put its doors and bolts and bars in place. 4 Meremoth son of Uriah, the son of Hakkoz, repaired the next section. Next to him Meshullam son of Berekiah, the son of Meshezabel, made repairs, and next to him Zadok son of Baana also made repairs. 5 The next section was repaired by the men of Tekoa, but their nobles would not put their shoulders to the work under their supervisors.

Richard Branson, the founder of the Virgin Group, started publishing a student magazine at the age of 17. Three years later, he founded Virgin as a record mail order company, and soon opened his first store in London’s Oxford Street. In 1972, he formed the Virgin Records music label, which grew to be one of the world’s top six record companies in the 80s. Since then, the Virgin brand has expanded into flights, rail travel, retail, internet, drinks, hotels and leisure and finance; presently, it’s up to 400 different companies. Richard Branson is a good example of someone who has learned to take small beginnings and expand them into greater horizons.

The journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step. Never take that first step for granted, no matter how small it might seem. What are the small beginnings in your life? What could be the small beginnings in your life? God’s will is that you expand from where you are. God will always give you a bag of seeds—the opportunities and possibilities of life. But when you do not despise the day of small things and rejoice in the future of great things, there lays the blessings ahead.

In Nehemiah, we find the story of the Israelites rebuilding Jerusalem after returning from their exile in Babylon (which was due to their sin). The wall around Jerusalem was the first project for the people. This was the first line of defense against their many enemies. The first part of the rebuilt wall was the Sheep Gate. This might not sound like a priority, but to the people of Israel, it was of the utmost importance in their worship of God.

The Sheep Gate was the gate the sheep were led through as they came to the temple to be slaughtered for the sins of the people. In essence, their first project was to bring proper worship back to Jerusalem. We are no longer called to offer up animals as sacrifices for worship, but we are called to offer our lives instead (Romans 12:1). Just as the Israelites knew there were walls that needed to be repaired for proper worship, there are walls in our lives that have been destroyed by sin that need to be repaired before we can offer our lives completely for worship. These walls must first be rebuilt before our lives can be offered as a proper sacrifice to the Lord.

Don’t despise the small things of prayer and daily Bible study. Don’t despise the small acts of service to your local church, by which God is glorified and people encouraged. Don’t despise the small things like putting sin to death, by which you are responding to the victory Christ has won for you. Don’t despise the small things like working hard at your job or school every day, for in these things you show that there is something more profound, more powerful at work in you.  Or it may be speaking of Christ to others, by which unbelievers may come to trust and treasure Jesus.

Bible Reading for Today: Genesis 11


Lunch Break Study

Read I Samuel 15: 1-19: And Samuel said to Saul, “The LORD sent me to anoint you king over his people Israel; now therefore listen to the words of the LORD. [2] Thus says the LORD of hosts, ‘I have noted what Amalek did to Israel in opposing them on the way when they came up out of Egypt. [3] Now go and strike Amalek and devote to destruction all that they have. Do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.’” [4] So Saul summoned the people and numbered them in Telaim, two hundred thousand men on foot, and ten thousand men of Judah. [5] And Saul came to the city of Amalek and lay in wait in the valley. [6] Then Saul said to the Kenites, “Go, depart; go down from among the Amalekites, lest I destroy you with them. For you showed kindness to all the people of Israel when they came up out of Egypt.” So the Kenites departed from among the Amalekites. [7] And Saul defeated the Amalekites from Havilah as far as Shur, which is east of Egypt. [8] And he took Agag the king of the Amalekites alive and devoted to destruction all the people with the edge of the sword. [9] But Saul and the people spared Agag and the best of the sheep and of the oxen and of the fattened calves and the lambs, and all that was good, and would not utterly destroy them. All that was despised and worthless they devoted to destruction. [10] The word of the LORD came to Samuel: [11] “I regret that I have made Saul king, for he has turned back from following me and has not performed my commandments.” And Samuel was angry, and he cried to the LORD all night. [12] And Samuel rose early to meet Saul in the morning. And it was told Samuel, “Saul came to Carmel, and behold, he set up a monument for himself and turned and passed on and went down to Gilgal.” [13] And Samuel came to Saul, and Saul said to him, “Blessed be you to the LORD. I have performed the commandment of the LORD.” [14] And Samuel said, “What then is this bleating of the sheep in my ears and the lowing of the oxen that I hear?” [15] Saul said, “They have brought them from the Amalekites, for the people spared the best of the sheep and of the oxen to sacrifice to the LORD your God, and the rest we have devoted to destruction.” [16] Then Samuel said to Saul, “Stop! I will tell you what the LORD said to me this night.” And he said to him, “Speak.” [17] And Samuel said, “Though you are little in your own eyes, are you not the head of the tribes of Israel? The LORD anointed you king over Israel. [18] And the LORD sent you on a mission and said, ‘Go, devote to destruction the sinners, the Amalekites, and fight against them until they are consumed.’ [19] Why then did you not obey the voice of the LORD? Why did you pounce on the spoil and do what was evil in the sight of the LORD?” 


Questions to Consider 

1. This practice of “imposing the ban” (v. 3) meant that all living things—men, women, children, and livestock—were to be killed. What would be the purpose for such a ban? 

2. In verse 11, we are told the Lord regretted that he has made Saul king. How do we reconcile that God does not make mistakes, and yet seems to be regretting a decision that He has made? 

3. The small act of disobedience and justification led to Saul’s downfall. What are some things you are being a bit too careless with before the Lord?   

Notes 

1. To stop the spread of the “abominable practices” of paganism—that they don’t become a temptation for God’s people; this shows how serious we are to be about removing sin. 

2. Regret, in this case, means that God felt genuine sorrow when contemplating Saul’s sin. But it does not mean that God thinks His decision to make Saul king was a mistake in the overall course of His plans for history. 

3. Personal response


Evening Reflection

“Does it make sense to pray for guidance about the future if we are not obeying in the thing that lies before us today? How many momentous events in Scripture depended on one person’s seemingly small act of obedience! Rest assured: Do what God tells you to do now, and, depend upon it, you will be shown what to do next.”  – Elisabeth Elliot

April 21, Thursday

REPOST Today’s AMI QT Devotional, provided by Pastor Ryun Chang (AMI Teaching Pastor), was first posted on January 18, 2015.

Devotional Thought for This Morning

“Why God Ran”

Luke 15:20 (NIV) 

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.”

Rom. 8:33-4 (NIV) 

“Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. [34] Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.

In the 1980s no Christian song touched me like “When God Ran” (Benny Hester).  The powerful lyrics were sung passionately: “The only time I ever saw Him run, was when He ran to me, took me in His arms, held my head to His chest. . . Looked in my face, wiped the tears from my eyes, with forgiveness in His voice he said son, do you know I still love you.”  

Then in the 1990s, an article (Kenneth E. Bailey) about the cultural significance of the “running father” jolted me.   According to the Jerusalem Talmud, during the time of Jesus, a ceremony called “Qetsatsah” was given to young Jews who lost their family inheritance to the Gentiles.  The villagers “would bring a large earthenware jar, filled it with burned nuts and burned corn, and break it in front of the guilty individual while shouting, ‘So-and-so is cut off from his people’. . .. Th[is] . . . shun appears to have been a total ban on any contact with the violator of the village code of honor.” 

So why did the father run?  He “realizes full well how his son will be welcomed in the village when he returns in failure.  Thus, the father also prepares a plan to reach the boy before the boy reaches the village.  The father knows that if he is able to achieve reconciliation with his son in public,” no one would dare perform the Quesatsah ceremony.   The father, in effect, was declaring to everyone in the village, “I’ve forgiven my son, therefore, I won’t condemn him.”  “Who then is the one who condemns [him]?”, the apostle Paul asked (Rom. 8:31). “No one,” he answered, adding, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1). 

Mull on the running God—represented by an elderly Middle Eastern father wearing a long cloak, who, in order to run, had to lift up the hem with his hands, thereby showing his bare legs—this is an act of humiliation to keep the son from being condemned.  And that’s what Jesus did for us by taking our place, humiliated and condemned to the cross, so that his atoning death could forgive our sins when we place faith in the Son, that we may have abundant life here on earth and eternal life afterwards.  Share this good news with someone today. 

Prayer: Oh Lord, I lift up Your holy name on high above all things in my life.  You are the supreme Ruler and King of my life.  How stunning it is to realize that You would run after me, even though I have said and done so many things to betray and deny You.  No words are apt to capture my gratitude.  Thank you.   Amen.  

Bible Reading for Today: Genesis 10


Lunch Break Study

Read Col. 2:13 (NIV): “When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made youalive with Christ.  He forgave us all our sins, [14] having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross.”

Rev. 12:10 (NIV): “For the accuser* of our brothers and sisters, who accuses them before our God day and night….” *Satan

Gal. 5:1 (NIV): “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”

Question to Consider

1. On what basis does the enemy (Satan) condemn and accuse us?

2. In what manner was this condemnation taken away from us?

3. If we truly understand and believe what was accomplished in Jesus for us, how should we live?

Notes

1. “The charge of legal indebtedness” refers to all the laws of God that we have violated, which the devil (as if he were a prosecutor) uses to accuse and condemn us before God the Judge.  

2. God, as the law-giver, simply cannot forgive the violators as if they hadn’t done anything.  Someone with a clean record (i.e., one who cannot be accused by the devil) must take the rap, which is what Christ did when he assumed the charge on our behalf by allowing himself to be nailed on the cross.  

3. We are now in a position to live in freedom.  Other spiritual measures, such as discipleship, fellowship and inner-healing (for some), are also needed to make freedom an everyday reality, but it all starts with knowing that we’ve been set free through Christ’s victory over sin, death and devil.


Evening Reflection

In looking back to today, was there a moment when you tangibly sensed God’s awesome love for you?   Maybe it was an accident that you avoided, or an embarrassing situation that didn’t happen.  Look for God in small things in the context of everyday life.   Offer up a prayer of thanksgiving.  

April 20, Wednesday

REPOST Today’s AMI QT Devotional, first posted on November 16, 2015, is provided by Pastor Jason Sato who, along with his wife Jessica and three young children, serves in Japan as an AMI missionary.  Jason, a graduate of UC San Diego (BS) and Westminster Theological Seminary (M.Div.), just moved to Tokyo where he plans to, the Lord willing, plant a church. 

Devotional Thought for This Morning

“Measuring Love”

Nehemiah 10:28-29 (ESV)

The rest of the people, the priests, the Levites, the gatekeepers, the singers, the temple servants, and all who have separated themselves from the peoples of the lands to the Law of God, their wives, their sons, their daughters, all who have knowledge and understanding, [29] join with their brothers, their nobles, and enter into a curse and an oath to walk in God’s Law that was given by Moses the servant of God, and to observe and do all the commandments of the LORD our Lord and his rules and his statutes.

Love can be measured a number of ways–the depth of emotion, the extravagance of gifts, or the romantic eloquence of words, to name a few.  But the biblical measure of love is simpler and more meaningful–commitment.

Prior to our passage, the people of God gather to celebrate the completion of the wall of Jerusalem.  Against all odds, the people of God have returned from exile and rebuilt the wall in the midst of poverty and the active opposition of their local enemies.  The rebuilt wall reminds the people of God’s promise to bring restoration and renewal after the humiliating exile.  

Also at this time, the people celebrate the Feast of Booths, one of Israel’s annual feasts.  In the Feast of Booths, the people spend a week living in tents and celebrating God’s faithfulness in the wilderness.  While it may seem odd to commemorate the time Israel spent wandering in the desert with no permanent home, the feast reminds the people that God has loved them and provided for them even in the midst of their constant complaining, doubting, and rebellion.  The feast declares the steadfast love and provision of God.

As the people experience and remember the faithful love of God for them, they are moved to love Him in return, to commit themselves to Him anew.  Like the love of God, the love of the people is not flashy but simple: They commit to walk in God’s law and to observe His commandments.  The greatest desire of their hearts is simply to be faithful to the God who has always been faithful to them.

Prayer: Father, there is no love like Yours.  You have seen me at my worst, but You have never left me nor forsaken me.  You have always kept Your promises.  Though You discipline me, You are quick to restore and encourage me.  Give me more of Your Holy Spirit so that I can love You and walk faithfully in Your ways. Amen.

Bible Reading for Today: Genesis 9


Lunch Break Study

Read Hebrews 13:5-6 (ESV):  Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” [6] So we can confidently say,“The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?”

Question to Consider

1. When we doubt the faithfulness of God, what sorts of idols are we tempted to turn to?

2. What produces lasting contentedness?

3. According to v. 6, what does the promise of God in v. 5 produce in us?

Notes

1. The passage explicitly references money, but we might turn to a variety of idols when we doubt whether God will take care of us.  We may assume power, worldly pleasure, other people, or a good reputation is what really will satisfy and provide for us.

2. Only the promises of God can produce lasting contentedness because only the promises of God are certain.

3. The promise of God’s faithfulness produces a confident boldness.  The readers of the book of Hebrews faced persecution, yet they could be confident that no man and no circumstance could harm their eternal life and joy.


Evening Reflection

Take a moment to reflect.  In what areas of your day-to-day life do you see a pattern of consistent faithfulness to the Lord?  In what areas of your day-to-day life do you see your obedience less consistent and more dependent on your mood for the day?  Praise God for the steadfastness He has produced in your life thus far, and pray for the grace and power of the Holy Spirit in areas of weakness. 

April 19, Tuesday

REPOST Today’s AMI QT Devotional is a reprint of Kate Moon’s blog originally posted on October 20, 2015.  Kate continues to serve the Lord in E. Asia. 

Devotional Thought for this Morning

“Whose Signal Are We Heeding?”

Ezra 7:11, 14, 25-26

“This is a copy of the letter King Artaxerxes had given to Ezra the priest and teacher, a man learned in matters concerning the commands and decrees of the LORD for Israel: . . . ‘You are sent by the king and his seven advisers to inquire about Judah and Jerusalem with regard to the Law of your God, which is in your hand . . . And you are to teach any who do not know them [=God’s laws].  Whoever does not obey the law of your God and the law of the king must surely be punished . . .’”

Recently, in my free time, I’ve been working on putting together a set of MP3s (in the olden days called “making a mix”) to give as a gift to my sisters this Christmas (shhh, it’s a surprise).  There were these songs that we used to hear on the radio when we were little – we never fully caught or understood the lyrics; all we knew was that we thought they were hilarious –  and we would sing along, dance around, and laugh and laugh:  “Fernando” by ABBA (we liked the name), “Abracadabra” by Steve Miller Band (“I wanna reach out and grab ya” was the rhyming line), and “Sandy” from the Grease soundtrack (“Why-ay-ay-ay…”).

While it’s been fun to reminisce, as these songs have started getting stuck in my head, sometimes playing on endless repeat throughout the day, I’ve also been reminded of how we are called to be in the world but not so influenced that we get lost in it.  In today’s passage, it is challenging to read these words of a Gentile king who seems more interested that God’s law be kept than the people of Israel themselves had been.  The people of Israel had lost their nationhood precisely because they had continually disobeyed God’s law.  The law’s intent had been to set this people apart from the nations around them, but when they failed to keep it and remain distinct, God allowed them to be conquered and absorbed into those very surrounding nations.  

Even in exile, though, some, like Ezra, made an effort to stay set apart.  It must not have been easy, living in an environment where the majority had no reason to care (what reason would Persians have to eschew shellfish or not work on the Sabbath?), yet Ezra was devoted to preserving his people’s identity in this foreign place, making sure they didn’t forget who they were.  Our hearts today, are our antennas more attuned to signals from the world around for keeping up, fitting in?  Or are they set on receiving from the Lord as we remember we belong to Him?

Prayer: Dear God, it is such a privilege to belong to You, to be one of Your people.  Help me to value being set apart for You, to treasure the commands that ask me to live differently.  Help me to love Your word more, to devote myself to obey.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Bible Reading for Today: Genesis 8


Lunch Break Study 

Read John 17:14-17: I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. 15 My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. 17 Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.

Questions to Consider

1. How can the world view those who have the word of God (v. 14)?

2. What comfort can we receive from how Jesus describes his followers (vv. 14,16)?

3. What effect does God’s word have on His people (v. 17)?  Have you experienced this?  In what ways is it better than being affected by the world?

Notes

1. The world can hate us.  Good to be reminded so that we are not caught off-guard when we encounter opposition as we try to live by the word God has given us.

2. In not belonging to this world, we are like Jesus.  When we are rejected by the world, it is comforting to remember that it is only to be expected because we are not from here.  Why should we try so hard to belong to a place that is not our true home?

3. God’s word purifies His people, cleansing them from sin.  God’s word is truth, and the truth sets us free from sin and the lies of the Enemy.  The rules of this world, on the other hand, bind and enslave us.  Let’s proactively seek the freedom there is in living according to God’s word.


Evening Reflection

How was it today, living in this world?  What ideas was I exposed to?  Are there any I need to conscientiously reject because they are counter to godly principles?  Do so at this time, rejoicing in the knowledge that by doing so, you are maintaining the freedom that is yours in Christ Jesus.

April 18, Monday

UPDATED Today’s AMI QT Devotional, provided by Pastor Ryun Chang (AMI Teaching Pastor), was first posted on January 26, 2015. It has been updated.

Devotional Thought for This Morning

Love, Not Doctrine!  Really? But Do It Right”

1 Timothy 4:16 (NASV)

Pay close attention to yourself and to the teaching; persevere in these things, for as you do this you will save both yourself and those who hear you.

Back in 2012 I was in Villahermosa, Mexico to train future missionaries. One morning, as I was jogging before the day began, I saw a young man walking towards me; so I slowed down to share the gospel with him. After a few minutes into our conversation, he assured me that  he will return to his former church—“Kingdom Hall.”  Oh no! He was a backslidden Jehovah’s Witness and I talked him into going back to that cult, which believes that, among other false doctrines, Jesus is a created deity inferior to the Father and hell does not exist. And because this young man knew truly little of the teachings of Jehovah’s Witnesses, I was in an awkward position of having to inform him of some of their key beliefs only to refute them afterwards.

“Why bother,” some would argue, especially those who agree with megachurch pastor T.D. Jakes who once quipped, “I am too busy preaching the Gospel to split hairs. . . . Many . . . are dying . . . not . . . for the lack of theology, but for lack of love.”  But I think John, though known as the apostle of love, would disagree with Jakes. Pointing to those who denied that Christ came in the flesh, thereby diminishing his humanity, John called them “the deceiver and the antichrist” who “do not have God” (I Jn. 4:2-3; 2 Jn. 1:7).

Folks, doctrine is serious business and the eventual outcome of our journey with the Lord has a lot riding on whether we persevere in sound doctrines. It is not without reason that the apostle John declared that “anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in [the doctrine of Christ] does not have God; whoever continues in [the doctrine of Christ] has both the Father and the Son (2 Jn. 1:9 NIV, NKJV in brackets). No wonder then that the apostle Paul told Timothy, a young man pastoring the church in Ephesus, “Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1 Tim. 4:16). And, what happened not too long ago to Joshua Harris, once a darling of evangelicals, shows how starkly true this can be: Neither persevering in doctrine nor life, Harris renounced his faith and divorced his wife.

On the flipside, it seems that some people who “love” theology (e.g., “I’m a 5-point Calvinist”) lack love, meaning they have little tolerance for disagreement. Ironically, it is Harris, who, before eventually becoming a Calvinist, had said, “I remember my first encounters with the Calvinists. Sadly, I must say that they represented the doctrine of grace with a total lack of grace.”  Another irony is that Pastor John MacArthur, a fearless defender of the gospel whose popular radio ministry is called Grace to You, is the one who demonstrated this lack of grace and love when he penned his Strange Fire in 2013.

MacArthur once quipped, “People often tell me doctrine divides, and I say, ‘Yes, it divides truth from error.’”  I could not agree with him more but, in light of 2 Timothy 2:15b (NKJV) that exhorts the teachers of God’s word to be “a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth,” we need to “cut” the word with a sharp steak knife for precision instead of hacking it with a butcher knife. Note that the phrase ‘rightly dividing’ derives from the compound Greek word of órthos meaning right, and témnō meaning to cut. So when Pastor MacArthur, seemingly using a butcher knife, accuses the entire Charismatic Movement as “the explosive growth of a false church, as dangerous as any cult or heresy,” he is being neither precise nor gracious. No one needs to remind me of several problems this movement embodies, particularly with regard to prosperity theology; I have spoken against it in my talks and written about it in my books. Nonetheless, impugning the entire movement and those who are true believers in it, as part of a false church, is not only divisive and unloving, but it also encourages people to move to the side of those who deprivilege doctrines like Pastor Jakes.

In closing, I suggest that when we theologize over doctrinal matters that lack clarity (2 Pet. 3:16), the kind that exists in doctrines such as the Trinity (Matt. 4:16-17; Rom. 8:9) or deity/humanity of Christ (Col. 2:9; 1 Jn. 4:2-3), we should avoid the approach of “either/or” and embrace the approach of “both/and.” For instance, when addressing the basis for God’s election, instead of choosing between God’s “predetermined plan” or  “foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2:23 NASB), I suggest that we simply believe what Scripture says, which is both (Eph. 1:11; 1 Peter 1:1-2), and stop, as J. I. Packer says, “suppress[ing] . . . one truth in the supposed interests of the other . . . for the sake of a tidier theology” (Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God 1961).  I call this the Radica Middle hermeneutics and you can read all about it in my book Theologizing in the Radical Middle (2018) available in Amazon.

And whenever we teach God’s word, including doctrines, we should always “speak the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15). So, in love, I shared with the young Mexican some doctrinal guidelines to find a church that preaches the true gospel.

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

Bible Reading for Today: Genesis 7


Lunch Break Study

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

Question to Consider

1. What made the situation very sensitive between Apollos and Priscilla/Aquila?

2. How did Apollos respond to what Priscilla/Aquila tried to do for him?  What does this suggest about the manner in which this couple approached this sensitive matter?

3. Is there something really important (spiritually or otherwise) that you have been wanting to share with this person whom you care about but have been putting it off?  What is keeping you?  What do you need to do?

Notes

1. Although Apollos was a formally trained teacher, this lay couple knew more about the actual life and ministry of Jesus Christ.  Apparently, while Apollos knew all about the Messianic prophecies, he didn’t know that those have been fulfilled in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. 

2. Evidently, Apollos received the correction since he immediately applied it to his ministry.  This suggests that Priscilla and Aquila spoke the truth in love, meaning they avoided insulting their teacher (“You don’t even know this”) while maintaining respect.

 3. Once, I corrected this godly Mexican pastor who made a mistake.  It was on my mind for a while but I finally decided to address it.  Having said that, no one should rebuke or correct anyone unless he is praying for that individual.  I guess this man thought that I did that in love; we still keep in touch.


Evening Reflection

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

April 17, Easter Sunday

UPDATED Today’s Spiritual Food for Thought—first posted on April 20, 2014—is provided by Pastor Yohan Lee, a friend of AMI, who in the past has served as a staff at several AMI churches.  He is a graduate of University of Pennsylvania (BA) and Cairn University (MA).

Spiritual Food for Thought for the Weekend

“Sports Betting and the Christian Life”

1 Cor. 15:12-19

Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. 15 We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.

One thing people have stopped doing during the shutdown brought on by COVID-19 pandemic is sports betting (no games to bet on), which is a good thing.  That said, sometimes, I liken the Christian life to a wager, say a sports bet. (I am not condoning gambling in any way.)  For anyone who has ever placed a wager, you know that the amount you bet is proportional to your confidence in the team on whom you are betting.  So, if you were Floyd Mayweather, Jr., you must have been supremely confident that the Broncos were going to win the last Superbowl, because you supposedly bet 10 million on them.  Obviously, if you have little confidence on your team, you don’t place very much on the table.  The dilemma of gambling is that in order to win a lot, you have risk losing a lot.  

Similarly, the way you live your Christian life is proportional to your confidence in the truth of the resurrection.  If you are supremely confident that Jesus lives and that all the promises he made are true, you really won’t care that much for the success that this world offers.   Conversely, if you kind of believe that Christ rose again (or maybe only wishfully think that he did), then you will “hedge your bets,” if you will, by sort of living for Christ, while really living for things of this world.  The problem with this kind of living is the same as the gambler’s dilemma: In order to win a lot (and truly experience the power of a life in the Spirit), you have to risk a lot (and lose your life).  If you do not have the faith to risk your life, you will never live the life God wants for you.  

The Apostle Paul understood this concept well.  To paraphrase 1 Cor. 15:19, “If there is no resurrection, then I have completely thrown my life away.  I have been beaten, imprisoned, starved, for nothing!  More than that, if there is no resurrection, then I am a heretic and I spread lies about God (v. 15).”  Obviously, Paul risked greatly, but I have confidence that now he is greatly enjoying his reward.  

Today, first and foremost, Happy Easter!  He is risen!  Let’s celebrate.  Secondly, let me ask you this question: If the resurrection were a scam, would your life be pathetic and worthless, or does it barely matter in your life that Christ is alive?  As we celebrate the truth that Jesus is alive today —in the aftermath of the wreckage wrought by COVID and amid a terrible war being fought in Ukraine—let’s make sure the truth of the resurrection significantly impacts our lives.  For a starter, let’s hope again, not necessarily to return to our life before coronavirus lockdown, but, with a newfound sense of life built on our unshakable belief in the risen Lord, to lead a truly meaningful and fruitful life to the glory of God. 

Prayer: Dear Lord Jesus Christ, there are no words to express, in any shape or form, my gratitude to you for paying the price—death—for my sins and then resurrect from the dead. I shall truly live out the rest of my life serving your divine interest on earth.  Use me, Lord.  Amen. 

Bible Reading for Today:  Genesis 6