Why Pray?

by Rev Lai Kai Ming

Readings: Mark 9; Psalm 119:129-152

READ (verse/s chosen for meditation)
Mark 9:28-29
And when He had come into the house, His disciples asked Him privately, “Why could we not cast it out?” So He said to them, “This kind can come out by nothing but prayer and fasting.”

REFLECT
Another tough saying from the Lord. The disciples’ question indicated that thus far, they have been able to cast out all other demons by the authority that Jesus had given them. Yet, this was different. But why? In Matthew’s account of this episode, Jesus said the disciples lacked faith, adding that “this kind” could only be cast out by prayer (and fasting). It would be fair to assume that Jesus himself had prayed before He dealt with his particular demon. If Jesus had to pray, may we not be so presumptuous to think that we are exempt.

RELATE
Why pray? This theological question has bugged me since my early days as a Christian. I even have a book with that title! I have come to the conclusion that prayer is a mystery, and the only way to understand it is to pray. To pray is to realize that we have an important part to play in God’s saving work. If we don’t pray, He might allow certain important work to be left undone. We would then miss out on the joy and privilege of being His partners. It is my prayer, that in the coming year, God will help me to pray more, and pray better. This is a prayer that He will certainly answer!

REST
“Lord, teach me how to pray!”

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Righteousness beheaded!

by Rev Jason Phua

Readings: Mark 6:1-29; Proverbs 16:8-9

READ (verse/s chosen for meditation)
Mark 6:26 “And the king was exceedingly sorry, but because of his oaths and his guests he did not want to break his word to her.”

REFLECT
Why was King Herod “exceedingly sorry”? Because he was about to behead John the Baptist whom he deemed to be “holy and righteous”. Yet, the king was not sorry enough to value the life of this righteous man over and above what he promised of Herodias’ daughter. He was not sorry enough to choose the life of John the Baptist over and above what he could have lost in terms of his word and reputation.

The irony could not have been lost on the readers of this chapter of the gospel of Mark. While the king cherished the holiness and righteousness of someone like John the Baptist, he was all ready to overwrite such values with his own sense of righteousness, which was to fulfil his promise as the king. Such an irony echoes throughout the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. While the people marvelled at Jesus’ teachings and miracles, many stomped their foot on all of these when their own set of beliefs and wants were being threatened.

RELATE
Am I like Herod? Are there times when i choose to sacrifice what is righteous to God to preserve my own reputation or sense of worth? Have I spoken against others unnecessarily so as to make myself “look” better?

I will always remember the time during national service, when several of us played a prank on a fellow soldier as he was quite a trouble maker. Yet, when we were found out by our trainer, all except one of us didn’t have the courage to own up. Up till today and especially after knowing Christ, I felt ashamed that I didn’t own up then and it served as a stark reminder for me to put God’s righteousness above my own sense of reputation or worth.

As the Apostle Paul always said in his letters to the churches and fellow co-workers, He is not ashamed of the Gospel. The Gospel is not just about how we share the good news with others; but it also about how we live truthfully in the Gospel. Hence, as God’s children, we should not be ashamed of the Gospel and of His call to righteousness. We should not place the things of this world, our own insecurities above what is good and right to God. What is reputation? What is even my own promise to others? If all these are not done in the righteousness of God, then they are really nothing in God’s sight.

REST
Help me Lord, to value Your righteousness over and above my own reputation and sense of self-worth. This is so that Your kingdom is truly proclaimed. Help us as a church not to step on one another for our own sake; but rather to build one another up for Your sake. Amen.

Mercy for demons?

by Rev Lai Kai Ming

Readings: Mark 4:46-5:20; Pro 16:6-7

READ (verse/s chosen for meditation)
Mark 5:11-12
Now a large herd of swine was feeding there near the mountains. So all the demons begged Him, saying, “Send us to the swine, that we may enter them.”
And at once Jesus gave them permission.

REFLECT
I have always been intrigued by the demons’ request. Why would they even bother to beg Jesus, unless they expect some form of mercy? On the part of Jesus, why would he even bother with the pleas of unclean spirits? Shouldn’t he have spoken the word and rid the world of their foul influence? Yet, the Son of God answered the prayer of undeserving demons at the price of 2000 precious pigs.

RELATE
We can never fathom the depths of God’s mercy. Yet, we are often too quick to judge the sins of others and declare their condemnation. We call people hopeless, and beyond redemption. Such attitudes only betray our lack of self-understanding, and poor awareness of our own depravity. We forget that we have been pardoned from hell only by the grace of God. Instead of lamenting for wasted pigs, we should be praising Jesus for redeeming the seemingly unredeemable – by His own precious blood.

REST
Lord, may we never be too quick to judge another as beyond help and hope. Teach us to show mercy in the way we have known mercy.

As one who had authority?

by Rev Jason Phua

Bible Readings: Mark 1:1-28; Psalms 119:33-48

READ (Verses chosen for meditation)
Mark 1:22 “And they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes.”

REFLECT
I had occasionally wondered at the significance of verse 22, when it is said that Jesus “taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes”.

Didn’t the scribes or teachers of the law had a lot of authority among the Jews? Otherwise, why would Jesus often speak against their authority as religious leaders who led the people astray with their hypocrisy? I have heard preachers who claimed that this verse means that the people were in awe of Jesus because He spoke with such power and might. That might be true in a general sense, but is that what verse 22 is talking about?

As far as I know, the scribes were mostly Pharisees who were also “professional” teachers of the law. They would often interpret oral traditions to suit the local context and situations. When they teach, they will quote each other as the authority and mostly the leading rabbis of the rabbinic schools. Therefore, when Jesus taught as His own authority, referring to Himself as the fulfilment of Scripture (Luke 4 recorded such an episode); the people were “astonished”! So it wasn’t so much that Jesus taught with “power” or “might”; but that He taught in His own authority since He is the Word.

RELATE
How does an understanding of the above change the way I read the Bible?

If Jesus proclaimed the Gospel in His own authority; then those who heard it need to place ourselves under His authority. Hence, I am made more aware of the need to place myself under the authority of God’s Word (since He is the Word); and not trying to be the authority instead.

Placing myself under the authority of God’s Word means that I need to obey and act upon God’s Word for God’s sake. I should not try to cherry pick which verses to follow and which verses to ignore or hide away from. If I am doing that, then I am trying to be the authority of God’s Word, instead of placing myself under its authority.

I should also watch out for the temptation to be arrogant in the ability to interpret and understand God’s Word. If I do that, I am not placing myself under the authority of the Word; but merely trying to make use of the Word for self-proclaimed authority.

In a way, the Gospel of John began in the same tone as Mark 1: 22:

John 1:1-6 “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

And so Jesus taught as One with authority since He was the Word in the beginning and all things were made through Him.

REST
Help me Lord, to keep a posture of surrendering to Your authority of the Word; so that Your light may shine through in my obedience to your commands. Amen.

Sovereign

by Rev Lai Kai Ming

Readings: Ruth 1; Psalm 109:17-32

READ (verse/s chosen for meditation)
Ruth 1:20-21
But she said to them, “Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. I went out full, and the Lord has brought me home again empty. Why do you call me Naomi, since the Lord has testified against me, and the Almighty has afflicted me?”

REFLECT
Why do we always blame God for our trials and troubles? Why was Naomi so sure that it was God who took away all that she ever loved? The biblical author did not hint at any wrongdoing by Naomi. Her suffering did not result from any exposed sin, and her lament seemed justified. In fact, as the story unfolded, Naomi ultimately received the blessings of having Israel’s Redeemer as her descendant.

RELATE
For me, to attribute all things to God is not blasphemy, but an acknowledgement of His sovereignty. While God might not have struck Naomi’s loved ones dead, He did not prevent their untimely demise (though He had the power to). So in a strange way, Naomi’s bitter words about God’s bitter actions were a declaration of faith. She did not suppress her disappointment and even anger with God, but spoke of it as one who expected better from Yahweh. Like Job did. Like the lamenting psalmists did. Yes, even in my most difficult trials, I will not pretend that God is absent – but proclaim that He is sovereign.

REST
Your plans are still to prosper
You have not forgotten us
You’re with us in the fire and the flood
You’re faithful forever
Perfect in love
You are sovereign over us!
(Song by Michael W. Smith)

Who do we love more?

by Rev Jason Phua

Bible Readings: 2 Corinthians 11:1-15; Proverbs 15:27-28

READ (Verses chosen for meditation)
2 Corinthians 11:12 “And what I do I will continue to do, in order to undermine the claim of those who would like to claim that in their boasted mission they work on the same terms as we do.”

REFLECT
Even as the church in Corinth was started by Paul (Acts 18-19), even as he served them without any form of support even when in need (2 Cor 11:7-9), even as they grieved him immensely with their easy fellowship with those who were engaged in sexual immorality (1 Cor 5) and now with those who preached a different Jesus and a different Gospel (2 Cor 11:4), Paul’s conclusion was that he will continue to proclaim the truth. Why? Why not just give the Corinthians up to the wolves? Because he loved the Corinthians (2 Cor 11:11) and he love God more (2 Cor 12:10). He loved them more than the betrayal of the sheep or his own discomfort or his own insecurities. After all, the apostle had proclaimed earlier that his life was no longer his own (1 Cor 6).

RELATE
Who do we love more? Ourselves? Our own needs? Or the people that God has entrusted to us?

If we love God’s people more than ourselves, then why do we keep doing things that seemingly benefit ourselves?

Why do we shun from doing the “difficult” things even though we know that it will, in the longer term, be of benefit to the growth of the people?

Are we so afraid of men that we have learnt to shrink away from our first call as His servants of righteousness?

At the end of the day what really matters? Is it the glory waiting on that Day or is it the way we try to build for ourselves the status, power, recognition and approvals of men?

Don’t we all have to give an account?

The above questions helped to guide the way I serve in ministry. They have helped me not to stray away from His calling for it can be easy to do so. It is always much easier to go with the flow of the world (or even with the demands of those whom we are serving) than to go against it proclaiming the truth.

May these questions be of benefit to those who are reading this journal also, in whatever capacity you are serving His flock. Be it that you are a parent to your child/children, be it that you are a supervisor to your colleagues, be it that you are a leader in ministry, be it that you are a co-worker at the marketplace or ministry, be it that you are a friend to another who might be hurting emotionally, be it that you felt betrayed by some in church, be it that you might be thinking of leaving the church, be it that you might even be thinking of ending your own life because you thought that no one understood you.

That might be true.

But God does.

If we are in Christ, our life is no longer our own. Live it according to His will; not ours. Then we will have freedom, in the truest sense of the word. Then we will discover what Paul means when he said in 2 Cor 12:10-11 that “For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

REST
Lord our God, in this dark, depressing and violent world; You are the Light and You are the joy-Giver. Help us to go to the Light and not turn back to darkness. Even if many in this world should misunderstand our love for them, help us to find comfort and strength in the reality that You know. You always know and will make it right. Amen.

The Bible Trap?

by Rev Lai Kai Ming

Readings: 2 Corinthians 9:1-15; Proverbs 15:24-26

READ (verse/s chosen for meditation)
Proverbs 15:24-26
The path of life leads upward for the prudent,
that he may turn away from Sheol beneath.
The Lord tears down the house of the proud
but maintains the widow’s boundaries.
The thoughts of the wicked are an abomination to the Lord, but gracious words are pure.

REFLECT
The book of Proverbs answers the cry of one who asks “how shall we live?” For the author, the greatest reward comes from a life of wisdom. Not intelligence, but wisdom. Intelligence is about brains, but wisdom is about life. How shall we live? We live prudently, with our time, our resources, our choices. We are careful not to follow the crowd. Next, wisdom is not proud, because the wise man understand his frailty and his utter dependence on others. He who is proud must contend with his Creator. Lastly, the wise thinks pure and speaks grace. He believes that while we are sinners, we can choose not to sin.

RELATE
Sometimes we can fall into what I call the “Bible trap”. How the trap works is that it encourages the study of the Bible as an end in itself. It is more concerned about correct interpretation than correct living. It argues that it is not possible to live correctly without understanding precisely. It is prudent to the extent of becoming proud. In short, it makes the mistakes of the Pharisees. The Bible trap stifles the Christian life by choosing intelligence over wisdom. For this reason, I believe God has placed the books of Psalms and Proverbs right in the middle of the Bibl–- to remind us that the Word is to be understood only by living it out.

REST
Dear Lord, free me from religion into relationship, from law into love, from legalism into life!