Number our days?

by Rev Jason Phua

Readings: Luke 21:29-22:13; Psalm 90:1-91:16

READ (Verse chosen for meditation)
Psalm 90:12 “So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom”

What is to “number our days”? The Hebrew root word for “number” is “mana” which literally means to compute something arithmetically. Used in the context of Psalm 90, where the Psalmist spoke of God’s wrath and His unique ability to see through all person’s secret sins, we get the idea that to “number” is not merely to count a person’s age or trying to ask God for a prophecy. The fact is that unless revealed by God, none of us know how long we will live. We could be living another 50 years; we could also be brought back home in God’s presence tomorrow.  Hence, in the light of this truth, the Psalmist prayed that we shall make our time here on earth count as much for the Lord as possible. In doing so, we shall “gain a heart of wisdom”. Wisdom is an idea much cherished by the Psalmists, for with wisdom comes true joy in the Lord. For this to happen, we cannot rely on worldly management theories, but we are to ask of the Lord to “teach” us. Indeed, God will teach us if we are willing and He will mainly teach us through His Word, our prayers with Him and the anointed voices of the Body of Christ.

Numbering my days is an easy concept to know but a challenging thing to put into practice. I so frequently fall into an “auto-pilot” mode because that is a much more comfortable way of doing things. I do not pause frequently enough to ask of the Lord each day to teach me: “Lord, what and how would you have me serve you today like it is the last?” We could be surprised by the Lord’s answer if we ask such questions of Him frequently enough. Sometimes He wants us to catch precious opportunities to share the Gospel with someone; sometimes He just wants us to be faithful in the things we do on a daily basis. Whatever it is, we believe that if we go as the Lord desires; we shall rejoice and be glad all our days even in times of affliction.

My Lord and my God, teach us to number our days because it matters to you. Teach us to number our days so that we can live as living sacrifices for your glory. Amen

Serve the Lord?

by Rev Jason Phua

Readings: Joshua 24:1-33; Proverbs 13:20-23

READ (Verse chosen for meditation)
Joshua 24:15: “And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

Joshua 24:15 is often used to express our commitment to “serve the Lord”. Yet, what does the phrase “serve the Lord” mean? We often equate serving God to the amount of things we do in the context of ministry. Hence, we say that a believer is serving God fervently when he or she is actively involved in ministries. However, this does not seem to be Joshua’s emphasis when he gathered the people at Shechted. Instead, Joshua’s definition of service has more to do with:

(1) Our understanding of God’s power. The basis for our service is that God is powerful and we are just vessels for His strength. Prior to the declaration that he and his household will serve the Lord, God used Joshua to remind the people that He is the God Almighty. He brought the people out of Egypt, destroyed Israel’s enemies and gave them possessions which they had not labored.

(2) Our gratitude for God’s grace. The motivation for our service is our gratitude for God’s grace in our lives. At Shechem, God reminded the people that throughout their journey to the Promised Land, they had incurred many transgressions (Joshua 24:7). Yet God showed His sovereign grace and brought the younger generations of the Israelites to the Promised Land.

(3) Our commitment to be free of idolatry. The act of our service must be pure. Throughout Joshua’s speech at Shechem, God wanted the Israelites to understand that service unto Him has a lot to do with the destruction of spiritual idols in our lives. Serving God is about making the painful and yet rewarding commitment to serve Him only. Serving God is about our sincerity and faithfulness (Joshua 24:14), and not about the amount of things we supposedly do for Him.

Pastors and leaders of the church can fall easily into the temptation to render our service with various forms of idolatry. For example, preaching itself can become a form of idol especially if the pastor enjoys the attention he or she gets from the preaching per se. Service in ministry can also be plagued with idolatry if it is done with pride, self-importance, hunger for power and even the fervor to push a personal (and not God’s) agenda. Thank God for the reminder that our service unto Him must be done in purity, sincerity and faithfulness. This is so that in each of our calling to serve, we do so with the fullness of Christ who is in us and with us.

My Lord and my God, convict us if we have been serving you with various forms of spiritual idolatry. Help us to slaughter these with the help of Christ who is in us so that we can serve you with purity. Amen.

Humble Beginning Honored Ending

by Rev Sng Chong Hui

Those 4 words sum up the life of our beloved former President of Singapore, the late SR Nathan who passed away peacefully on 22 August 2016.

Unlike many Presidents in the world who have a bright start in their lives, born with a silver spoon or from illustrious families, SR Nathan had a very humble beginning.

At the age of 8, his father took his own life. He came to Singapore to study but was expelled from school at age 16. He then ran away from home. Went to Muar and survived by taking on odd jobs, giving tuition, delivering letters and even worked as a hawker assistant.

Then came the Japanese Occupation. He started learning Japanese from a Japanese-English dictionary. And he became an interpreter for the Japanese until the war ended.

Thereafter he pursued his studies in the University of Malaya. Upon graduation he joined the Public Service, where he quickly rose through the ranks.

As director of the Security and Intelligence Division, Nathan displayed his bravery in the Laju incident. He led a group of Singaporean officials as guarantors to accompany the terrorists on board a plane to Kuwait.

Thank God for his safe return together with the other Singaporeans.

Then he became our first elected minority President serving from 1999 to 2011.

As I watched the news I am totally amazed by the tributes and accolades of his achievements during his Presidency.

He had helped Singapore sailed through many diplomatic storms and even improved bilateral ties with other countries.

He strengthened the Labor Movement and Trade Unions. He initiated the President’s Challenge, which has since raised more than $160 million for various beneficiaries.

And most of all, he is widely remembered for his friendly rapport with people, especially those who have special needs.

He died at a ripe age of 92. He lived a full, tough and eventful life. He left a legacy of good works, great examples and grand inspiration that humble beginning can lead to honored ending.

Thus so says our God in Zechariah 4:10 NLT

“Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin …”

Teaching the promises of God

by Rev Jason Phua

Readings: Joshua 21:1-22:20; Proverbs 13:15-16

READ (Verses chosen for meditation)
Joshua 21:43-45   “Thus the LORD gave to Israel all the land that he swore to give to their fathers. And they took possession of it, and they settled there. And the LORD gave them rest on every side just as he had sworn to their fathers. Not one of all their enemies had withstood them, for the LORD had given all their enemies into their hands. Not one word of all the good promises that the LORD had made to the house of Israel had failed; all came to pass.”

Verses 43 to 45 made repeated statements that the Lord kept to His promises. While such is the author’s remembrance and worship of how the Lord has fought for Israel; it also serves as an important teaching for future generations. The teaching is that the Lord will never fail. He is the Alpha and the Omega who keeps to His promises. In God’s economy, when He said something, it is already a done deal.
The teaching is also that when God made a promise to us, the promise shall be fulfilled according to God’s ways and not ours. Such a teaching is important because for the future generations, they might face similar or worse challenges in the faith. During such times, such reminders hope to enable the people to cling on to the Lord Almighty so that they would not “break faith” like the son of Zerah (Joshua 22:20).

Teaching the next generation about our faith is part of discipleship. Discipleship is not only about living the truth; but imparting the life and truth to those who comes after us. The church is generally well versed in imparting truth to the next generation. Over the years, we have experimented with and launched sophisticated ways of teaching the younger: such as bible studies in youth cells, sermons at youth services and even the establishment of mentoring relationships. All these are well and good.

Nevertheless, teachings such as those found in the book of Joshua were expected to be imparted throughout the generations not only within the community of believers; but more so within the context of family. Parents are expected to be well versed with such teachings, live them out and impart them to their children day and night. Unfortunately, some Christian parents have the tendency of “outsourcing” the discipleship of their children to the church’s children and youth ministries. Much time is spent fussing over their children’s studies, career and marriage; but little is done to disciple them to be men and women after God’s own heart. As Deuteronomy 11:18-19 reminded us: “You shall therefore lay up these words of mine in your heart and in your soul, and you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.  You shall teach them to your children, talking of them when you are sitting in your house, and when you are walking by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.

Dear Lord, help us as parents to remember your call for us to disciple our children. Help us to be your disciples first, so that as we impart your truth to our children; they know that we are living out the truth in authenticity and in faith. Amen.

Musing on Mortality

by Rev Sng Chong Hui

Last night after returning home from family dinner I quickly turned on the TV to catch the remaining live telecast of the National Day Rally (NDR).

That was when I learned the NDR was suspended because our PM had taken ill.

I was shocked, stunned and shaken. A host of unimaginable fears and foreboding thoughts flooded my mind. It did trigger a wave of prayers amongst my WhatsApp groups.

Thank God our PM Lee did not have a stroke but a “brief fainting spell” caused by “prolonged standing, heat and dehydration.”

When PM Lee returned on stage to resume his speech, it brought great reliefs to both audience and viewers like myself.

However as he talked about the need for leadership succession, he made a poignant remark that “Minister or not, all of us are mortal.”

The Bible gives us 3 pictures of our mortal life.

  1. The Swiftness

The Bible in the book of Job tells us the swiftness of life.

“Now my days are swifter than a runner” (Job 9:25)

“They pass by like swift ships” (Job 9:26a)

“Like an eagle swooping on its prey” (Job 9:26b)

“Oh, remember that my life is a breath!” (Job 7:7)

Such is the swiftness of our mortal life.

  1. The Uncertainty

The Bible tells us the uncertainty of life.

“For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away” (James 4:14).

“For who knows what is good for man in life, all the days of his vain life which he passes like a shadow?” (Ecclesiastes 6:12)

Who can lay hold of a shadow? Who can be so certain of life? Not even the rich fool who thought it certain, “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease, eat, drink and be merry” (Luke 12:19)

Such is the uncertainty of our mortal life. 

  1. The Changeability

The Bible also tells us the changeability of life.

“We spend our years as a tale that is told” (Psalm 90:9 KJV)

A tale is a story with twists and turns. Our mortal life is filled with unpredictable changes.

“Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell and make a profit; whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow” (James 4:13).

Such is the changeability of our mortal life.

No doubt all of us are mortal yet we worship and serve an Immortal who is described as, “The Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation” (II Corinthians 1:3a-4) 

If we have such a God, it doesn’t matter if our mortal life is swift, uncertain and changeable.

The “very little” things

by Rev Jason Phua

Readings: Luke 19:1-27; Psalm 87:1-7

READ (Verse chosen for meditation)
Luke 19:17: “And he said to him, ‘Well done, good servant! Because you have been faithful in a very little, you shall have authority over ten cities.’ “(ESV)

This is a familiar verse. Quite often, our eyes might fall on the “ten cities”. What are these “ten cities”? Are they physical health, wealth or mansions in heaven? Yet Jesus’ emphasis in the parable is not about what the nobleman can give, it is about how his servants deal with the “very little” he gave. These “very little” things could definitely take the form of money; but they could very well refer to the things we do on a daily basis – such as those concerning time and relationships. So as we wait for the Lord’s kingdom to arrive in its full glory, how are we really doing with the “very little things” in the new life? When we spend time with our children, are we often distracted? When we spend time with the Lord in our daily devotions, do we just want to get it “over and done with”? When the lift door is closing and we saw a man struggling to reach the lift; do we wait or pretend not to see? When we felt tempted to view websites that are unwholesome, would we flee or would we indulge? Notice also that the nobleman left the ten servants to their own devices with the ten minas; and so in this world we are “left” with the stewardship and worship of God’s “very little things” in our life; especially when no one else (except God) is watching. Are we able to be good stewards of the “very little” that God has given or would we end up like the bad steward who lost even his “very little”?

As a pastor, i am often given the privilege to listen to the cries of those in need. Some of these cases are complex and emotionally draining. At times, i just wanted so much to help these persons without taking good time to pray and discern what the Lord wants to do (or not to). During such occasions, I know that i have failed to steward the “very little” because my eyes were unwisely fixed on the “ten cities”. The best thing that happened in these cases is that the Lord still ministers because of His love and grace. The worst thing that happened was that the person felt very discouraged that nothing significant was being given in the counsel. As Leonard Ravenhill reminded me time and again: “No man is greater than his prayer life. The pastor who is not praying is playing; the people who are not praying are straying. We have many organizers, but few agonizers; many players and payers, few pray-ers; many singers, few clingers; lots of pastors, few wrestlers; many fears, few tears; much fashion, little passion; many interferers, few intercessors; many writers, but few fighters. Failing here, we fail everywhere.”

Oh Holy Spirit, may you help us to be faithful in the “very little” – not so that we want glory for ourselves in the “ten cities”; but so that in whatever the outcome, Your Name is glorified. Amen.

Bird Strikes

by Rev Sng Chong Hui

Bird strikes are rare. But when it happens, it can bring down an airplane.

Recently a bird hit a Qatar Airways passenger plane after take-off.

It was ingested into the left engine. There was a series of bangs. The fan blades bent. It shorted the electrical power. Streaks of flames emitted. Smoke followed. The engine shut down.

The airplane had to make an emergency landing at Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport. Thank God the plane landed safely and all 312 passengers and crew were evacuated.

So, next time when you are in an airplane and you spotted a bird flying at the same level as your airplane, don’t get too excited. In fact, it might be a good idea to start praying.

And speaking of prayer, the take home truth is that if a small bird can bring down a big plane, an Airbus A330, don’t underestimate the power of a small prayer said in faith that is the size of a mustard seed.

Our Lord Jesus says,

“If you have faith as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be pulled up by the roots and be planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you” (Luke 17:6)

“Assuredly, I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what was done to the fig tree, but also if you say to this mountain, ‘Be removed and be cast into the sea,’ it will be done. And whatever things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive” (Matthew 21:21-22).

It was the Queen of Scotland who once said, “I fear the prayers of John Knox more than all the armies of England.”

Never underestimate the power of one flying bird.

Never underestimate also the power of one praying person.