Press on!

“… Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God had called me heaven-ward in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3: 13 & 14.

As we enter into a new year, let us heed the words of Paul and forget what is behind and move forward to the goal which God has set for us.

Paul is delineating what he is leaving behind in verses 5 & 6 – his pride of being a perfect Jew in birth and also in all the legalistic righteousness. But he is moving in a different direction now and he can reach his goal, only if he leaves behind the heavy baggage of the past.

We might also have baggage of fear, pride, anger, bitterness etc., in us. If we are to enter into the New Year with them, we would be the same sad person. But if we choose to leave them behind and ponder upon the goals God has given to us, we would move forward.

It is not only the negative things,  but we also need to leave behind our successes and achievements of the past year to reach newer levels in the coming year.

We should not be struck with, either the problems or the victories of the past year. But we need to seek God’s grace anew to face new challenges of the New Year and move forward.

Day 152

by Rev Joel Yong

Job 4:3-4
Behold, you have instructed many, and you have strengthened the weak hands. Your words have upheld him who was stumbling, and you have made firm the feeble knees.

Job was reminded that he had been a friend to the weak and an encourager to those who stumbled.

There is a difference between the weak and stumbling and the wayward.
The latter does not seek to hold onto God. They may mention God with their lips but desire not His guidance and persist in their arrogant and rebellious ways.

The weak and stumbling- however want to hold onto God. But because of a lack of understanding or strength, are unable to do so. Job was a friend to such people and in their crisis , whether of faith or of medical or life situations, he supported them.

He “made firm their weak knees” so they could walk right.
Do you know someone who stumbled in their faith and are seeking to walk right in God- pray for them, send them a message and firm their knees today!

Make a difference – support those who are endeavoring to walk on – in your time of need, they can be that strong support for you too!

Day 151

by Rev Joel Yong

Job 2:7-10
Satan left the LORD’s presence and struck Job with painful boils from the soles of his feet to the top of his head. Job took a piece of broken pottery to scratch himself as he sat in the ashes. His wife asked him, “Are you still holding on to your principles? Curse God and die!” He said to her, “You’re talking like a godless fool. We accept the good that God gives us. Shouldn’t we also accept the bad?” Through all this Job’s lips did not utter one sinful word.

Some people only praise God when things are good in life.
Their understanding and appreciation of God is circumstantial.

But the one who is able to praise God amidst a crisis- is the one who understands who God truly is, as his Creator and King.
And even though the situation shows no sign of abating, they are able to praise God because of who He is, not what they are presently facing.

Imagine a child saying “I can only call you Daddy if I get everything I want from you or if my life is on a roll. So no road bumps in my life journey please.”

Choose to know God for who He is, not just in safe circumstances.

Day 150

by Rev Joel Yong

Job 1:1-5
There was a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job, and that man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil. There were born to him seven sons and three daughters. He possessed 7,000 sheep, 3,000 camels, 500 yoke of oxen, and 500 female donkeys, and very many servants, so that this man was the greatest of all the people of the east. His sons used to go and hold a feast in the house of each one on his day, and they would send and invite their three sisters to eat and drink with them. And when the days of the feast had run their course, Job would send and consecrate them, and he would rise early in the morning and offer burnt offerings according to the number of them all. For Job said, It may be that my children have sinned, and cursed God in their hearts. Thus Job did continually.

Did you see that?
It says he was very wealthy but yet he was pious.
He did not let all that he had, become all that filled his vision.

He could still see God as the One who had blessed him and whom he was reliant and dependent upon.

Don’t let material possessions crowd out your vision.
Satan thinks it will and that it’s a potent distraction.
That is why Satan said –

Job 1:9-11
Then Satan answered the Lord and said, Does Job fear God for no reason? Have you not put a hedge around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face.

Good thing Job always learned to keep God before his eyes rather than let all these riches distract him.

Even the people he had – his children and family, his servants- were no distraction to his pursuit of a life of piety.

Seek God first in your life- that is after all, a life lived right.

Day 149

by Rev Joel Yong

Esther 10:1-2
King Ahasuerus imposed tax on the land and on the coastlands of the sea. And all the acts of his power and might, and the full account of the high honor of Mordecai, to which the king advanced him, are they not written in the Book of the Chronicles of the kings of Media and Persia?

The Biblical book is named after Esther.
But the story ends in the final chapter with an account of Mordecai.

He was not the one who spoke to the King.
But he was the one who urged Esther to do so even when her courage faltered initially.

He stood up against Haman when required to pay homage in a way that contravened his Jewish faith.
He mourned at the gates when he learnt of the impending genocide of the Jews and drew attention to the matter to the highest official he had access to – the Queen.

What about you?
How can you live out your faith in this world- strong and steadfast like Mordecai did?
How can you exert influence and responsibly use what influence you have, for the advance of God’s people and kingdom?

Or do you wield such influence for your own purposes most of the time?
Remember- even your networks aren’t coincidental. God puts certain people near you for a reason- that you might through your influence, help them to achieve their destiny in Him.

Eat this scroll!

by Rev Jason Phua

Bible Readings: Revelation 10:1-11; Psalm 138:1-8

READ (Verse chosen for reflection)
Revelation 10:9 “So I went to the angel and told him to give me the little scroll. And he said to me, “Take and eat it; it will make your stomach bitter, but in your mouth it will be sweet as honey.”

REFLECT
What does it mean when John was commanded by the angel to eat the scroll and that it will make “your stomach bitter, but in your mouth it will be sweet as honey”? This scenario reminded of a similar one in Ezekiel 3 where the prophet was also commanded to eat a scroll and then “speak to the house of Israel”. Hence, eating of scrolls seems to be a symbolic act for the prophets to “eat” the Word of God and then proclaim it to the people. “Eating” here does not just mean the reading of God’s Word, but rather a full “digestion” of what God has said – which can mean deep understanding, conviction and obedience.

RELATE
Given what Ezekiel and John had to say to the people, it was only right that they truly understand and be convicted of what was going to be proclaimed. What they have been told to say were difficult messages; yet they chose to obey because the faithful prophets understood the sins of their people and were convicted of the need for repentance. Such a process of proclaiming God’s Word can also be applied to all of us. Whether we preach, teach or share the Gospel, we need to “eat” what we are suppose to preach, teach and share. We need to be diligent to understand and be convicted of what God’s Word is saying to us even as we seek to proclaim to others. So even if a particular message is going to be “bitter to the stomach”; let it be so and let us just obey. Otherwise, it will just be all “talk” and no “walk”.

REST
Lord, help us to put in the effort to understand and meditate upon Your Holy Word even before we proclaim it unto others. This is so we do not misrepresent what Your Word says and lead others to the wrong path. Amen.

Day 148

by Rev Joel Yong

Esther 9:1
Now in the twelfth month, which is the month of Adar, on the thirteenth day of the same, when the king’s command and edict were about to be carried out, on the very day when the enemies of the Jews hoped to gain the mastery over them, the reverse occurred: the Jews gained mastery over those who hated them.

On the day the Jews were due to be exterminated- they destroyed their enemies instead.

How did such a thing happen?
They recognized that this was not possible via human action alone but God had intervened to save them!

Their response was to celebrate annually, in remembrance of what God had done for them.

Esther 9:20-22
And Mordecai recorded these things and sent letters to all the Jews who were in all the provinces of King Ahasuerus, both near and far, obliging them to keep the fourteenth day of the month Adar and also the fifteenth day of the same, year by year, as the days on which the Jews got relief from their enemies, and as the month that had been turned for them from sorrow into gladness and from mourning into a holiday; that they should make them days of feasting and gladness, days for sending gifts of food to one another and gifts to the poor.

The purpose of such a festival goes beyond archival or historical purposes- rather it reminds the new generations that God is willing and able to save them so that when difficulties happen, the new generation will be reminded to look to Him for help. In like manner, even those who witnessed the deliverance of the Jews from Haman’s genocidal plans- will also be reminded lest they forget.

How has God intervened in your life?
What do you do to remind yourself of this on a regular basis?

Day 147

by Rev Joel Yong

Esther 6:4-5
And the king said, Who is in the court? Now Haman had just entered the outer court of the king’s palace to speak to the king about having Mordecai hanged on the gallows that he had prepared for him. And the king’s young men told him, Haman is there, standing in the court. And the king said, Let him come in.

Haman planned to speak to the king about hanging Mordecai.
But God was watching and at the exact moment where he sought to indict Mordecai, the king had insomnia and asked for the royal log to be read to him. And he realized Mordecai saved his life and no reward had yet been awarded.

So he gets Haman to give out the reward to Mordecai.

No wonder David wrote:

Psalm 23:5
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.

God is bigger than any enemy you face.
He can even elevate you in the face of your enemy!

Why wouldn’t you trust yourself to Him in the face of evil schemes raised against you?

Day 146

by Rev Joel Yong

Esther 5:11-14
And Haman recounted to them the splendor of his riches, the number of his sons, all the promotions with which the king had honored him, and how he had advanced him above the officials and the servants of the king. Then Haman said, Even Queen Esther let no one but me come with the king to the feast she prepared. And tomorrow also I am invited by her together with the king. Yet all this is worth nothing to me, so long as I see Mordecai the Jew sitting at the king’s gate. Then his wife Zeresh and all his friends said to him, Let a gallows fifty cubits high be made, and in the morning tell the king to have Mordecai hanged upon it. Then go joyfully with the king to the feast. This idea pleased Haman, and he had the gallows made.

Haman had a lot of luxuries but he was not happy so long as his enemy was not dead.
He was not able to let go of his hatred to enjoy what he already had in life.

So though he was rich, I would say – he was genuinely poor.

That is what hatred is like – it imprisons you and leaves you worse off. The one in suffering is the one who lets hatred so blind him that he can no longer enjoy life.

Let go.
Hatred has no joyful end or reward for the one harboring it in his heart.

Day 145

by Rev Joel Yong

Esther 4:13-14
Then Mordecai told them to reply to Esther, Do not think to yourself that in the king’s palace you will escape any more than all the other Jews. For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?

Esther expressed there were obstacles in her way that made it difficult if not impossible to show up before the king unsummoned.

Mordecai replied to urge her to do her part to plead for the Jews. He was certain someone else would be used by God to help the Jews if she did not play her part but she would be held accountable for failing to help.

What urgent call to help God’s people, has been placed before you?
It may not be stopping genocide but still it is a request presented to help, in the ministry of God’s Kingdom.

What will your response be?
Will it be based on how inconvenient it is for you?
Or will it be based simply on what the right thing is, however difficult it might be.

Day 144

by Rev Joel Yong

Esther 2:21-23
In those days, as Mordecai was sitting at the king’s gate, Bigthan and Teresh, two of the king’s eunuchs, who guarded the threshold, became angry and sought to lay hands on King Ahasuerus. And this came to the knowledge of Mordecai, and he told it to Queen Esther, and Esther told the king in the name of Mordecai. When the affair was investigated and found to be so, the men were both hanged on the gallows. And it was recorded in the book of the chronicles in the presence of the king.

He served a foreign king.
But instead of allowing an assassination plot to manifest and have this foreign king slain- Mordecai was dutiful and loyal and saved the king’s life through his disclosure.

Such behavior shows Mordecai’s acknowledgment of God’s sovereignty.
That even foreign rulers are put in place by God.
Rulers Mordecai may not like.

It also shows Mordecai sees that even a non-Jewish life is equally precious in God’s eyes and so he does what is right – which is to save it!

Often I hear people complain about governments and react with condemnation, taking every opportunity to criticize …
But in so doing, they fail to remember the good things these governments have done and are doing in spite of mistakes here and there …
In so doing, they also forget the sovereign hand of God is still at work even when we cannot see it …

And we have a duty as citizens and residents of the land to each play our part – not as critics or as online keyboard warriors – but as dutiful citizens of the land, not just earning our keep but each actively contributing to community building and to nation building.

Day 143

by Rev Joel Yong

Esther 1:10-12
On the seventh day, when the heart of the king was merry with wine, he commanded Mehuman, Biztha, Harbona, Bigtha and Abagtha, Zethar and Carkas, the seven eunuchs who served in the presence of King Ahasuerus, to bring Queen Vashti before the king with her royal crown, in order to show the peoples and the princes her beauty, for she was lovely to look at. But Queen Vashti refused to come at the king’s command delivered by the eunuchs. At this the king became enraged, and his anger burned within him.

He ruled 127 provinces.
But had problems ruling his household well and problems ruling himself.

Some scholars believe that the king, in his drunken state, had asked his queen to come before him and his guests, naked and dressed only with her crown – and that is why Vashti declined.

His lack of self-rule and loss of control of his household led to a split between him and his wife and he began a recruitment for a new queen the next day.

This incident gave us insight into the kind of man the king was. And why Esther was subsequently afraid to ask him for help to save her people initially.

Day 142

by Rev Joel Yong

Nehemiah 13:19
As soon as it began to grow dark at the gates of Jerusalem before the Sabbath, I commanded that the doors should be shut and gave orders that they should not be opened until after the Sabbath. And I stationed some of my servants at the gates, that no load might be kept brought in on the Sabbath day.

To prevent the people from sinning by working on the Sabbath- Nehemiah locked the gates. He shut the distractions out.

What is distracting you in your attempts to walk closely with God? Perhaps it’s time to shut some gates in your life …

Judgement of God

by Rev Jason Phua

Bible Readings: Rev 8:1-13; Psalm 136:1-26

READ (Verse chosen for reflection)
Revelation 8:13 “Then I looked, and I heard an eagle crying with a loud voice as it flew directly overhead, “Woe, woe, woe to those who dwell on the earth, at the blasts of the other trumpets that the three angels are about to blow!”

REFLECT
Revelation 8:13 prepares the readers for what is to come in chapter 9, which speaks of the three dreadful series of judgments upon those who do not believe. When we read of the plagues and destruction in both chapters 8 and 9, we might ask the question: “Is God’s judgement against the unbelievers too severe?”

Personally, I do not think so. I do not think we serve a God who merely punishes or disciplines people for the fun of it. The purpose of God’s judgments, dreadful as they are, is to warn and leave room for unbelievers to repent and choose Him as Lord. So even as God is righteous and just (that is why the judgement must come), He is also compassionate and merciful. Unfortunately, Revelation 9:20-21 is a typical case of human sinfulness; where we are told that even as the judgements described seem very severe and dreadful, unbelievers shall continue to be unrepentant, worship other idols and indulge in sexual immorality.

RELATE
Many years ago, someone asked me whether the book of Revelation is a “doom and gloom” book of the Bible. I answered that even though Revelation speaks of God’s judgments in the end of time; it also reveals God’s love and mercy for all people in this world. The fact that Revelation is given to us in this present age signifies that God wants us to understand this book; not to be overtly frightened by it; but to increase in our faith and worship of the Almighty.

For example, the seven churches were warned through John at Patmos to turn from their evil ways; this is so that when Christ comes back again, He will find them faithful. As we read about the seven churches, we ourselves might also be convicted of various sins in our lives and choose to repent. The very fact that we are able to do so in this present age is a tremendous blessing and grace from the Lord. May we remember this and not falter in our walk with our Abba Father.

REST
In this Advent Season, as we await the Second Coming of the Royal Shepherd; may He who is able help us to “keep awake” and live a life that is true to Him. Amen.

Day 141

by Rev Joel Yong

Nehemiah 12:43
That day they offered many sacrifices and rejoiced because God had given them reason to rejoice. The women and children rejoiced as well. The sound of rejoicing in Jerusalem could be heard from far away.

They celebrated and worshipped so loudly that their voices could be heard from far away.
And they had no microphones.

What about your church, how enthusiastic is the sound of joy on weekends?
Or is everyone reliant on the band and singers to make the most noise.

Note the phrase “Go had given them reason to rejoice”
Think about all you are thankful for, and sing out loud.
It begins with you … start encouraging your church to be a thankful, non self conscious one.

Day 140

by Rev Joel Yong

Nehemiah 9:16
But they and our fathers acted presumptuously and stiffened their neck and did not obey your commandments.

In their confessions, the people prayed and spoke of their rebellion against God.
The phrase used is “stiffened their neck”.

To “stiffen one’s neck” refers to an unwillingness to be guided.
An animal cannot be pulled by its reins to the left or right if it stiffens its neck. Its course , though headed the wrong way, cannot be corrected.

A refusal to obey God’s commands means one is on the wrong path and direction in life.
Only by submitting to His ways- can we fully experience life in its fullness as God intended.

What truly matters

by Rev Jason Phua

Bible Readings: Micah 5:1-7:20; Proverbs 30:5-6

READ (Verse chosen for reflection)
Micah 6:8 “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

REFLECT
As a stiff-necked people, Israel did not get what the Lord wants of them. Even at the very last moments of God’s indictment in Micah 6, the people wondered what they can do to please the Lord. Is it to come before God with even more offerings? Is it to sacrifice even their firstborns and the fruit of their bodies for all the sins they have committed? What the Lord wants of them from the very beginning has been none of these. While God taught the people through Moses to make burnt offerings for their transgressions, the lessons to learn have never been in the offerings themselves; but that these offerings were given and allowed in grace to atone for their transgressions. Through such offerings, it is hoped that Israel will learn to truly love God and one another through kindness, justice and humility.

RELATE
While I marvelled at Israel’s stubbornness; it dawned upon me that I can potentially be no better. I can be as forgetful as Israel in terms of what God truly wants for my life in Him. Or I can even bury myself in “doing more” so that I can avoid facing the question of “how am I really doing”. Indeed, what the Lord desires, as He told David, is a contrite heart towards Him, so that we can readily discern what His will is and where and how we can be serving or being. Many things that we do in church / ministry are potential reminders of how we can love God and one another. However, all these things, no matter how sacred they seem to be, can never be replacements of our true worship of Him and agape love for His people. Otherwise, such “sacred” things will just be as detestable to God as Israel was indicted for her wicked scales, lies and violence (Micah 6:11-12).

REST
Lord Almighty, help us to know and obey what you truly desire. Amen.

Day 139

by Rev Joel Yong

Nehemiah 6:5-9
In the same way Sanballat for the fifth time sent his servant to me with an open letter in his hand. In it was written, It is reported among the nations, and Geshem also says it, that you and the Jews intend to rebel; that is why you are building the wall. And according to these reports you wish to become their king. And you have also set up prophets to proclaim concerning you in Jerusalem, There is a king in Judah. And now the king will hear of these reports. So now come and let us take counsel together. Then I sent to him, saying, No such things as you say have been done, for you are inventing them out of your own mind. For they all wanted to frighten us, thinking, Their hands will drop from the work, and it will not be done. But now, O God, strengthen my hands.

They accused him.
That this whole rebuilding- was really for his own glory, that Nehemiah wanted to be king.

It happens.
A person tries to grow a church and gets accused “… you are only doing it for your own glory.”
A person tries to serve his nation and gets accused “… you are building a dynasty.”

That’s tough.
Why would people say that?

To distract us and make us stop the effort, to clear our names.
That is what Satan did to Jesus in the wilderness. 3 temptations- each time with “If you really are the Son of God …”

Just remember this, there is nothing to prove to such people.
No need to prove that we are innocent or that our intentions are pure.
It’s the Devil’s intent for us to stop doing the work our Father sent us to do and to be distracted clearing our own names …

In fact, demonic opposition of such kind is normal whenever a person tries to do God’s work..
Just ask Nehemiah, Daniel (he was tossed to the lions as a result of scheming enemies), Moses (he had Miriam oppose him along with a mob),and the list goes on … right to Jesus.

A good tree after all, would never produce bad fruit.
A nation- well served, by God’s servant- grows.
So does the church.

Day 138

by Rev Joel Yong

Nehemiah 3:1
Then Eliashib the high priest rose up with his brothers the priests, and they built the Sheep Gate. They consecrated it and set its doors. They consecrated it as far as the Tower of the Hundred, as far as the Tower of Hananel.

I love this.
They had prepared a wall with a gate and whilst the rest of the building work was yet to be complete- they dedicated the finished portion first!

They made sacrifices and prayed for it to be made holy!
Sure, it was the common entrance to the Temple but don’t people usually only dedicate a building when it’s completed?

It’s as if they could not wait to start worshipping God before the repair work was completed!
It also meant they were celebrating each little victory and milestone as they passed it.

It’s important as we persevere through life’s obstacles that we worship at each milestone and remember the God who is faithful to finish the good work which He first began in us and this prevents us from losing focus on the long journey ans being disheartened.

Day 137

by Rev Joel Yong

Nehemiah 2:3-5
I said to the king, Let the king live forever! Why should not my face be sad, when the city, the place of my fathers’ graves, lies in ruins, and its gates have been destroyed by fire? Then the king said to me, What are you requesting? So I prayed to the God of heaven. And I said to the king, If it pleases the king, and if your servant has found favor in your sight, that you send me to Judah, to the city of my fathers’ graves, that I may rebuild it.

Nehemiah was in the palace – eating well and sleeping comfortably.
He wasn’t threatened physically nor was he oppressed.

But still he was unhappy.
He was unhappy because his people lived in ruins.
His thought was not about “What will happen to me if I go to help them?”
No.
He thought “What will happen to them if I do not go to help them?”

That is the mind of Christ, I believe.
He came and died on the cross – because He thought of our lives more than His own life.

And so He came for us.

Too often, we do not dare to step out in faith and attempt new things for God because we ponder “What will happen to me if I do this or that?”

Rather let us have the mind of Christ in us, and go as He did that we too might be broken and poured out for the salvation of this world.