Dust and Joy

by Rev Lai Kai Ming

Readings: Acts 13:42-14:7; Proverbs 10:5

READ (verse/s chosen for meditation)
Acts 13:51-52
But they shook off the dust from their feet against them, and came to Iconium. And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.

How does one face troubles and opposition, yet walk away with joy and full of the Spirit? I quite sure this is not about thinking positively, or the disciples being naive about their situations. I suppose the disciples knew how to let go, and let God. By shaking the dust off their feet, they decided not to let the evil experienced grip their hearts. By moving on to their next task, they chose to trust the God who has called them. In short, to be filled with the Spirit of joy is to know where you are going, and Who you are going with.

From my experience, joy comes when times are tough. Those nice fuzzy feeling that we have when we go on a holiday or when we buy something we like, is not joy – at least not joy that lasts. When times are tough, our core is tested and our soul searched. What do we discover in such times of darkness? For some, it would be the sad realization that God was never part of the picture. But for those who find God in the centre of their circumstances, however dark, there can only be one conclusion. Joy.

Trust and obey, for there’s no other way, to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.

Day 272

by Rev Joel Yong

Acts 10:27-35
As Peter talked, he entered Cornelius’ house and found that many people had gathered. He said to them, “You understand how wrong it is for a Jewish man to associate or visit with anyone of another race. But God has shown me that I should no longer call anyone impure or unclean. That is why I didn’t object to coming here when you sent for me. I want to know why you sent for me.” Cornelius answered, “Four days ago I was praying at home. It was at this same time, three o’clock in the afternoon. Suddenly, a man dressed in radiant clothes stood in front of me. He said to me, ‘Cornelius, God has heard your prayer and has remembered your gifts to the poor. So send messengers to Joppa, and summon a man whose name is Simon Peter. He’s a guest in the home of Simon, a leatherworker who lives by the sea.’ So I sent for you immediately. Thank you for coming. All of us are here now in the presence of God to listen to everything the Lord has ordered you to say.” Then Peter said, “Now I understand that God doesn’t play favorites. Rather, whoever respects God and does what is right is acceptable to him in any nation.

I love these words-“God doesn’t play favorites.”
Often I find there is an overemphasis on a particular nation or race of people- and people forget that God looks at the heart and not the color of our skin.

Peter preached-

Acts 10:36
God sent his word to the people of Israel and brought them the Good News of peace through Jesus Christ. This Jesus Christ is everyone’s Lord.

Israel was the conduit for the message to go to the world. It was never just about saving Israel but about saving the world.
We must never forget that.

Furthermore- the Holy Spirit was given to these Gentiles as Peter preached.

Acts 10:44-48
While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit came to everyone who heard his message. All the believers who were circumcised and who had come with Peter were amazed that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured on people who were not Jewish. They heard these non-Jewish people speaking in other languages and praising God. Then Peter said, “No one can refuse to baptize these people with water. They have received the Holy Spirit in the same way that we did.” So Peter ordered that they should be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked Peter to stay with them for several days.

It showed that God was going to use the lives of these Gentile believers for His purpose. He accepted them – why should anyone then continue to favor one nation/race/group over another?

This is not God’s way- playing favorites.

Day 271

by Rev Joel Yong

Acts 8:1-3
Saul approved of putting Stephen to death. On that day widespread persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem. Most believers, except the apostles, were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. Devout men buried Stephen as they mourned loudly for him. Saul tried to destroy the church. He dragged men and women out of one home after another and threw them into prison.

Saul of Tarsus wanted to destroy the church.
He knew the law and he thought they were a cult and wanted to destroy them.
He had zeal and he had the training in the Scriptures.

But he was wrong.
He did not realize that Jesus was not a cult leader but the Savior who fulfilled the prophecies in Scripture.
He was the One that students of Scripture were told of, who was coming to save the world.

It eventually took a Damascus road encounter for Saul to begin reflecting on what he had thought and done.

He eventually became the Paul who wrote many of the New Testament Epistles.

What are we convinced – is right, in our eyes today?
I wonder what Jesus would think – about these supposed “rock-solid truths” we think we know.

Day 270

by Rev Joel Yong

Acts 6:1-7
Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word. And what they said pleased the whole gathering, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch. These they set before the apostles, and they prayed and laid their hands on them. And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.

Note this:

  1.  The apostles were focused on what they were supposed to do – prayer and the ministry of the word.
  2. They thought the problem, to be genuine and warranted certain attention.
  3. Seven men were chosen for the task and specifically had hands laid on them, commissioning them for such a specific task.

As the church grew, more issues arose that had never existed before, when the believers were just a handful.
Yet the church couldn’t realistically intend to operate in the same way as before.

So the apostles acknowledged the need and the gravity of the issue.
But they did not wish to be sidetracked and appointed 7 who were deemed fit for the task and commissioned them to attend to it.

  1. What is a new problem that you are tackling today – at work or in relationships – that came about because of growth/age?
  2. What resources are you devoting to attend to it?
  3. Bear in mind, whilst problems are part and parcel of our existence, problem- solving should not be the reason for our existence, for problems are endless. Focus instead on your calling in life and don’t deviate from it just because problems increase. The problems will always be there, manifesting in different ways.

Day 269

by Rev Joel Yong

Acts 3:4-11
Peter and John stared at him. “Look at us!” Peter said. So the man watched them closely. He expected to receive something from them. However, Peter said to him, “I don’t have any money, but I’ll give you what I do have. Through the power of Jesus Christ from Nazareth, walk!” Peter took hold of the man’s right hand and began to help him up. Immediately, the man’s feet and ankles became strong. Springing to his feet, he stood up and started to walk. He went with Peter and John into the temple courtyard. The man was walking, jumping, and praising God. All the people saw him walking and praising God. They knew that he was the man who used to sit and beg at the temple’s Beautiful Gate. The people were amazed and stunned to see what had happened to him. They were excited, and everyone ran to see them at the place called Solomon’s Porch. The man wouldn’t let go of Peter and John.

You might be facing a problem – to which, you think it would be solved if only “… I had money/knew persons of influence/had a position of power etc …”

Sometimes what you think you need – is too small a request for God.

The man expected money or gold. But God knew he had a greater infirmity and so when Peter proclaimed healing upon him- it amazed him because it was more than what he had expected!

No wonder it says at the end of the passage that he “… wouldn’t let go of Peter and John.” He knew he had come across something wonderful.

Would you let go of what you think you need- and hold onto what Scripture teaches regarding the greatest Answer to the condition of mankind- Jesus the Son of God?

Day 268

by Rev Joel Yong

John 20:6-18
Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen cloths lying there, and the face cloth, which had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples went back to their homes. But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. They said to her, Woman, why are you weeping? She said to them, They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him. Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking? Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away. Jesus said to her, Mary. She turned and said to him in Aramaic, Rabboni! (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God. Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, I have seen the Lord—and that he had said these things to her.

If you wanted to invent a new religion in biblical times, you do not write in a female character as the first witness of your founder’s resurrection.
In the patriarchal society back then, it was common to prioritize the male testimony as being more reliable.

Also, to say your founder was conceived before his parents got married, and say it’s the Spirit of God that made it possible- would have raise suspicion as well.

Then to say he was arrested but the charges against him were made up and he was falsely accused, would also invite scrutiny.

Why then didn’t the apostles delete these elements from the Gospel stories?
It would have raised less questions and been easier to believe.

You see, they wouldn’t do so, if it was all true. You cannot edit the truth.
It really happened the way they recorded it.

They were eyewitnesses merely relaying what they knew to be true, however unbelievable it might seem at times!

No wonder Jesus said to Thomas …

John 20:29
Jesus said to him, Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.

The unlikely believer?

by Rev Jason Phua

Readings: Acts 10:24-48; Psalms 35:17-28

READ (Verse chosen for reflection)
Acts 10:45 “And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles.”

The believers who came with Peter to the house of Cornelius were amazed at how God saved those they considered to be “outside” of God’s covenant with Israel. They were intrigued by how the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles. For the Jews were taught from young that the Gentiles were “unclean”; and that the Gentiles were pagans who did not know the true God. In other words, to the Jewish believers, Cornelius’ household seemed unlikely to be able to believe in God. Yet, God had proven them wrong through Cornelius’ faithfulness. Even prior to Peter’s preaching of the Gospel, we were told that Cornelius was “a devout man who feared God with all his household, gave alms generously to the people, and prayed continually to God” (Acts 10:2).

Yesterday, I had the privilege of baptizing an elderly lady who is currently 94 years of age. She had never attended church but because of her grandchildren, she came to know the Gospel and desired to be baptized. We spoke with her and found that she understood the faith and could express to us that in Christ, she found peace. At her home, we sang songs of praise and witnessed how joyful she was, singing and praising God with us. If this elderly lady had not say that she want to be baptized, perhaps many believers might not know that she has the fear of the Lord in her. Some might even think that she is an “unlikely” candidate for the faith; as she is already so elderly in age and had never attended church. Yet, the Lord knows everything. Like all of us, she is a precious child of God and God knows that she believed. Unlike many of us, God does not discriminate and His love is divinely free for all.

Lord our God, please take away our biases, and help us to discern with His wisdom and heart of those who have the fear of the Lord in them. This is so we can be used more effectively by the Lord to disciple and lead people to Christ.

Day 267

by Rev Joel Yong

John 15:1-2
Then Jesus said, “I am the true vine, and my Father takes care of the vineyard. He removes every one of my branches that doesn’t produce fruit. He also prunes every branch that does produce fruit to make it produce more fruit.

This is a familiar passage.
What strikes me, is that even the productive branches (good disciples) get pruned.

You’d think no cutting would happen to branches that do well.
But you see, the Gardener – who is God Himself- also knows the potential of each branch and it’s His desire to help us reach the full potential He has imbued in us.

I have 2 sons – I rejoice when they reach developmental milestones. I high five them and tell them I am pleased.

But here is the thing, I know they can now do more- having crossed the previous milestone (say for example, going to the potty).
I am not going to let their life achievement be that they made it to the potty on time … I know they can do more.

So I teach them more, show them more and it won’t be easy – but I wait anticipating their next achievement.

That is why He prunes productive branches.
That is why even good disciples will experience hardship.

Stay faithful even in such times- He is waiting our next greater crop of fruits!

Day 266

by Rev Joel Yong

John 14:1-3
“Don’t be troubled. Believe in God, and believe in me. My Father’s house has many rooms. If that were not true, would I have told you that I’m going to prepare a place for you? If I go to prepare a place for you, I will come again. Then I will bring you into my presence so that you will be where I am.

Jesus knew it was going to be a stressful and anxious time for the disciples- once He is arrested and falsely accused.

So He reminds them- not to let their hearts be troubled. Instead- as an antidote to this stress and worry- they are to focus on God instead. To look to Him and keep their eyes on Him.

Then He tells them why He is to be taken from them … He says He goes away to prepare for our future. That we too might be with God someday.

That is a great thing to think about- instead of the “what if’s” and instead of the “big obstacles” in life’s pathway.
Think about God and His great love and His might.
Think about the destiny you have in Him.
Think about what it will be like when we enter into His presence.

Martyr or Misdirected?

by Rev Lai Kai Ming

Readings: Acts 9:26-43; Ps 35:1-16

READ (verse/s chosen for meditation)
Acts 9:29-30
And he spoke boldly in the name of the Lord Jesus and disputed against the Hellenists, but they attempted to kill him. When the brethren found out, they brought him down to Caesarea and sent him out to Tarsus.

As we read about the early ministry of Paul, we cannot help but notice that wherever he went people wanted to kill him.  Why was this so? The once fanatic Pharisee turned into a passionate Christian; perhaps they saw him as a traitor. But why did the apostles send him off to Tarsus? Why not let Paul keeping speaking in Jerusalem, trusting God to protect His holy servant? Could it be that Paul himself needed some soul searching on how to declare the Gospel with wisdom and humility?

The fact that every time we speak about Christ people want to kill us doesn’t mean that we are doing the right thing. In 1 Pet 3:15 we are called to share the gospel with gentleness and respect. Instead of trying to shove God’s truth down someone’s throat, we need to learn how to discern if he or she is open to drinking the water of life. If we are the kind who like to argue about any and every thing (including our faith), let us be reminded that not all martyrs are martyrs.

Lord, give me boldness to share my faith, and wisdom to share it where it matters.

Day 265

by Rev Joel Yong

John 12:4-6
One of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was going to betray him, asked, “Why wasn’t this perfume sold for a high price and the money given to the poor?” (Judas didn’t say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief. He was in charge of the moneybag and carried the contributions.)

Things are not always what they seem.
A question asked, may come with a hidden agenda.

But God knows all.
There is nothing that can be hidden from Him, for He is omniscient- all-knowing.

So come clean before Him.
Not for His sake – He has all the info He needs on you.
But for yours, so that you might let the Healer heal you, correcting your heart and giving you new life in Him.

You don’t have to keep doing the same old year after year.
You can address your tendencies to blow your top, to lust after what is not yours, to worry day after day over everything … and so much more.
Just come to God, and confess your failings and your need of Him.

Day 264

by Rev Joel Yong

John 9:1-3
As Jesus walked along, he saw a man who had been born blind. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, why was this man born blind? Did he or his parents sin?” Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned. Instead, he was born blind so that God could show what he can do for him.

The disciples’ question revealed a seemingly karmic understanding of the imperfections of life.

They thought that the man was being punished and that is why he was born blind- presuming it was due to his parents’ sin.

Jesus’ reply- showed a different perspective.
Rather than consider the finality of the suffering or imperfections we possess in life, we ought to consider the possibilities of our situation.

That God might be glorified.
That God might show us what He can do for us.

In that failed marriage.
In that dismal health report.
In a downward-spiraling career.
In the case of a prodigal child.

Consider what God can do.

Day 263

by Rev Joel Yong

John 6:1-2
Jesus later crossed to the other side of the Sea of Galilee (or the Sea of Tiberias). A large crowd followed him because they saw the miracles that he performed for the sick.

People followed Jesus for various reasons.
A large crowd did so because of the healings he did.

It’s nice that they appreciated what He could do.
But it would have been better if they appreciated Jesus for who He was … and not just what He could do.

The crowds turned against Jesus when they saw Him powerless, strung upon a cross, crucified.
He no longer seemed able and doubt crept into their hearts …

Their chief taunts were variants of this: “If You are the Christ, save Yourself from the cross …”
They wanted to see what else He could do.
And if He did not perform according to their expectation- then He was not the Christ they were looking for.

The people weren’t seeking God, they were seeking an idol- one to perform miracles to meet their needs.
They weren’t seeking God, to know His will and bend themselves to follow His will.
They were seeking to find a ‘god’ who would bend to their will. That’s idolatry. That is why their loyalty to Jesus was so fickle.

They did not see nor understand the significance of the cross.
That by choosing to remain on the Cross- Jesus saved us from our greatest bondage – our bondage to sin, and He liberated us from our greatest prison – not the prison of an ailing body alone, but from the prison of an eternity in Hell that awaits each human soul.

Day 262

by Rev Joel Yong

John 3:14-18
“As Moses lifted up the snake on a pole in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up. Then everyone who believes in him will have eternal life.” God loved the world this way: He gave his only Son so that everyone who believes in him will not die but will have eternal life. God sent his Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but to save the world. Those who believe in him won’t be condemned. But those who don’t believe are already condemned because they don’t believe in God’s only Son.

Jesus referred to a story in the Old Testament of when the people were writhing, poisoned and God instructed Moses to lift up a pole with a bronze snake crafted onto it. All who looked up and saw the snake were healed as a result.
He likened His impending death on the Cross to that Old Testament event – all who are without hope of being cured and saved, will be saved when they look to Jesus.

They ‘look to’ Jesus by believing in Him.
More than just beholding Him with their eyes, they behold Him in their hearts.
He saves and He cures us from our sinful condition and promises us new life- eternal life, in Him.

Those who do not turn to Him, are like those who are bitten by a poisonous snake in the Old Testament story, but refuse to accept that they are in need of an antidote and in need of healing. They will perish from the poison.

Then Jesus goes on to elaborate, that it’s not God’s intention to let us perish- rather He desires that all of us get healed and be given life rather than die.

Day 261

by Rev Joel Yong

Luke 23:14-25
He told them, “You brought me this man as someone who turns the people against the government. I’ve questioned him in front of you and haven’t found this man guilty of the crimes of which you accuse him. Neither could Herod. So he sent this man back to us. This man hasn’t done anything to deserve the death penalty. So I’m going to have him whipped and set free.” The whole crowd then shouted, “Take him away! Free Barabbas for us.” (Barabbas had been thrown into prison for his involvement in a riot that had taken place in the city and for murder.) But because Pilate wanted to free Jesus, he spoke to the people again. They began yelling, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” A third time Pilate spoke to them. He asked, “Why? What has he done wrong? I haven’t found this man deserving of the death penalty. So I’m going to have him whipped and set free.” But the crowd pressured Pilate. They shouted that Jesus had to be crucified, and they finally won. Pilate decided to give in to their demand. He freed Barabbas, who had been put in prison for rioting and murdering, because that’s what they wanted. But he let them do what they wanted to Jesus.

What tragic words – “Pilate decided to give in to their demand”

He found nothing wrong.
He knew Jesus shouldn’t die.

But because Pilate was pressured, he did what he knew was wrong.

Ever done that? Do something you know, to be wrong- because of pressure?

In seeking to be approved by the world, we declare that we are willing to lose the approval of God- by going against His truth and His way.

Matthew 10.33
But everyone who denies me here on earth, I will also deny before my Father in heaven.

Nothing is worth more than the approval of God.
That is why Jesus died- so that we could stand righteous before the judgment seat.

Choose wisdom, not folly

by Rev Jason Phua

Readings: Acts 7:1-29; Proverbs 9:7-8

READ (Verse chosen for reflection)
Proverbs 9:7-8 “Whoever corrects a scoffer gets himself abuse, and he who reproves a wicked man incurs injury. Do not reprove a scoffer, or he will hate you; reprove a wise man, and he will love you.”

The book of Proverbs provide practical wisdom to daily living. Proverbs are also called “general truths” where spoken proverbs are generally true in most situations but there will be exceptions. Proverbs 9:7-8 is found in the midst of how “Wisdom” (personified as a “she”) is inviting people to come in to her house to gain insights. This is contrasted to “Folly”, also personified as a lady, who also invites (or rather seduces) people into her house. Those who are seduced by the seemingly “sweet” stolen water of “Folly” will find themselves deep in death and destruction; while those who follow “Wisdom” shall be blessed.

Hence, Proverbs 9:7-8 is a practical piece of advice that flowed from “Wisdom”; where it is said that to rebuke scoffers (or mockers) will only invite insult or even injury. However, the wise will learn even more when rebuked. On hindsight, we know that in Acts 7, Stephen’s proclamation of the Gospel (as well as a firm rebuke in verses 49-53) fell on foolish hearts. The result was that they stoned a faithful servant of the Lord to death. Ironically, the foolish ones didn’t realize that they have also stoned their own hearts to death in the face of truth.

I believe many of us can relate to Proverbs 9:7-8. We could have rebuked someone and dependent on the person’s wisdom or foolishness; they either learn in humility or reject the truth or even insult due to pride and foolishness. Today, I reflect on myself. Have I been constantly seduced by Folly or rather follow Wisdom when it comes to being rebuked by others? I can recall that there are once or twice where I could have reacted better in the face of rebuke. Even if I feel that the rebuke could have been given in a more godly manner; I can definitely grow to receive the rebuke in a more God-fearing posture and love the person more.

Lord God, may You help me to reject the door of “Folly” and readily march into the house of “Wisdom”. This is so I can grow in the fear of the Lord to serve You better. Amen.

Day 260

by Rev Joel Yong

Luke 18:9-14
Jesus also used this illustration with some who were sure that God approved of them while they looked down on everyone else. He said, “Two men went into the temple courtyard to pray. One was a Pharisee, and the other was a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed, ‘God, I thank you that I’m not like other people! I’m not a robber or a dishonest person. I haven’t committed adultery. I’m not even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, and I give you a tenth of my entire income.’ “But the tax collector was standing at a distance. He wouldn’t even look up to heaven. Instead, he became very upset, and he said, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ “I can guarantee that this tax collector went home with God’s approval, but the Pharisee didn’t. Everyone who honors himself will be humbled, but the person who humbles himself will be honored.”

The Pharisee missed an important point.
Going to a place of worship, does not necessarily make us, the people of God.

No. It is my prayer that as the year unfolds, we will not just go to church- rather, that we would become the Church.

The tax collector, on the other hand, saw things as they were. God is holy and he was but a sinful man. He knew his place and he knew the only way he could stand before God, was by grace.

He understood the truth of the gospel. And according to Jesus, obtained God’s approval.

Rather than rush through the year, take time to reflect – on God’s grace and love for you and all of mankind. Then take time during the year, to live this truth out so others might see His Word come alive and draw near to Him too.

Don’t just read the Bible- live it.