Calling and obedience

by Rev Jason Phua

Bible Readings: Ezekiel 33:31-34:31; Proverbs 27:21-22

READ (Verse chosen for reflection)
Ezekiel 33:8 “If I say to the wicked, O wicked one, you shall surely die, and you do not speak to warn the wicked to turn from his way, that wicked person shall die in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand.”

REFLECT
Ezekiel was called to be God’s mouthpiece to declare His message of warning and repentance to the people of Israel. If Ezekiel heard the word of God and declare it to the people; and even if the people did not turn from their wicked ways, the prophet will be saved. If Ezekiel heard the word of God but failed to declare it to the people; and if the people did not turn from their wicked ways and perish, then the prophet will have to bear the consequences. It was a difficult assignment. Yet God’s calling of His workers is always purposeful and His will is not to be denied.

RELATE
This passage reminded me of my own calling from the Lord to be a minister of His Word and Sacrament. Have I fully obeyed God’s call to speak into the life of His people each and every time? No, I have not. Yet by His mercies, Christ’s work on the cross atoned for these times when I have failed to be faithful. However, I cannot take God’s grace in Jesus Christ for granted. Because of His grace and truth, I must grow in obedience and faithfulness for God’s call for my life as a pastor. Even if He has called me to do and say things which might not be popular or even offensive to some; i must obey in faith. I must trust in God’s heart for His people.

REST
Lord God, help me to be the minister that You have called me to be. Your call is purposeful and no laughing matter. Help me to treat it with sanctity and grow to be the person You want me to be. Amen.

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Discipline and discipleship

by Rev Jason Phua

Bible Readings: Hebrews 11:32-12:13; Psalm 112:1-10

READ (Verse chosen for reflection)
Hebrews 12:6 “For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.”

REFLECT
The author of Hebrews stated with clarity that God disciplines those whom He love. The goal of discipline is to help those whom God love to grow in the likeness of Jesus Christ. Godly discipline is therefore not to be shunned but instead to be seen as the way of discipleship. The word “discipline” in its Greek “paideou” gives the sense of “correction”, “guidance” and even “rebuke”.

In this day and age, such a word is not highly tolerated and widely received. In fact, some believers even consider it “un-Christian” to discipline someone even if the discipline is done out of love and for the sake of discipleship. No wonder many are getting nowhere in our attempts to fulfil what the Lord has commissioned the church to do i.e. “to make disciples” (Matthew 28)

RELATE
I know of believers who refused to discipline their church leaders who committed wrong-doings which clearly call for them to step down from ministry. Their reasons were that these church leaders had done great things; they had been serving for a long time and that no one is perfect. If these are the reasons, then everyone can serve as a leader in the church. There need not be any criteria nor is there a need for spiritual accountability. Anything goes. In that case, there really isn’t a need for the church to exist either since we can just do what we feel is right.

Perhaps it is not so much that some believers are not interested in communicating what is right or wrong; but there is the inherent fear that the talk of discipline creates disunity and even unpopularity. Such thinking is very much a form of deception. Discipline, when done in a godly and loving manner can create even more unity and authenticity. The lack of popularity is a personal struggle with insecurity and that should never come into the way of answering God’s call for us to do what is right. Let us therefore not be afraid of having discipline in the church as an important ingredient of discipleship. For that is the way of the Father.

REST
Lord our God, may you grant us the humility, courage and love to do what is good and right; even if doing these things may cost us our “popularity” with people. Amen.

Faith

by Rev Jason Phua

Bible Readings: Hebrews 11:1-16; Psalms 110:1-7

READ (Verse chosen for reflection)
Hebrews 11:3 “By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.”

REFLECT
It takes faith to understand that the universe was created by the word of God. It takes faith because human beings were created after the universe comes into existence. We see with our eyes (or for the matter telescope) the universe beyond this world and wonder how it all happened. Across the ages, many sophisticated theories like the “big bang”, “oscillating model”, “steady state” and “eternal inflation” were put forth. However, none has so far been able to fully satisfy the enquiring mind. How can it? For it takes faith and not logic. It takes faith to believe that God is the creator of something so immensely vast. It takes faith to believe that God is God. God is the uncreated. Things about God cannot be fully known through scientific means.

RELATE
Why does God want us to live by faith and not by sight? Why does God want us to struggle with and believe in the invisible rather than the visible?

We need to live by faith because that is the only way to learn about trusting in the hands of an invisible but perfectly faithful God. “Trust” is a necessary ingredient of love. Love is not love when trust is not in the picture. For us to be saved in the faithful arms of God, trust and love must invade our souls. God has done it by sending His only begotten Son. It is really up to us to surrender; not once, not twice but on a daily basis in the working out of our salvation.

Imagine that today all things invisible are made visible. God appears to all human beings and tells us all things … like who created the universe. Will that build love? Will that build our relationship with God? Will some even believe? I think not. We are born with haughty eyes and a prideful heart. Faith is necessary to turn us away from ourselves and toward the invisible God. This is so we can truly learn about what life is really about.

REST
Lord, thank you for Your wisdom to keep many things invisible. You know how sinful we are and how we need to build faith in our walk with You. This is so we can grow in our understanding of how glorious You are and how we are so in need of You. Amen.

Jealous God

by Rev Jason Phua

Bible Readings: Ezekiel 23:1-49; Proverbs 27:13

READ (Verse chosen for reflection)
Ezekiel 23:25 “And I will direct my jealousy against you, that they may deal with you in fury. They shall cut off your nose and your ears, and your survivors shall fall by the sword. They shall seize your sons and your daughters, and your survivors shall be devoured by fire”

REFLECT
In the Old Testament, God often used the idea of “jealousy” to describe His response to the persistent unfaithfulness of His people. Was God jealous because He was angry and insecure? God was definitely angry. However His anger stems from His righteousness and not so much as He had lost to a “rival”. Similarly, God’s jealousy stems not from any sense of insecurity; but from the wrong choices His people made for what rightly belongs to Him.

RELATE
It is somewhat comforting to know that the Lord our God is a jealous God. It means He truly cares for His people; He is deeply concerned with our spiritual growth in Christ. In fact, God has the right to be jealous. Not just because our worship rightly belongs to Him; but also because He is the only way to salvation. I can be jealous if my children express much affection for someone outside the family. However, the nature of such jealousy will never be at the same domain as God’s jealousy because of who He is and what He stands for.

REST
Lord, thank you for the reminder that You are a jealous God. You have the right to do so because everything belongs to You. You want to do so because of Your love for us and desire that we turn back to You when we fall. Indeed, help us to grow in the living out of the conviction that You are the only One, who is truly worthy of our worship. Amen.

Trust His heart

by Rev Jason Phua

Bible Readings: Ezekiel 20:1-49; Proverbs 27:11

READ (Verse chosen for reflection)
Ezekiel 20:25-26 “Moreover, I gave them statutes that were not good and rules by which they could not have life, and I defiled them through their very gifts in their offering up all their firstborn, that I might devastate them. I did it that they might know that I am the LORD.”

REFLECT
Ezekiel 20:25-26 seem to speak against the very characteristics of God i.e. His justice, love and holiness. How do we interpret these two verses? It seems that the “statutes” and “rules” in verse 25 do not refer to God’s statues and rules in verse 24 which were supposed to bring holiness.
The contrast between the two verses is obvious; God has given the Israelites up to the laws of foreigners and idolatrous practises which defile them; because they have repeatedly turned their eyes away from what is good and right.

The Hebrew word used for “gave” (verse 24) can also be translated as “permit” or “giving up”. Hence, God has permitted or given up His people to the devastating consequences of following foreign laws and gods. God did this because they have repeatedly chosen to be on the side of evil. They have done so even as Yahweh repeatedly rescued them. God did this so that Israel can truly learn that His way is the only way; this is so they can repent and come back to Him.

RELATE
Sometimes we ask the question why God would permit evil or sin to reign in certain situations. Isn’t He a good and holy God? I wonder if we are asking the right set of questions. Shouldn’t we be asking questions like why is there evil in the first place? Is God the author of evil or have evil come into this world through the fallen nature of humans?

Even as we found grace and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; have we stopped sinning against Him? Will we do any better than Adam and Eve when offered the fruit that entices power to be “like God”? When we repeatedly choose to sin against God; there will come a time when God might give us up to our sins to suffer the consequences.

This is so we remember that He is the Lord and that we can come back to Him. So even as God permit evil or sin to reign in certain situations of our lives; trust His heart and seek repentance where need be. Trust His heart; because all He want for you and for me, is to know that He is the Lord and that we can continue to walk gloriously in Him. It might be painful but it is worth it.

As 1 Peter 2:1-3 says: “So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. Like new born infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up to salvation – if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.”

REST
Lord God, even as we found salvation in Christ, may You continue to chisel us in areas of our lives that need transformation. This is so we can continue to grow in You and enjoy You as our Lord and Saviour. Amen.

Heart of the matter

by Rev Jason Phua

Bible Readings: Hebrews 8:1-13; Psalm 106:13-31

READ (Verse chosen for reflection)
Hebrews 8:10 “For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws into their minds, and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.”

REFLECT
What is the difference between the Old and New Covenant? In the Old Covenant, God gave laws that sought to address people’s behaviour towards God and one another. In the New Covenant, Jesus came to die for sinners so that those who have faith shall have laws written in our hearts for the purpose of transformation.

As history suggested, the Old Covenant had often led to a change in outward behaviour but not inward transformation. Hence hypocrisy was a common problem. The Pharisees, who were supposedly experts in the law; were repeatedly rebuked by Jesus for their lack of understanding of the law or even using the law to fulfil their own ends.

The Sermon on the Mount was a case example of how little the Hebrews actually know and understand about God’s laws. The New Covenant sought to change all these. No longer will knowledge lies with a small community of “teachers” in teaching others what it means to live life in God; but God shall teach us through His Word and the Holy Spirit. The Reformation was precisely born through such a movement from the Lord Himself.

RELATE
Even in the age of the New Covenant, hypocrisy remains a problem in the Christian community. The younger generation, especially those who grew up in Christian families; often quote “hypocrisy” as an obstacle for them to embrace the faith. How can this be? Didn’t God say that He will put His laws in our hearts so that we can be changed?

Hypocrisy is still possible because even as Christ died for us and those who believe have laws written in our hearts; we still struggle to live out these laws in our hearts. We struggle to live out the faith. Hence, it is important to remember that God is with us. He is our God and we are His people. This 2nd half of Hebrews 8:10 helps us to remember that as long as Jesus is not yet back for the 2nd time; we shall always adopt a posture of surrender, reverence and humility in learning to live life as He wills.

REST
Lord God, help us not to be haughty as a people living under the privilege of the New Covenant. Help us to understand the mistakes made of the past so that we can be humble become a better people with the better Covenant that God has given to us through His blood. Amen.

 

The better priesthood

by Rev Jason Phua

Bible Readings: Hebrews 7:1-17; Psalms 105:37-45

READ (Verse chosen for reflection)
Hebrews 7:11 “Now if perfection had been attainable through the Levitical priesthood (for under it the people received the law), what further need would there have been for another priest to arise after the order of Melchizedek, rather than one named after the order of Aaron?”

REFLECT
While the Levitical priesthood served the people of Israel by making offerings to God on their behalf, it was not a “perfect system”. In those days, there were several offerings to be made to God and the first was the burnt offering. The burnt offering was made for the general atonement of sins and expression of devotion to God. In Leviticus 1, it is said that if the burnt offering was to be taken from the herd, a male without blemish must be offered. While such bulls (or lambs in the case of Passover) without blemish were carefully chosen for the required offerings, they were not perfect.

No matter how spotless these offerings were, they were not perfect because they were created by the One who is perfect. Perfection can only come through the sacrifice of the perfect Lamb of God Himself. To give us the better priesthood after the priesthood of Aaron; Jesus therefore had to obey the will of the Father and sacrificed Himself at Golgotha. This is so that for those who believe, we are considered as righteous before God. For those who believe, we now belong to the better priesthood.

RELATE
Christians are now under a better priesthood; that is led by none other than the Great High Priest Jesus Christ. In fact, the Apostle Paul said that in this “new system” we are no mere “church-goers” but a priesthood of believers. In this better priesthood, there is no longer a need to bring unblemished bulls for the atonement of our sins or even the expression of our worship to God. Jesus had done it all.

So by faith, we are now able to worship and commune with God on a daily basis. By faith, we are now empowered to live the new life in Christ and make disciples. What a privilege this is! What great love from the Almighty!

May I not take this privilege for granted and henceforth become complacent. May I not turn my eyes from this new and better priesthood. May I not choose to follow the old priesthood where ministry, family and work became a burnt offering unto the Lord; where works are thought to be bargaining chips for salvation.

REST
Lord, it is only by Your grace that I am given the opportunity to be inducted into this better priesthood. Help me to serve Your people in humility and wisdom; keeping in mind that You are the One who have brought me out of the mire and into Your marvellous Light. Amen.