We believe in what we want to believe

by Rev Jason Phua

Bible Reading: Matthew 21:23-46; Proverbs 30:29-31

READ (verses chosen for meditation)
Matthew 21:32 “For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him. And even when you saw it, you did not afterward change your minds and believe him.”

REFLECT
In our reading today, we witness how Jesus questioned the chief priests when they tried to push Him into the corner. It was a question they could not answer, mainly because they could not let go of their self-interest. Jesus knew the heart of the chief priests and hence warned them of their foolishness. Due to their pride and eagerness to protect their own interests, they could not even acknowledge the way of John’s righteousness. Even when they saw it for themselves, they could not believe because they only want to believe what was beneficial to themselves.

RELATE
How often are we like the chief priests? Even when righteousness is right before our eyes, we refuse to say a good word because we fear to lose our own interest. We can even refuse to acknowledge or believe. Worse, we can even side with those who are wicked. As a result, those who are righteous are at times persecuted not so much because of the world; but unfortunately because of the hypocrisy of fellow believers.

Do we have any excuse to claim that we do not know what is righteous? Maybe those who are young to the faith; but believers who have been feeding on the word should know better. We should know how to discern because we have the word of God with us. We also have the Holy Spirit in us! Then why do we keep on acting as if we do not know? Why do we keep on refusing what is good and right? Is it because like the chief priests, we fear to lose what we have in this world? Or like the Jewish elders, we fear to be put to shame even for the sake of righteousness? Help us Lord to repent if this is so!

REST
Lord my God, I seek your forgiveness for the times when I refuse to do what is right for the sake of my own skin. Help me to choose righteousness instead, even if it means that I will be persecuted for it!

Binding and loosing

by Rev Jason Phua

Bible Reading: Matthew 16:13-17:9; Psalms 140:1-13

READ (verses chosen for meditation)
Matthew 16:19 “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

REFLECT
Matthew 16:19 sounds like Jesus just passed on His “superpowers” to Peter? Some teachers of the Word had consistently misused such a verse to place themselves on a pedestal. They claimed that they are given the “spiritual authority” by God to do whatever they want; all for the sake of the Gospel. Hence, with such a verse, they claimed that God had given them the power to cast out demonic influences or the authority to do whatever they deemed fit.

While Christians can be used by God to cast out demonic influences or even be called to carry out God’s mission; this verse does not seem to say anything about these things. Instead, such a verse is set in the context of the Jewish culture and given specifically to Peter as well as the other Apostles (Matthew 18:18). “Binding” and “Loosing” are idiomatic expressions in Judaism. They talk about the formal declaration of rulings to either forbid or allow certain kinds of activity. One literal illustration of such an idea was God’s discipline of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5). Simply put, the Apostles were given the authority to build God’s church in a way fitting of the commandments of God. It certainly wasn’t about certain prophets given special powers to “bind up” and “loose” / “shake” anything or anyone.

RELATE
When men try to be like God and make false claims; chaos begins. When men try to do things through a misuse or misinterpretation of God’s word; the church will suffer. The witness for the Gospel will take a beating. Instead, let us be faithful. Let us be faithful to use our heart, mind and soul to learn and apply God’s word in a way pleasing to Him. Sometimes we make mistakes. Sometimes we realise that we are doing it the wrong way. Doesn’t matter, we learn from one another. However, let us not be prideful. Let us not use God’s word to fulfil our own agenda. We are having too many of such charlatans within the community; like how some are now posing as Christians to lure unknowing people into their cultic organisations. Let us pray together that God will expose and protect. Let us be vigilant in the Spirit!

REST
Lord our God, may You help us to be discerning in the way we hear of Your word. Let us not be misled by charlatans or even people who thought they are on the right path (but are not). Instead, help us to be faithful to You and Your word. Amen.

Blasphemy against the Spirit

by Rev Jason Phua

Bible Reading: Matthew 12:22-45; Proverbs 30:10

READ (verses chosen for meditation)
Matthew 12:31 “Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven.”

REFLECT
When it comes to “favourite” verses or passages of the Christian, I am quite sure that Matthew 12:31 is not a popular choice. What did Jesus mean by “blasphemy against the Spirit”? What can be so damning for a God who sent His only Son that He will not forgive? As in all passages and verses, it must be understood in its context. What is the context? The context is that in Matthew 12:22-30, Jesus was addressing a group of Pharisees who accused Jesus of casting out demons by the demonic spirit of Beelzebul. Jesus first destroyed their illogical conclusion. Since no house would seek to destroy itself; why would the demons cast out their very own?

Jesus then gave them the warning; that their accusation is a very serious one. It was as if the Pharisees are blaspheming (which literally means showing contempt or lack of reverence) the Holy Spirit. Such cannot be forgiven because there is no basis for God to grant forgiveness. Any other sins or blasphemies can be forgiven assuming the one who did them repent. However, how is one to repent against the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit? It cannot be done. Why?

Because when one blaspheme against the Holy Spirit and call out good to be evil; there is no repentance to speak of. Therefore God cannot grant forgiveness when grace is rejected; when the Holy Spirit is accused to be demonic. It was as if the Pharisees, despite Jesus’ warning and rebuke, kept on refusing the Light and insisted that Jesus is the enemy. If this is so, how then can such be forgiven since there is no recognition of who God truly is and even the rejection of what He offered?

RELATE
Jesus’ warning to the Pharisees serves as a great reminder for me. A reminder that the sharing of the Gospel is urgent. Not only to our loved ones or friends; but to any whom the Lord has placed in our paths. We are called to share the Gospel which includes being the Gospel. This means walking in the truth. This means conducting our lives as it should be according to the word of God. Then, as we do so, we pray that those whom we cared about will come to believe.

If they continue to deny the truth despite of the grace and love they experienced, then may the Lord has mercy. At the end of the day, it is God who decide; not us. For the Lord had demonstrated His everlasting love in order for us to come to Him. There is really nothing else more to do or pine for. Jesus’ birth, suffering, death, resurrection and ascension is the all in all. It is done. It is finished.

This Christmas season, let us not indulge ourselves in the “sales” of worldly things; but to be “urgent” in being and sharing the Gospel.

REST
Lord my God, help me to care enough to share the Gospel with love and urgency. Amen.

Pigs or men?

by Rev Jason Phua

Bible Reading: Matthew 8:18-34; Psalm 133:1-3

READ (verses chosen for meditation)
Matthew 8:32-34
32 And he said to them, “Go.” So they came out and went into the pigs, and behold, the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the sea and drowned in the waters. 33 The herdsmen fled, and going into the city they told everything, especially what had happened to the demon-possessed men. 34 And behold, all the city came out to meet Jesus, and when they saw him, they begged him to leave their region.

REFLECT
It was a peculiar scene. Jesus just helped the entire city drove out powerful demons and all the people wanted was to ask Jesus to leave. Why? The text did not say in specific details but we can make good inferences based on what happened. The problem could be because Jesus acceded to the demons’ request to be driven into a herd of pigs. Under powerful demonic influences, the pigs drove themselves into the waters. Witnessing such a scene, the herdsmen fled and probably told all in the city that even though Jesus drove away demons, they have lost their mighty possessions (pigs were a livelihood after all). The city could be in fear that they could lose more if Jesus had stayed. In a way, it was preferred that the demon-possessed men stayed that way and the herdsmen could keep their pigs.

RELATE
By asking Jesus to leave, a choice was made by the city-dwellers. The choice to retain whatever possessions they have left for fear of losing them. They preferred to have not witnessed the power of salvation but to keep whatever the world can offer. It is easy to judge them however. It is easy to say that they were foolish to have missed the Messiah and gave in to fear.

Yet, we could just be as foolish at times. We could have easily choose possessions over Jesus. much of the time. We could have even chosen “pigs” instead of the salvation of fellow men. We do this when we cower at the inconvenience of caring for the people around us. We do this when we prefer to spend time at work than interacting with pre-believing friends or even family members. We do this when we pretend to be pious Christians on Sundays; but deep down, we could barely part with what we have. We do this when we prefer to protect our self-interest than to “risk” it for the sake of His kingdom.

REST
Help us Lord, to choose You instead of what we think is important to us. Help us to have faith and seek Your kingdom first. Amen.

Light vs Darkness

by Rev Jason Phua

Bible Reading: Matthew 4:12-25; Proverbs 29:21-22

READ (verses chosen for meditation)
Matthew 4:15-16 “The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles — the people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned.”

REFLECT
Matthew 4:15-16 speaks of the prophecy that was given to the prophet Isaiah. A prophecy that pointed to the coming of Jesus as the Light of the world. In particular, we are told that the Light was made visible and dawned upon those who were living in darkness and even in the shadow of death.

Now, what does this mean? This means that Jesus came not because He wanted to set a new world order nor was He interested to be king of the world. Instead, Jesus came to bring light into our fallen world. In particular, Jesus had brought Himself to be God incarnate to be the source of salvation for those who are lost and grieving. Indeed, Jesus is the Light that was made visible and dawned upon those who were living in darkness.

RELATE
My daughter has a fear for darkness. Up till this day, she would ask me to accompany her if there is a need for her to go to dark places. Sometimes, I would tell her that because Jesus is with her, she need not fear. Jesus is the Light and He can overcome all darkness. Of course, there are times when she cannot appreciate such an imagery when all she saw in front of her is physical darkness.

Yes, physical darkness can be an overwhelming experience for some. However, what Jesus promised was much deeper than the overcoming of physical darkness. He had promised that He can help those who are living in darkness and even those in the shadow of death to gain victory.

Spiritual darkness can occur even when the sun is shining. Spiritual darkness is the imagery of how we are struggling in our sins or difficult circumstances which cause us much grief and tears. Yet, Jesus the Light has the power to penetrate our souls and purify us for His good purposes. Jesus the Light has the grace to provide hope and comfort even when we are in the valley of the shadow of death. The promise has been given ever since the time of Isaiah; what is left to do is to come to the Light. What is left to do is to put our trust in Him and follow the Light; as He said to the disciples a few verses later in Matthew 4: 18-20: “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men”.

REST
Jesus, help me to be humble and come to you, especially when I struggle with spiritual darkness. This is because You are the only Light that can help overcome and empower. Amen.

God is King!

by Rev Jason Phua

Bible Reading: Zechariah 14:1-21; Proverbs 29:2-4

READ (verses chosen for meditation)
Zechariah 14:9 “And the LORD will be king over all the earth. On that day the LORD will be one and his name one.”

REFLECT
Ever wonder what Zechariah 14 is talking about? If we are to read the entire chapter, it seems like the prophet was talking about the day when God shall be back to reign forever. Isn’t it peculiar that the prophet spoke of God being “king over all the earth”? What earth? Wouldn’t it be “heaven”? Does it mean that this earth will remain in the Day and thereafter of the Second Coming of Jesus?

Revelation 21 is pretty clear that there will be a new heaven and a new earth; but the first earth and first heaven shall pass away. This means that God shall be King over the new earth and believers shall reign with God in our glorified bodies. Yet, isn’t the Bible stating the obvious? We all know that God is King; whether in the past, now or future. Why was there a need for the prophet to declare that God will be King over all the earth? I believe it is not so much that Zechariah was stating the obvious, but he was making the important point that on that day, everyone shall recognise that God is indeed King. Everyone shall come to the true conviction that God is King over all aspects of our life.

RELATE
Knowing that God is King and recognising with conviction that God is King are two different matters. Knowing that God is King can just be a form of theological knowledge or awareness. However, knowing that God is King as conviction can propel one into godly action. This is because when we are convicted that God is King; we bow to the King with our lives. When we are convicted that God is King; we pledge allegiance to the King cut off old allegiances with other things or persons that are affecting our relationship with the true King.

In other words, when we declare that God is King, we are actually declaring that we shall yield and bow to the King in all areas of our lives. We want to surrender to the King to help us in areas of our lives that are not honourable to Him. This would be how we truly treat God as King; and not as like some who merely want some favours from the King but refuse to yield where it matters. The Lord is indeed “king over all the earth”!

REST
Lord, having consistent conviction that You are King over all areas of my life is a challenging journey. Yet, in You is the grace and power to surrender. Help me therefore with the grace of my Lord Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit to yield to you all aspects of my life; this is so that Your Name be glorified in all that I am and all that I do. Amen.

Life in the word

by Rev Jason Phua

Bible Reading: Zechariah 2:1-3:10; Psalm 119:153-176

READ (verses chosen for meditation)
Psalm 119:156 “Great is your mercy, O LORD; give me life according to your rules.”

REFLECT
Psalm 119:156 is a clear teaching that we can find life in God’s word. Especially on days when we need the mercies of God, His word can revive us. Yes, we can find the true meaning of life even in His commandments. Why is this so? Because as human beings, we are meant to live to the fullest through our obedience of God’s word. We are meant to rely on God’s word for righteousness.

One of the most important things that God spoke to Adam and Eve about (just because it is recorded in the Bible) was His instructions for how they should regard the Tree of Life as well as the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Through God’s instructions; it was hoped that Adam and Eve learned the essence of life through obedience.

Indeed, God’s word is meant to be our signpost and our manual for living. It was never meant to be something that wearies our soul. So even as Jesus had come to give us life, we are still called to the obedience of God’s word in faith. This was why the Psalmist exclaimed that God was merciful because He is able to give life according to His rules.

RELATE
At times, I hear from some believers that we need not focus so much on the word of God. As long as we have faith in Jesus, we need not be too worried on how we can understand the Bible better. Yet, how can we have faith if we do not understand? Where is the source of our faith? What is our faith telling us about living the new life? How can we fend off heresies (which is ever so rampant) if we are not even sure what the word of God is saying?

Albert Outler, a theologian who wrote much about John Wesley and his writings, coined the term “Wesleyan Quadrilateral”. The Wesleyan Quadrilateral outlined four sources which John Wesley used when making theological conclusions. These four sources are “Scripture”, “Tradition”, “Reason” and “Experience”. “Scripture” being the word of God as given to us in the Bible; “Tradition” as the historical evidence that is linked to the faith; “Reason” as being what is needed to understand “Scripture” but is to be guided by the Holy Spirit; and “Experience” is the way we experience about what is in “Scripture” such as the assurance of faith.

Of these four sources, Wesley (as well as Outler) didn’t have the idea that they are of equal importance nor authority. To Wesley, Scripture is always of the first authority and Scripture is the foundation to interpret “Tradition”, “Experience” and even “Reason”. After all, Wesley had called himself as a “man of one book”.

Like the Psalmist, Wesley understood the importance of Scripture and how it affects our life in Christ. In God’s mercy, let us therefore rejoice that He has given to us His commandments to follow; for surely we can obey and enjoy the true meaning of life in Christ Jesus. We can find mercies in His word.

REST
Help us Lord as a church universal, not to despise a deeper understanding of Your word; but to be assured by the Spirit that Your word is life. Amen.