Being Idle

by Rev Jason Phua

Bible Readings: 2 Thessalonians 3:1-18; Psalm 85:1-13

READ (Verse chosen for reflection)
2 Thessalonians 3:6 “Now we command you brothers, in the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us.”

REFLECT
Some of us might think, what was the big deal? Why was Paul so harsh about people being idle to the extent where fellow believers were commanded to stay away? Subsequent verses of 2 Thessalonians 3 and 1 Thessalonians 4 provide some answers. These persons who chose to stay away from work; were not merely causing their own families to suffer, but they were spreading false teachings that “Jesus is coming back!”

That was probably the reason why they chose not to work; because of the belief that God has revealed to them the time of Jesus’ 2nd coming. Yet, Jesus said it clearly in Matthew 24:36 that no one knows the day and hour of the Lord’s coming again, not even the angels except for God the Father.

Such idleness and spreading of false teachings threatened the church in Thessalonica. Even at the time when Paul wrote the 2nd letter to the Thessalonians, these persons had not repented. Hence, the Apostle Paul commanded believers to stay away from these trouble makers. For these persons, Paul gave the advice for those in faith to warn them as a brother (or sister) but do not regard them as enemies.

RELATE
The spiritual disease of intentional “idleness” can be potentially harmful to self, family and even the church. This is because when people choose to be idle (when they are physically and emotionally able to live a fruitful life of work/ministry); their minds can be easily held captive by ungodly thoughts and even do destructive things.

I know of a person who is barely 30 years old but chose to idle his life away. His mind is now held captive by harmful teachings of the prosperity gospel and is causing much grieve to his own family and friends. On the other hand, I am often encouraged by seniors among us who are still very active in family life and ministry despite their age.

Today’s reading is a reminder for me not be idle. Even when I am at work or spending time with people; may the Lord help me not to “idle” my mind but to have the mind of Christ. Ironically, it seems that the more we choose not to be idle, we can have more time to spend alone time with God and our families. This is because we are living out the “pace of life” that God has intended; and not what we have often foolishly planned or lazily hoped for.

REST
Heavenly Lord, help me not to be idle but to know that in each hour of my life, how I can order my life according to Your Word. Amen.

Differentiating true and false prophets

by Rev Jason Phua

Bible Readings: Jeremiah 23:21-25:38; Proverbs 25:15

READ (Verse chosen for reflection)
Jeremiah 23:21-22 21 “I did not send the prophets, yet they ran; I did not speak to them, yet they prophesied. 22 But if they had stood in my council, then they would have proclaimed my words to my people, and they would have turned them from their evil way, and from the evil of their deeds.

REFLECT
Jeremiah 23 records the Lord’s great anger and judgement on people who prophesy falsely. These false prophets spoke when the Lord had not asked them to speak. They falsely claimed that the Lord had given them dreams when the Almighty had not. They abused their positions for their own benefits and led the people astray.

In verse 22, the Lord provides two important indicators to know whether a so called “prophet” is true or false. Prophets who are sent by the Lord (1) must have stood in the “council” of the Sender and (2) what they spoke of must turn people away from evil rather than towards it. The “council” of the Lord is translated from the Hebrew word “sod”. In the context of Jeremiah 23:22, “sod” refers to the intimate counsel of the Lord to prophets who fearfully seek Him and faithfully wait upon Him. Hence, the life of a true prophet must reflect a life of intimacy with God and abiding in His Word. Also, to be prophets truly called by the Lord, these persons’ lifework should reflect a constant call for believers to turn away from evil and turn towards doing what is pleasing to God.

RELATE
Even as Jeremiah 23:21-22 provided two good indicators on how to discern if a prophet is true or false; it could be challenging to do so. This is because a person’s private world is only knowable to God and himself. A person can claim all he wants about his intimacy with God; yet only the Lord truly knows what is in a man’s heart. Nevertheless, I believe we are given God’s grace to discern; especially through His living Word. We have the responsibility to check thoroughly if what is proclaimed is true to God’s Word as given to us in the Bible. This means that reading our Bible is not enough; the church must equip her members with skills and tools to rightly handle (2 Timothy 2:15) God’s Word.

Jeremiah 23 is a solemn reminder to me, that as one who proclaim His Word and prays for His people; I must keep in intimacy with the One who sends. Then I can hear Him clearly on what to say to build up my fellow brother and sister in the Lord. May the Lord provides His strength and grace for me to do so.

REST
Lord Almighty, help us not to use Your Name in vain; but fearfully and faithfully stay close to You and Your Word so that we can proclaim what is true and what is right. Amen.

Persecuted for truth

by Rev Jason Phua

Bible Readings: Jeremiah 19:1-21:14; Proverbs 25:9-10

READ (Verse chosen for reflection)
Jeremiah 20:1-2 “Now Pashhur the priest, the son of Immer, who was chief officer in the house of the LORD, heard Jeremiah prophesying these things. Then Pashhur beat Jeremiah the prophet, and put him in the stocks that were in the upper Benjamin Gate of the house of the LORD.”

REFLECT
Jeremiah spoke to the people about what he heard from the Lord. For that, he didn’t get any praises for being courageous in speaking the truth; instead he was beaten and locked up so that he could be silenced. Yet, when Jeremiah was released from the prison, the crying prophet did not stay mute. Instead, he prophesied about the destruction of the one who jailed him as well as the bleak destiny of Israel. Jeremiah was persecuted because the words that came from his mouth were not soothing to itching ears. Jeremiah was persecuted because what he prophesied wasn’t the words that the people wanted to hear. How sinful our hearts can be! We know the truth but chose to suppress it by becoming more sinful.

RELATE
There are some who claimed that they are followers of Jesus Christ but chose to have itching ears. They chose what they want to hear and discard that which do not suit their current lifestyle. They could even persecute those who dare to speak forth the truth; especially truths that make them uncomfortable. Yet, our Lord Jesus is not one who “mince his words” or try to be “politically correct” (a term which has unfortunately crept up in the church). Quite often, He spoke boldly and plainly against the hypocrisies of the religious leaders, spoke about the evil and destructiveness of sin as it is and made very “threatening” statements with regards to discipleship.

Have we in anyways, persecuted anyone for the truth? We might not have put prophets into the prisons; but we might have encaged God’s faithful servants in the jail of our hearts. When someone is used by God to speak forth the truth into our lives; how have we responded? Have we responded in humility? Or have we chose to persecute the messenger in the fear that we have to change? May the Lord help us to confront our inner man and bring to the feet of Christ whatever that holds us back from following Him all the way.

REST
O to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be
Let that grace now, like a fetter
Bind my wandering heart to Thee
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it
Prone to leave the God I love
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it
Seal it for Thy courts above!
(3rd stanza of “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing)

Amen.

Hindered by Satan

by Rev Jason Phua

Bible Readings: 1 Thessalonians 2:9-3:13; Psalm 80:1-19

READ (Verse chosen for reflection)
1 Thessalonians 2:17-18: “But since we were torn away from you, brothers, for a short time, in person not in heart, we endeavored the more eagerly and with great desire to see you face to face, because we wanted to come to you- I, Paul, again and again- but Satan hindered us.”

REFLECT
When Paul said in 1 Thessalonians 2:18 that “Satan hindered” him from meeting up personally with the Christians in Thessalonica; what did he mean? Why was Satan allowed to interfere with the holy desire of a child of the living God?

Based on the Epistle, we are not entirely sure what Paul was referring to with regards to Satan’s hindrances; or how these hindrances occur. These hindrances could be related to episodes in Acts 17, where Paul, Silas and Timothy were persecuted by the Jews for preaching the Gospel to the Gentiles in Thessalonica and then in Berea.

These hindrances could also refer to other persecutions that Paul encountered through his missionary journeys. Whichever the case, it is clear that Satan was allowed by the Almighty to mess with the plans of his saints. Nevertheless, Paul’s response to such hindrances was not one of despair or anger towards God. Instead, he made an assessment of the situation and sent one of his most abled team player (Timothy) to discover what was going on in the faith of the Christians in Thessalonica. The result was that Paul himself was highly encouraged by Timothy’s reports of their growing faith and love for one another. In the midst of great persecutions, this was something which Paul and team would be most comforted to hear (ref: 1 Thessalonians 3: 6-7).

So despite Satan’s hindrances, God is still winning victories along the path of His will.

RELATE
How can we respond when we suffer under the hindrances of Satan? Will we lose faith; thinking that such hindrances shouldn’t happen in the first place? Or will we persevere to please God? These are no easy questions to answer; especially for persons who suffer great distress in the hands of the evil one. Besides the Apostle Paul, Job is a case in point. To me, the most admirable thing about Job is the faith he carried with him even in the most dire of circumstances. A faith which allowed him to be immersed in a deep and humbling conversation with the Almighty in the midst of his pains, disappointments and troubles. I suspect Job cherished such an intimate conversation with the Lord more than what he was restored in his fortunes, family and status.

A lot to learn about the mysterious ways of God. A lot to learn from the saints of past. No less, we can be encouraged this day as 1 Thessalonians offered the great certainty that even as God’s ways are not our ways; those who are steadfast in Him will not be disappointed (ref: 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17). Let us therefore continue to persevere, rejoice and encourage one another!

REST
God of mysterious ways, we do not want to pretend that walking in You is something easy. Neither do we want to sink into such despair that we detach ourselves from You. Help us, in the midst of hindrances and turbulences, may Your will be done and that we be found faithful to carry on that intimate relationship with You. Amen.

Prayer and Thanksgiving

by Rev Jason Phua

Bible Readings: Colossians 3:18-4:18; Psalm 78:56-72

READ (Verse chosen for reflection)
Colossians 4:2 “Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving.”

REFLECT
Many disciples of Christ know it is important to pray; but how often do we pray or more importantly, what is our attitude towards prayer? The Apostle Paul’s letters to the churches are often “soaked” in his teaching and call for prayers. In Colossians 4:2, Paul’s exhortation to the church in Colossae is to continue steadfastly in prayers and they are to be “watchful in it with thanksgiving”. I like the NAS translation of this verse which says: “Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving;” To Paul, being steadfast in prayer and having an attitude of thanksgiving is closely related. Without an attitude of thanksgiving, it seems unlikely that our Christian life can demonstrate steadfastness in prayer. In other words, the lack of a prayerful life often reflects an ungrateful attitude towards our Abba Father.

RELATE
Indeed, ungrateful children don’t interact often with their parents. They feel entitled. They don’t usually say thank you even when they know that their parents work hard to give them a reasonably “good life”. They would ask for money or things when they are in need. However, on usual days, they would very much prefer to spend time with their friends or on their phones than having a conversation with their parents.

How much of an ungrateful child am I to my Father in heaven? Why is it that there are times when I choose not to wait upon my Abba Father even though deep down, I believe He loves me? I can only conclude that I have been ungrateful. I have taken Him for granted. May the Lord restore my heart in Him to help me to be more steadfast in prayers and being watchful in it with thanksgiving.

REST
Abba Father, give me the grace to grow in gratefulness of who You are in my life. This is so I can grow in being steadfast in my daily conversations with You. Amen.

True wisdom?

by Rev Jason Phua

Bible Readings: Jeremiah 8:8-9:26; Proverbs 24:27

READ (Verse chosen for reflection)
Jeremiah 8:8-9 “How can you say, ‘We are wise, and the law of the LORD is with us’? But behold, the lying pen of the scribes has made it into a lie. The wise men shall be put to shame; they shall be dismayed and taken; behold, they have rejected the word of the LORD, so what wisdom is in them?”

REFLECT
In Jeremiah 8:8-9, the Lord questioned the scribes for their claims that they are wise. The Lord challenged that this is not the kind of “wisdom” He is looking for; since they had together with the whole of Israel, “rejected the word of the LORD”. The scribes were treated as “wise men” and hence religious leaders of the day. They were often look upon to interpret and answer any questions the people might have of the Torah. If these wise men among them had even rejected the word of the LORD; just how deep was Israel in sin? We often thought of wisdom as something we gained in our minds; even if it is so with the Word of God. However, it seemed to God that wisdom is not merely a form of head knowledge or the superb ability to interpret the Word; but it is both the conviction and active response of God’s Word in our lives. That is the kind of wisdom cherished by God.

RELATE
As I serve deeper in ministry, I discovered that the Lord has in His grace, given me the ability to gain meaningful insights from the Bible. Such a “grace gift” from God has helped me in many situations, especially when it comes to the ministry of preaching and bible studies. However there are times when i discovered that such a gift can also turn me away from gaining true wisdom; all because of my human tendency to sin. Because of such a gift, I can be tempted to think that I know a lot and yet the truth is that I know very little. I can also be tempted to be lazy and hence neglect putting in hard work to study the Word.

This passage is a good reminder for me to be constantly grateful, diligent and put into practice what I have been able to gain through the Word. This would be the kind of wisdom that God is looking for. This is the kind of life that I ought to lead in Him.

REST
May the Lord help me to lead a life that is pleasing to God. This would be the kind of wisdom that God is looking for. Amen.

Authentic Living

by Rev Jason Phua

Bible Readings: Jeremiah 4:19-6:15; Proverbs 24:23-25

READ (Verse chosen for reflection)
Jeremiah 5:3 “O LORD, do not your eyes look for truth? You have struck them down, but they felt no anguish; you have consumed them, but they refused to take correction. They have made their faces harder than rock; they have refused to repent.”

REFLECT
In the days of Jeremiah, the people of Israel refused to repent before a holy God. Even as the crying prophet declared to them of the Lord’s warnings against their sin and rebellion; they had refused to budge. What made them so harden with their own sin? In the later verses of Jeremiah 5, it seems to suggest that the people loved their sin so much that they were delusional. It seems that they did not believe the words of the prophets: “The prophets will become wind; the word is not in them. Thus shall it be done with them!” (Jeremiah 5:13)

RELATE
There could be times when we behave just like the people of Israel. We love our sin so much that we became delusional. The Word of God came to us and warned us about our sins; yet we harden our hearts and try to deceive ourselves that no, the Word cannot be speaking to us. In times like this, the Lord might put people in our midst to rebuke us. We can only pray for ourselves that we be humble, receive the rebuke and commit to change.

However, having people in our midst to rebuke or to speak the truth in love is not an “automatic thing”; even in the Christian community. It must be intentional. It must be constantly encouraged and built up. We need work on it to cultivate a true sense of living authentically with one another. This is so we can readily help one another if any of us fall into sin. This is so we do away with the unhealthy thinking that we should not confide in one another due to the risk of sabotage or shame. A true authentic community fears no risk nor shame; because in everything that is revealed, confessed and confided, it is done for the glory of God.

REST
May the Lord give us wisdom, courage and strength to be an authentic community in Jesus Christ. This is so we can help one another when we meet with a crisis of faith in our journey with Him. Amen.