Deep faith

by Rev Jason Phua

Readings: Hebrews 11:17-31; Psalm 59:1-17

READ (verses chosen for meditation)
Psalm 59:16-17 “But I will sing of your strength; I will sing aloud of your steadfast love in the morning. For you have been to me a fortress and a refuge in the day of my distress. O my Strength, I will sing praises to you, for you, O God, are my fortress, the God who shows me steadfast love.”

REFLECT
We are told as a preface to Psalm 59 that this is “miktam” of David when Saul sent men to his house in order to kill him. We are not quite sure what “miktam” means but all the six Psalms with this word have certain characteristics. These six Psalms, as Charles Spurgeon puts it starts with “prayer, imply trouble, but abound in holy confidence and close with songs of assurance as to ultimate safety and joy”. Hence we read in Psalm 59 that David sang praises to the Lord in assurance of His steadfast love even in the midst of the possible lost of life. What a man of deep faith in God!

RELATE
Would I sing praises to God in the midst of the possible loss of life? Would i sing praises to God if the lives of my family members are threatened? I am not sure i will. I will definitely be praying for protection and His will be done, but sing praises to God? That is quite something altogether. That is the depth of faith which David had and for which he and the other heroes of faith in Hebrews 11 were commended for. Even if these persons were not able receive what was promised as in the ministry and work of our Lord Jesus Christ (Hebrews 11:39), God commended them for their extraordinary faith. Through David and many other heroes of the faith, we see that they have a kind of faith which does not call out often to God for a more comfortable standard of living or whine at the most tiny worry; but faith that speaks much of their profound love for God even in the midst of very challenging circumstances. This is something which we, the very much self-entitled and self-consumed generation can learn from. May the Lord help us, people who are supposedly in a better Covenant, to grow in our understanding of what faith in Christ is really about.

REST
Lord our God, help my wandering soul to rest in You. Help me to grow in faith like how the ancients did, who were able to sing praises to you even in the most trying of circumstances. Amen.

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Are “the laws” a mistake?

by Rev Jason Phua

Readings: Hebrews 7:18-28; Proverbs 11:8

READ (Verses chosen for meditation)
Hebrews 7:18-19 “On the one hand, a former commandment is set aside because of its weakness and uselessness (for the law made nothing perfect); but on the other hand, a better hope is introduced, through which we draw near to God.”

REFLECT
Were the laws / commandments a mistake? Since they were declared as “weak and useless” by the author of Hebrews? Did God gave them by mistake to the people of Israel? No. The author of Hebrews did not say that the laws (“a former commandment” refers to the Levitical system or Old Covenant characterized by the Mosaic legislation) were a mistake but that they were “useless” for salvation. They were useless for salvation because of our sinful nature and the Levitical system only provided a temporal atonement of sins through the blood of animals.

The laws are useful in that they define our sins; without which we will not be aware of how sinful we are in the face of a holy God. Rather the laws are to be “set aside” since now, a “better hope is introduced” in Jesus Christ. Only through Christ can we find salvation as sinners accused by the truth of the law for death. Christ is the permanent solution for salvation. Without Jesus, we are only destined to destruction because of the laws. Yet, Christ came so that even us, can have life in Him.

RELATE
Without a study and understanding of the laws, we might not be able to appreciate the depth of God’s mercy and grace in His offer of salvation. We might not even come to a realisation of how sinful we are / can be or what Jesus had really saved us from. Yet, there are churches in Singapore and worldwide that teach her disciples that believers do not need to care about the Old Testament. The New Testament is all that we need. This is simply untrue and reminds one of Marcionism.

I used to think that way as a young believer when listening to sermons in an independent church. Then, when the Holy Spirit convicted me of how much of the Old Testament were quoted in the New Testament; am I convinced that believers are to be people of “one Book” and not only half of it. Indeed, the holiness of God as explained in the Old Testament, the laws that were given in grace for His people to live in the midst of Him and the atoning sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ so that we can draw near to Him tells the complete story. We need the complete story (and not just half of it!) of God’s love and faithfulness; this is so we can truly live a life of hope, faith and love in His grace. This is also we can share the complete Gospel with others, and not just half of it.

REST
Lord, as we read the Bible, enable us to read in context of the Old and New Testaments. Restrain us from reading into what our hearts desire or be tardy in the studying of Your Word; but allow our hearts to be taught and convicted of what You desire. Amen.

He sat down

by Rev Jason Phua

Readings: Hebrews 1:1-14; Psalms 52:1-9

READ (Verses chosen for meditation)
Hebrews 1:3-4 “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.”

REFLECT
Hebrews chapter 1 is about the supremacy of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Here, Jesus is compared to two groups of people: (1) the prophets and (2) the angels. We are told that Jesus is far superior than the prophets because as anointed as they were, they spoke words that were told to them by God. However, Jesus came as the incarnate Word of God and fulfilled all that has been said through His life, death, resurrection and ascension.

Jesus is also far superior than the angels. Even as the angels are powerful and divine beings; they were messengers sent to serve the people for salvation. However, Christ is Himself the message sent to die for and save those who believe. The supremacy of Jesus; greater than any angel or prophet is summarized in verse 3 which says: “After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high…”

Now what does that mean? “Jesus sat down”?

The phrase “Jesus sat down” is not just a movement or a place of exaltation, but it is a great word picture of completion or fulfilment. When Jesus exclaimed “tetelestai” (It is finished!) on the cross; Jesus meant that His mission to atone for the sins of the world is finished. It is completely and absolutely done. There is no longer any need for anyone else to atone for anything. There is no longer a need for the priests in Leviticus to keep standing and offering sacrifices as sin offering to atone for the sins of the people. Jesus sat down. It is done. Completely. Absolutely. Perfectly.

RELATE
What does these three words mean to us? “Jesus sat down”?

Are we fully convinced that Jesus has completely and absolutely done what is necessary to atone for our sins? Or are we still prone to self-atonement? We self-atone when we try to make ourselves feel ok or even justified for our sins.

Maybe some of us are prone to gossiping about others. So we try to convince ourselves that it’s not really gossiping but just being prayerfully concerned for a colleague or a friend. Or maybe some of us struggle with lust of the eyes and we try to convince ourselves that it is not lust but merely an appreciation of the beauty of God’s creation. Or as leaders, there might be times when we tell ourselves, hey it is not really for personal glory or agenda; but just what needed to be done as a strong leader of the church.

Whatever form it takes, self-atonement only serves as a stumbling block to what Jesus had done on the cross. This is because God’s Word alone is the yardstick to measure what is sin or what is not. As persons who can only be holy through the blood and grace of a holy God, we cannot self-atone. Self-atonement is both oxymoronic and deeply deceitful.

The big problem is that when we self-atone, we deceive ourselves that we are not sinning. So even in our sin, we will not seek God for forgiveness. As time goes, we get ourselves even more vulnerable to the lies of the evil one or our own hearts. Someday, we might even find ourselves so deceived that we fall into what the author of Hebrews said to the Christians: “Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God.” (Hebrews 3:12)

So … when we find ourselves self-atoning for what is sin; we need to remember these three words: “Jesus sat down“. He has done it. It is finished. We need not pretend. We need not deceive ourselves. Call it sin, ask for forgiveness, repent, move on and grow.

God’s provision for you and me is complete. There is no need to make ourselves feel better through self-deception or seeking acknowledgement of others by putting on a mask. Come clean, find confidence in His love, surrender to His atonement and celebrate that amazing grace that is yours, right here, right now. Jesus sat down.

REST
Lord, thank you for Your amazing grace. Help me not to self-atone but to surrender to Your complete and perfect atonement for my sins as well as the capacity to grow in You. Amen.

Blood and the new life

by Rev Jason Phua

Readings: Leviticus 16:29 – 18:30; Proverbs 10:27-28

READ (Verses chosen for meditation)
Leviticus 17:11 “For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life.”

REFLECT
Why must it be the blood that that makes atonement for sins? Why can’t it be any other parts of the body of the sacrifice? As the Lord said it, because it is the life. The blood is the life of the flesh and therefore only the blood can atone for sins; because sin causes death. Life, represented by the blood of the sacrifices must be brought to the altar of the holy God to atone for sins which causes death.

The people of Israel were taught that blood is sacred. They were taught in Deuteronomy 12:23 that the blood is the life and therefore they must not eat the life with the meat. As the idea of the sacredness of blood was passed through the generations, the Jews developed elaborate rituals (kashrut) regarding the consumption of food and the slaughter of animals. For example, an animal must be ritually slaughtered, not just by anyone, but by someone certified to do so (shochet) and all the blood drained out of the carcass before it can be kosher (pure) for consumption.

RELATE
I have a fear of seeing blood being shed. Especially my own blood. I will feel dizzy just by looking at the tube drawing my blood when I go for blood donation drives. So these days, I will just be looking at everything else, except for that tube. Yet, I also know that blood gives life and this amazing creation by our Lord is meant to provoke certain feelings in us, unlike any other parts of our body.

My children, when they see blood on their hands or legs when they had a fall, would immediately ask for help. Just a few weeks ago, Elyse was trying to use a stapler and incidentally stapled her finger. I brought her to the sink and pull out the staple. That caused just a slight trickle of blood; but it was enough to cause a little pain to my heart.

Blood is created to be the life of all humans and animals; and we are created to react to it in a certain manner. We are supposed to view it as precious. We are supposed to view it as sacred. Yet, blood is mindlessly shed on a daily basis when humans violently slaughtered one another through civil wars, greed, lust and revenge. When we watch all these in the news, or even what is acted out in the movies on a regular basis, we might become “desensitized” to the seriousness of all that is happening.

Yet, the sacredness of blood is reality. God created it that way. If our blood, stained by sin, is sacred and precious to God; how much more the blood of Christ? Hebrews 9:13-14 says: “For if the sprinkling of defiled persons with the blood of goats and bulls and with the ashes of a heifer sanctifies for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.”

So Jesus’ death on the cross not only atone for our sins, but brings the new life to those who believe. In other words, our redemption through the blood of Christ is not just about the forgiveness of sins. It is also about living out what is given as the new life to us. So it is not just about being cleanse of our sinful habits; but learning more and more to love as God loves. This new life also compels us into making life choices which we would not have otherwise made if we still dwell in our old ways.

Our blood is sacred and now the blood in our veins are changed by the blood of Christ which is much more sacred. Question is, are we consistently living out what is now pumping in our veins as the new life? Or are there times where we will still look back and find pleasures or comfort dwelling in the old?

REST
Lord our God, help us to live as a people who truly understand that it is the new life that we have been redeemed for. Amen.

We are the ones who are “old-fashioned”!

by Rev Jason Phua

Readings: Leviticus 6:1-7:27; Psalms 45:1-17

READ (Verses chosen for meditation)
Leviticus 6:1-5 “The LORD spoke to Moses, saying,  “If anyone sins and commits a breach of faith against the LORD by deceiving his neighbor in a matter of deposit or security, or through robbery, or if he has oppressed his neighbor  or has found something lost and lied about it, swearing falsely- in any of all the things that people do and sin thereby-  if he has sinned and has realized his guilt and will restore what he took by robbery or what he got by oppression or the deposit that was committed to him or the lost thing that he found or anything about which he has sworn falsely, he shall restore it in full and shall add a fifth to it, and give it to him to whom it belongs on the day he realizes his guilt.”

REFLECT
In the time of Moses, when one person sinned against another; it was considered a “breach of faith” against the Lord. The person who sinned must not only bring a guilt offering to the Lord, but must make full restoration to what was owed or robbed of. Such was the seriousness of how the Lord took to the commandment of loving our neighbours. In fact, many of the laws in Leviticus laid on the principle that if one says he loves the Lord; such “love” must be demonstrated through his actions – through loving of the neighbour. In other words, a person simply cannot say that he loves the Lord without being a loving and active participant within the family of faith. Such an important principle was also emphasized by Jesus throughout the Gospels.

RELATE
Some believers wondered if the laws in Leviticus are “old-fashioned” or “irrelevant”. I thought today’s reading suggest otherwise; that the modern day church might be one who is “old-fashioned” instead! I mean, how have we the modern church taken to the principle of making “full restoration” to our neighbour if we had hurt or oppressed them? Quite often, the church dare not even dwell in disciplinary or even conflict management issues. We frequently wave these issues away in the name of “peace” or even “grace”.

The truth is that we simply do not take seriously the importance of “restoration” and we have the tendency of sweeping things under the carpet. We pleaded for believers to quickly “forgive” one another; but we did not address the depth of the issue. We wanted to get things “over and done with” but we failed to care for the real needs of the ones who were hurt badly. We fear hard consequences; we always try to be the “nice guy” but that is simply prolonging the issue.

The book of Leviticus has much to teach the modern churches. While many of the laws do not apply to us anymore; there are many underlying godly principles that can serve us in very big ways. May we find courage to reflect on these principles and do what is good and right in God’s sight.

REST
Lord our God, we confess that we are an arrogant people.  We gloss over books of the Bible that seemed to be irrelevant but the truth is that we have no patience for them. Yet, we know that you have not given to us such books of the Bible just for the sake of historical data; but to also minister to our needs even up till today. Amen.

Doing others a favour

by Rev Jason Phua

Readings: Acts 25:1-27; Proverbs 10:18

READ (Verse chosen for meditation)
Acts 25:9 “But Festus, wishing to do the Jews a favor, said to Paul, “Do you wish to go up to Jerusalem and there be tried on these charges before me?”

REFLECT
Reading Acts 25:9 reminded me of Acts 24:27 where Felix, the previous governor also desired to “do the Jews a favor”. Why were both governors Festus and Felix eager to “do the Jews a favor”? For Felix, it was a political move in the attempt to clear off some complaints the Jews had against him for cruelty and greed. For Festus, it was also a political move to restore the peace that was disrupted by the previous governor Felix. While both governors had their reasons for wanting to “do the Jews a favor”; they did it at the cost of the apostle Paul. After having heard from the Jews and Paul, both governors could not find any reason for the apostle to be punished or tried further. However, in order to grant favours to the Jews, they did not grant freedom to Paul; even though it was in their powers to do so. They did not do what was right; but made use of Paul to further their self-interests.

RELATE
Most of us might not be in positions similar to Felix or Festus; but we do grant favours to different groups of people. For example, the favour to run errands for a friend or someone who is physically unable to do so. The favour to purchase items for friends or colleagues when we are overseas. The favour to introduce work for a friend’s son or daughter. The favour granted to someone who requested to serve in a particular ministry. Nothing wrong with these favours per se; but we need to reflect on our true motives. Are we granting these with pure motives? At what costs are we granting these favours? When we grant these favours, are we doing them at the expense of others? Are we granting these favours in alignment with what the Bible is saying? The irony of Acts 24-25 is that while Paul stood fully for righteousness; the authorities around him abused their positions for unrighteousness by granting unjust favours to the Jews. Yet, all these could not overthrow God’s plan for Paul to proclaim God’s righteousness in Rome. God and His justice always win; even if it seemed that wickedness should thrive but only for a short while.

REST
Lord my God, help me to serve with pure motives, truth and righteousness. This is so that others know what You truly stand for. Amen.

Watch yourself!

by Rev Jason Phua

Readings: Acts 20:1-38; Psalms 40:1-10

READ (Verse chosen for meditation)
Acts 20:28 “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.”

REFLECT
As Paul spoke his final words to the elders in Ephesus, he warned them to watch out for their own relationship with God as they cared for the church which God had obtained through His blood. Just imagine, at this last leg of ministry, when Paul knew that he will not get to see his beloved co-workers again; his final words must be particularly important. His final words to a group of leaders he held so dear in his heart was a stern warning; the warning to have them watch out for their own sanctification even as they seek to disciple others. After many years of ministry, Paul knew that the dangers of ministry are many and real. If the church leaders were not able to pay attention to their own walk with God, their care for the church will be deeply compromised. Such a compromise will only serve as an insult to God who bought the church with the price of His blood.

RELATE
Coming to seven years of ministering full time in the context of the church; i couldn’t agree more with the apostle Paul. Even as i come into this ministry “with eyes opened”; nothing could have fully prepared me for the “dangers” of full time church vocation. Take for example, the danger of getting too secure and comfortable with what “i can do” is real and insidious to the soul. The danger of thinking that “ministry work” can substitute personal conversations and prayer with God is also deeply deceptive. I came to believe that how the devil works frequently in the minister’s heart is by having him or her to believe that he is “sufficient”.

Only seven years, I have already witnessed quite a few ministers who are burning out or totally burnt out. Yet his or her leaders are often too afraid to bring this up or they are blinded to the fact the minister needs to pay constant attention to his or her devotional life. I am reminded today, that such a stern warning from the apostle cannot be ignored. I guess such paying attention to our own walk with God applies to every believer who is serving or trying to minister to others. Let it not be that while we serve / work fervently in the public spaces; we also sinned heavily in the private domains of our hearts. The Lord shall not be mocked for His church is built upon the power of His blood.

REST
Lord my God, the church is bought with your blood. Help us to be constantly mindful and take action for the sake of our own sanctification; this is so we serve and minister in Your grace, truth and love. Amen.