Making an idol of anything, everything!

by Rev Jason Phua

Bible Readings: Judges 8:18-9:21; Psalm 107:1-43

READ (Verses chosen for meditation)
Judges 8:27 “And Gideon made an ephod of it and put it in his city, in Ophrah. And all Israel whored after it there, and it became a snare to Gideon and to his family.”

REFLECT
Judges is a difficult book to understand. There is a tendency for readers to read into the morality of the leaders chosen to lead Israel. Yet, I feel that is not the point of the book. The point of the book is that even though Israel did many evils against God; He was still merciful to raise up judges to lead a new generation. Most of these judges (like the kings that came after them) are definitely full of flaws. Yet, in the midst of an evil generation, that was perhaps the “best” they could get. Why didn’t God send Jesus right away? I don’t know. Maybe the time is not right with God.

Judges is on the whole, a tragic story. Nevertheless, it is a realistic one. The fact of the day is that even under God’s mercy and grace, Israel’s sin just keep piling up. Don’t we have the tendency to do likewise? Hence, we need not focus too much on the morality of Gideon’s effort at making an ephod which caused himself and Israel to stumble. For all of Gideon’s growth in courage and piety, he was still very young in his new found relationship with God. Rather, the focus should be on the author’s repeated “sighs” that Israel was at it again; making an idol over something, and this time it was even on something that was meant to be sacred or religious.

RELATE
When our hearts and minds are not right with God, we can potentially make an idol of anything, everything. For example, we can make an idol out of the object of the cross. This happens when the cross is not there to remind us of Jesus’ death and resurrection, but more like an instrument of our superstitious beliefs to “ward off” satan.

Some might even come to idolise the form, personality and style of musical worship (and worship leaders). Hence, musical worship no longer is a means by which we worship, but rather musical worship becomes the object of worship. Some might even come to idolise the Bible; when he is so proud of his knowledge of the Word and despise those who seem “weak”. Or even the Sacrament of the Holy Communion, when some would misuse them for a very personal (but wrong) reading of the Word.

REST
Oh Lord, what have we done with the sacred things you have given to us as means of our relationship with You? Help us Lord, not to make an idol of the good things you have given, but to use them as means to know and love You, as the Lord of our lives. Amen.

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For what do we obey?

by Rev Jason Phua

Bible Readings: Joshua 22:21-23:16; Proverbs 14:30-31

READ (Verses chosen for meditation)
Joshua 23:6-8 “Therefore, be very strong to keep and to do all that is written in the Book of the Law of Moses, turning aside from it neither to the right hand nor to the left, that you may not mix with these nations remaining among you or make mention of the names of their gods or swear by them or serve them or bow down to them, but you shall cling to the LORD your God just as you have done to this day.”

REFLECT
Joshua 23 is one of the two farewell speeches made by Joshua to the people of Israel. Joshua was “old and well advanced” in years but his conviction remained strong from the time God gave him the exhortation to “be strong” (Joshua 1). From the time he took over Moses’ leadership to the time when he was about to pass on to glory; it was at least a span of 30-40 years where he did nothing but to answer the Lord’s call for him to be strong and possess the Promised Land.

Why was he so consistently obedient to the Lord’s call for him to be strong and cling on to Him?

As Joshua mentioned in 23:3, it was the Lord who “fought for you”. In other words, Joshua understood clearly that it was the Lord’s strength and grace that gave him all the successes he had through his lifetime of conquering and possessing the lands in Canaan. He understood that if the Lord promised to do something (as He did in Joshua 1), He will definitely do it. Hence, Joshua chose to fulfil God’s call for him by faith in obedience. The obedience to be strong and courageous; the obedience to cling on to God and not cling on to idolatry. The obedience to do as God wills. Joshua chose to obey because he understood God’s power and grace for his life and for the lives of his people.

RELATE
Do I understand the Lord’s power and grace for my life so that I obey and keep His Word? Or is my obedience based on what I think God is doing in my life? If I think that God is not doing much in my life, will my obedience wax and wane?

I came to understand that our God is no man’s negotiator. He dictate the terms, not us.

If not for His grace found in Jesus Christ, we don’t even have anything to obey with in the first place. Instead, the right attitude for the Christian should be: God has already done something big. He has already promised what is coming. He is after all the Alpha and the Omega. So we obey because in faith, we believe that He will do what He has set out to do. There is simply no other way.

Our obedience is an outflow of God’s grace in our lives; and not the chip we use to bargain for a better life. Hence, we obey because we come to understand that He first love us and not simply because we have experienced blessings. We obey because He had promised and called through His Word; and not because we need to “experience” Him first.

REST
Lord our God, help us to reflect deeper on why we obey and keep Your Word. Is it because we want something out of you for our own sake? Or is it because we understood Your love for us and that is why we follow?

Seeking counsel

by Rev Jason Phua

Bible Readings: Joshua 9:3-10:43; Psalm 104:24-35

READ (Verses chosen for meditation)
Joshua 9:14 “So the men took some of their provisions, but did not ask counsel from the LORD.”

REFLECT
The inhabitants of Gibeon were afraid of the military successes of Israel especially of what they have done with Jericho and Ai. So they decided to deceive Israel by pretending to come from afar seeking peace. Joshua and the leaders fell for their deception because they did not “ask counsel from the LORD”. When it was discovered that the people seeking peace were actually their neighbours who feared destruction; the Israelites “murmured against the leaders” (ref v.18). The conflict between the people and their leaders was resolved when Joshua insisted that they should stick to their covenant made with the Gibeonites since it was made in the Name of the LORD (ref v.19). Nonetheless, it was an episode which could have permanently disrupted Joshua’ campaign to conquer the whole of Canaan.

RELATE
For all of Joshua’s successes, this episode was recorded as an epic failure on his part. I believe this was the author’s deliberate attempt to give to us the real history of what had happened; and not to sugarcoat. This is also one of the major reasons why I have faith in the Bible. It is as authentic as it should be.

We are not told why the Lord spared Joshua from such an epic failure. It could be because he and the leaders recognised their failure in the midst of the congregation (v.16-20), gave reverence to the Lord’s Name and did what was necessary to right the wrong.

In any case, this episode is a strong reminder to me. If my daily living is dependent on the grace of God; then all the more I will need to consult Him on the important matters of life, family and ministry. I confess that there are times when I just rely upon my own wisdom and knowledge. It was much “easier” that way. However, as a consequence, the results were not as ideal as I need them to be. Seeking the Lord’s counsel is important for it is not just a matter of wanting ideal results; but walking the talk that we trust in His wisdom and grace. It is after all, the living out of our faith and whatever knowledge we have of the Word.

REST
Lord, help me to live out Your Word by spending time to seek Your counsel; not just on issues which are challenging, but as and when You like me to. Amen.

You are welcome!

by Rev Jason Phua

Bible Readings: Romans 14:1-23; Proverbs 14:15-16

READ (Verses chosen for meditation)
Romans 14:1 “As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgement on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him.”

REFLECT
Who were the ones considered to be “weak in the faith”? They were the ones who ate only vegetables and esteemed that one day was better than the other (14:5). Apparently, these were Jewish Christians who insisted on observing certain days of the month / year and ate only vegetables in loyalty to the Mosaic Law. For such a matter, the church was divided because the Gentile Christians felt that these laws should no longer be followed under the New Covenant.

While it was understood that under the New Covenant, Christians no longer need to follow such laws; Paul was saying that this should not be an issue which the Christians should be quarrelling about. The observation of these laws, if done on a personal basis, does no harm to the Body of Christ. They were assumed to be done in honour of the Lord. In any case, everyone will have to give an account to the Lord for what we have done; whether in the private or publicly. Therefore, Paul told the Gentile Christians not to despise their Jewish counterparts; but to welcome them as God has welcomed them. On the other hand, the Jewish Christians were also told not to pass judgements against the Gentile Christians’ integrity for the Gospel.

RELATE
Interestingly, the word “welcome” in verse 1 and 3 is translated from the Greek word “proslambono” which has a stronger meaning that what the English word “welcome” conveys. “Proslambono” means to be accepted or received into one’s home or society. Therefore, when Paul commanded those who were stronger in the faith to “welcome” those weaker in the faith; he was telling them to treat one another as a family in faith. Do not pass judgement, but receive one another as one Body in the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul’s main point was that we should not allow issues that are not essential to the faith to divide us. Instead, we should be watching out for and make the effort to journey with those “weak in the faith” so that they too can be “strong”!

Some years ago, I was serving communion to a Christian elderly lady. She told me that she would not celebrate Christmas or attend to any Christmas services because it began as a pagan festival. Apparently, some of her family members were quite upset with her for that.

Back then, my first instinct was to have a good discussion with her about the historical events leading to Christmas. According to historical data, Christmas did not start off as a pagan festival; but it was some church leaders’ attempt to redeem a popular pagan festival (Saturnalia) for the glory of Christ.

However, as I thought about it, it occurred to me at that point in time, what my fellow sister in Christ needed was not a good theological discussion. What she needed was a good listening ear to hear also; about her struggle with daily inconveniences as she discovered that she was no longer sharp enough to drive a car to anywhere. True enough, as time went, this issue about her physical immobility proved to be much more troubling to her than the issue with Christmas.

This episode taught me an important lesson. Even if I am passionate about certain issues of ministry, life or the church; I need to ask myself some questions before taking action:

  1. What is my motivation for speaking out?
  2. Will my speaking out at this moment in time promote peace and mutual upbuilding (ref verse 19) help the person or cause the person to stumble even more?

May the Lord help us indeed, as a family of faith, to learn more and more to truly receive one another even as God had received us in Him.

REST
Help me O Lord, to be discerning and sensitive to the needs of persons whom I am ministering to. This is so I do not cause them to stumble but instead, to build them up from strength to strength in the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

The great assurance

by Rev Jason Phua

Bible Readings: Romans 8:26-39; Psalms 97:1-98:9

READ (Verses chosen for meditation)
Romans 8:28 “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”

REFLECT
Romans 8:28 and the surrounding verses is a good passage to meditate upon when we are in deep trouble. It provides the great assurance that God is like the Great Weaver of the threads in our lives; that all things work together for His glory as we walk in Him. The “good” is not so much as what we see as “good” but the goodness that is found in God’s purpose and will. Therefore, even if the Christian should suffer many evils in this world, all things will work together for the good of those who are called according to His purpose. Therefore, as the subsequent verses said, that those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son. In other words, those whom God foreknew would love Him, He had destined them in advance to be conformed to the image of His Son, and their destinies will be the future glory to come.

RELATE
These few verses in the Bible had been central to the great debate between Calvinists and Arminians on the issue of election (whether people are “elected” to eternal life or eternal damnation). However, I really wonder if the Apostle had in mind the doctrine of election when he wrote these words as an encouragement to a church in persecution. I think not. I think these verses are more to tell suffering Christians that as long as we do not cease in our love for the Lord i.e. to follow Christ; our destinies are secured in God’s promise of future glory. Of course, such following of Christ certainly does not deny that God’s grace is always at work in the believer. The point we should be more concerned about I believe, is whether we really understood His love for us and whether we truly love the Lord.

So am I really in tune to His purposes for my life? Or am I merely wanting the glory but disdain the life in Christ now on this earth? I cannot have it both ways. If I am really an adopted child of God, then I should not shy away from God’s work in me to conform to the image of His Son (which literally means the obedience of His Word and possibly even the resurrection on the last day) even as I wait patiently for the glory that is to come.

REST
Thank you Lord for this great assurance of Your foreknowledge and predestination. Help me to live out Your love that is already in me for the purpose of Your glory. Amen.

Faith and Works

by Rev Jason Phua

Bible Readings: Romans 4:1-12; Proverbs 14:1-2

READ (Verses chosen for meditation)
Romans 4:3 For what does the Scripture say? ÔÇťAbraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.”

REFLECT
Romans 4:3 talks about how Abraham was counted as righteous, not for the works he had done, but for his faith in a God who can do the impossible. Romans 4:3 makes reference to Genesis 15:6, where Abraham expressed his belief in God, who promised that the Patriarch will have many offspring like the stars in heaven. The Bible is consistent with the truth that we cannot gain righteousness with God with anything we do with our flesh; but only through faith. Both in the Old Testament as well as the New.

Does this mean that those who “have faith” can ignore “works” since faith alone counts towards righteousness with God? While we cannot earn God’s righteousness or pleasure with the works of our flesh; works as an expression of our belief (faith) is no less important. This is because genuine faith produces good work that are pleasing to the Lord. Titus 3:8 says this clearly: “The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people.”

So being counted as righteous in faith does not mean that we can take a spiritual holiday. In God, there is simply no such thing. That was why the Apostle James commented that faith without works is dead. Why? Because genuine faith produces or we can even say enthuse good work in God. Notice, that even as Abraham was counted as righteous for his faith; his journey with God did not end there. In fact it was just the beginning as seen in the circumcision of his household in Genesis 17 as well as the pleading with God for the sparing of the righteous in Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 18.

RELATE
Elyse, our daughter requested to wall climb on her birthday. Hence, we bought a day pass so she could climb to her heart’s content. For her first climb of the day, she climbed to the top but was fearful of getting down. Getting down involves a simple letting yourself to free fall while being strapped to a roping system. Only after much encouragement (with the help of Justin who happened to be there) did Elyse find faith in the roping system (not really sure if God is involved in her “contemplation”) and did a free fall. After this first act of faith, she became quite another person. As the day came to an end (thank God!), she did like 15-16 climbs and had no problem with free falling. What propel her to be so courageous? Because she had faith in the roping system, tested it, found that it worked and went on to do more.

Our faith in God works in somewhat the same way. We do not just believe in our heads that Jesus had died for our sins and we are now set free to glorify God; but our faith, if genuine, should propel us to act upon the faith we have. As we act more upon and through faith; we discover that we can really depend on God to do His marvellous deeds for the sake of His glory. In other words, faith and works are not separate entities; but that works should be an expression of faith that is true and sincere toward Christ who first loves us. Question is, how have we been expressing our faith lately toward God and to the people around us?

REST
Lord our God, help us to ponder upon on how we might have chose to disregard the expression of good works in our lives due to faith. Give us the courage and strength to do and to be the Gospel; of which is the power of God to save. Amen.

Freedom!

by Rev Jason Phua

Bible Readings: Galatians 5:13-26; Psalms 89:1-13

READ (Verses chosen for meditation)
Galatians 5:13 “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.”

REFLECT
“Freedom”. What does this word mean in the context of Paul’s letter to the Galatians? When Paul said that the Christians in Galatia were “called to freedom”; he meant our freedom in Jesus Christ. Freedom in Christ has to do with Jesus’ work on the cross; which was to be sin so as to atone for the sins of those who believe. The act of atonement tore the veil in the temple in half; which signified that those who have faith in Christ is no longer subject to sin and death under the law. In Christ, we are freed from condemnation under the law.

Therefore, Paul told the Galatians not to use their new found freedom for what it was intended to destroy i.e. subjecting ourselves to the law again and giving ourselves to sinful behaviours. Instead, the Galatians were encouraged to use their new found freedom to love one another. Such shall be the rightful behaviours of those who by God’s grace, had been saved through faith.

RELATE
One of my favourite movies of all time is “Braveheart” directed by Mel Gibson. It was a movie based loosely on the history of William Wallace, a Scottish warrior who led the Scots in their first war of independence against King Edward I. One of the famous quotes from the movie is a war cry from William Wallace while he tried to inspire his vastly outnumbered army: “They may take away our lives, but they will never take away our freedom!”

Freedom is important to the soul of humankind. Historically, we know of many men and women who fought for their own freedom as well as the freedom of others. Many of such battles were fought on the grounds of emotional as well as physical freedom. Yet, even as such demonstrations of courage to be “freed” are commendable; we can never be truly free without Jesus Christ. Without Christ, even if we enjoy all degrees of physical and emotional freedom; we can never have spiritual freedom.

Without Christ, we can never be freed from the spiritual prison of the sins we have committed, committing or going to commit. Without Christ, we are doomed to the judgment of God even if on the outset, we enjoyed the freedom of the flesh. Galatians 5 reminded me of how precious the spiritual freedom from Christ truly is. As a child of God in Jesus; I am now truly free in all sense of the word. How marvellous such love and grace is from my God who desires true freedom for all of His children.

REST
Lord, help me to use my freedom to love You and one another. This is so I may not abuse such a precious gift You have given to me, but to use it for Your glory purpose. Amen.