Come home

by Rev Jason Phua

Bible Readings: Joel 1:1-3:21; Psalm 16:1-11

READ (Verses chosen for meditation)
Joel 2:12-13 12 “Yet even now,” declares the LORD, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; 13 and rend your hearts and not your garments.” Return to the LORD, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster.

REFLECT
The prophet Joel did not appear in any other books in the Bible. Yet, the message given to the people through this unknown prophet was consistent with that of Jeremiah, Isaiah and Amos. The message that Judah and Israel were asked to repent from their sinful ways if there were to be any form of salvation at all. Here, God Himself appealed to the people to return to Him because He is merciful and slow to anger. Despite the sins of the people, God is seen here as like a pleading father, crying out to his precious children to return home.

RELATE
This lunar new year, the Lord brought to my attention of the many who are far away from home. Some are overseas and have no time to return home for a time of reunion. Some are estranged from their loved ones due to seemingly irreconcilable issues. Some are even barred from home due to certain things that have happened in the past. Some might even be estranged from their churches due to disappointments, bitterness or perhaps a decision made to turn away from God.

Whatever it is, I believe that for most families and the church, the desire is still for reunion and reconciliation. Sometimes, it is a matter of pride and all it takes is for one person to take the initiative and ask for forgiveness. Sometimes it takes much more than an initiative but with the grace of God, peace making can happen. Whatever it is, our God is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. He is still pining for His children to come back to Him. He is still pining for brokenness to be restored in His grace. He is merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. We can be assured that if we choose to return home to Him, He will be there waiting and rejoicing. If you are one who is reading this journal and your heart is far from the Lord in various ways, He like you to know just one thing: Repent and come home. Come home to the Father who is full of grace and truth.

REST
Lord my God. I pray for those who are estranged from their loved ones and even the church that you will guide them to come home. Amen.

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Do not grow weary!

by Rev Jason Phua

Bible Readings: 2 Thessalonians 3:1-18; Proverbs 19:27-29

READ (Verses chosen for meditation)
2 Thessalonians 3:13 “As for you, brothers, do not grow weary in doing good.”

REFLECT
From Paul’s letters to the Thessalonians, we get to know that the Christians in Thessalonica were encouraging in many ways. Many of them were growing in holiness and being an example of love for one another. Yet, not everyone was growing in the Lord. Some in the congregation sinned against God and the family of faith by being “idle” and “busybodies” (Ref: 2 Thessalonians 3:6-11). These persons were not in a state of non-activity. Rather, they were engaged in the wrong kind of activity as contrasted to those who do good work.

These persons were engaged in minding other people’s affairs or what Singaporeans call “kaypoh” and living irresponsibly (Ref: 2 Thessalonians 3:8 and 3:12). These persons were totally capable of doing work but they love to “eat bread without paying for it”. So instead of working for their own needs and being a blessing to others, they were being a burden to the rest of the congregation. These persons were causing much weariness to those who were doing good work.

So Paul commanded these persons to stop being a nuisance to the Body of Christ (Ref: 2 Thessalonians 3:12) and do their work quietly. He also encouraged those who were doing good work to continue to do so and not grow weary. They should continue to provide for their own needs as well as caring for those who have legitimate needs. They should also be prepared to take disciplinary actions (warn him as a brother Ref 2 Thessalonians 3:15) against persons who did not heed Paul’s commands. They should do so because Paul reminded at the start and end of the letter, that God is faithful. He will give grace and peace to those who are faithful as well. If we look to Him, He will guide their hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ (Ref: 2 Thessalonians 3:5).

RELATE
During the Lunar New Year, it is common to see sayings like “恭喜发财” and “大吉大利” being hung in homes. For the Christian home or even the office, we can also hang some sayings. As I was writing this devotion, one very good saying I can definitely hang in my office would be:
行善不可丧志 (Do not grow weary in doing good!)

There are times when I felt like the Thessalonians who were growing weary in doing good work. Why are these persons so needy when it is clear that they are capable of caring for themselves? Why are they taking up so much time and resources when there are other persons with much more legitimate needs? Why are these persons so attention seeking and causing so much disruption; while they could just work quietly and be a blessing to others?

It is good to be reminded that I should not grow weary of doing good because of these persons, because the Lord is faithful. He will give peace and grace to those who carry on the calling that He had given. I believe He will also guide our hearts for those who willing to correct an errant brother or sister in the Lord in love. Galatians 6:9 also mentioned that we should not give up on doing good, because we will reap in due season.

That being said, I should also ask myself this question: Am I being an unnecessary burden to others as well? Have I been unhelpful to my colleagues and causing them unnecessary burdens? Have I been trying to pass on work that I should be doing? Have I been a gossiper? If so, may the Lord convict me and help me to be humble to receive feedback; so as to change for the sake of Christ. This is so I do not become an obstacle to the Gospel.

REST
Lord God, help me not to grow weary in doing good and also be good in you so as not to be a stumbling block to others. Amen.

Rich in mercy

by Rev Jason Phua

Bible Readings: Ephesians 2:1-22; Proverbs 18:23-24

READ (Verses chosen for meditation)
Ephesians 2:4-7  4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ- by grace you have been saved- 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.

REFLECT
It is only because of God’s mercy that we are able to jump the huge chasm between spiritual death and life in Christ. Such a “leap” between spiritual death and eternal life is enormous. It is unimaginably huge. Yet, it is a gift from God! Such a precious gift, the best in the entire galaxy, is freely given to us without the need to show even one act of service. All it takes is the awareness (which only by the grace of God can we do so) of the reality of such a gift, the repentance of our sins and the humility to believe. How can we understand such rich mercies and love from God? I don’t think we ever can, not perfectly. It will remain a mystery. However, we can all embrace such a rich mercy and live free.

RELATE
I like novels that speaks of a dismal future (they call them dystopian). A future where no human efforts, no matter how advanced and genius, can save ourselves. I like these novels because they remind me of the richness of God’s mercy not just for me, my family or the church, but for all of humanity. Such novels, while mostly fictional, were not too far from the truth. Each and every day, we are trying desperately to “fix” our world; and yet at the same breath we destroy it even further. It is not the world that need fixing. It is the human heart that needs transformation. And this cannot be done unless we die to self and be made alive in Christ. We need to do it the way our Creator had so ordained. Our depraved hearts need a spiritual surgery and Christ has made it possible through His blood. All we have to do is to believe, keep believing and live in His mercy.

REST
Lord my God, help me to know deeper of the mystery of Your mercy. This is so I can live this new life in greater dependence of You and in greater freedom from my sinful self. Amen.

Who do we seek?

by Rev Jason Phua

Bible Readings: 2 Kings 15:1-16:20; Psalm 4:1-8

READ (Verses chosen for meditation)
2 Kings 16:7 “So Ahaz sent messengers to Tiglath-pileser king of Assyria, saying, “I am your servant and your son. Come up and rescue me from the hand of the king of Syria and from the hand of the king of Israel, who are attacking me.”

REFLECT
When the kings of Syria and Israel waged war against Ahaz, the king of Judah, the latter went to seek refuge in the arms of Tiglath-pileser, who was the king of Assyria. Such a move was frequently warned against by the prophets like Isaiah, Hosea and Micah. God’s people should not ally themselves with the foreigners who worshipped other gods. We should not go to the “other side”. We should not seek answers from things or persons who just seem to be more convenient or quick with “answers”.

Furthermore, the words used by Ahaz were similar to pleas for help (from Yahweh) from the more righteous kings like David. It was as if Ahaz was trying to get help from another god which was the human king of Assyria. One thing leads to another. After Tiglath-pileser won the battle for Ahaz, Ahaz was so pleased with the Assyrian king, that he decided to adopt his pagan altar and even desecrated the altar of the Lord. Among the kings of Judah, Ahaz (and later on Manasseh) played an important role in provoking God’s final judgement of destruction against His people.

RELATE
When Ahaz ran into trouble, the person he sought help from wasn’t God, but a mere human king. Although the prophets especially Isaiah warned Ahaz of the danger of seeking help from Assyria, such advice fell on deaf ears. I am ministered by this passage to reflect on my own heart; of how I can be very deaf or blind to God’s ways. There are times when I know that I should seek the Lord for an extended period of time. Yet, I went seeking for quick answers from my own experience, people and even articles on the internet. It all has to do with my impatient and selfish heart. May the Lord help me to change for the better so that I can make better decisions. Who do we seek? Help me to seek You O God.

REST
Lord my God, help me to be more patient and secure in You. Help me to rely on You more. This is so that I can hear You more and make decisions that are pleasing to You. Amen.

What legacy are we leaving behind?

by Rev Jason Phua

Bible Readings: 2 Kings 3:1-4:17; Proverbs 18:11-12

READ (Verses chosen for meditation)
2 Kings 3:7 “And he went and sent word to Jehoshaphat king of Judah, “The king of Moab has rebelled against me. Will you go with me to battle against Moab?” And he said, “I will go. I am as you are, my people as your people, my horses as your horses.”

REFLECT
2 Kings 3:7 parallels 1 Kings 22:4: “And he said to Jehoshaphat, “Will you go with me to battle at Ramoth-gilead?” And Jehoshaphat said to the king of Israel, “I am as you are, my people as your people, my horses as your horses.”

The “he” refers to Ahab, who was the father of Jehoram in 2 Kings 3. Again, like the father, Jehoram did not inquire any prophet of the Lord until Jehoshaphat mentioned it in the middle of the war campaign (ref: 2 Kings 3:11). Apparently, the father did not teach the children to cherish truth from God’s prophets. How could he, since he himself was a Baal worshipper and very much influenced by his evil queen Jezebel. Such was the tragic legacy passed on from father to son: a sinful and rebellious legacy against the Lord.

RELATE
What are we passing on to our children? What legacy are we leaving behind that demonstrate how obedient are we to the Word of the Lord?

What are we passing on to the younger people whom we are mentoring? What are we passing on to the younger people whom we see each Sunday at church? How are we being good examples to them? Do we take the time guide them in the way of the Lord? Or do we leave them entirely to the so called “experts” in the church; or even worse the “digital nannies” of this age? Are we really in this together as a church to nurture the younger?

As a parent of two young children (8 and 11 years of age), I am constantly reminded through God’s Word that what I say to them is not as important as how I behave in application of God’s truth. I am also reminded of a research study in New Jersey, which showed that children who did not get enough parental attention would have 40% probability of showing signs of psychological distress in the later stage of their life; as compared to 6% probability for children who do get enough parental attention.

May the Lord grant us grace to walk the talk and guide our children and the younger generation in the way of the Lord. This is so that the younger generation can do even better, through the grace of God, to be faithful disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ.

REST
Help us Lord, to be faithful to You, so as to be faithful in the discipleship of our children / younger generation that You have entrusted into our care. Amen.

Collective vs Individual

by Rev Jason Phua

Bible Readings: 1 Kings 14:1-15:24; Psalm 147:1-20

READ (Verses chosen for meditation)
1 Kings 14:11-14 “Anyone belonging to Jeroboam who dies in the city the dogs shall eat, and anyone who dies in the open country the birds of the heavens shall eat, for the LORD has spoken it.”‘ Arise therefore, go to your house. When your feet enter the city, the child shall die. And all Israel shall mourn for him and bury him, for he only of Jeroboam shall come to the grave, because in him there is found something pleasing to the LORD, the God of Israel, in the house of Jeroboam.”

REFLECT
Jeroboam’s sin was so great that apart from this one son, everyone else in his house would die without a grave. For us “moderns”, such an idea where the sin of one man caused the harsh punishment of so many could be unthinkable. Our familiarity with “individualism” might make it difficult for us to understand these biblical ideas of “collectivism”. We might think to ourselves: “If it was only Jeroboam who sinned; why was it that his entire household needed to be punished?”

Yet I suspect for the people of Israel, they wouldn’t even be asking such a question; for their worldview was so different from ours. Theirs was of collectivism, or corporate responsibility. It was acceptable that one person’s action (especially of the king’s) was collectively viewed as representative of the community or even nation. People were supposed to watch out for one another. Faith in God was communal; rather than individualistic.

So if the punishment meted out by God was against the entire household because of the sin of the king, it was acceptable. Furthermore, in the context of Kings, it wasn’t as if the rest of Israel was innocent. It was clear that many Israelites also took part in the kings’ idolatrous worship and practices.

RELATE
This episode on Jeroboam reminded me of a question: “As a church, do we tend to view our faith as a collective or as individuals?”

My observation is that we tend to swing towards the latter. If I sin, it is my own responsibility. I am in this all alone. Therefore, I find it difficult to confide in someone since this is viewed as “my own problem”. Or that my faith is my own, therefore you have no right to tell me how to believe or read the Bible. I have my own experience and that is enough. This is the way I do things in church, take it or leave it.

Yet, the reality is that our faith is also a corporate issue. That is why baptisms, membership services and communions are done in the context of public worship. That is why for those physically able, we hear sermons together as a body in Christ. That is why we come together as smaller groups to learn God’s Word together and fellowship in the faith. Even when we sin, it is a corporate issue. When we sin, we affect the people around us. It is likely that our behaviours have consequences, not just for ourselves but for the welfare of others.

Our faith in Jesus is never an individualistic endeavour and it should never be viewed that way. Our Lord never meant to be that way. Otherwise, He wouldn’t have said in John 13:35 “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Let us therefore, read our Bibles and practice our faith as a collective. Let us rely on God and one another more to persevere in the faith so that the world may know that we are indeed, His disciples.

REST
Lord our God, help us to be mindful as like the people of old, that we are not individuals in the faith. We are all in this together as a family of faith. Help us therefore to be authentic, courageous and loving towards one another; so that we can grow in Him and help one another to persevere in Him. Amen.

The precious gift of discernment

by Rev Jason Phua

Bible Readings: 1 Kings 3:3-4:34; Proverbs 17:27-28

READ (Verses chosen for meditation)
1 Kings 3:10-12 “It pleased the Lord that Solomon had asked this. And God said to him, “Because you have asked this, and have not asked for yourself long life or riches or the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern what is right, behold, I now do according to your word. Behold, I give you a wise and discerning mind, so that none like you has been before you and none like you shall arise after you.”

REFLECT
It pleased God that Solomon asked for the ability to discern what is right and what is wrong. It pleased God that Solomon had not asked for wealth, long life and the life of our enemies. It pleased God so much that apart from blessing Solomon with such a gift of discernment, He gave the king what he did not ask for i.e. both riches and honour so that no king can be compared to the glory of his reign (ref: 1 Kings 3:13).

Why was God so pleased with Solomon when he asked for the wisdom to discern between right and wrong? I believe it has to do with God’s character of holiness as well as Solomon’s humility in wanting such a gift. At the heart of God’s character of holiness is the “separateness” of what is right and wrong. When we struggle with being holy as God is holy, we struggle in making choices between doing what is pleasing to God and what is not. Therefore, God was well pleased because Solomon had humbly asked for something that is close to God’s heart. It was a gift that could be of great service to the people as well as to Solomon’s spiritual growth as a king.

RELATE
In this day and age, it seems that such an understanding of what is right and wrong is less valued. For example, many parents in Singapore would rather spend much resources in training their children for academic pursuits rather than the building up of their character. Some of us Christian parents might even pray much more for our children to do well academically; than to acquire wisdom to discern what is right or wrong in a sinful world. Even for the church, I often wonder if we placed much higher value on many other things than the ability to discern what is right and wrong? Or have we even rebuked people who placed an emphasis on the importance of discernment?

In a time when false teachings are getting more prevalent and difficult to detect, I believe the church needs to pay more attention to this aspect of church life. This is so that we can be a people who are behaving and doing things close to the Father’s heart. As the Word of God warned us, Satan can masquerade himself as like the light and deceive us. Hence, we need to have wisdom to discern, be humble to learn and be ready to discard anything that is leading us onto the wrong path. So in the light of how Solomon had asked God for wisdom to discern what is right and wrong, may we as a church also start to pray more fervently, that the Lord will grant us such a wisdom. This is so we can be well pleasing to the Lord on how we are behaving as His followers as well as the stewardship of His church.

REST
Lord our God, forgive us when we bypass such an important understanding (of right and wrong) for less important wants in our lives. Help us as families and churches to grow in our discernment of what is right and wrong, so that we are pleasing in Your sight. Amen.