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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Knowing God

by Rev Lai Kai Ming

Readings: Hosea 6-9; Psalm 16 

READ (verse/s chosen for meditation)
Hosea 6:6 (NKJV)
For I desire mercy and not sacrifice,
And the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.

REFLECT
It’s easier to be religious than to know God. Being religious is safe, for one only has to complete a list of dos and don’ts. But to know God is to risk losing what is most precious to us – our freedom. We no longer set the agenda, but submit to the Almightly. Ironically, it is when we give up our rights that we are truly free to live.

RELATE
Chinese New Year has always been a challenge for me. I dread having to visit people that I don’t really know or want to. All year round we don’t relate, but once a year we are obliged to gather for the sake of tradition. Still, I would do it, because I realize that these relationships are more important than my reluctance. My hope is that somehow, there would be meaning in the mundane, and somebody would be blessed by my minute presence.

REST
Lord, help me to know You more this year, that I might increase in mercy, and deepen in grace.

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.

Moving God

by Rev Lai Kai Ming

Readings: Ephesians 6; Psalm 9

READ (verse/s chosen for meditation)
Ephesians 6:18-19 (NIV)
18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. 19 Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel,

REFLECT
One would think that the great apostle Paul would be quite self sufficient, given the amount of authority and power he has received from God. Yet here, as in many parts of his letters, he asked for prayers. Prayers not for his own safety or welfare, but for boldness and “words” to spread the gospel. In the context of this chapter, the “prayer” that Paul speaks about has to do with being in a state of war. Yes, we must pray, because we need God to win the War.

RELATE
Why must I pray? Because God respects us too much to do everything for us. When I pray, I am recognizing that I cannot do it on my own. I need heavenly resources, made readily available through Christ. Yes, God had already given us much earthly wisdom, abilities and talents. And He expects us to use them. But as we get into the heart of the battle, we realise that it is a battle of the heart. Only God can move hearts. Only prayer can move God.

REST
Lord, I pray that I will always remember to pray.

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.

Real Good News

by Rev Lai Kai Ming

Readings: 2 Kings 23:31-25:30; Proverbs 18:22

READ (verse/s chosen for meditation)
2 Kings 25:27-28 (NKJV)
Now it came to pass in the thirty-seventh year of the captivity of Jehoiachin king of Judah … that Evil-Merodach king of Babylon, in the year that he began to reign, released Jehoiachin king of Judah from prison. He spoke kindly to him, and gave him a more prominent seat than those of the kings who were with him in Babylon.

REFLECT
Just when the reader begins to conclude that Israel has been totally forsaken by their God, the book of Kings ends with a twist. For some inexplicable reason, the Babylon king known as Evil sets free the last surviving king of Judah. Was God being kind to Jehoiachin? Perhaps … but the latter was known to be evil and there is no record that he repented. One can only conclude that Jehoiachin‘s release and kingly treatment by the enemy was a pure act of grace by the God of Israel.

RELATE
It must be tough being God. As a father, He must be loving. But as a father, He must discipline his child too. Christians who fall into sin repeatedly can’t help but wonder – when would be my last chance? When would I be kicked out of the Promise Land, never to return? I would then ask – when would a true father give up on his son or daughter? Never! Can we sin so much that there would not be grace sufficient to cover us? That would be an insult to the Cross of Christ. While this understanding is not an excuse to keep sinning, it is the main reason that Christianity is good news.

REST
Lord, show me the extent of Your love, that I will have no desire to sin anymore.

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.