Restoration of the soul

by Rev Jason Phua

Bible Reading: Nehemiah 12:27-13:31; Proverbs 28:17-18

READ (verses chosen for meditation)
Nehemiah 12:43 “And they offered great sacrifices that day and rejoiced, for God had made them rejoice with great joy; the women and children also rejoiced. And the joy of Jerusalem was heard far away.”

REFLECT
On the day which the wall of Jerusalem was dedicated to mark the rebuilding of the city, the people offered great sacrifices and celebrated with great joy. It is mentioned in verse 43 that God “had made” them to rejoice with great joy.

Does this mean that such a joy did not come from the people but was “forced” by God? Surely not! I think what God did was to enable the people to remember how important Jerusalem was, as a marker for their faith. The downfall of Jerusalem had crushed their spirit because it symbolised how far they have gone away from God; hence the rebuilding symbolised their dedication to rebuild what they have lost. That surely called for celebration and joy.

At the end of the day, what Nehemiah was trying to rebuild or restore wasn’t so much of the physical city; but more of their souls. The soul (life) that was once so intimate with the Lord our God. The wall of Jerusalem symbolised the commitment of the remnant to once again live the life that God had called them. The faithful shall rise again. Souls shall be restored back to the embrace of the Father; just as the wall of Jerusalem.

RELATE
There could be times when we sin against God and tried to rebuild the “structures” of our lives. For example, we could promise ourselves that we would do morning devotion on a daily basis. We could try to prevent ourselves from becoming tempted again by using some computer software for viewing on the Internet. We could even be asking our spouse to be our accountability partners.

While these “structures” can be good starting points, they do not last if our hearts are not sincere for change. Just like the walls of Jerusalem, they could be a great symbol of faith but it will not last the test of time if its inhabitants were to sin against God time and again.

What is really needed is true repentance. A heart that truly understands the condition of our sinfulness, a heart that grieves over our sins, a heart that is convicted of the need to change, and a heart that depends on the grace of God for change. Be it that we take a long time to grow or change; change must be effected and we cannot give up. Then even as we rejoice that the wall of Jerusalem is being restored in our lives; we are committed to defend these walls right till the very end.

REST
Lord my God, help me as a pilgrim in the journey of faith, to have a tender heart for change. To change for the better. To change so as to become more like You. Amen.

Peace Or Pissed

Passing the peace is a major and necessary part of the ritual for Word and Table Service in the Methodist Church.

The Peace is sandwiched between Confession/Pardon and the Great Thanksgiving. The celebrant says, “Let us offer one another signs of reconciliation and love.” And the congregation rises up from the comfort of their seats, reach out to their neighbours, grasp their hands and say, “Peace” or “The peace of Christ. Shalom.”

The gesture is simple yet the meaning is profound. But we have often denigrated it to be a form of greeting rather than a sign of reconciliation.

Peace or PissedThe purpose of passing the peace of Christ is to affirm with one another, “I am at peace with Christ. And I am at peace with you.” This is not a greeting. This is not an intermission when we catch up with each other or meet new comers. This is an intended sign of reconciliation.

And which congregation in the church doesn’t need that?

In any circle of relationships, there will always be people who pissed you off and those who are pissed by you.

Yet we are called to Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3).

Passing the peace is a major step towards that. It is saying, “I am at peace with God and I want to be at peace with you.”

Otherwise, in other occasions you would rather avoid people who pissed you. You would rather not speak with them. But now you touch, shake hands and speak “Peace.” And the silence is broken, the bad vibes canceled and the negative feelings drained out.

Passing the peace is an important tradition we need to keep and practice. It expressly identifies us as peacemakers. It trains our hearts, our hands and our lips to speak peace. Just like we train our children to say “please” and “thank you.” And even though initially they might do so without much sincerity or doubt the value of such gestures yet over time through regular practice, their hearts are eventually filled with grace and gratitude.

In fact our Lord Jesus encourages us to do so. In Matthew 5:24-25 He said:

“Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.”

It is for this reason passing the Peace always comes before Communion. Before you offer your gift at the altar, Jesus says, “be reconciled.”

Let the peace that guides you to the Lord’s Table be the peace that guides you to your coffee table and lunch table.

Let us remember we are reconciled people of God whom Jesus invites to His Table.

Like any family, there will always be strife, hurts and resentment. Don’t be pissed. Pass the peace.

Repentance can be painful

by Rev Jason Phua

Bible Reading: Ezra 10:1-44; Psalm 119:33-48

READ (verses chosen for meditation)
Ezra 10:3-4 “Therefore let us make a covenant with our God to put away all these wives and their children, according to the counsel of my lord and of those who tremble at the commandment of our God, and let it be done according to the Law.”

REFLECT
Oh what a horrible suggestion by Shecaniah the son of Jehiel! How could the people of God be asked to put away their wives and children just because they were foreigners?! Even if Israel sinned against God by marrying foreigners, how could a suggestion be made (and later adopted) to destroy families like this? What does this mean for marriages now? Is God telling us to file for divorce if our spouse is not Christian?

If the above thoughts are in our minds when we read Ezra 10, then we could be guilty of a common reasoning error: “Hasty Generalisation”. Contextually, Ezra 10 described a unique situation of Israel when they were given the opportunity to rebuild themselves physically and spiritually from exile. They themselves acknowledged that they have sinned gravely against God because in the first place they directly violated the Mosaic Law (which they have covenanted with God).

Furthermore, the fact was that through such marriages, Israel was spiritually compromised through idol worship. Hence, the lesson here is not about whether one should file for divorce of a non-Christian spouse (For more guidance on this matter; can refer to 1 Corinthians 7:13-14 as well as 1 Peter 3:1-2) rather it is about true repentance. It is about the spirit of repentance which Ezra and the people had when they realised how they have grieved God and how God had graciously dealt with them for nearly 900 years. Yes, it was a painful act of repentance; but they realised they had to do it if they truly want to turn back to God and start anew.

RELATE
True repentance can be painful because it is the act of turning away from our sin and turning towards God. The act of turning away from our sin can be painful because we might be asked to severe ties with something or even someone we love.

For example, we could be asked to severe ties with undesirable materials on the Internet we so cherished. They could be materials which “comfort” us, even when temporarily on days when we feel lousy or stressed. Or we could even be asked to think twice about being in a romantic relationship with a person who is not sharing the same faith as us.

Yet, if the pain (in repentance) does not take place; we know that we could be in a worse position. We could be dwelling in a downward spiral of sin and even end up in a well so deep that coming back up would be immensely challenging. Or we could even cause harm to the person we profess to love if we do not make that tough decision.

Ezra 10 gives the hope that even if repentance is painful; it can be done with God. And when we truly repent to glorify God; we can enjoy the spiritual freedom and joy of which it brings. We can put things right again. Who knows, perhaps those who witnessed such acts of repentance would be so moved to give their lives to God; because they realised that only a God who truly loves would demand such obedience. Let us therefore put our trust in Him, for no matter how painful it might be; repentance is necessary for spiritual revival and the new life.

REST
Lord, search my heart and empower me to severe ties with things in my life which affects my relationship with You. Amen.

Me?

A church member told me this story, which I have her permission to share.

She was about to board a plane at Taipei Airport. She placed her hand carried bag on the conveyor belt for the X-ray machine. Went through the metal detecting gantry. Had her body checked. Then as she was queuing to have her passport stamped, a custom officer hollered at the top of her voice, “Who left this bag?” And the immediate thought that came to the mind of my church member was, “Who can be as stupid as that to leave the bag?”

As she turned to look, she was shocked to see it was her bag with the specially tied yellow ribbons on it.

Me?Such is the surprising truth of life.

We wonder, “Who can be as stupid as that?” then we realized, “It’s me!”

We think, “Who would say such hurtful things that leave unimaginable pain in the hearts of those you love?” then we realized “It’s me!”

We ponder, “Who in the world would eat things that damage the health of their bodies?” then we realized, “It’s me!”

We imagine, “Who would ever fall romantically for another when they have caring spouses and loving families?” then we realized, “It’s me!”

And the list goes on.

Deep within we know we are just as stupid, wicked, selfish, proud, envious, lustful, lazy, addicted, bigoted, biased, bitter and more.

We are just as capable and culpable. We are just as vulnerable if given the same circumstances, timing and mood. No one is spared except for Jesus.

So the Scriptures warn.

“Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall” (I Corinthians 10:12).

“Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment …” (Romans 12:3).

There was a farmer who sold a pound of butter to a baker. One day the baker decided to weigh the butter to see if he was getting the right amount, which he wasn’t. Angry about this, he took the farmer to court.

The judge asked the farmer if he was using any measure to weight the butter. The farmer replied, “I am primitive. I don’t have a proper measure, but I do have a scale.”

The judge asked, “Then how do you weigh the butter?”

The farmer replied; “Your Honour, long before the baker started buying butter from me, I have been buying a pound loaf of bread from him. Every day when the baker brings the bread, I put it on the scale and give him the same weight in butter.”

When you don’t like something you see, don’t scoff, sneer or sue. Look intently within for you might just see your mirrored self and whimper, “Me?

Moved by Unmoved

On bended knee I come,

With a humble heart I come;

Bowing down before Your holy throne …

This song was sung during a recent Bible Study. Somehow it brings to my mind a rather common scene in many Korean dramas.

A man sought to have an audience with the King. But the King did not want to meet him. But the man refused to be turned away by the court officials. He went on bended knee, knelt and waited outside the King’s chamber. For a long time he remained kneeling. By then there were whispering concerns by worried onlookers. The night began to fall. The rain came. Still the man did not move an inch from his kneeling position. He waited and waited. All this time the King was watching from His royal chambers. He was moved by the man who remained unmoved. Eventually he came out to meet the man and hears his cause.

It is so easy to give up and give in to thinking that waiting is a waste of time.

The Bible is full of the injunction to wait.

“Wait on the Lord; be of good courage, and He shall strengthen your heart; Wait, I say, on the Lord!” (Psalms 27:14)

“I will wait for You … My God of mercy shall come to meet me” (Psalms 59:9-10). 

“My soul, wait silently for God alone, for my expectation is from Him” (Psalms 62:5).

We read biblical accounts of those who waited.

Like Abraham who was promised a child, waited some 24 years before he became a father.

Like Simeon whom the Holy Spirit revealed that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. He waited his entire life to see the child Jesus.

Or like the prophet Anna who year after year, decade after decade was waiting with fasting and prayers night and day hoping to see “the redemption of Jerusalem.”

Their wait was rewarded.

Just so we need to go on bended knee. Wait upon the Lord

– When circumstances are uncontrollable and uncontainable

– When people are unreasonable and unchangeable

– When problems are unexplainable and unmanageable

The promise is clear:

“No eye has seen a God besides you, who acts for those who wait for Him” (Isaiah 64:4).

It’s because God is always moved when we are truly unmoved in waiting for Him.

Doc … what?

by Rev Jason Phua

Bible Reading: Titus 2:1-15; Proverbs 28:3-5

READ (verses chosen for meditation)
Titus 2:1 “But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine.”

REFLECT
Right. Today’s devotion is on sound doctrine.

Sorry … doc … what? Yes, doctrine. Nothing to do with doctors or the latrine but quite simply in the Greek it means “teaching” or “instructions”. So in the context of church, it is a set of instructions given to exhort or encourage right behaviour. Such instructions are supposed to be “sound” as they are derived from our understanding of the Bible.

Sometimes, we get the mistaken idea that “sound doctrine” must mean some complicated theological ideas. No, it is not supposed to be that way. Just take a look at Titus 2:1-15. Sound doctrine here refers not to complex concepts; but rather how one should behave as a Christian; as one saved by the very grace of God. For example, in Titus 2, sound doctrine for the Christian has to do with self-control, renouncing worldly passions, sound speech, loving one another, among other things. In other words, Paul was telling Titus to teach the church on how to live. Sound doctrine has to do with living the Christian life.

RELATE
Not sure about you, but sometimes I think Christians can be very presumptuous. We assume that the phrase “sound doctrine” must be reserved for those academically inclined. Or those academically inclined love to use such a phrase in order to sound “clever” among other Christians. Yet, many phrases like this, when understood correctly, are quite different from what it is presumed to be. Another example would be “theology”. That is just a word to describe the study of the nature of God. It is not some jargon designed to trip up believers or destroy their faith. When a person starts to talk about God, he or she is practically doing theology.

Now why are such presumptions or misunderstandings occurring? I believe it has to do with ironically how sometimes we do not follow Paul’s exhortation to “teach what accords with sound doctrine”. In Titus 2, I believe Paul wasn’t just telling Titus to provide content. He was telling Titus to explain his content well as he himself explained that we are able to behave in a godly way because of Jesus. In Titus 2:7, Paul was even telling Titus to make himself an example of what sound doctrine means!

Alas. I do know of some so called Bible scholars who teach in the opposite of what Paul was suggesting to Titus. They like to use jargons and complex ideas to speak of a very simple thing. They like to make it sound as if theology or doctrine is purely an academic exercise for those with half a brain like theirs. To me, they make matters worse. They led people to misunderstand that there are two groups of Christian in this world: those smart enough to understand complicated ideas; and those who are not. This is not the truth and we are just not loving when we teach in this way.

There are also times when such misunderstandings occur because we absorb without thinking of the latest fads, teachings or hearsay without investigation. We do not question the origin nor the authority of such a hearsay, teaching or fad. Rather, we choose to hear what we like and make conclusions based on our own preferences. Such a learning attitude can be disastrous too; especially if we keep telling ourselves that our own experience is “king”.

So what can we do? May I suggest:

  1. Those called to teach – teach as how Paul exhorted Titus to teach. Teach deeply but simply. More importantly, do what we teach. Be an example to the flock.
  2. When we listen to teachings, discern. Discern through the word of God, the community of faith and constant prayer in the Spirit.

I believe if we can do more of these, more and more of us would not trip over phrases like “sound doctrine”; but embrace the word of God as it is. In this way, we can focus on what is important: being doers of the word.

REST
Lord my God, help us as a church to be wise and walk in Your ways. Amen.

You are who you worship

by Rev Jason Phua

Bible Reading: Jeremiah 49:23–50:46, Psalm 115:1-18

READ (verses chosen for meditation)
Psalm 115:8 “Those who make them become like them; so do all who trust in them.”

REFLECT
The Psalmist in Psalm 115 talked about Israel’s worship of idols. These idols could not hear, speak, see or even feel. They were the work of human hands. They could be made of silver and gold, but they were still brought forth by the imagination and beliefs of human beings. Hence, the Psalmist lamented that when Israel made or put their trust in such idols, they became like them. They could not “hear, see, speak or even feel”. They became as “worthless” as these idols. In the end, many of them could not appreciate the beauty, glory and truth about God; and even broke away from His love.

RELATE
In this day and age, most of us do not worship idols such as those worshiped by Israel. However, many of us might be struggling with “idolatry” brought forth by our time spent with our hand phones or gaming media on a daily basis. If we are not careful, we might become more and more like what we are spending our time on. We could become just like our hand phones: having much data or information, but very lacking in real human interaction or involvement.

We could become so entrenched in the hyper activity brought forth by gaming that we become increasingly distant to real people in the real world. We could even become easily angered or irritated with people around us. As we continue to worship (or become addicted to) such devices, we might just become more and more like them; great to look at on the outside, but real hollow on the inside.

We become who or what we worship. Therefore, let us focus our eyes upon the One who is truly worthy of our attention so that we can become more like Him.

REST
Lord, help us to take a step back and realise how much we have come to rely on our devices. Help us to break away from such addictions (if any) so that we can re-focus on You. We know that this is the best way. May the Holy Spirit empower us to be in the best way. Amen.