Pigs or men?

by Rev Jason Phua

Bible Reading: Matthew 8:18-34; Psalm 133:1-3

READ (verses chosen for meditation)
Matthew 8:32-34
32 And he said to them, “Go.” So they came out and went into the pigs, and behold, the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the sea and drowned in the waters. 33 The herdsmen fled, and going into the city they told everything, especially what had happened to the demon-possessed men. 34 And behold, all the city came out to meet Jesus, and when they saw him, they begged him to leave their region.

It was a peculiar scene. Jesus just helped the entire city drove out powerful demons and all the people wanted was to ask Jesus to leave. Why? The text did not say in specific details but we can make good inferences based on what happened. The problem could be because Jesus acceded to the demons’ request to be driven into a herd of pigs. Under powerful demonic influences, the pigs drove themselves into the waters. Witnessing such a scene, the herdsmen fled and probably told all in the city that even though Jesus drove away demons, they have lost their mighty possessions (pigs were a livelihood after all). The city could be in fear that they could lose more if Jesus had stayed. In a way, it was preferred that the demon-possessed men stayed that way and the herdsmen could keep their pigs.

By asking Jesus to leave, a choice was made by the city-dwellers. The choice to retain whatever possessions they have left for fear of losing them. They preferred to have not witnessed the power of salvation but to keep whatever the world can offer. It is easy to judge them however. It is easy to say that they were foolish to have missed the Messiah and gave in to fear.

Yet, we could just be as foolish at times. We could have easily choose possessions over Jesus. much of the time. We could have even chosen “pigs” instead of the salvation of fellow men. We do this when we cower at the inconvenience of caring for the people around us. We do this when we prefer to spend time at work than interacting with pre-believing friends or even family members. We do this when we pretend to be pious Christians on Sundays; but deep down, we could barely part with what we have. We do this when we prefer to protect our self-interest than to “risk” it for the sake of His kingdom.

Help us Lord, to choose You instead of what we think is important to us. Help us to have faith and seek Your kingdom first. Amen.

Light vs Darkness

by Rev Jason Phua

Bible Reading: Matthew 4:12-25; Proverbs 29:21-22

READ (verses chosen for meditation)
Matthew 4:15-16 “The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles — the people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned.”

Matthew 4:15-16 speaks of the prophecy that was given to the prophet Isaiah. A prophecy that pointed to the coming of Jesus as the Light of the world. In particular, we are told that the Light was made visible and dawned upon those who were living in darkness and even in the shadow of death.

Now, what does this mean? This means that Jesus came not because He wanted to set a new world order nor was He interested to be king of the world. Instead, Jesus came to bring light into our fallen world. In particular, Jesus had brought Himself to be God incarnate to be the source of salvation for those who are lost and grieving. Indeed, Jesus is the Light that was made visible and dawned upon those who were living in darkness.

My daughter has a fear for darkness. Up till this day, she would ask me to accompany her if there is a need for her to go to dark places. Sometimes, I would tell her that because Jesus is with her, she need not fear. Jesus is the Light and He can overcome all darkness. Of course, there are times when she cannot appreciate such an imagery when all she saw in front of her is physical darkness.

Yes, physical darkness can be an overwhelming experience for some. However, what Jesus promised was much deeper than the overcoming of physical darkness. He had promised that He can help those who are living in darkness and even those in the shadow of death to gain victory.

Spiritual darkness can occur even when the sun is shining. Spiritual darkness is the imagery of how we are struggling in our sins or difficult circumstances which cause us much grief and tears. Yet, Jesus the Light has the power to penetrate our souls and purify us for His good purposes. Jesus the Light has the grace to provide hope and comfort even when we are in the valley of the shadow of death. The promise has been given ever since the time of Isaiah; what is left to do is to come to the Light. What is left to do is to put our trust in Him and follow the Light; as He said to the disciples a few verses later in Matthew 4: 18-20: “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men”.

Jesus, help me to be humble and come to you, especially when I struggle with spiritual darkness. This is because You are the only Light that can help overcome and empower. Amen.

God is King!

by Rev Jason Phua

Bible Reading: Zechariah 14:1-21; Proverbs 29:2-4

READ (verses chosen for meditation)
Zechariah 14:9 “And the LORD will be king over all the earth. On that day the LORD will be one and his name one.”

Ever wonder what Zechariah 14 is talking about? If we are to read the entire chapter, it seems like the prophet was talking about the day when God shall be back to reign forever. Isn’t it peculiar that the prophet spoke of God being “king over all the earth”? What earth? Wouldn’t it be “heaven”? Does it mean that this earth will remain in the Day and thereafter of the Second Coming of Jesus?

Revelation 21 is pretty clear that there will be a new heaven and a new earth; but the first earth and first heaven shall pass away. This means that God shall be King over the new earth and believers shall reign with God in our glorified bodies. Yet, isn’t the Bible stating the obvious? We all know that God is King; whether in the past, now or future. Why was there a need for the prophet to declare that God will be King over all the earth? I believe it is not so much that Zechariah was stating the obvious, but he was making the important point that on that day, everyone shall recognise that God is indeed King. Everyone shall come to the true conviction that God is King over all aspects of our life.

Knowing that God is King and recognising with conviction that God is King are two different matters. Knowing that God is King can just be a form of theological knowledge or awareness. However, knowing that God is King as conviction can propel one into godly action. This is because when we are convicted that God is King; we bow to the King with our lives. When we are convicted that God is King; we pledge allegiance to the King cut off old allegiances with other things or persons that are affecting our relationship with the true King.

In other words, when we declare that God is King, we are actually declaring that we shall yield and bow to the King in all areas of our lives. We want to surrender to the King to help us in areas of our lives that are not honourable to Him. This would be how we truly treat God as King; and not as like some who merely want some favours from the King but refuse to yield where it matters. The Lord is indeed “king over all the earth”!

Lord, having consistent conviction that You are King over all areas of my life is a challenging journey. Yet, in You is the grace and power to surrender. Help me therefore with the grace of my Lord Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit to yield to you all aspects of my life; this is so that Your Name be glorified in all that I am and all that I do. Amen.

Life in the word

by Rev Jason Phua

Bible Reading: Zechariah 2:1-3:10; Psalm 119:153-176

READ (verses chosen for meditation)
Psalm 119:156 “Great is your mercy, O LORD; give me life according to your rules.”

Psalm 119:156 is a clear teaching that we can find life in God’s word. Especially on days when we need the mercies of God, His word can revive us. Yes, we can find the true meaning of life even in His commandments. Why is this so? Because as human beings, we are meant to live to the fullest through our obedience of God’s word. We are meant to rely on God’s word for righteousness.

One of the most important things that God spoke to Adam and Eve about (just because it is recorded in the Bible) was His instructions for how they should regard the Tree of Life as well as the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Through God’s instructions; it was hoped that Adam and Eve learned the essence of life through obedience.

Indeed, God’s word is meant to be our signpost and our manual for living. It was never meant to be something that wearies our soul. So even as Jesus had come to give us life, we are still called to the obedience of God’s word in faith. This was why the Psalmist exclaimed that God was merciful because He is able to give life according to His rules.

At times, I hear from some believers that we need not focus so much on the word of God. As long as we have faith in Jesus, we need not be too worried on how we can understand the Bible better. Yet, how can we have faith if we do not understand? Where is the source of our faith? What is our faith telling us about living the new life? How can we fend off heresies (which is ever so rampant) if we are not even sure what the word of God is saying?

Albert Outler, a theologian who wrote much about John Wesley and his writings, coined the term “Wesleyan Quadrilateral”. The Wesleyan Quadrilateral outlined four sources which John Wesley used when making theological conclusions. These four sources are “Scripture”, “Tradition”, “Reason” and “Experience”. “Scripture” being the word of God as given to us in the Bible; “Tradition” as the historical evidence that is linked to the faith; “Reason” as being what is needed to understand “Scripture” but is to be guided by the Holy Spirit; and “Experience” is the way we experience about what is in “Scripture” such as the assurance of faith.

Of these four sources, Wesley (as well as Outler) didn’t have the idea that they are of equal importance nor authority. To Wesley, Scripture is always of the first authority and Scripture is the foundation to interpret “Tradition”, “Experience” and even “Reason”. After all, Wesley had called himself as a “man of one book”.

Like the Psalmist, Wesley understood the importance of Scripture and how it affects our life in Christ. In God’s mercy, let us therefore rejoice that He has given to us His commandments to follow; for surely we can obey and enjoy the true meaning of life in Christ Jesus. We can find mercies in His word.

Help us Lord as a church universal, not to despise a deeper understanding of Your word; but to be assured by the Spirit that Your word is life. Amen.

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.”

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.

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.

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.”

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.

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.

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