The Great Separator

The Great SeparatorChurch Services are suspended. Now I don’t worry about skipping Church anymore. No more guilt. The perfect excuse for those who aren’t that excited about Church.

Covid-19 is a great separator. It separates the committed and the nominal. It reveals those who are serious about their faith and those who won’t that committed.

Covid-19 separates the ones who would rather be at the greens to improve their swings and the ones who rather be in church to improve their walk with the Lord.

Covid-19 is a great separator. It separates those who want to play more and those who want to pray more.

This Corona virus reveals the true state of our soul. It is as if a light was suddenly switched on and the hidden things in the darkness of our soul became clearly visible.

Covid-19 reveals true worshippers. It draws the line between two kinds of online worshippers.

On the one side are those who think since no one is watching them in the privacy of their home, they need not be at their Sunday best. They watch the live stream service in their nightwear, hands holding a coffee mug and newspapers, slouching on their sofa with their feet up on the coffee table.

On the other side there are those who worship at home as if they are in the Sanctuary of their church. They don’t just watch. They participate. They stand to sing with the others in the screen. They bow in prayer when it was time to do so. They send their offering via the QR code. They don’t talk. They don’t snack. They are not distracted by the noise and demands of their kids. They are focused on worship. They listen intently to the Word being preached online. They believe God is present in the sanctuary of their hearts; and He seeks those who truly worship Him in spirit and in truth (John 4:23-24).

Covid-19 throws up those who are true worshippers. It separates those who speak the Word and those who live the Word.

Covid-19 is a great separator. It separates the selfless and the selfish. It tells us in no uncertain ways who are the considerate who think not of their own survival but the survival of others even their own country.

Covid-19 is the great separator. It divides the faithful from the fearful, the devoted from the wayward and the selfless from the selfish. Which side of the divide are you?

Is this God’s way of separating the sheep from the goats even before He comes again?

Is this God’s way of separating the “lappers” from the “kneelers” (Judges 7:5-7) to find the 300 Gideon men to fight for Him?

In this challenging time of great disruption to church life and ministry caused by Covid-19 may we be numbered among the 300 called to fight the army of 135,000 in the future.

The Puzzling Theology of Healing

One of the most puzzling things about our understanding of God is in the area of healing.

On one end of the spectrum, some preach that God always heals as long as you have faith. At the other end of the spectrum, they preach that miraculous healing has ended with the age of the Apostles. In between, yet others say that God is able to heal but sometimes He chooses not to for reasons known only to Him and when He does that, He is still good.

The fact is many faithful Christians have died of sicknesses – in some cases, young persons too – and in most of the cases, if not all, strong faith preceded the prayers of healing – yet, these dear saints died. Are there reasons why a family, especially a Christian family, for instance, could suffer the death of a child or young person?

First, some say it is because God was punishing them or their children for their sins. 2Sam.12:13-14 – King David’s son died because of David’s sin of adultery and murder; Job 1 – his ungodly children died because of their sins; Ananias and Sapphira in Ac.5 died because they lied. Punishment may be a reason – but that’s not the only possibility.

Second, it could also be the Lord’s discipline for the Lord disciplines those whom He loves (Heb.12:6) and His form of discipline may include sickness and death.

Third, it could be the work of the devil. The story of Job tells us Satan’s involvement in the death of Job’s children. The New Testament tells us that Satan could inflict sickness and oppression too – Mt.9:32; Lk.13:11; 2Cor.12:7.

Fourth, it could be a consequence of sin in our world and the fallen state of humanity.

Fifth, we just don’t know why. We don’t know everything – we won’t, we can’t. Some things are simply beyond us as our minds are finite. These are five possible reasons amongst others.

For me, the conclusion of the matter is anchored in Who God is. The Bible tells us He is gracious, loving and righteous. He always does what is right. The perfectly righteous God will not and can not do what is wrong. “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” (Ge.18:25) Thus, maybe we should respond like David did after his son’s death, he worshipped the Lord and devoted himself to the Lord which earned David the title, “a man after God’s own heart” (Ac.13:22).

Barnabas Chong

Let’s Be Impressed With God!

I remember Floyd McClung shared in a conference in 1991 about a prayer meeting he had attended in Stockholm. He said something like this, “As pornography especially child and teen porn were rampant in Stockholm, those who were at the prayer meeting shared with each other the latest news and updates about it. They talked about how terrible the perpetrators were and how horrible some of the cases were, etc. They kept saying to each other, “did you hear about this case ….”, “did you know …”, etc.

This went on for quite a significant amount of time. At one point, an elderly lady who had remained quiet the entire time suddenly spoke up. Since she was new and had been quietly listening, everyone stopped and gave her the floor. She said, ‘Looks to me like you are all pretty impressed with what the devil is doing in this city, going on and on about the details of each horrific act committed; shouldn’t we be more impressed with God and what He is able to do amidst all these when God’s people pray? We should get on with the prayer meeting.'”

Lately, there’s been a lot of videos, pictures, texts, etc. about Covid-19 sent back and forth amongst many people on social media. It’s not necessarily a bad thing to keep each other updated. But maybe, just maybe, we too should be more focused on God’s greatness and power, and on what He wants to do and is able to do in our world today. Let’s be impressed with God!

Psalm 68:1 God shall arise, his enemies shall be scattered; and those who hate him shall flee before him! 2 As smoke is driven away, so you shall drive them away; as wax melts before fire, so the wicked shall perish before God! 3 But the righteous shall be glad; they shall exult before God; they shall be jubilant with joy!

4 Sing to God, sing praises to his name; lift up a song to him who rides through the deserts; his name is the LORD; exult before him! 5 Father of the fatherless and protector of widows is God in his holy habitation. 6 God settles the solitary in a home; he leads out the prisoners to prosperity, but the rebellious dwell in a parched land. …

32 O kingdoms of the earth, sing to God; sing praises to the Lord, Selah 33 to him who rides in the heavens, the ancient heavens; behold, he sends out his voice, his mighty voice. 34 Ascribe power to God, whose majesty is over Israel, and whose power is in the skies. 35 Awesome is God from his sanctuary; the God of Israel–he is the one who gives power and strength to his people. Blessed be God!

Barnabas Chong

Many of Us Have Rather Amazing Mental Capacity and Intelligence!

A young graduate said, “I’ve got a degree, finally!” Another said, “I completed my master’s degree!” Yet another said, “I did it! I hold a phd now!”

This is common in Singapore, so many Singaporeans have achieved great things – for some, it’s educational, for others, in various fields of specialisation. The intellectual capacity of many Singaporeans are amazing. I have a friend who doesn’t have a university degree – but every time we talk, he seems to know so much about so many things!

I have also heard many people say that Christianity is a middle-class religion – well, it is not – but the truth is, there are many in the church who are doing very well in their careers, many who are highly intelligent and middle-class (but that doesn’t mean Christianity is a middle-class religion or middle-class only religion).

The puzzling thing is this – while there are many folks in church who are so intelligent, who have such great mental capacity – but when it comes to sharing our faith with non-believers, we are often clueless! We find it difficult to answer tough questions non-believers throw at us.

What does this tell us? I think it is as simple as this: we have not put our amazing and intelligent minds to LEARNING how to share our faith.

We would sign up for 8 hours of cooking class to learn to cook, 12 hours to learn how to invest our money, 20 hours to learn how to play golf, 10 hours to learn how to dance, etc., but we will not sign up for a course in church on how to share Christ. We would rather invite them to come listen to Nicky Gumbel (for instance) share the gospel on our behalf! What have we become? A generation of inviters? Thought we are called to be a generation of witnesses. Nothing wrong with the Alpha Course, I love it and it has led many to Christ – but it should never become something that make us not promote personal one-to-one sharing of our faith.

A good starting point in learning how to share our faith is for instance, instead of watching all kinds of humorous and entertaining YouTube videos, to watch this one and see how Ray Comfort shares the gospel with two young persons. There’s a lot we can learn from this 19 min video.

“For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me.” (Phil.1:21-22)

Barnabas Chong

Two Ways People Respond to Pain

Two possible responses from those who go through pain. Take control or give God control.

I have often seen those who decided to take control of the situation themselves fail time after time, go through more and more pain. They get angry with everyone and they get angry with God for not helping. But how can God help when we keep turning to our own wisdom and our own ways? They have no patience to wait on the Lord, they didn’t stay still enough to hear what God had to say about the situation. They wanted something done instantly and were not willing to let God do it in His time. As a result, their problems kept recurring, they just won’t go away. There were occasional seasons of calm and rest and that was only because human wisdom can help for a while, but in the long run, the problem was not solved. The heart still hurt because healing didn’t and couldn’t take place.

On the other hand, I’ve seen those who give God control and laid their pain at His feet. They humbly realised that they were absolutely in need of God and His wisdom. They listened to godly counsel, and they waited upon the Lord and listened to what He had to say. Then, they acted in obedience no matter how difficult it was to do so. They didn’t take matters into their own hands, they waited patiently for the Lord to act in His perfect time. Though deeply troubled, they chose to find rest in God and in His Word. Though the waiting took time, it was always good in the end. Healing took place – it came from the Lord and His Word.

So, in times of pain, should we take control or give God control? The answer is obvious – complete surrender to His love, grace and will. The God Who is love and Who is perfectly righteous will not and can-not do wrong. His love never fails and His mercies are new every morning!

Isaiah 40:28 Have you not known? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. 29 He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength. 30 Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; 31 but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.

Barnabas Chong

Can a Student Go to School Daily and Not Learn Anything?

Can a student go to school daily and not learn anything? Of course. Can you attend a seminar on investment and come out not knowing how to invest? Of course.

Is it possible then that a person goes to church regularly and yet not think, talk and act like a Christian? OF COURSE! Can a person sing worship songs with great zeal without being a true worshipper who lives a life of surrender to God? Yes, most definitely. Finally, can you and I go through a discipleship programme without becoming a true disciple of Christ – one who is faithful in following Him and obedient to His Word? Without doubt, yes!

In each of these scenarios, what does it take to emerge as one who has learned and is changed by what is taught? What do we tell our children when they don’t do well in school?

We tell them to get interested with what is taught, pay attention, do the reading, do the homework, make sacrifices, play less, be more focused, ask questions when they don’t understand, learn materials from other schools, work on their past exam papers, don’t give up, make friends with the hardworking students, don’t hang out with those who are not interested in school, etc. It’s mostly the same for everything else.

Ps.1:1 Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; 2 but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. 3 He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers. 4 The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away.

Barnabas Chong

Two Most Important Things Are Now the Two Weakest Things?

Isn’t it interesting that the two most important things that Jesus commissioned us to do (in the Great Commission – Mt.28:18-20) are the same two things that are weakest in most churches today?

First, evangelism. Winning souls wherever Christians are located daily is not a strength in too many churches. When the church today thinks of evangelism, we usually think of massive outreach efforts, large scale events that we do a few times a year (not to mention spending lots of money running these events). We don’t think about winning souls daily in our work places, schools and neighbourhoods.

Second, discipleship. While most churches run Bible studies of all sorts, often well-attended too, yet disciple-making the Jesus way seldom happen. Discipleship does not take place in a classroom, it takes place in daily living when we do life together – it’s a daily mission out in the streets, in public and wherever God places us. In these contexts, we can then encourage and teach each other to obey everything Jesus has commanded us – that’s the Jesus way. There is no point in singing passionately about how much we love Jesus and walk out the church doors and not live in obedience to Him (or as Billy Graham said, “deny Him by our lifestyle”). There is no point in having warm fellowship and do all kinds of fun and interesting things in church with fellow believers when we don’t seem to care about a larger world of non-believers outside the church.

Has the devil rob us of something here? The devil is an expert in switching the price tags so we end up valuing the things that are of lesser value. The church today must stay true to the Great Commission of Jesus Christ, otherwise, we are just another exclusive club.

Mt.28:18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Barnabas Chong

Covid Check

We have just entered the Season of Lent. Besides praying, fasting and giving, Lent is the time for the annual spiritual check on our souls.

Covid CheckAs I did some soul searching today I realized how much we fear the Covid-19 outbreak.

Covid-19 has changed the way we work, the way we conduct our meetings and the way we socialize.

It has brought up the best of us and the worse of us. Some are willing to share their supply of facemasks and hand sanitizers. Others hoard them. Still others charge exorbitant prices for them.

The Covid-19 fear has led many into irrational behavior of panic buying. I can understand buying up surgical masks, disinfectants and hand sanitizers. But toilet papers?

Just when you thought this weird reaction is only peculiar to Singapore, you read about the snapping up of toilet papers in Japan that cleared the shelves of every shop.

After the rapid spike of Covid-19 cases, South Korea and Italy join in the panic rush to buy masks and groceries in drugstores and supermarkets. Pharmacies carried signs saying they’ve run out of protective masks and hand sanitizers.

People are so scared of the corona virus.

To top it all, market survey shows 37% of drinkers won’t touch Corona Extra beer because of the epidemic fear.

If we do a Covid check, we might easily conclude we fear the virus more than we fear the Lord.

If only we fear God like we fear Covid-19, which we cannot see but know for sure is real and deadly.

If only we monitor our spiritual temperature regularly like the way we conscientiously do now.

If only we wash our souls as much as we wash our hands and sanitize them whenever we touch something suspiciously unclean.

If only we masked ourselves to prevent the spread of sinful infection in our lives and the lives of others.

If only we avoid visiting and going to known places that contaminate our minds and our bodies.

If only we self impose isolation just to be in solitude with the Lord.

If only our travel history shows that we have been in the Presence of God.

If only we read the Bible like we read the report of Covid-19 day after day.

If only we be just as weary of rumors of false teachings, fake insights circulating in the Internet, WhatsApps, Twitter and FaceBook.

If only we buy up opportune time to fill up our treasure trove of spiritual knowledge, insights and revelation instead of storing up rice, instant noodles and toilet papers.

If only we fear the Lord like we fear the virus.

LeCrae said, We fear circumstances so much because we fear God so little.”

Jesus made it clear: “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28). 

Let the spiritual check this Lent reveal that.

In the Face of Death

Lent is the season we are made to confront our mortality, and all the more so with Covid-19 looming over all our heads. As for our church, more acutely than ever, we are confronted with the fragility of life with the sudden passing of a dear sister. For all our medical and technological advances, death can only be delayed, not avoided altogether.

Death, for all its cruelty, however, when seen from God’s point of view, can be a great wake up call.

  1. Death challenges us to live for what’s eternal
    With Covid-19, God has exposed how vulnerable we truly are as stock markets tumble and fall. Sure, we all need money to pay the bills and put food on the table. Sure, God has called us to our vocations, but the question is – is money our God or our servant? Are we living only for ourselves or also for the benefit of others? From God’s point of view, money is useless in eternity. Only God is the true Provider and our source of security. And because we trust God to provide, one of the best uses of money is to help those in need. The poor will only be with us on this side of eternity. Will our wealth perish with us or will our wealth be used to rescue the perishing?
  2. Death challenges us to live from what’s eternal
    Someone once said, “If it’s not worth dying for, it’s not worth living for.” No one on their death bed lamented they could have spent more time at work; everyone longed to be a better child, spouse, and parent. Are you chasing promotion or prestige? Are you so angry with a family or friend that you have stopped all communications and fellowship? In light of the brevity of life, we have to ask ourselves, “Is what we live for really worth it?” My fellow Christians, learn to let go, forgive, and trust Papa God to take care of you – in every aspect of your life. Let’s live every day with a divine perspective.
  3. Death challenges us to live by what’s eternal
    Death challenges us to ask, “How are you living your life?” Are you living with a godly fear and clear heavenly purpose, relying on God’s Spirit daily?” Or as John Wesley would ask, “Is your life bearing the fruit of repentance and the evidence of salvation?” Death is scary, but it’s scarier if we fail to allow God’s eternal life to flow out through us day by day. Only God’s Spirit can empower to truly live holy and righteous lives, wholly pleasing to God. May we re-learn how to walk by faith and not by sight, living daily as we are led by the Holy Spirit. After all, it is only by God’s Spirit that we live, and move, and have our being.

The Great Good God Can Accomplish

by Rev Anthony Lee

Never underestimate what great good God can accomplish through terrible trouble.

Joseph thought his life ended when he was delivered into the pit. In the end, he became his family’s deliverer from the pits of death. That journey led Joseph to declare, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (Gen 50:20 NIV).

When persecution came against the early church, the Roman Empire expected Christianity to end. On the contrary, Christians were dispersed and preached the Gospel everywhere. Similarly, many people thought the church in China would die when foreign missionaries were expelled in 1950-1951. Instead, against all odds, the church grew exponentially. Indeed, as early church father Tertullian wrote, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church” (Apologeticus, Chapter 50).

Satan presumed he had won when Jesus was crucified. In reality, it was Jesus who prevailed because He would rise from the dead. Praise the Lord!

The Church is once again criticized and persecuted, as it has always been. But remember, as 2 Corinthians 4 declares,

7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. 8 We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; 9 persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.

Let’s always respond with grace, kindness, forgiveness, and generosity as Joseph did, and may we be used mightily by God in this terrible trouble to accomplish great good.

Arise, Shine

by Rev Anthony Lee

The church is in the spotlight.

As of 19 Feb 2020, there are 84 cases of Covid-19 in Singapore (46 under observation, 4 in critical condition, and 34 recovered and discharged – thank God!), out of which at least one-third are linked to churches.

Without going into practical and theological reasons why churches are badly affected, we have to recognize that churches are meant to shine in the first place – for good reasons, of course.

Jesus said, “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house” (Matthew 5:14–15).

In a world darkened by fear, our faith and good deeds are meant to shine!

Daniel 12:3 (NIV) says, “Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever.”

There is no better time than now – when so many are afraid of their lives – to guide people to righteousness, peace, and life in Christ Jesus. Our Taste of Alpha course is starting soon. Do boldly invite people to experience the life and peace we have in Christ Jesus.

Within our church, I hope we will also heed the advice of Apostle Paul when he said, “Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, ‘children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.’ Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life…” (Philippians 2:14–16a, NIV).

Please do not grumble against church leaders and all who watch over you in loving authority, as if they did not do enough to prevent the spread of the virus. Remember, Jesus taught that a house divided against itself cannot stand (Matthew 12:25; Mark 3:25; Luke 11:17).

Finally, I end with a most wonderful Scripture passage, Isaiah 60:1–3

1 “Arise, shine, for your light has come,
and the glory of the LORD rises upon you.
2 See, darkness covers the earth
and thick darkness is over the peoples,
but the LORD rises upon you
and his glory appears over you.
3 Nations will come to your light,
and kings to the brightness of your dawn.

What a glorious promise – our light will bring nations to the Lord!

May God help all of us to hold firmly to His words of life, living it out, and guiding others to Him through our light. Methodist Church, arise and shine!

Not Fear, But Trust

by Rev Anthony Lee

The news these two weeks have been replete with churches (and even pastors!) being infected with the novel Coronavirus (now named Covid-19).

In times like these, it is very easy to fall prey to our fears and lose sight of who our God is.

I am reminded of a passage in Daniel 3, where Daniel’s three friends were faced with the threat of a blazing furnace – which is a guaranteed and unavoidable situation (compared to contracting a virus which is non-guaranteed and largely avoidable). This is what happened in the face of impending danger.

16 Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to him, “King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. 17 If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. 18 But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”

First, Daniel’s three friends believed that God is able to deliver them from danger. In the same way, we know God is our Healer and Protector. God is able to deliver us from this virus.

However, Daniel’s three friends submitted themselves to God’s will. They said, “Even if God does not deliver us, we will not bow down…” Here, they trusted that God’s will and considerations are beyond their limited human understanding. They believed God is sovereign and good in all that He does, even if God does not act according to what they desired.

Finally, Daniel’s three friends did not bow down to fear – even in the face of death. Such is the true test of one’s faith. In particular, I commend to you an article written by Ps Chua Chung Kai (https://saltandlight.sg/faith/novel-coronavirus-testing-testing/) as he reflects on this situation.

In times like these, and at all times, may we never lose sight of who our God is – our God is able, our God is sovereign, our God is always good even when He chooses to test our faith.

W.U.H.A.N

There is no scarier word today than the mention of Wuhan.

WuhanThe city of Wuhan is the epicenter of the fast spreading Sars-like virus. As I write, it has taken 56 lives in China and the death toll is still escalating. There are near 2000 confirmed cases of this Wuhan virus. Ten cities of Hubei province, including Wuhan has been locked down. It affected 20 million residents. Restrictions of travel and public gatherings are imposed. All planned holiday activities are abruptly cancelled.

Anxiety and anger in Wuhan are high as worried residents crowd the hospitals where loved ones are being tested for the corona virus. Medical teams in hazmat suits are stressed in the rush to identify the infected.

The Wuhan virus has spread to other Chinese cities including Beijing, as well as Singapore, the United States, Thailand, South Korea, Japan, Australia, France, Canada and Nepal. There is a deepening concern this outbreak may become pandemic.

The situation that dominates our headlines is a clarion call for prayer.

Our hope lies in II Chronicles 20:9

“If disaster comes upon us, the sword, judgment, or pestilence, or famine, we will stand before this house and before You – for Your name is in this house – and cry out to You in our affliction, and You will hear and save.”

So we pray:

Dear God our Father in heaven, You are in control of all deadly virus. By Your command You bring forth pestilence to punish. And by Your Word You are able to deliver Your people from pestilence.

So we lift our eyes to You to pray for deliverance from this mutating and adapting Wuhan virus.

Give to the Chinese authorities and the governing bodies of cities and countries, the guided wisdom to prevent and contain the outbreak of this virus. 

Protect the medical health workers. Grant them vigilance and the uncanny ability to detect, identify and prescribe.  

Give to the medical researchers the ability to develop a vaccine to prevent and stop the virus. 

Give to those who lost their loved ones Your comfort and peace. 

Give to those who have caught this Wuhan virus, Your grace and strength to overcome and recover. 

Give to the people in the affected cities, the calm and co-operative spirit to act responsibly and not exacerbate the situation by their anger and frustration. 

We pray to the end that communities may learn to guard against contamination of their health and environment. But most of all, to be grateful to Your divine intervention in this Wuhan virus situation. In the name of Jesus and for His glory we pray. Amen.

May W.U.H.A.N remind us to practice good personal hygiene.

Wear surgical mask if you are sneezing and coughing.

U should take personal responsibility if you have a fever. Go see a doctor.

Hand washing is a good hygiene habit to observe.

Avoid going to Church or public places if you are sick.

Never take lightly the spread of flu virus.

Elevated

Story was told of a running coach in a school. He was looking for potential runners that he could train for track and field events.

One day he spotted a boy named Johnny. What caught his attention was he saw Johnny chasing after girls. Johnny was always running to meet the whims and fancy of every pretty girl in the school. Running to carry their books. Running to buy them a drink. Running to meet every girl that shay sway by the corridor.

The coach said to himself, “That boy has the potential of a great runner.”

So he invited Johnny to join his track and field team. At first Johnny was reluctant. Said he was busy with many things.” But the coach was very adamant and persuasive. Eventually Johnny agreed to give it a try.

The training was tough, rigorous and demanding. Johnny had to give up many things. He had to forgo his favourite fast food, his weekends, his pastimes, even his sleep just to get up early for the training.

There were times Johnny felt like quitting. But his teammates encouraged him not to give up but to press on.

Then came the big day when he had to run the 4X4 relay event.

The gun went off. His teammates gave their best. The race was tight. It was neck to neck with another team. When third baton was passed they lost their lead and was falling behind. But when Johnny took the last baton for the last lap, he ran like Usain Bolt.

His rigorous training paid off. The coach was right to see the potential in him.

Johnny eased passed the lead runner and reached the finish line. And the crowd gave uproar of applause and cheered with standing ovation.

For Johnny, the feeling was just indescribable. His coach was proud of him. His parents were proud of him. The school was proud of him. Most of all, Johnny was proud of himself.

And from then on, Johnny’s outlook in life changes.

ElevatedHe is still the full-blooded hormonal boy who is attracted to pretty girls. But now he has a higher purpose. He is realizing his potential. He is thinking of achieving his higher goal. He is no longer thinking of running after girls. He is thinking of running for the school. He is thinking of running for the SEA games. He is thinking of running in the Olympics.

His thoughts have elevated. His mind is no longer on “things below” but “things above.”

So the Word of God tells us:

“If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth” (Colossians 3:1-2 NIV)

We believe in what we want to believe

by Rev Jason Phua

Bible Reading: Matthew 21:23-46; Proverbs 30:29-31

READ (verses chosen for meditation)
Matthew 21:32 “For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him. And even when you saw it, you did not afterward change your minds and believe him.”

REFLECT
In our reading today, we witness how Jesus questioned the chief priests when they tried to push Him into the corner. It was a question they could not answer, mainly because they could not let go of their self-interest. Jesus knew the heart of the chief priests and hence warned them of their foolishness. Due to their pride and eagerness to protect their own interests, they could not even acknowledge the way of John’s righteousness. Even when they saw it for themselves, they could not believe because they only want to believe what was beneficial to themselves.

RELATE
How often are we like the chief priests? Even when righteousness is right before our eyes, we refuse to say a good word because we fear to lose our own interest. We can even refuse to acknowledge or believe. Worse, we can even side with those who are wicked. As a result, those who are righteous are at times persecuted not so much because of the world; but unfortunately because of the hypocrisy of fellow believers.

Do we have any excuse to claim that we do not know what is righteous? Maybe those who are young to the faith; but believers who have been feeding on the word should know better. We should know how to discern because we have the word of God with us. We also have the Holy Spirit in us! Then why do we keep on acting as if we do not know? Why do we keep on refusing what is good and right? Is it because like the chief priests, we fear to lose what we have in this world? Or like the Jewish elders, we fear to be put to shame even for the sake of righteousness? Help us Lord to repent if this is so!

REST
Lord my God, I seek your forgiveness for the times when I refuse to do what is right for the sake of my own skin. Help me to choose righteousness instead, even if it means that I will be persecuted for it!

Worry Rat

Just when you thought the Christmas shopping is over, the Lunar New Year shopping begins. And we join the rat race to get the best buys to welcome the Year of the Rat.

Since this is going to Rat Year, let me share with you a story I’ve heard recently from my colleague.

Sir Frederick Handley Page was a decorated pilot. Once he was on a flight to an isolated place. After flying for some two hours, he heard a noise in his plane. It was the sickening sound of a rat gnawing.

His heart began to pound. He could visualize the serious damage. For all he knew the rat could be gnawing through a vital cable or control of the plane.

The more he pondered on the situation, the more anxious he became.  At first he did not know what to do. It was two hours more to the next landing field. Then he remembered that rats are rodents and they cannot survive high altitudes.

So he pulled back on the stick. The plane climbed higher and higher, until Page himself found difficulty in breathing. All the while he was listening intently. He was relieved the gnawing had stopped. When he finally arrived at his destination he found the rat lying dead behind the cockpit.

Worry is like the gnawing of a rat. However no rat of worry can survive in the secret place of the Lord Almighty.

The worry rat cannot live in the high altitude of prayer that propelled us into the Presence of the Most High. Worry dies when we ascend higher to the Lord.

May this Lunar New Year and all the years to come be worry-free as you ascend higher.

I leave you Colossians 3:1-2

“If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things, which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth.”

 Happy Gnaw-free Year!

20:20

We just bid farewell to 2019 and say hello to 2020.

I venture to say most of us welcome 2020 with cautious optimism.

We enter the New Year with news of human loss, tragic events, and global disasters.

We read of the spreading wild fire in Australia, massive floods in our neighboring country, typhoon in Philippines, unrelenting riot in Hong Kong, protest in India, strike in France. The world is chaotic.

The world is changing. It would never be the same after Brexit. The global ethos is shifting with the rising sentiment of anti-establishment, the dispensing with political correctness and the distrust of globalization, free trade and foreign migrants. Added to this is the fear of a global financial meltdown, unrecoverable climate change, nuclear threat, tariff war, recession and job losses.

2020 casts a long shadow of chaos, changes and challenges.

There was also a time when the people of God faced a vast invading army that threatens to change the history of Judah forever.

We read in II Chronicles 20 of three nations that had been nursing long history of hostility suddenly moved against Judah. They were the Moabites, the Ammonites and the Menuites.

The threat is real and imminent. King Jehoshaphat was told, “A vast army is coming against you from Edom from the other side of the Dead Sea. It is already in Hazezon Tamar”  (II Chronicles 20:2).

The enemies are at the doorsteps. King Jehoshaphat was shocked. His response was more shocking.

It makes no sense by any conventional human standard.

Instead of readying his army to defend the country, he readied his people to fast and join him in prayer.

“Alarmed, Jehoshaphat resolved to inquire of the Lord, and he proclaimed a fast for all Judah” (II Chronicles 2:3). 

The King, the priests and the people had the faith to believe, For the battle is not yours, but God’s” (II Chronicles 20:15).

Subsequent event proved that to be true. In a supernatural act of God, the enemies were defeated, put in disarray and driven out of Judah.

What is most noteworthy is the encouraging statement of King Jehoshaphat to his people in II Chronicles 20:20

“Have faith in the Lord your God and you will be upheld.”

2020 may present to us the “Moabites” of problems, the “Ammonites” of anxieties and the “Menuites” of uncertainties.

But let’s hold on to II Chronicles 20:20.

Let’s welcome 2020 with II Chronicles 20:20

Then and only then, we can confidently say, “Happy New Year!”

Binding and loosing

by Rev Jason Phua

Bible Reading: Matthew 16:13-17:9; Psalms 140:1-13

READ (verses chosen for meditation)
Matthew 16:19 “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

REFLECT
Matthew 16:19 sounds like Jesus just passed on His “superpowers” to Peter? Some teachers of the Word had consistently misused such a verse to place themselves on a pedestal. They claimed that they are given the “spiritual authority” by God to do whatever they want; all for the sake of the Gospel. Hence, with such a verse, they claimed that God had given them the power to cast out demonic influences or the authority to do whatever they deemed fit.

While Christians can be used by God to cast out demonic influences or even be called to carry out God’s mission; this verse does not seem to say anything about these things. Instead, such a verse is set in the context of the Jewish culture and given specifically to Peter as well as the other Apostles (Matthew 18:18). “Binding” and “Loosing” are idiomatic expressions in Judaism. They talk about the formal declaration of rulings to either forbid or allow certain kinds of activity. One literal illustration of such an idea was God’s discipline of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5). Simply put, the Apostles were given the authority to build God’s church in a way fitting of the commandments of God. It certainly wasn’t about certain prophets given special powers to “bind up” and “loose” / “shake” anything or anyone.

RELATE
When men try to be like God and make false claims; chaos begins. When men try to do things through a misuse or misinterpretation of God’s word; the church will suffer. The witness for the Gospel will take a beating. Instead, let us be faithful. Let us be faithful to use our heart, mind and soul to learn and apply God’s word in a way pleasing to Him. Sometimes we make mistakes. Sometimes we realise that we are doing it the wrong way. Doesn’t matter, we learn from one another. However, let us not be prideful. Let us not use God’s word to fulfil our own agenda. We are having too many of such charlatans within the community; like how some are now posing as Christians to lure unknowing people into their cultic organisations. Let us pray together that God will expose and protect. Let us be vigilant in the Spirit!

REST
Lord our God, may You help us to be discerning in the way we hear of Your word. Let us not be misled by charlatans or even people who thought they are on the right path (but are not). Instead, help us to be faithful to You and Your word. Amen.

Blasphemy against the Spirit

by Rev Jason Phua

Bible Reading: Matthew 12:22-45; Proverbs 30:10

READ (verses chosen for meditation)
Matthew 12:31 “Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven.”

REFLECT
When it comes to “favourite” verses or passages of the Christian, I am quite sure that Matthew 12:31 is not a popular choice. What did Jesus mean by “blasphemy against the Spirit”? What can be so damning for a God who sent His only Son that He will not forgive? As in all passages and verses, it must be understood in its context. What is the context? The context is that in Matthew 12:22-30, Jesus was addressing a group of Pharisees who accused Jesus of casting out demons by the demonic spirit of Beelzebul. Jesus first destroyed their illogical conclusion. Since no house would seek to destroy itself; why would the demons cast out their very own?

Jesus then gave them the warning; that their accusation is a very serious one. It was as if the Pharisees are blaspheming (which literally means showing contempt or lack of reverence) the Holy Spirit. Such cannot be forgiven because there is no basis for God to grant forgiveness. Any other sins or blasphemies can be forgiven assuming the one who did them repent. However, how is one to repent against the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit? It cannot be done. Why?

Because when one blaspheme against the Holy Spirit and call out good to be evil; there is no repentance to speak of. Therefore God cannot grant forgiveness when grace is rejected; when the Holy Spirit is accused to be demonic. It was as if the Pharisees, despite Jesus’ warning and rebuke, kept on refusing the Light and insisted that Jesus is the enemy. If this is so, how then can such be forgiven since there is no recognition of who God truly is and even the rejection of what He offered?

RELATE
Jesus’ warning to the Pharisees serves as a great reminder for me. A reminder that the sharing of the Gospel is urgent. Not only to our loved ones or friends; but to any whom the Lord has placed in our paths. We are called to share the Gospel which includes being the Gospel. This means walking in the truth. This means conducting our lives as it should be according to the word of God. Then, as we do so, we pray that those whom we cared about will come to believe.

If they continue to deny the truth despite of the grace and love they experienced, then may the Lord has mercy. At the end of the day, it is God who decide; not us. For the Lord had demonstrated His everlasting love in order for us to come to Him. There is really nothing else more to do or pine for. Jesus’ birth, suffering, death, resurrection and ascension is the all in all. It is done. It is finished.

This Christmas season, let us not indulge ourselves in the “sales” of worldly things; but to be “urgent” in being and sharing the Gospel.

REST
Lord my God, help me to care enough to share the Gospel with love and urgency. Amen.

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.

REFLECT
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.

RELATE
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.

REST
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.