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.

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.

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.

Fear God because He is good?

by Rev Jason Phua

Bible Reading: Jeremiah 33:1-34:22; Proverbs 27:15-16

READ (verses chosen for meditation)
Jeremiah 33:9 “And this city shall be to me a name of joy, a praise and a glory before all the nations of the earth who shall hear of all the good that I do for them. They shall fear and tremble because of all the good and all the prosperity I provide for it.”

REFLECT
Quite often, we equate the fear of the Lord with our awe of His power, might and holiness. Yet, in Jeremiah 33:9, it is suggested that the fear of the Lord can come through our realisation of His goodness and mercy in our lives. This can only happen when we are focused on the One who delivered such goodness as He pleases; and not so much on the “goodness” itself. Yes, when God bless a nation or an individual when the need arises, we can learn to fear Him. This is because it is a great reminder that He is in the know and in control of all things.

RELATE
In recent months, while searching for a new home, we witnessed for ourselves the very goodness of God. To save on agency fees, we decided to administer and search for the property on our own. While doing that, we met with many owners as well as housing agents. Some were friendly and acted in a fair manner. However, some were quite unscrupulous.

It was an eye and heart opener for us. While some of these incidents saddened our hearts; we found joy in a sovereign God who acted on our behalf. On more than one occasion, the Lord interceded on a potential deal that would have been unfair for us; or highlighted our attention to some aspects of the house that we would not have taken note of. Indeed, while we thank God for His goodness; we are also humbled by His grace to us all. He knows it all and already accounted for our foolishness in our journey with Him. What a mighty and good God He is! He is indeed worthy to be feared.

REST
Lord my God, as I ponder upon your goodness in my life. Help me to be humble and learn to revere you even more. Amen.

God is our Siri / Alexa?

by Rev Jason Phua

READ (verses chosen for meditation)
Jeremiah 21:2 “Inquire of the LORD for us, for Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon is making war against us. Perhaps the LORD will deal with us according to all his wonderful deeds and will make him withdraw from us.”

REFLECT
Disaster was at hand. When the stubbornness of Judah stood against the consistent mercy of God; God was determined to send His judgement against the people. This was for the purpose of humbling Judah and after 70 years of exile; may grow to be a better people.

In Jeremiah 21:2-3, it was troubling to hear from King Zedekiah. Even after all that had happened, he had the audacity to inquire of God and expected the Almighty to help them. How could Zedekiah even think that God would help them at this juncture? He and many of his predecessors had done what was evil in the sight of God. Many in Judah had repeatedly rejected the grace of God to repent. Yet, there he was, thinking that God was his Siri or Alexa. While he did not respond to God’s call to repent; there he was asking God questions which he expected favourable responses. How dull of ears and eyes could Judah be?

RELATE
Have we made God our Siri or Alexa? Even when we had not been spending enough time with God; have we been expecting God to respond when we “call”? Even when we have not been responding to God’s call for us to be transformed in His word, have we been expecting God to answer when we ask? Even as we have been resisting His will; are we expecting God to conform to our will?

I believe many of us have the tendency to be so. We have expected God to “answer” when we ourselves are super slow to respond and action on His perfect will. We have even expected God to conform to our will and sulk when He does not do so.

The root issue could be that we just want our own way and not the way of Christ. We are much more comfortable that way. We do not want to change; not when our own comfort or even our “treasured” sins are threatened. Sometimes we even have the audacity to expect God to go according to our way; and not His. How dull of eyes and ears can we be?

REST
God our Lord, forgive us as a people when we are stubborn. Help us to repent and walk according to Your way. Help us to be sensitive to Your calling in our lives; so that we can make wise decisions. This is all because You are the Potter and we are Your clay. Amen.

Eyes to see and ears to hear

by Rev Jason Phua

Bible Reading: Jeremiah 4:19-6:15; Proverbs 27:4-6

READ (verses chosen for meditation)
Jeremiah 5:21 “Hear this, O foolish and senseless people, who have eyes, but see not, who have ears, but hear not.”

REFLECT
Jeremiah 5:21 speaks of God’s rebuke upon the people of Judah. The rebuke was that the people of Judah was foolish and senseless. They were foolish because they have eyes that did not see and ears that did not hear. Yet, what were they supposed to see and hear?

According to the surrounding passages, Judah was supposed to see and hear about the truth of God. Here, the act of seeing and hearing are not merely passive observations; but calls for understanding and action. Hence, they were supposed to fear God and walk in His ways in the truth.

Instead they were described as a people who: “lurk like fowlers lying in wait. They set a trap; they catch men. Like a cage full of birds, their houses are full of deceit; therefore they have become great and rich; they have grown fat and sleek. They know no bounds in deeds of evil; they judge not with justice the cause of the fatherless, to make it prosper, and they do not defend the rights of the needy.” (Jeremiah 5:26-28). So to the Lord, Judah was as good as blind and deaf; for their eyes and ears were tuned to things that were not of the Lord’s. They were an abomination.

RELATE
Do I have eyes and yet not see? Do I have ears and yet not hear? Are my eyes and ears tuned to what they were originally intended to see and hear?

No. Not always. There will be times when I would love to dwell in the word of God for a longer period of time but gave in to the temptation of attending to another less important matter. There will be times when I should tune out unhealthy gossips during conversations but I allow my curiosity to mar my discernment. Even if I know the truth and understood it; I might not always carry out the intended purpose of the truth. For example, I know that God requires me to defend the rights of the needy; yet there were occasions when I failed to do so in the excuse of a more “urgent” matter.

REST
Lord, help me to see and hear more of what you intended and so allow me to act upon these for the furtherance of Your kingdom. Otherwise, my eyes and ears would only be so tuned to the ways of the world; that I would fail to carry out Your purposes for my life. Amen.