It will die

by Rev Jason Phua

Bible Reading: Revelation 2:18-3:6; Psalm 70:1-5

READ (verses chosen for meditation)
Revelation 3:1-3
1 “And to the angel of the church in Sardis write: ‘The words of him who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. “‘I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead. 2 Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God. 3 Remember, then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent. If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come against you.

REFLECT
Some thought that the “angel of the church in …” referred to in the book of Revelation refer to “pastor of the church”. When I heard it, I asked the question: “Now where did that come from?” Upon my ordination, I thought I didn’t quite hear the title “angel” being conferred to me! 😀

In a very large way, angels in the New Testament serve God as His messengers. Here, I prefer to see the “angel of the church in …” as specific messengers to the churches they have been appointed to (in relation to the seven churches mentioned in chapters 2-3). Hence, the message of Revelation 3:1-6 was given to the church of Sardis as a whole. The angel was probably the first point of contact to relate such a message to the congregation of Sardis. In fact, the messages given to the seven churches seem applicable in many of the churches today.

The message to the church of Sardis was one of warning. The congregation was warned not to continue with their hypocrisy; where they had the reputation of being spiritually alive but in reality, they were “dead”. Hence, the church was exhorted to wake up, repent and strengthen what remains. If they did not obey, the consequence would be that what remains will die.

RELATE
The warning to the church of Sardis is a great warning for many of us in the church today. If we are not growing in the faith, do not expect our faith to stay “alive”. It.will.die.

Such a warning is applicable to the modern day churches because we do have the tendency of comforting ourselves in non-biblical ways. We do have the tendency to comfort ourselves that we are always “alive” no matter how wrecked our spiritual life is. Or there could be other types of teaching that we absorbed without much discernment. Teachings that go something like: “No matter how far away from God you are, God will always find you back”.

Personally I have big issues with such teachings. Firstly, it smacks of pure arrogance. We expect God to come find us when in reality, we do not really care about who is God in our daily living. Secondly, it gives believers a false sense of security. It is not divine assurance. Hebrews 10:22-23 made this clear: “let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.”

Yes, God is for us. But biblically, we are called to submit ourselves to Him in faith and hold fast to Him for faith. So Revelation is consistent: Wake up, repent and be strengthened. Do not be hypocritical and let our lives be authentically Christian. Otherwise, what remains will die.

When I was in Europe some years ago. I lament on the many churches that had turned to drinking holes, hotels and restaurants. Apparently, many had given up their faith and had now chosen to be “atheist”. I wouldn’t be surprised if churches in Singapore find ourselves in the same predicament if we do not wake up, repent and be strengthened. The call for Sardis to seek renewal is the same call for me to do the same. My faith in God is simply not a joke nor a passing cloud. On the eternal side of things, it is all I have and all that I am.

REST
Therefore God, help me to wake up, repent and be strengthened! Help me not to take this precious gift of Christ you have given for granted; but to seek renewal and growth on a daily basis with You. Amen!

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Sought to understand it

by Rev Jason Phua

Bible Reading: Daniel 8:1-27; Proverbs 24:3-4

READ (verse chosen for meditation)
Daniel 8:15-16
15 When I, Daniel, had seen the vision, I sought to understand it. And behold, there stood before me one having the appearance of a man. 16 And I heard a man’s voice between the banks of the Ulai, and it called, “Gabriel, make this man understand the vision.”

REFLECT
When Daniel saw the vision (as described in Daniel 8:1-14), the very first thing he did was that he sought to understand it. He did not make any flippant guesses about what the vision could be, but he sought to understand it. He did not go and tell it to his neighbours, but he sought to understand it. He did not post it on social media so that everyone could “like” it, but he sought to understand it. Daniel sought to understand the vision because he knew that it was from the Lord. Daniel knew that the vision needs to be explained by God Himself. For Daniel’s consistent faithfulness, God answered Daniel’s seeking. God sent His very own archangel Gabriel to explain the vision to Daniel. In the end, the vision affected Daniel so much that he fell ill for several days (Daniel 8:27).

RELATE
When I am given a vision from God, do I seek Him first for understanding? Or do I get so excited that I begin to invent theories on what the vision could be? Or would I get so prideful that I post it on social media for friends to “like” it and secretly hoping that people will conclude that I am “highly favoured” by the Lord? Along the same line, when I am given the privilege to witness a miracle from the Lord, do I praise Him for who He is and be encouraged? Or do I think that I am better than everybody else?

I believe I was given a vision by the Lord in the year 2007, during a time of prayer with several men in ministry. In that vision, I saw an eagle flying towards me. The vision was so clear and detailed that I know it is from the Lord. Initially, I did not know what to do. Secretly, I felt encouraged that God would put such a vision to me; for I assumed that it was something good. Later, by the grace of God, I came to realise that I was just being prideful. I should, like Daniel, sought to understand it first. Who knows? Maybe it was a warning for me to turn from my sins! Through some years of prayer, seeking and affirmation. I came to realise that the vision was an encouragement from the Lord as I prepared to go into full time church work.

I believe God do give visions or allow us to witness or experience miracles. Question is: Are we allowing these experiences to draw us closer to God? Are we seeking to understand God even more? Or do these only serve to make us prideful? May we be like Daniel, who sought to honour God in everything.

REST
Lord my God, help me to honour you like Daniel; even in the wonderful visions and miracles you have allow me to see and witness. Amen.

We shall be satisfied

by Rev Jason Phua

Bible Reading: Ezekiel 47:1-48:35; Psalm 65:1-13

READ (verse chosen for meditation)
Psalm 65:4 “Blessed is the one you choose and bring near, to dwell in your courts! We shall be satisfied with the goodness of your house, the holiness of your temple!”

REFLECT
Psalm 65 is a song of David. It is a song of praise for the many things which God provided and for whom God is to His people. It was David’s praise for:

  1. God’s willingness to hear the prayers of His people.
  2. God’s atonement for our iniquities.
  3. God’s grace for bringing His people to dwell in His temple.
  4. God’s righteousness, which was demonstrated through His awesome deeds.
  5. God’s hope in His salvation for the whole of creation.
  6. God’s abundant provision for the whole of the earth and all who dwell in it.

For all of these things, David give praise to God and advised that we shall be satisfied in the goodness of His house!

RELATE
In the here and now, are we really satisfied?

For all of the things (1 to 6) that David gave praise for; God fulfilled them in Jesus Christ. We who believe in Jesus therefore enjoyed and continue to enjoy all these blessings in His Name. What else do we seek? We have a God who hears our prayers, who atoned for our sins, who provide for our every need and even guide us in righteousness!

Yet, I am one of those believers who sometimes take all these things for granted. Sometimes, I felt discouraged when God did not seem to answer my prayers especially for justice to be done. Even as I preach frequently of the Gospel, I do not find myself consistent in rejoicing and being grateful for the love and grace that Christ has for my soul.

Today’s readings reminded that I am very blessed in His Name. I am His child whom He has chosen to bring near in His courts. I should be satisfied. I should be thankful. I should be like David who shouted for joy.

REST
Yes Lord, help me to be more grateful of Your many blessings to me and my family. This is so that I can be of great joy and serve you better in Your Name. Amen.

Conviction through grace

by Rev Jason Phua

Bible Reading: Ezekiel 35:1-36:38; Proverbs 23:19-21

READ (verse chosen for meditation)
Ezekiel 36:31: “Then you will remember your evil ways, and your deeds that were not good, and you will loathe yourselves for your iniquities and your abominations.”

REFLECT
Ezekiel 36 records how God will punish the nation of Israel due to their iniquities and abominable acts. After some time, God will then restore Israel and even bless it with a new heart. God said that He will do this not for their sakes but for the sake of His holy Name. His holy Name is important because it bears witness to the world of Who God is. This is so that the rest of the world may come to know the true nature of God and worship Him. Through such an act of grace, God also said that the nation of Israel shall come to the deep conviction of their iniquities and abominations. They will come to realise of how wrong they were towards God. Israel shall come to hate themselves for the sins they have committed; when God bestowed grace upon them.

RELATE
When I read this part of Ezekiel, I can thoroughly relate to the grace of God for my own life. Despite my sinfulness, which are no less than what was done by Israel, God chose to forgive through Jesus and even gave me the the Holy Spirit for continuous godly living. Indeed, the believer can only learn of how vile we truly are and can be when God demonstrate His grace for our lives.

We will not learn of such a great conviction through mere discipline or laws because of our human depravity. Our hearts need to be transformed by the blood of Christ which carries with it the essence of the divine grace of God on the Cross. It is only when grace overwhelms our sense of self-sufficiency and pride; that we learn to hate what God hates and love what He loves. It is only when we realise how we are given so much of what we do not deserve; that we learn to cherish the faithfulness of God. It is when we encounter the grace of a Holy God, that we crumble to our knees crying Abba Father. Only then, can we live the grace-enabled life and give grace to the people around us. Only then, can we say that we shall rejoice in suffering; for that shall help us to see more of God.

REST
And can it be that I should gain
An interest in the Savior’s blood?
Died He for me, who caused His pain?
For me, who Him to death pursued?
Amazing love! how can it be
That Thou, my God, should’st die for me?
Amazing love! how can it be
That Thou, my God, should’st die for me?

Right or wrong way to pray?

by Rev Jason Phua

Bible Reading: Ezekiel 21:1-22:31; Psalm 58:1-11

READ (verses chosen for meditation)
Psalm 58:6: “O God, break the teeth in their mouths; tear out the fangs of the young lions, O LORD!”

REFLECT
If we are to read the whole of Psalm 58, we might come away with the feeling that the Psalmist was as “bloodthirsty” as those who persecuted him. I mean, he prayed for his enemies to be swept away. He prayed that their teeth be broken and even be like snails that dissolved into slime. How can a godly person pray like this? Shouldn’t he pray like how Jesus said to love our enemies?

Yes, Jesus did say to love our enemies. He also said to pray for those who persecute us (Matthew 5:43). Yet, what Psalm 58 was saying was not whether the Psalmist’s prayer is right or wrong. Rather, it expressed the depth of relationship between the Psalmist and God. The Psalmist was so intimate with God that he told God his heartfelt emotions. He was having such a hard time from his enemies that he asked of God to take them away. Psalm 58 did not end with whether God will act upon the prayers. It was left as a prayer from one who had experienced extreme suffering and begging God to enact His justice. Of course, whether God will do as the Psalmist prayed, it is entirely up to Him.

RELATE
While in Nepal, we heard news that there were several bomb blast in the capital. These bomb blasts were fuelled by political interests within the Nepali government. Many people in Nepal expressed that they wish the government can be more stable; as they are suffering under such instability. They are praying that those with evil in their hearts be taken away. When we saw and spoke with some who suffered for a long time under such an unstable government; we joined in their prayer. We pray that indeed God will “break the teeth” of those who meant to do evil, so that they can no longer do any harm to anyone.
As I pray in this way, it occurs to me that if I am not careful, I could end up being a presumptuous believer. I presume based on my head knowledge of God’s word to judge what is right or wrong. Yet life is much more complex than that. What is right or wrong in life cannot merely be judged by a theoretical understanding of the Bible. I need to constantly seek to apply God’s truth in the real world. I need to constantly listen rather than speak. In that way, I can better empathize with those who are suffering and pray and minister in a godly way.

REST
Lord, help me to draw close to you and better understand what people around me are going through. This is so I can be of better use for Your kingdom. Amen.

Patience of the Lord

by Rev Jason Phua

Bible Reading: Ezekiel 7:1-9:11; Proverbs 23:4-5

READ (verses chosen for meditation)
Ezekiel 9:4 “And the LORD said to him, “Pass through the city, through Jerusalem, and put a mark on the foreheads of the men who sigh and groan over all the abominations that are committed in it.”

REFLECT
Even at the very end, God showed patience and grace to Israel. Even when Israel was committing abominations to the Lord in all ways and at all times, the Lord sought to spare those who repent. We have the tendency to focus our eyes on how God, commanded His executioners (Ezekiel 9:1-6) to kill the young and old. We complain in our hearts that God was so merciless. We suspected that God seemed to be more concerned with His reputation than with the lives of children. If we do so, we are missing the point.

The point is that God had shown much grace to the people of Israel (If you don’t believe me, just read how He had done so right from Genesis to the Kings). The point is that God had gone out of His way seeking the repentant. The point is that there was actually no need for Him to do so. He is God, why does He need to show grace to our persistent sinful behaviour? Yet He chose to. Even in the book of Ezekiel, even in the Gospels, even right now when we read the word and is thrown into remembrance of how we sinned against the Holy One of Israel. Why? Because as the word says, His steadfast love endures forever.

RELATE
His steadfast love endures forever.

I reflected on the day God blessed us with our first child. I cried on that day because the good news of my wife’s pregnancy came after I told the Lord in secret that I am going to obey His call to ministry. However, the rejoicing of having our first child did not endure the human sinfulness in me. I am in many ways a father in much learning of how I can better disciple my son. I remember the time when I was so angry with him over but a small matter. I used words I never should. Yet God was ever so full of grace. Not only did He forgive when I repented; he created many opportunities for spiritual heart surgeries in me.

REST
Oh God, how patient You are! Otherwise, I would have perished a thousand deaths! Yet in Jesus, You have given me salvation, a beautiful family and a wonderful family of faith. How then can I but sing praises to You for these debts I can never repay! Help me to ever grow in pleasing You and You alone. Amen.

Do not enter into temptation

by Rev Jason Phua

Bible Reading: Luke 22:35-53; Psalm 51:1-19

READ (verses chosen for meditation)
Luke 22:45-46 “And when he rose from prayer, he came to the disciples and found them sleeping for sorrow, and he said to them, “Why are you sleeping? Rise and pray that you may not enter into temptation.”

REFLECT
Twice our Lord Jesus said to the disciples to pray and not enter into temptation. What did Jesus mean by that?

Firstly, what “temptation” was Jesus talking about? For Jesus, it was the temptation of giving in to his mortal will of rejecting the will of God for him to be crucified. For the disciples, it had to do with how they might lose faith as we are told that they were “sleeping for sorrow”. So “temptation” in this context does not mean God’s testing for the believer, but of situations that might render the believer to stumble.

Secondly, what does prayer have to do with not entering into temptation? Why didn’t Jesus ask the disciples to pray when they are tempted? The Greek grammar for “pray” in Luke 22 suggest that we must take it upon ourselves (for our own benefit) to pray constantly that we do not enter into temptation. The assumption seems to be that for the Christian, being watchful that we can enter into temptation is part and parcel of the new life. Furthermore, for the sake of holiness, it might be better not having to enter into temptation than having to struggle when we do enter into temptation. Indeed may the Lord grant that we do not enter into temptations, if He is willing. For the Lord knows that when we do enter into temptation, there is always the possibility for us (due to our own will) to stumble in the faith.

RELATE
Today’s passage is a powerful reminder that my daily prayers ought to consist of “not entering into temptation”. Quite often, I only pray that God will help me to resist temptations or not sin due to temptations. Today, Jesus reminded that I should (by His command) constantly pray that I do not enter into temptation; for the temptations of this world can be powerful and dangerous such as social media, food and sex. Such a prayer comes from a heart of humility and reliance on the grace of God. For a heart that thinks that I can resist or overcome temptation anytime of the day is prideful. A heart that thinks I will certainly rely on the Holy Spirit when I am tempted, looks too much on my own strength; but not on the work of the Spirit.

REST
God, by your sovereign grace, let me enter not into temptation. However, if it must be so, give me grace to stay in the Spirit to avoid stumbling in the faith. Amen.