The unlikely believer?

by Rev Jason Phua

Readings: Acts 10:24-48; Psalms 35:17-28

READ (Verse chosen for reflection)
Acts 10:45 “And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles.”

REFLECT
The believers who came with Peter to the house of Cornelius were amazed at how God saved those they considered to be “outside” of God’s covenant with Israel. They were intrigued by how the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles. For the Jews were taught from young that the Gentiles were “unclean”; and that the Gentiles were pagans who did not know the true God. In other words, to the Jewish believers, Cornelius’ household seemed unlikely to be able to believe in God. Yet, God had proven them wrong through Cornelius’ faithfulness. Even prior to Peter’s preaching of the Gospel, we were told that Cornelius was “a devout man who feared God with all his household, gave alms generously to the people, and prayed continually to God” (Acts 10:2).

RELATE
Yesterday, I had the privilege of baptizing an elderly lady who is currently 94 years of age. She had never attended church but because of her grandchildren, she came to know the Gospel and desired to be baptized. We spoke with her and found that she understood the faith and could express to us that in Christ, she found peace. At her home, we sang songs of praise and witnessed how joyful she was, singing and praising God with us. If this elderly lady had not say that she want to be baptized, perhaps many believers might not know that she has the fear of the Lord in her. Some might even think that she is an “unlikely” candidate for the faith; as she is already so elderly in age and had never attended church. Yet, the Lord knows everything. Like all of us, she is a precious child of God and God knows that she believed. Unlike many of us, God does not discriminate and His love is divinely free for all.

REST
Lord our God, please take away our biases, and help us to discern with His wisdom and heart of those who have the fear of the Lord in them. This is so we can be used more effectively by the Lord to disciple and lead people to Christ.

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Choose wisdom, not folly

by Rev Jason Phua

Readings: Acts 7:1-29; Proverbs 9:7-8

READ (Verse chosen for reflection)
Proverbs 9:7-8 “Whoever corrects a scoffer gets himself abuse, and he who reproves a wicked man incurs injury. Do not reprove a scoffer, or he will hate you; reprove a wise man, and he will love you.”

REFLECT
The book of Proverbs provide practical wisdom to daily living. Proverbs are also called “general truths” where spoken proverbs are generally true in most situations but there will be exceptions. Proverbs 9:7-8 is found in the midst of how “Wisdom” (personified as a “she”) is inviting people to come in to her house to gain insights. This is contrasted to “Folly”, also personified as a lady, who also invites (or rather seduces) people into her house. Those who are seduced by the seemingly “sweet” stolen water of “Folly” will find themselves deep in death and destruction; while those who follow “Wisdom” shall be blessed.

Hence, Proverbs 9:7-8 is a practical piece of advice that flowed from “Wisdom”; where it is said that to rebuke scoffers (or mockers) will only invite insult or even injury. However, the wise will learn even more when rebuked. On hindsight, we know that in Acts 7, Stephen’s proclamation of the Gospel (as well as a firm rebuke in verses 49-53) fell on foolish hearts. The result was that they stoned a faithful servant of the Lord to death. Ironically, the foolish ones didn’t realize that they have also stoned their own hearts to death in the face of truth.

RELATE
I believe many of us can relate to Proverbs 9:7-8. We could have rebuked someone and dependent on the person’s wisdom or foolishness; they either learn in humility or reject the truth or even insult due to pride and foolishness. Today, I reflect on myself. Have I been constantly seduced by Folly or rather follow Wisdom when it comes to being rebuked by others? I can recall that there are once or twice where I could have reacted better in the face of rebuke. Even if I feel that the rebuke could have been given in a more godly manner; I can definitely grow to receive the rebuke in a more God-fearing posture and love the person more.

REST
Lord God, may You help me to reject the door of “Folly” and readily march into the house of “Wisdom”. This is so I can grow in the fear of the Lord to serve You better. Amen.

God’s desire to dwell with us

by Rev Jason Phua

Readings: Exodus 39:1-40:38; Psalms 31:19-24

READ (Verse chosen for reflection)
Exodus 40:33-38 “And he erected the court around the tabernacle and the altar, and set up the screen of the gate of the court. So Moses finished the work. Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. And Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud settled on it, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. Throughout all their journeys, whenever the cloud was taken up from over the tabernacle, the people of Israel would set out. But if the cloud was not taken up, then they did not set out till the day that it was taken up. For the cloud of the LORD was on the tabernacle by day, and fire was in it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel throughout all their journeys.

REFLECT
The cloud that covered the tent of meeting was the same cloud that guided the people of Israel as they were led out of the land of Egypt. The cloud guided them visually to travel by day and the fire gave them light by night. It was also the same cloud where the glory of the Lord was made manifest as the people grumbled about the lack of food in the wilderness. Then, quails and manna were given to them. The cloud and fire were representations of God’s abiding presence with the people of Israel. It was as close to God as they can get.

Looking at it another way, it was also as close as God could get with the people; without them perishing in the light of His holiness. At that time, God could only come to His people through the meditation of cloud and fire. For if He were to reveal Himself fully to the people, they shall all be destroyed. As soon as the construction of the Tabernacle and all of its furnishings were completed; as soon as it was installed on the first day of the second year; God came to dwell with His people. God’s perfect holiness did not prevent the Holy One from wanting to be with His unholy and often rebellious creation.

In a way, the Tabernacle was the foreshadow of the work of Christ and the coming of the Holy Spirit to dwell in all who believe. The Tabernacle, and all that occurred afterwards, revealed God’s desire to dwell with us. So He is not a God who shout forth commandments or demanded obedience from afar. He is not a God who allow the world to run into complete chaos even after the Fall. He is a God who desires to dwell with His people so that we can thrive in His holy name. He is a God who desires to dwell with us not to control us; but in His mercy, grace, love and truth, guide us in our journey as those who believe in His Name.

RELATE
In this day and age, we often talked about how we can draw near to God. Nothing wrong with such a perspective but perhaps we have not given as much attention to the other perspective. The other perspective that God first desire to draw near to us. He demonstrated this desire vividly by sending His only begotten Son; so that upon His death on the Cross, the veil in the temple that was fashioned from blue, purple and scarlet material was torn from top to bottom. The tearing of the veil signified the sufficiency of Jesus’ blood for the atonement of sins, it signified that from day forth, God will not dwell in temples made with hands, but in His people who purified themselves with the blood of Christ.

The desire of God to dwell with us is like the love of a parent to be with his or her children from the day they are born; or rather from the day they are in the mother’s womb. Even when the children have grown in good maturity and strength, parental care and love never seem to cease. Parents might not need to physically care for their children any longer, but spiritually they hold them deep in prayers and is always on the ready to advice, mentor and assist when in need. In quite similar ways, the desire of God to dwell with us is for the purpose of our holiness. 1 Thessalonians 4:3 says that “this is the will of God: your sanctification”. Our holiness is not an idea to bind us to the commandments of God; rather our holiness is the gateway to live life in true freedom and joy. Being holy is not a burden to be had, but a breakthrough to desire; for it is the right way to live.

As a Christian for many years, I don’t think I can ever grow weary of the truth that God desires to dwell with us. It is still a truth that amazes me. However, apart from being amazed, the problem lies with what am I really doing with this truth.

If God desires to dwell with us, am I eager to dwell with Him also? Am I as passionate to grow in my walk with Him as He is guide and to hold?

I confess that this is not always the case. There are even times when I felt so self-empowered that God is but a distant ally.

Yet, we all know that it is only by the constant abiding in God and His Word, that we can behave and do things that are pleasing to Him. Then we can move when the cloud moves; and stay when the cloud settles upon the tent of meeting.

REST
Lord our God, help me to be eager to dwell with you just as You have been in the beginning, so desired to dwell with us. Amen.

Holiness of service

by Rev Jason Phua

Readings: Exodus 28:1-43; Proverbs 7:24-27

READ (Verse chosen for reflection)
Exodus 28:41 “And you shall put them on Aaron your brother, and on his sons with him, and shall anoint them and ordain them and consecrate them, that they may serve me as priests.”

REFLECT
The details which God gave to Moses for the making of the priestly garments are mind staggering. The name of each tribe carved on each representative precious stone served as a great reminder for the priests that they ought to constantly intercede for the people. This was because God held them precious in His sight and desired that they follow His ways. The priestly garments also served as reminders for the people that Aaron and his sons are chosen to minister as God’s representatives and of how such acts of service shall be done in great reverence and awe in the midst of the Holy One. As we now live in the era of the risen Christ, there is no longer a need for full time church workers, missionaries, pastors, priests and leaders of the church to don such elaborate clothings. Even as all who believed are declared a holy priesthood (1 Peter 2); we need not come to church wearing priestly garments decorated with precious jewels. If there are any garments to be worn at all, these are symbolic and liturgical.

RELATE
While there is no longer a need to put on such elaborate clothings in our service of God, we can do well to reflect on how we are treating the idea of service in the church. In the time of Moses (as well as the early church), service unto the Lord was to be done in great reverence because the people fearfully understood that such services were called by the Lord Himself.

In this day and age, most of us do understand that our service in ministry is also called by God. However, we might have lost a big chunk of the reverence and the sense of privilege in such services. For example, some of us might have come across persons who serve because they wish to fulfil certain “gaps” in their lives. Some serve because they felt that there was really “nothing better to do”. Some serve in the most grudging manner and with a tinge of false humility. They act as if the church owe it to them to serve. In some churches, leaders were even appointed not because they have the spiritual maturity to lead; but only because they seem “passionate” or “willing”.

Yet, the way service was carried out in the Bible was very different. It was always treated with a great sense of awe, reverence, privilege and cheerfulness because it was understood that such services point only to one cause i.e. to glorify the Lord who saved us. I must confess that on some occasions, I have to keep myself in check on how I am really serving the Lord in ministry. I do not think that I have always served with a sense of reverence and awe as He would like me to. On this day, I am reminded that it is only by God’s grace and love that such services are made possible. I pray that He who is able, to help me have a consistent and right attitude of service unto His holy Name.

REST
Lord our God, it is only by Your grace and love that You have called each of us into ministry. Help us to be constantly convicted that this is such a great privilege of which without Christ, we are totally unworthy. Help us therefore to come before You and serve one another with humility, reverence and love as like the people of old. Amen.

The longer route

by Rev Jason Phua

Bible Readings: Exodus 13:17-15:18; Psalms 27:1-6

READ (Verse chosen for reflection)
Exodus 13:17 “When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near. For God said, “Lest the people change their minds when they see war and return to Egypt”

REFLECT
After being released from slavery, the people of Israel were led out of Egypt to the Promised Land. Instead of going through a shorter route through the land of the Philistines, God led them through a much longer route through the wilderness towards the Red Sea. The route through the wilderness might be longer, but it is the better way. For God’s Word said that the Israelites were not yet well prepared to face war with the well-armed and war loving Philistines. Moreover, as the Israelites moved towards the Red Sea, they got to witness one more time the amazing wonder of God’s power (parting of the Red Sea and drowning of Pharaoh’s elite troops) which assured them of the promises of God.

RELATE
In a fast paced nation like Singapore, many Singaporeans might cringe at the suggestion of going through a much longer route to reach a particular destination. Yet, the Israelites were led through the longer route for the sake of their survival and growth. When God leads us through a longer or more difficult route in our lives, we might complain and even blame Him as if He does not know what He is doing. Yet, that longer route could be just what we need. That longer route could be for the purification of our souls that have taken too many shorter but damaging routes in our lives. That longer route could be the perfect way to prepare us for what is to come.

REST
Lord our God, may You help us to trust in You, even in times when You lead us through longer and seemingly more difficult routes. This is so that we can be better prepared and moulded to bring glory to Your Name. Amen.

God’s plan is sovereign

by Rev Jason Phua

Bible Readings: Exodus 1:1-2:10; Proverbs 6:6-11

READ (Verses chosen for reflection)
Exodus 1:12 “But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and the more they spread abroad. And the Egyptians were in dread of the people of Israel.”

REFLECT
The key message of Exodus 1 seems to be that God’s plan cannot be thwarted in any way. God’s plan for Israel will go on despite the wickedness of men and the insecurities of His creation.  Chapter 1 recorded for us three times when God’s plan for the people of Israel to multiply and grew strong faced potential destruction. Yet, time and again, the people of God grew mightily despite the loss of a great leader, intense persecution and even through the evil plan of Pharaoh to murder the Hebrew male infants. The Hebrew midwives risked their lives to defy Pharaoh and lied to the wicked ruler. As a result, God blessed the Hebrew midwives with families of their own, not for the lie, but for their fear of the Lord.

RELATE
The sovereignty of God’s plan is foundational to the Christian faith, yet I sometimes question myself if I really understand such a biblical idea. For example, when I tried to do something even as the Lord has reminded patience, I am in question of God’s sovereignty. When I became unduly concerned for the consequences of an action taken despite the Lord’s assurance; I question His sovereign will. Today’s readings reminded me that instead of fussing about my circumstances, I should be more intentional in seeking what God’s plan is and be active in participation of it. Only then, can I know the true joy of serving in His will. The Hebrew midwives trusted in the Lord’s sovereign plan even as they understood the power and wickedness of Pharaoh. That took good faith and a preparation to die for what they believed. They understood that saving the infants was the right thing to do; and that was all that mattered.

REST
O Lord, help me to be more like the Hebrew midwives, who feared You more than Pharaoh. Help me to truly understand what Your sovereignty means to me; so that I can serve You in true peace and joy. Amen.

Whose Spirit? What truth?

by Rev Jason Phua

Readings: John 16:1-33; Psalm 22:1-18

READ (Verse/s chosen for reflection)
John 16:13 “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.”

REFLECT
In John 16, Jesus gave one of his final teachings to the disciples; who told them that it is to their advantage that He went away so that the Holy Spirit can come. Jesus continued to say that the Holy Spirit is here to guide us in “all the truth”, for he will not speak on his own authority…

In my journey as a learner and teacher of the Word, I have encountered quite a variety of teachings about who the Holy Spirit is and what He means to the life of the believer. One form of teaching seems to suggest that the work of the Holy Spirit is distinct from how the authors of the books of the Bible are inspired by the same Spirit!

So for example, such a strand of teaching encourages the believer to interpret and apply bible verses to their own lives as the “Spirit leads”. It doesn’t matter if the original intentions of the authors are known and taken into account. It doesn’t matter if the historical or literary contexts are taken into account. The argument is that we should read the Bible as “it is” and through what we believe to be the Spirit speaking to us. However my questions for such thinking is: “Whose Spirit?” “How do you really know if the Holy Spirit is really leading you to interpret the bible verses without even acknowledging how the same Spirit has inspired the original authors?

Such teachings are seriously flawed because John 16:13 (as well as many parts of the Bible such as John 15:26) is saying otherwise. John 16:13 is saying that the Holy Spirit will guide believers in all truth based on the authority He shared with God the Father and the Son. Hence, whatever we sensed the Holy Spirit “speaking” to us, must be consistent with what is revealed to us as a whole counsel of God’s Word. And to discover what is revealed to us in His Word, we need to at least be informed of the original intent of God’s Word for His people written during a certain point in time. Otherwise it is easy to read God’s Word out of context since we all come from varied backgrounds and experiences. Granted that God’s Word is alive and some that points to Jesus might not even be known by the original authors; yet should we ignore such important contexts which should at least be our guiding post in discerning how “the Spirit leads”?

RELATE
My reflection for today’s passage is based on a longstanding prayer I have for the church today. I have personally known and encountered episodes where flawed interpretation of God’s Word (i.e. based on “Spirit lead” theology) led to deaths, departure from the faith and chaos in the family of faith. One of the episodes that will always be on my mind was the withdrawal of medication from a child who was sick. This led to the death of the child where simple, consistent dose of medication would have done otherwise. O Lord have mercy and help us!de

REST
No wonder Jesus said in verse 1 (chapter 16) that He had said these things to keep us from falling away and in verse 33; so that we can find peace in Him in the midst of tribulations. Help us Lord, to be faithful and be of good discernment on what is true and what is that which pull us away from You. Amen.