Leadership and Self-awareness

by Rev Jason Phua

Bible Readings: 1 Samuel 18:5-19:24; Proverbs 17:2-3

READ (Verses chosen for meditation)
1 Samuel 18:8 “And Saul was very angry, and this saying displeased him. He said, “They have ascribed to David ten thousands, and to me they have ascribed thousands, and what more can he have but the kingdom?”

REFLECT
Saul was angry that David was more successful than him. Saul was angry that the people recognized this truth. Saul was jealous that the people had switched their hearts towards David. What more can Saul expect? Through the prophet Samuel, God already told Saul that He will not be with him, because he had taken things into his own hands (ref: 1 Samuel 15-16). Due to Saul’s growing pride and insecurities, the king could not see his own faults, did not seek repentance but blamed young David for the frustrations he was facing. Such was how a humble person of the Lord (1 Samuel 10) who held his peace when some persons despised him; grew to be an egoistic, angry and abusive king who blamed others for his own sins.

RELATE
Today’s text on the life of Saul reminded me that the most challenging part about leadership is not about the work given to us by the Lord; it is not even the persons who come our way. What could be most challenging is having a lucid awareness of ourselves. Leadership tends to cloud such an awareness because the exercising of authority could easily tempt people to think that we are better than who we really are. Leadership can also invite not so open feedback from others because some might not want to “offend” the leaders; or had wanted to give much benefit of the doubt to those appointed to leadership. Yet, Saul was not without open counsel. He had Samuel with him. However, Saul’s pride was bigger than any good advice and rebuke.

May the Lord help us leaders, whether in church or marketplace to always serve in humility and having a lucid awareness of our own spiritual walk with God. For those of us who might not be in leadership positions or are working with leaders, we can pray to be more like the “Samuels” to the leaders around us. Let us be courageous and discerning to speak the truth in love; so that by doing so, we might even be used by God to save the souls of some leaders.

REST
Lord, help us to learn from the example of Saul. Help us to appreciate persons who come alongside us to be our “Samuels” and help us to be open to feedback so that we can change for the sake of God’s glory. Amen.

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God and idols

by Rev Jason Phua

Bible Readings: 1 Samuel 5:1-7:17; Psalms 126:1-6

READ (Verses chosen for meditation)
1 Samuel 5:4 “But when they rose early on the next morning, behold, Dagon had fallen face downward on the ground before the ark of the LORD, and the head of Dagon and both his hands were lying cut off on the threshold. Only the trunk of Dagon was left to him.”

REFLECT
Due to the evil that Eli’s sons had done in the house of the Lord as well as the failure of Eli to discipline his sons, God told Eli that Israel will suffer failure. Israel shall fall to the hands of her enemies and both of his sons will die. By the fifth chapter of 1 Samuel, the prophetic words were fulfilled. Israel fell to the hands of the Philistines and the enemies even managed to capture the ark of the Lord. Eli’s sons Hophni and Phinehas also died on the same day.

Basked in battle victory, the Philistines might have thought that it was their own god Dagon who defeated the God of Israel. Therefore, they brought the ark of the Lord into their temple which housed Dagon. According to various books of the Old Testament, Dagon was an important god of fertility to the Philistines. Yet, such a seemingly powerful god could not hold its own against the Lord Almighty. The first time, the Philistines found the statue of Dagon fallen face-ward before the ark of the Lord. The second time, the Philistines found the statue fallen face-ward and even had his head and hands cut off. The idolatrous Dagon was found humbled and destroyed before God Almighty represented by the ark.

RELATE
Even as the Israelites were defeated by the Philistines, the ark could not be housed in a temple built for idol worship. In fact, what happened later was that as long as the ark resided in the nation of the Philistines, bad things happened. So much so that the Philistines would urgently return the ark to Israel. God is all-powerful and holy. What is holy cannot co-exist with what is unholy and idolatrous. Therefore, whatever that is idolatrous before God shall be cleansed and destroyed.

We who are in Jesus Christ; our body is the temple of the living God (1 Corinthians 6:19). Therefore, even as we have been saved by the grace of God, our new life cannot allow “Dagon” to linger in us. We must, through the power and grace of God, get rid of all forms of idolatry in our lives. Otherwise, we might only increase our worship of these idols and would eventually suffer a broken relationship with the Holy One.

What are idols? Timothy Keller in his book “Counterfeit gods” defined idols as “whatever you look at and say, in your heart of hearts, ‘If I have that, then I’ll feel my life has meaning, then I ‘ll know I have value, then I’ll feel significant and secure.’ There are many ways to describe that kind of relationship to something, but perhaps the best one is worship.” Hence idols could be our work, possessions we dream of having, online games or the things we watch on our TV or mobile phones, or even our children. Some of these things / persons might not be harmful on their own, but our wants for them could be so great that it is causing great damage to our relationship with God.

We know what these idols are in our lives. May God help us to do away with these idols and tune our desires for Him, for the Lord Almighty want us to have nothing to do with them.

REST
Lord God, help us to be cleansed of the idols in our lives. Help us, in Your power to remove all these things that are hindering our relationship with You. Amen.

A beautiful thing

by Rev Jason Phua

Readings: Mark 14:1-21; Proverbs 16:21-23

READ (verse/s chosen for meditation)
Mark 14:6 “But Jesus said, “Leave her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a beautiful thing to me.”

REFLECT
Those who scolded the woman were not wrong to suggest that the flask of nard could fetch a large amount of money and be given to the poor. However, Jesus used the opportunity to teach an important lesson to the disciples who would soon be on their own facing persecutions for the faith. As Jesus suggested, the poor are always there; and those who are able should give to them. Yet, the disciples of Jesus should learn how to follow Jesus first before they pride themselves on doing anything else. Otherwise, even in our acts of service, we could harbour wrong motivations and sin against God. The woman with the flask of pure nard had done a beautiful thing to the Lord; not because she did not care for the poor, but because she had learned to first worship the One who saves.

RELATE
What is my service for the Lord based on? Is it only based on a sense of morality or compassion? Many people who did not choose to follow Jesus can also have a sense of morality or compassion. This is why we have many non-Christian organisations in the world that are doing great works for the poor, needy and outcasts.

So what makes my service for the poor different? Biblically, my service for the poor must flow first from my love for the Lord. It is only then can I truly learn to love others. Otherwise my love for the poor cannot be sustained if it is just based on a sense of morality or compassion. It cannot grow or even be pure if it is not rooted on the eternal fountain of love which is God.

How then can my love for others flow from my love for the Lord? Like the woman with the pure nard, it is to do a beautiful thing unto the Lord. No, it is not to pour a flask of nard unto Jesus; for physically he is no longer with us. Instead, it is to take time to worship and commune with God on a daily basis for He has given Himself to us. It is to allow God to shape our minds and hearts; so that we can truly be the love of Christ unto others. Such is the essence of Christianity as Jesus said in Mark 12:29-31:

“…The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

REST
Lord, help us to learn to worship and adore You so that what we do, no matter how noble it sounds to the world, can flow from a sense of humility and reverence for You and from You. Amen.

Like a child

by Rev Jason Phua

Readings: Mark 10:13-31; Psalms 119:153-176

READ (verse/s chosen for meditation)
Mark 10:15 “Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.”

REFLECT
As the parents brought their children to Jesus and the disciples rebuked them; Jesus used the situation to illustrate another object lesson. The object lesson that those who does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it. What does this mean? Does it mean that the followers of Christ must act like a child? The interpretation of such a verse seems to come immediately in verses 17-22 where a question was asked: “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Here a grown man (not a child) was asking how he can enter the kingdom of God, which is rather similar to inheriting eternal life. Jesus’ answer to him was that he needed to give up what he highly treasured on earth so that he can faithfully follow the “Good Teacher”. Otherwise, even following the ten commandments would not do any good. In other words, to enter God’s kingdom, Christians need to have child-like faith. The child-like faith to obey as the Lord calls. The child-like faith to abandon what is necessary in order to stay even closer to the Lord.

RELATE
I had a glimpse of such child-like faith in my son Ezekiel. When he was four years of age, a friend of ours gave him a rather generous ang pow for Chinese New Year. We asked him what he would like to do with the ang pow, he said he would like to give everything unto the Lord. To make sure we were hearing him correctly, we asked him again: “Everything?” “Yes, everything”, he said.

My wife, Belinda, and I were deeply ministered by his love and faith for the Lord. This was because at that time, we were struggling financially as I was just starting to work full time in church while Belinda stay home to look after our children. We have to scrimp and save in order to provide well for the children to have at least some healthy meals. Yet, it was at such a time when the Lord used him to remind us to trust in his heart and indeed, to have child-like faith in Him. Indeed, how can we be a part of God’s kingdom if we do not trust Him? How can we inherit eternal life if we would not cling on to Him but to cling on to what we can see with our eyes? For He is the Lord Almighty and when He say He will do it, it shall be done.

REST
Lord, thank you for the reminder that I need to walk with You and serve You with child-like faith. This is so that I can find true peace and rest in You even when the storms are blowing from all directions. Amen.

Righteousness beheaded!

by Rev Jason Phua

Readings: Mark 6:1-29; Proverbs 16:8-9

READ (verse/s chosen for meditation)
Mark 6:26 “And the king was exceedingly sorry, but because of his oaths and his guests he did not want to break his word to her.”

REFLECT
Why was King Herod “exceedingly sorry”? Because he was about to behead John the Baptist whom he deemed to be “holy and righteous”. Yet, the king was not sorry enough to value the life of this righteous man over and above what he promised of Herodias’ daughter. He was not sorry enough to choose the life of John the Baptist over and above what he could have lost in terms of his word and reputation.

The irony could not have been lost on the readers of this chapter of the gospel of Mark. While the king cherished the holiness and righteousness of someone like John the Baptist, he was all ready to overwrite such values with his own sense of righteousness, which was to fulfil his promise as the king. Such an irony echoes throughout the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. While the people marvelled at Jesus’ teachings and miracles, many stomped their foot on all of these when their own set of beliefs and wants were being threatened.

RELATE
Am I like Herod? Are there times when i choose to sacrifice what is righteous to God to preserve my own reputation or sense of worth? Have I spoken against others unnecessarily so as to make myself “look” better?

I will always remember the time during national service, when several of us played a prank on a fellow soldier as he was quite a trouble maker. Yet, when we were found out by our trainer, all except one of us didn’t have the courage to own up. Up till today and especially after knowing Christ, I felt ashamed that I didn’t own up then and it served as a stark reminder for me to put God’s righteousness above my own sense of reputation or worth.

As the Apostle Paul always said in his letters to the churches and fellow co-workers, He is not ashamed of the Gospel. The Gospel is not just about how we share the good news with others; but it also about how we live truthfully in the Gospel. Hence, as God’s children, we should not be ashamed of the Gospel and of His call to righteousness. We should not place the things of this world, our own insecurities above what is good and right to God. What is reputation? What is even my own promise to others? If all these are not done in the righteousness of God, then they are really nothing in God’s sight.

REST
Help me Lord, to value Your righteousness over and above my own reputation and sense of self-worth. This is so that Your kingdom is truly proclaimed. Help us as a church not to step on one another for our own sake; but rather to build one another up for Your sake. Amen.

As one who had authority?

by Rev Jason Phua

Bible Readings: Mark 1:1-28; Psalms 119:33-48

READ (Verses chosen for meditation)
Mark 1:22 “And they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes.”

REFLECT
I had occasionally wondered at the significance of verse 22, when it is said that Jesus “taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes”.

Didn’t the scribes or teachers of the law had a lot of authority among the Jews? Otherwise, why would Jesus often speak against their authority as religious leaders who led the people astray with their hypocrisy? I have heard preachers who claimed that this verse means that the people were in awe of Jesus because He spoke with such power and might. That might be true in a general sense, but is that what verse 22 is talking about?

As far as I know, the scribes were mostly Pharisees who were also “professional” teachers of the law. They would often interpret oral traditions to suit the local context and situations. When they teach, they will quote each other as the authority and mostly the leading rabbis of the rabbinic schools. Therefore, when Jesus taught as His own authority, referring to Himself as the fulfilment of Scripture (Luke 4 recorded such an episode); the people were “astonished”! So it wasn’t so much that Jesus taught with “power” or “might”; but that He taught in His own authority since He is the Word.

RELATE
How does an understanding of the above change the way I read the Bible?

If Jesus proclaimed the Gospel in His own authority; then those who heard it need to place ourselves under His authority. Hence, I am made more aware of the need to place myself under the authority of God’s Word (since He is the Word); and not trying to be the authority instead.

Placing myself under the authority of God’s Word means that I need to obey and act upon God’s Word for God’s sake. I should not try to cherry pick which verses to follow and which verses to ignore or hide away from. If I am doing that, then I am trying to be the authority of God’s Word, instead of placing myself under its authority.

I should also watch out for the temptation to be arrogant in the ability to interpret and understand God’s Word. If I do that, I am not placing myself under the authority of the Word; but merely trying to make use of the Word for self-proclaimed authority.

In a way, the Gospel of John began in the same tone as Mark 1: 22:

John 1:1-6 “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

And so Jesus taught as One with authority since He was the Word in the beginning and all things were made through Him.

REST
Help me Lord, to keep a posture of surrendering to Your authority of the Word; so that Your light may shine through in my obedience to your commands. Amen.

Who do we love more?

by Rev Jason Phua

Bible Readings: 2 Corinthians 11:1-15; Proverbs 15:27-28

READ (Verses chosen for meditation)
2 Corinthians 11:12 “And what I do I will continue to do, in order to undermine the claim of those who would like to claim that in their boasted mission they work on the same terms as we do.”

REFLECT
Even as the church in Corinth was started by Paul (Acts 18-19), even as he served them without any form of support even when in need (2 Cor 11:7-9), even as they grieved him immensely with their easy fellowship with those who were engaged in sexual immorality (1 Cor 5) and now with those who preached a different Jesus and a different Gospel (2 Cor 11:4), Paul’s conclusion was that he will continue to proclaim the truth. Why? Why not just give the Corinthians up to the wolves? Because he loved the Corinthians (2 Cor 11:11) and he love God more (2 Cor 12:10). He loved them more than the betrayal of the sheep or his own discomfort or his own insecurities. After all, the apostle had proclaimed earlier that his life was no longer his own (1 Cor 6).

RELATE
Who do we love more? Ourselves? Our own needs? Or the people that God has entrusted to us?

If we love God’s people more than ourselves, then why do we keep doing things that seemingly benefit ourselves?

Why do we shun from doing the “difficult” things even though we know that it will, in the longer term, be of benefit to the growth of the people?

Are we so afraid of men that we have learnt to shrink away from our first call as His servants of righteousness?

At the end of the day what really matters? Is it the glory waiting on that Day or is it the way we try to build for ourselves the status, power, recognition and approvals of men?

Don’t we all have to give an account?

The above questions helped to guide the way I serve in ministry. They have helped me not to stray away from His calling for it can be easy to do so. It is always much easier to go with the flow of the world (or even with the demands of those whom we are serving) than to go against it proclaiming the truth.

May these questions be of benefit to those who are reading this journal also, in whatever capacity you are serving His flock. Be it that you are a parent to your child/children, be it that you are a supervisor to your colleagues, be it that you are a leader in ministry, be it that you are a co-worker at the marketplace or ministry, be it that you are a friend to another who might be hurting emotionally, be it that you felt betrayed by some in church, be it that you might be thinking of leaving the church, be it that you might even be thinking of ending your own life because you thought that no one understood you.

That might be true.

But God does.

If we are in Christ, our life is no longer our own. Live it according to His will; not ours. Then we will have freedom, in the truest sense of the word. Then we will discover what Paul means when he said in 2 Cor 12:10-11 that “For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

REST
Lord our God, in this dark, depressing and violent world; You are the Light and You are the joy-Giver. Help us to go to the Light and not turn back to darkness. Even if many in this world should misunderstand our love for them, help us to find comfort and strength in the reality that You know. You always know and will make it right. Amen.