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.

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Gospel and War

by Rev Lai Kai Ming

Readings: Mark 12:38-13:13; Proverbs 16:19-2

READ (verse/s chosen for meditation)
Mark 13:12-13 (NKJV)
Now brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up against parents and cause them to be put to death. And you will be hated by all for My name’s sake. But he who endures to the end shall be saved.

REFLECT
How can a gospel of peace and love bring death and hate? Why is there so much at stake, that family members would betray one another unto death? Why can’t we just compromise, tolerate, and allow everyone to live as they desire? The only reasonable explanation is that evil is real, and good will be mercilessly attacked.

RELATE
Nobody likes to be hated. Surely not me. I don’t even like to be disliked! By nature, I’m peace-loving, and people-pleasing. I avoid conflict, and shun confrontation. But there are times when war is necessary. When false teaching threatens the church. When wolves prowl amongst the congregation. When human agendas seek to supplant kingdom priorities. Yes, evil is real and good can be hated. May I endure to the end, and be saved.

REST
Lord, help me never to choose popularity over honesty, and ego over eternity.

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.

Why Pray?

by Rev Lai Kai Ming

Readings: Mark 9; Psalm 119:129-152

READ (verse/s chosen for meditation)
Mark 9:28-29
And when He had come into the house, His disciples asked Him privately, “Why could we not cast it out?” So He said to them, “This kind can come out by nothing but prayer and fasting.”

REFLECT
Another tough saying from the Lord. The disciples’ question indicated that thus far, they have been able to cast out all other demons by the authority that Jesus had given them. Yet, this was different. But why? In Matthew’s account of this episode, Jesus said the disciples lacked faith, adding that “this kind” could only be cast out by prayer (and fasting). It would be fair to assume that Jesus himself had prayed before He dealt with his particular demon. If Jesus had to pray, may we not be so presumptuous to think that we are exempt.

RELATE
Why pray? This theological question has bugged me since my early days as a Christian. I even have a book with that title! I have come to the conclusion that prayer is a mystery, and the only way to understand it is to pray. To pray is to realize that we have an important part to play in God’s saving work. If we don’t pray, He might allow certain important work to be left undone. We would then miss out on the joy and privilege of being His partners. It is my prayer, that in the coming year, God will help me to pray more, and pray better. This is a prayer that He will certainly answer!

REST
“Lord, teach me how to pray!”

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.

Mercy for demons?

by Rev Lai Kai Ming

Readings: Mark 4:46-5:20; Pro 16:6-7

READ (verse/s chosen for meditation)
Mark 5:11-12
Now a large herd of swine was feeding there near the mountains. So all the demons begged Him, saying, “Send us to the swine, that we may enter them.”
And at once Jesus gave them permission.

REFLECT
I have always been intrigued by the demons’ request. Why would they even bother to beg Jesus, unless they expect some form of mercy? On the part of Jesus, why would he even bother with the pleas of unclean spirits? Shouldn’t he have spoken the word and rid the world of their foul influence? Yet, the Son of God answered the prayer of undeserving demons at the price of 2000 precious pigs.

RELATE
We can never fathom the depths of God’s mercy. Yet, we are often too quick to judge the sins of others and declare their condemnation. We call people hopeless, and beyond redemption. Such attitudes only betray our lack of self-understanding, and poor awareness of our own depravity. We forget that we have been pardoned from hell only by the grace of God. Instead of lamenting for wasted pigs, we should be praising Jesus for redeeming the seemingly unredeemable – by His own precious blood.

REST
Lord, may we never be too quick to judge another as beyond help and hope. Teach us to show mercy in the way we have known mercy.

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.