We believe in what we want to believe

by Rev Jason Phua

Bible Reading: Matthew 21:23-46; Proverbs 30:29-31

READ (verses chosen for meditation)
Matthew 21:32 “For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him. And even when you saw it, you did not afterward change your minds and believe him.”

REFLECT
In our reading today, we witness how Jesus questioned the chief priests when they tried to push Him into the corner. It was a question they could not answer, mainly because they could not let go of their self-interest. Jesus knew the heart of the chief priests and hence warned them of their foolishness. Due to their pride and eagerness to protect their own interests, they could not even acknowledge the way of John’s righteousness. Even when they saw it for themselves, they could not believe because they only want to believe what was beneficial to themselves.

RELATE
How often are we like the chief priests? Even when righteousness is right before our eyes, we refuse to say a good word because we fear to lose our own interest. We can even refuse to acknowledge or believe. Worse, we can even side with those who are wicked. As a result, those who are righteous are at times persecuted not so much because of the world; but unfortunately because of the hypocrisy of fellow believers.

Do we have any excuse to claim that we do not know what is righteous? Maybe those who are young to the faith; but believers who have been feeding on the word should know better. We should know how to discern because we have the word of God with us. We also have the Holy Spirit in us! Then why do we keep on acting as if we do not know? Why do we keep on refusing what is good and right? Is it because like the chief priests, we fear to lose what we have in this world? Or like the Jewish elders, we fear to be put to shame even for the sake of righteousness? Help us Lord to repent if this is so!

REST
Lord my God, I seek your forgiveness for the times when I refuse to do what is right for the sake of my own skin. Help me to choose righteousness instead, even if it means that I will be persecuted for it!

Worry Rat

Just when you thought the Christmas shopping is over, the Lunar New Year shopping begins. And we join the rat race to get the best buys to welcome the Year of the Rat.

Since this is going to Rat Year, let me share with you a story I’ve heard recently from my colleague.

Sir Frederick Handley Page was a decorated pilot. Once he was on a flight to an isolated place. After flying for some two hours, he heard a noise in his plane. It was the sickening sound of a rat gnawing.

His heart began to pound. He could visualize the serious damage. For all he knew the rat could be gnawing through a vital cable or control of the plane.

The more he pondered on the situation, the more anxious he became.  At first he did not know what to do. It was two hours more to the next landing field. Then he remembered that rats are rodents and they cannot survive high altitudes.

So he pulled back on the stick. The plane climbed higher and higher, until Page himself found difficulty in breathing. All the while he was listening intently. He was relieved the gnawing had stopped. When he finally arrived at his destination he found the rat lying dead behind the cockpit.

Worry is like the gnawing of a rat. However no rat of worry can survive in the secret place of the Lord Almighty.

The worry rat cannot live in the high altitude of prayer that propelled us into the Presence of the Most High. Worry dies when we ascend higher to the Lord.

May this Lunar New Year and all the years to come be worry-free as you ascend higher.

I leave you Colossians 3:1-2

“If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things, which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth.”

 Happy Gnaw-free Year!

20:20

We just bid farewell to 2019 and say hello to 2020.

I venture to say most of us welcome 2020 with cautious optimism.

We enter the New Year with news of human loss, tragic events, and global disasters.

We read of the spreading wild fire in Australia, massive floods in our neighboring country, typhoon in Philippines, unrelenting riot in Hong Kong, protest in India, strike in France. The world is chaotic.

The world is changing. It would never be the same after Brexit. The global ethos is shifting with the rising sentiment of anti-establishment, the dispensing with political correctness and the distrust of globalization, free trade and foreign migrants. Added to this is the fear of a global financial meltdown, unrecoverable climate change, nuclear threat, tariff war, recession and job losses.

2020 casts a long shadow of chaos, changes and challenges.

There was also a time when the people of God faced a vast invading army that threatens to change the history of Judah forever.

We read in II Chronicles 20 of three nations that had been nursing long history of hostility suddenly moved against Judah. They were the Moabites, the Ammonites and the Menuites.

The threat is real and imminent. King Jehoshaphat was told, “A vast army is coming against you from Edom from the other side of the Dead Sea. It is already in Hazezon Tamar”  (II Chronicles 20:2).

The enemies are at the doorsteps. King Jehoshaphat was shocked. His response was more shocking.

It makes no sense by any conventional human standard.

Instead of readying his army to defend the country, he readied his people to fast and join him in prayer.

“Alarmed, Jehoshaphat resolved to inquire of the Lord, and he proclaimed a fast for all Judah” (II Chronicles 2:3). 

The King, the priests and the people had the faith to believe, For the battle is not yours, but God’s” (II Chronicles 20:15).

Subsequent event proved that to be true. In a supernatural act of God, the enemies were defeated, put in disarray and driven out of Judah.

What is most noteworthy is the encouraging statement of King Jehoshaphat to his people in II Chronicles 20:20

“Have faith in the Lord your God and you will be upheld.”

2020 may present to us the “Moabites” of problems, the “Ammonites” of anxieties and the “Menuites” of uncertainties.

But let’s hold on to II Chronicles 20:20.

Let’s welcome 2020 with II Chronicles 20:20

Then and only then, we can confidently say, “Happy New Year!”

Binding and loosing

by Rev Jason Phua

Bible Reading: Matthew 16:13-17:9; Psalms 140:1-13

READ (verses chosen for meditation)
Matthew 16:19 “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

REFLECT
Matthew 16:19 sounds like Jesus just passed on His “superpowers” to Peter? Some teachers of the Word had consistently misused such a verse to place themselves on a pedestal. They claimed that they are given the “spiritual authority” by God to do whatever they want; all for the sake of the Gospel. Hence, with such a verse, they claimed that God had given them the power to cast out demonic influences or the authority to do whatever they deemed fit.

While Christians can be used by God to cast out demonic influences or even be called to carry out God’s mission; this verse does not seem to say anything about these things. Instead, such a verse is set in the context of the Jewish culture and given specifically to Peter as well as the other Apostles (Matthew 18:18). “Binding” and “Loosing” are idiomatic expressions in Judaism. They talk about the formal declaration of rulings to either forbid or allow certain kinds of activity. One literal illustration of such an idea was God’s discipline of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5). Simply put, the Apostles were given the authority to build God’s church in a way fitting of the commandments of God. It certainly wasn’t about certain prophets given special powers to “bind up” and “loose” / “shake” anything or anyone.

RELATE
When men try to be like God and make false claims; chaos begins. When men try to do things through a misuse or misinterpretation of God’s word; the church will suffer. The witness for the Gospel will take a beating. Instead, let us be faithful. Let us be faithful to use our heart, mind and soul to learn and apply God’s word in a way pleasing to Him. Sometimes we make mistakes. Sometimes we realise that we are doing it the wrong way. Doesn’t matter, we learn from one another. However, let us not be prideful. Let us not use God’s word to fulfil our own agenda. We are having too many of such charlatans within the community; like how some are now posing as Christians to lure unknowing people into their cultic organisations. Let us pray together that God will expose and protect. Let us be vigilant in the Spirit!

REST
Lord our God, may You help us to be discerning in the way we hear of Your word. Let us not be misled by charlatans or even people who thought they are on the right path (but are not). Instead, help us to be faithful to You and Your word. Amen.

Blasphemy against the Spirit

by Rev Jason Phua

Bible Reading: Matthew 12:22-45; Proverbs 30:10

READ (verses chosen for meditation)
Matthew 12:31 “Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven.”

REFLECT
When it comes to “favourite” verses or passages of the Christian, I am quite sure that Matthew 12:31 is not a popular choice. What did Jesus mean by “blasphemy against the Spirit”? What can be so damning for a God who sent His only Son that He will not forgive? As in all passages and verses, it must be understood in its context. What is the context? The context is that in Matthew 12:22-30, Jesus was addressing a group of Pharisees who accused Jesus of casting out demons by the demonic spirit of Beelzebul. Jesus first destroyed their illogical conclusion. Since no house would seek to destroy itself; why would the demons cast out their very own?

Jesus then gave them the warning; that their accusation is a very serious one. It was as if the Pharisees are blaspheming (which literally means showing contempt or lack of reverence) the Holy Spirit. Such cannot be forgiven because there is no basis for God to grant forgiveness. Any other sins or blasphemies can be forgiven assuming the one who did them repent. However, how is one to repent against the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit? It cannot be done. Why?

Because when one blaspheme against the Holy Spirit and call out good to be evil; there is no repentance to speak of. Therefore God cannot grant forgiveness when grace is rejected; when the Holy Spirit is accused to be demonic. It was as if the Pharisees, despite Jesus’ warning and rebuke, kept on refusing the Light and insisted that Jesus is the enemy. If this is so, how then can such be forgiven since there is no recognition of who God truly is and even the rejection of what He offered?

RELATE
Jesus’ warning to the Pharisees serves as a great reminder for me. A reminder that the sharing of the Gospel is urgent. Not only to our loved ones or friends; but to any whom the Lord has placed in our paths. We are called to share the Gospel which includes being the Gospel. This means walking in the truth. This means conducting our lives as it should be according to the word of God. Then, as we do so, we pray that those whom we cared about will come to believe.

If they continue to deny the truth despite of the grace and love they experienced, then may the Lord has mercy. At the end of the day, it is God who decide; not us. For the Lord had demonstrated His everlasting love in order for us to come to Him. There is really nothing else more to do or pine for. Jesus’ birth, suffering, death, resurrection and ascension is the all in all. It is done. It is finished.

This Christmas season, let us not indulge ourselves in the “sales” of worldly things; but to be “urgent” in being and sharing the Gospel.

REST
Lord my God, help me to care enough to share the Gospel with love and urgency. Amen.

Pigs or men?

by Rev Jason Phua

Bible Reading: Matthew 8:18-34; Psalm 133:1-3

READ (verses chosen for meditation)
Matthew 8:32-34
32 And he said to them, “Go.” So they came out and went into the pigs, and behold, the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the sea and drowned in the waters. 33 The herdsmen fled, and going into the city they told everything, especially what had happened to the demon-possessed men. 34 And behold, all the city came out to meet Jesus, and when they saw him, they begged him to leave their region.

REFLECT
It was a peculiar scene. Jesus just helped the entire city drove out powerful demons and all the people wanted was to ask Jesus to leave. Why? The text did not say in specific details but we can make good inferences based on what happened. The problem could be because Jesus acceded to the demons’ request to be driven into a herd of pigs. Under powerful demonic influences, the pigs drove themselves into the waters. Witnessing such a scene, the herdsmen fled and probably told all in the city that even though Jesus drove away demons, they have lost their mighty possessions (pigs were a livelihood after all). The city could be in fear that they could lose more if Jesus had stayed. In a way, it was preferred that the demon-possessed men stayed that way and the herdsmen could keep their pigs.

RELATE
By asking Jesus to leave, a choice was made by the city-dwellers. The choice to retain whatever possessions they have left for fear of losing them. They preferred to have not witnessed the power of salvation but to keep whatever the world can offer. It is easy to judge them however. It is easy to say that they were foolish to have missed the Messiah and gave in to fear.

Yet, we could just be as foolish at times. We could have easily choose possessions over Jesus. much of the time. We could have even chosen “pigs” instead of the salvation of fellow men. We do this when we cower at the inconvenience of caring for the people around us. We do this when we prefer to spend time at work than interacting with pre-believing friends or even family members. We do this when we pretend to be pious Christians on Sundays; but deep down, we could barely part with what we have. We do this when we prefer to protect our self-interest than to “risk” it for the sake of His kingdom.

REST
Help us Lord, to choose You instead of what we think is important to us. Help us to have faith and seek Your kingdom first. Amen.

Light vs Darkness

by Rev Jason Phua

Bible Reading: Matthew 4:12-25; Proverbs 29:21-22

READ (verses chosen for meditation)
Matthew 4:15-16 “The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles — the people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned.”

REFLECT
Matthew 4:15-16 speaks of the prophecy that was given to the prophet Isaiah. A prophecy that pointed to the coming of Jesus as the Light of the world. In particular, we are told that the Light was made visible and dawned upon those who were living in darkness and even in the shadow of death.

Now, what does this mean? This means that Jesus came not because He wanted to set a new world order nor was He interested to be king of the world. Instead, Jesus came to bring light into our fallen world. In particular, Jesus had brought Himself to be God incarnate to be the source of salvation for those who are lost and grieving. Indeed, Jesus is the Light that was made visible and dawned upon those who were living in darkness.

RELATE
My daughter has a fear for darkness. Up till this day, she would ask me to accompany her if there is a need for her to go to dark places. Sometimes, I would tell her that because Jesus is with her, she need not fear. Jesus is the Light and He can overcome all darkness. Of course, there are times when she cannot appreciate such an imagery when all she saw in front of her is physical darkness.

Yes, physical darkness can be an overwhelming experience for some. However, what Jesus promised was much deeper than the overcoming of physical darkness. He had promised that He can help those who are living in darkness and even those in the shadow of death to gain victory.

Spiritual darkness can occur even when the sun is shining. Spiritual darkness is the imagery of how we are struggling in our sins or difficult circumstances which cause us much grief and tears. Yet, Jesus the Light has the power to penetrate our souls and purify us for His good purposes. Jesus the Light has the grace to provide hope and comfort even when we are in the valley of the shadow of death. The promise has been given ever since the time of Isaiah; what is left to do is to come to the Light. What is left to do is to put our trust in Him and follow the Light; as He said to the disciples a few verses later in Matthew 4: 18-20: “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men”.

REST
Jesus, help me to be humble and come to you, especially when I struggle with spiritual darkness. This is because You are the only Light that can help overcome and empower. Amen.