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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Blame and Bribe

by Rev Lai Kai Ming

Readings: 1 Samuel 15-16; Proverbs 17:1

READ (verse/s chosen for meditation)
1 Samuel 15:21 (NKJV)
“But the people took of the plunder, sheep and oxen, the best of the things which should have been utterly destroyed, to sacrifice to the Lord your God in Gilgal.”

REFLECT
Blame and bribe. Blaming the people, and bribing God – that’s what Saul tried to do. The Lord has given him very specific instructions to destroy everything. Perhaps Saul thought that he had already obeyed 90%. What a waste to kill all the livestock. Let’s keep the king alive as a prize catch – and show the neighboring nations what Israel was capable of. But when confronted by the prophet, Saul was quick to blame his subordinates for his disobedience. And he tried to bribe the Creator with creatures. How foolish!

RELATE
Yes, foolish. That’s how I am sometimes. Instead of taking responsibility for my own failures, I try to find scapegoats. Blame the other person. Blame the weather. Blame the government. Blame God. But until I am able to be honest and take ownership, I will remain in my immaturity. I will keep finding excuses, and evade the matter at heart. Worse still, I will begin (like Saul) to think that perhaps I can get God on my side if I share some of my spoils with Him. Yes, I would become religious, yet unsaved. May God save me from such a tragic end!

REST
Lord, help me to trust You enough to always do the right thing – even if it baffles my mind, and hurts my pride.

Feeling and Fact in Worship

There are quite a few worship songs these days in Charismatic circles about the atmosphere, the environment in the room when Jesus walks in, etc., all focused on feelings and experience. I appreciate the fact that they help us remember that corporate worship is not just about singing enthusiastically but also about experiencing God in a personal and even tangible way, after all God is so real. You just cannot sing to God without feeling anything in your heart, He is not a stone tablet or an inanimate idol! What is important though is that while we lead people into the presence of God, leading them to experience the Lord personally and warmly, we must also lead them through other types of songs to make sure that our Christian faith is not founded upon feelings and emotions but primarily upon the foundation of the Word of God. For instance, we need to remember that our faith in God is founded upon the redemptive work of Christ on the cross – a historical fact that remains unchanged no matter what we may feel in our hearts. Negative feelings do not negate the historical fact. Our circumstances do not change our identity as children of God – deeply loved and highly favored. We also need to remember that we receive grace in order to give grace, it’s never for personal consumption only. Don’t you feel annoyed when some think that it is all for their own benefit? We receive love to give love and we receive hope to give hope. Jesus is the Light of the world and He tells us “you are the light of the world, so let your light shine!” (Jn.8:12; Mt.5:14-16)

An Over-Emphasis on Atmosphere and Emotional Experience in Church Worship?

Is there an over-emphasis on atmosphere and emotional experience in church worship today? Are we manufacturing it deliberately, creating moods with our music and our sound pads, writing lyrics that encourage the seeking of an experience? I love good flow in worship music, in fact I believe in it so much I named my former worship team, FLOW. And I would do it again with my next team! I believe that corporate worship in church services should lead worshippers from the outer courts into the holy of holies – the deeper place where we encounter Holy God and quietly hear Him speak and He does speak to us through His still small voice, not only from the Bible, though whatever we believe we hear from Him must never contradict the Bible. When He does, everything changes, our lives are transformed. I love 1Cor.14:25 where the non-believer saw amazing things happened in church, the exercise of spiritual gifts, and he fell to the ground, worshipped and exclaimed, “Truly God is amongst you!” Wouldn’t it be great if both church members and visitors in our churches leave every Sunday exclaiming, “Truly God is amongst you!”? I would love that – and I have prayed for it many times. Yet at the same time, I am truly concerned that we might consciously or unconsciously over-emphasize atmosphere and experience and make them the all-sufficient end in themselves. And when it comes to the Bible, we appear to be a lot less enthusiastic. How do we check ourselves? Just look at the lyrics of the songs we sing in church. How much of it focuses on experience – and I’m not saying we shouldn’t emphasize experience and encounter – they are important, crucial even, but we must not OVER-emphasize it. And do our lyrics cover the whole counsel of God’s Word or just the parts of the Bible that are inspiring and encouraging? We have many songs that focus on the cross – about the love of God demonstrated on the cross, Jesus paying the price, His death and His resurrection and the empty grave. That’s all good. But what about the cross we are to carry today as Christians? What about the price we are to pay living the truly Christian life, serving God wherever the Spirit leads us including places that are challenging, uncomfortable and even life-threatening like how Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil? How about songs about putting to death the carnal man in us, songs about living holy lives in eager anticipation of the Second Coming of Christ, and in anticipation of His final judgment? How often do we sing songs about that? When we don’t, we are skewing the worship experience and worshippers only learn a few things and not everything about God through our corporate worship and songs we write. No wonder shallow faith is not uncommon amongst God’s people today! While we emphasize the importance of experiencing God in corporate worship, let’s be careful not to over-emphasize it. I find this philosophy I heard about three decades ago very helpful: “All Word and no Spirit, you DRY UP. All Spirit and no Word, you BLOW UP. But with both Word and Spirit, you GROW UP.”

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.

Dumb questions?

by Rev Lai Kai Ming

Readings: 1 Samuel 1:1-2:21; Psalm 125

READ (verse/s chosen for meditation)
1 Samuel 1:8 (NLT)
“Why are you crying, Hannah?” Elkanah would ask. “Why aren’t you eating? Why be downhearted just because you have no children? You have me—isn’t that better than having ten sons?”

REFLECT
Whenever I read this verse, I can’t help but laugh. Poor Hannah, being asked two dumb questions and then one more dumber one! As a husband, like Elkanah, I confess to sometimes asking dumb and insensitive questions. And the problem is because I have forgotten to step into the shoes of the one suffering. Yes, Elkanah was a nice husband who pampers his childless wife with double portions. Yet he could not fathom why a child was so important to Hannah. All he could think of was himself as the solution of all problems.

RELATE
Be quick to listen, slow to speak, the book of James teaches us. If Elkanah would spend more time listening, he would probably have kept silent. None of us can fully understand the suffering of our neighbor. Instead of trying to offer unhelpful words of comfort, perhaps we should just cry with them. One reason why I sometimes ask dumb questions is because I become impatient. I wish inside that the problem would go away ASAP, so that everyone can be happy and move on with life. But no. That’s not the way to love, and live.

REST
Lord, teach me to love in a way that makes sense to the one loved.

Generosity in the Early Church Impossible Today?

“All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.” – Acts‬ ‭2:44-45‬ ‭NIV‬‬

People often talk about how the church today should return to biblical Christianity in the New Testament. For instance, we should see the same or more miracles, signs, wonders and exercise of spiritual and power gifts today than what were recorded in Acts. I agree, we really should. But what about Ac.2:44-45? Should we not see the same or greater generosity amongst believers today than what was recorded in Acts? “… had everything in common… sold property to give to anyone who had need.” Is that even possible today? How far can we go with this? I have heard of pastors urging and people selling property to live in a cheaper home in order to give money to build a multi-million dollar church building. But I have not yet come across people selling property to give directly to the poor. Truth is, more often than not, these two verses are ignored – they are seldom preached or taught. Even in our study of the Ac.2 passage, we tend to focus our attention on other things in the passage and say little or nothing about verses 44-45. But Pastor John Gray of Relentless Church went against the grain and did something quite unheard of – asking those who were in need in his church to take as much as they needed from the offering baskets (see https://www.christianpost.com/news/relentless-church-pastor-john-gray-knocks-pulpit-pimps-lets-members-in-need-take-from-offering-baskets-228772/). What will we do today? Do we give to those who are in need? Do we give from our spare change or do we give till it hurts? Is our church known for generosity? Will we astound the world with our selfless giving? Why shouldn’t we.