What is Purim? Purim is the Jewish holiday whereby the Jews commemorate being saved from persecution in the ancient Persian empire. Haman, the Agagite Prime Minister of Persia, plotted to destroy, kill and annihilate all the Jews—young and old, men or women in a day. Esther risked her life to save the Jews. She trusted in God to deliver them. God, although not mentioned in the story of Esther, delivered His people.
Each year, Purim is celebrated on the 14th of the Hebrew month of Adar. Purim in 2022 begins on Wednesday night of 16 March to Thursday, 17 March.
In Esther’s day, the Jews trusted in God for deliverance. And He delivered them. For us today, we can also depend on God who is the same, today, yesterday, and forever (Hebrews 13:8) to deliver us. God will respond when His people cries out to Him (Isaiah 59:1).
We may not observe this holiday as Chinese/Asian Christians, but we can take this time to remember God’s greatness, faithfulness and goodness in our lives. He is faithful. Let us too, ask for God’s grace to remain faithful to Him and hold fast to our faith in Him through trials and times of difficulties.
We may spend a lot of time and efforts working or studying. Working are necessary as it provides for our livelihood (Proverbs 16:26). It is equally important to seek wisdom as it leads to life.
How is it different from knowledge, understanding and discernment?
Knowledge is the ability to comprehend a topic. It is on the intellectual side.
Understanding is the insight into the nature of a thing. For example, an airplane engineer may have the understanding of how an airplane works, but people who are not in this field will not understand it.
Discernment is the ability to distinguish one thing from another and often involves one’s moral sensitivities: what is right and wrong. The person will then make the decision which seems best.
Wisdom is making sound judgment based on all these: knowledge, understanding and discernment so as to take a certain course of action.
The Old Testament has 3 sections: Torah, Prophets and Writings. The theme of wisdom is found throughout the Bible but there are wisdom books in the Bible namely: Job, Proverbs, Psalms, Song of Songs, and Ecclesiastes. There are 2 distinct types of these wisdom books:
(1) reflective wisdom. Job, Psalms and Ecclesiastes reflect on the nature of this world, God the Creator and our roles as the created beings.
(2) practical wisdom. This is the book of Proverbs and epistle of James that gives instructions for living our daily lives.
A proverb is a poetic saying that conveys truth in a few words. They are observations about life. The purpose of proverbs, according to Proverbs 1:2-6 is:
-For gaining wisdom and instruction
-To do what is right and just and fair
-Giving knowledge to the simple and young
According to Proverbs there are a few ways that we can get wisdom:
Personal Mistakes (Proverbs 26:11)
Each of us had made mistakes: the things that we say, something that we did, which we regret so terribly. Things might be different had we not say those words, or did certain thing but mistakes help us to gain wisdom, if we take time to reflect on it and is willing to learn from it.
11 As a dog returns to its vomit,
so fools repeat their folly.
Proverbs 26:11-12 sounds quite gross but it is an imagery of us returning to our foolishness and not learning from it. Just as it is disgusting for a dog to return to its vomit, it is the same for someone who repeats the same mistakes again and again.
When we sinned, God in His mercy will discipline us so that we would not return to the sin but will turn back to God and walk on His path of righteousness. A wise person will learn from discipline and avoid repeating the same mistakes. Is there something you have “vomited’ out of your life but are always returning to it? It could be bitterness, a complaining attitude, a habit of not telling the truth and so on. May the Holy Spirit grant us wisdom and strength so that we will not return to our own “vomit”.
Friends (Proverbs 27:5)
Spiritual companions are important to us. They tell us the truth even when they see us making mistakes with the sincere aim that we will not repeat them or else we will head for destruction.“Better is open rebuke than hidden love”(Proverbs 27:5). “Open rebuke” is honest and straightforward, but it is done with love. Love that is hidden is not beneficial to the recipient.
Proverbs 19:20, “Listen to advice and accept discipline, and at the end you will be counted among the wise.”
Be wise in choosing our friends. Be wise in choosing those whom you call your inner circle. The right friends will give you good advice in life, and you can also learn from their wisdom in life: how they live their life, how they manage their time, their relationships with others. You too will be considered a wise person if you listen to advice by those trustworthy people who have your best interest at heart.
Discipline from God (Proverbs 3:11-12)
11 My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline,
and do not resent his rebuke,
12 because the Lord disciplines those he loves,
as a father the son he delights in (Proverbs 3:11-12)
God’s discipline is good for us because He disciplines those He loves. God’s instructions to us are a lamp to our feet, they light up our path (Proverbs 6:23). The reproofs of instruction are the way of life. God disciplines us to bring us back to the path of life.
Discipline and correction is painful but it is ultimately good because they make us grow to be more like Christ. God disciplines us so that we will share in His holiness.
As Proverbs 15:31, “Whoever heeds life-giving correction will be at home among the wise.” We will be wise as a result of heeded discipline.
The Bible gives us the 10 Commandments. From the 10 Commandments, we know the boundaries of what we can and can not do. The Holy Spirit gives us wisdom to stay within the boundaries of God’s commandments.
However, the Bible does not tell us whether we should move to another country or stay put here, or which job to take. The Bible does not tell us whom exactly to marry, although we are clear that we can not marry someone of the same gender. Yet, if we are not wise in making these decisions, it can bring serious consequences to our lives.
If we marry the wrong person, our marriage will not be God-glorifying. We will get hurt, frustrated, angry, our children will suffer. If we get the wrong job, we may not be putting our gifts to the right use. We will get frustrated and angry.
In day to day living, we need wisdom too. We need wisdom to use our time wisely so that we can still have time for our family and ourselves despite having to work. We need wisdom in this pandemic, now that we are seeing our family more, we need wisdom to guard the words that come from our mouths. We also need wisdom in managing our finances in this pandemic: how much to save, what are unnecessary spending, how much to give to the needy. All these things in life need to be taken care of because without wisdom when we make these decisions, life will come to a ruin.
So, remember, we gain wisdom in life by making these decisions in life: (1) reflecting upon our mistakes and refrain from repeating them, (2) think about the open rebuke from people we trust and how we should apply it in our lives, (3) accept discipline from the Lord when we have sinned, though it is very painful at the moment.
May God give us the wisdom and the grace to live our lives which are pleasing to Him.
February marks the beginning of the season of Lent. What is Lent? Lent is a time of repentance, fasting and preparation for the coming of Easter. Lent is a season of 40 days, not including Sundays. It begins on Ash Wednesday and ends on Holy Saturday (the day before Easter Sunday). Lent comes from the Anglo Saxon word “lencten”, which means “lengthen” and it refers to the lengthening days of spring.
There are 40 days in Lent to represents the 40 days Jesus spent in the wilderness, in which Jesus was spending time in prayer in preparation for His ministry. It was when the devil tempted Him 3 times, and Jesus defeated him (Matthew 4:1-11).
Lent is a time of repentance and fasting. Fasting does not necessarily mean we abstain from food. It can be refraining from activities that distract us from spending time in prayers. Fasting helps us to draw closer to God by remembering that we do not live on bread or food alone but on God’s Word. Fasting helps us to attack the sin that is within us. What sins are you struggling with? Fasting helps us to lean upon God and with God’s help, break away from the sins that entangled us. Fasting gives us freedom from sins that grip us.
The Israelites described in this passage were fasting. However, their fasting was not acceptable to God. One of the problems was that although they were fasting, they were using it as an opportunity to oppress the weaker people. The employer would use fasting as an excuse to avoid work for that period of time, and it meant that the workers would have no income during the fast. This provoked God’s anger.
The people were fasting, yes, but at the same time, they had their own selfish agendas behind it. From the outward appearance, it seemed they were fasting, but God saw their hearts, and their hearts were far from God.
What is the type of fast God is looking for?
It is mentioned in Isaiah 58: 6-12:
• to loose the chains of injustice
• to untie the cords of the yoke
• to set the oppressed free and break every yoke
• to share your food with the hungry
• to provide the poor wanderer with shelter
• to clothe the naked
• and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood.
And then in verses 9-10:
• if you do away with the yoke of oppression
• stop the pointing of the finger
• stop the malicious talk
• spend yourselves on behalf of the hungry
• satisfy the needs of the oppressed
In short, God wants to see these things in His children:
1. Lift the Burdens of Others
• to loose the chains of injustice
• to untie the cords of the yoke
• to set the oppressed free and break every yoke
• To satisfy the needs of the oppressed
Words such as: “chains, cords of the yoke, oppressed…”. God wants us to help lift the burdens of others. Not to increase it.
May we help those in need, and not to be bystanders to watch or to add to their hardship.
2. Share your food with the hungry
In school, we had to do Moral Education. We were given a picture and say what we should do in a scenario. In school, it is easy to say we should do this and that but now we are adults living in a real world. Sharing food with the hungry is not as straight forward as writing Moral essays in class. How can you share with food with the hungry? We are called to feed the hungry. What are some ways that we can feed the hungry? It may not need to be like a pot-bless or a party or something extravagant. It can be a small little act that we do. God will use your small acts of kindness to bless someone in need.
3. Provide the poor wanderer with shelter
God calls us to provide shelter to others. It can refer to being hospitable to others, especially the foreigners, the migrants in our land. How can we show hospitality to others?
4. Provide clothing for the naked
This includes clothing others with dignity. Remember that we all came from the dust of the ground as God has made the first man out of the earth. Uphold each other with dignity.
The verse says, don’t point fingers at others. Be sympathetic.
5. Respect others
In fasting, we are to respect others. And not to turn away from our own flesh and blood.
13 Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters. 2 Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it. 3 Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering. (Hebrews 13:1-3, NIV)
Remember those who were in difficult circumstances as if we too are in it.
6. Satisfied the needs of the oppressed
Help those who are oppressed. Be their friend. Passionless giving or donation without much thoughts are not what God wanted.
If you do these things, then see how you will experience God’s mercy and grace:
-Your light will break forth like the dawn
You will enjoy the blessings of the Lord. People will know that you belong to God by the way you live.
-There will be strengthening in you
-Your righteousness will go before you
-Glory of the Lord will be your rear guard
-The Lord will surround you
-The Lord will answer when you call
-The Lord will satisfy your needs
-The Lord will strengthen your frame
-You will be like a well-watered garden and like an ever-flowing spring
God blesses those who bless others. God will never short-change His children. When you give of yourselves to help others, God will satisfy you. You who feed others, God will feed you. You who clothed others in need, you will be clothed by God. You will not be in want but will be like a well-watered garden, a spring that will not run dry. God will strengthen you and bless you.
These are the blessings we will receive when we fast the right way to seek His face. We have to be very careful here. God is not a genie whose arms we can twist in order to get blessings. Every blessing we receive is grace from God, not that we have earn it with our own efforts or strength.
It is a right time to think about these questions:
Why am I doing what I am doing?
Why am I fasting?
Am I praying and fasting because I want to draw near to God? Or am I doing this with hidden motives or self-centred agenda?
Lent started with Ash Wednesday. The significance of Ash Wednesday is to remind us of our mortality. Let us be mindful that we are just a breath. The weak, the poor and the oppressed are not so different from us. They are also human like us. How would you live differently if you are mindful that our days are on earth are numbered? As Moses prayed, “Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” (Psalm 90:12)
Lent is a time of repentance, fasting and preparation for the coming of Easter. Let us be intentional to set aside time to seek God’s face. Let us think beyond ourselves and see how we can help others during the season of Lent. May we be refreshed by God as we help others.
As human beings, it is in our nature to complain rather than to give thanks. It is so much easier to see what we don’t have and to grumble than to see what we have and count our blessings.
The God whom we worshipped is the Almighty and everlasting, sovereign God, and we are His creation, made from dust but created with so much love and thoughts. As James, the brother of Jesus Christ, says, we are like a morning mist, only here for a short while (James 4:14). As God has said to Adam, the first created human, to dust we shall return (Genesis 3:19). And we shall eagerly await the day when God will establish His Kingdom that never ends.
In the ancient Jewish context, Psalm 118 was most probably an entrance liturgy to the Temple, used at the Passover festival. This psalm proclaimed God’s deliverance from Egypt and then from the Babylonian Exile.
The psalmist then ended this psalm by praising God for His mercy. God had helped His people in the past, and God will help them in the future.
In this psalm, we can find many reasons to give thanks to the Lord.
Give Thanks to the Lord because He is with us (VV5-7)
“5 When hard pressed, I cried to the Lord; he brought me into a spacious place.”
When you are hard pressed from every side, from the attacks of the enemy, from the pressures of life, when we cry out to God, He hears us because His love for us endures forever. His love endures forever because of the covenant He has made with His people. God will not leave us or forsake us. We can thank God because we know He hears our every word to Him and He is with us.
6 The Lord is with me; I will not be afraid.
What can mere mortals do to me?
There is this peaceful reassurance that God is with us. Our enemies may try to harm us. They may trick us with their schemes but if we make our Lord our refuge, He will lead us and protect us. Our God watches over us, His people.
7 The Lord is with me; he is my helper.
I look in triumph on my enemies. (v 7)
In our anguish and helplessness, God gave us confidence that He is with us. Think back to a time in your life when you were in a desperate situation. Did God deliver you and give you victory? Do you think that He will do that again?
Give Thanks to the Lord: because He is trustworthy (vv8-9)
We give thanks to God because we can trust Him. We can trust Him because He is a covenant-keeping God.
“It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in humans. It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in princes” (vv 8-9).
When we face a problem, usually we will take it to social media to vent and get people on our side to support us. Oftentimes, God is our very last resort when we have failed to find help. We have gone through so much trouble and may even had got deeper into trouble before we finally consulted God. This verse reminds us that God is so trustworthy. He helps us. He is our refuge in difficult times.
I am not minimising the need for having a community who love us, pray for us and care for us, because God use people to encourage us. With all of their love, support and encouragement, we can carry on. My point is: bring your matters before God first and seek for His guidance. Find refuge in God first. Hear from Him first.
Give thanks to the Lord: because of His powerful Name (vv 10-12)
10 All the nations surrounded me,
but in the name of the Lord I cut them down.
11 They surrounded me on every side,
but in the name of the Lord I cut them down.
12 They swarmed around me like bees,
but they were consumed as quickly as burning thorns;
in the name of the Lord I cut them down.
The psalmist was in trouble and distressed. But God was with him. He called upon God, and God delivered him.
“The name of the Lord is a fortified tower; the righteous run to it and are safe” (Proverbs 18:10, NIV).
There is power in God’s holy Name. Don’t take it lightly or make fun of it. There is power in God’s Name.
Give thanks to the Lord because He is our strength (vv13-16)
This is a Hallel (praise) Psalm. Hallel means praise, and yah means (Yahweh or God or the Lord). When combined, it means “hallelujah”, praise the Lord.
This psalm is also one of six Egyptian Hallel Psalms that were recited during the Passover and other major Jewish festivals. It commemorated the deliverance of Israel from Egyptian slavery.
Verse 14 is directly taken from Exodus 15, where Moses celebrated the crossing of the Red Sea when God saved His people from the Egyptians pursuing them in chariots.
“The Lord is my strength and defense; he has become my salvation”.
According to the psalmist, the Lord who saved the Israelites from the Pharaoh was the same God who helped him. It is also the same God who is with us and helps us today. When you feel hopeless, and even defeated, look back at your life. How did God lead and guide? He was there with you through the darkest moments. He is still with you today.
Give thanks to the Lord, because He has been your strength and He is your strength. There is a difference between God giving you strength and God is your strength. The psalmist said, God is my strength. It is much more than He giving you strength. He has become your strength.
Give thanks to the Lord because of His purpose for us (vv 17-18)
“I will not die but live, and will proclaim what the Lord has done” (v 17)
The psalmist realised that the length of his days was in God’s hands. He knew that God had delivered him from his enemies and he should not be wasting his days away. Rather, he would proclaim what God had done for him.
Our lives are not just for our own enjoyment. It is our duty is to proclaim the goodness, faithfulness and love of God. When you proclaimed what God has done, you could be encouraging and blessing others.
We don’t know how long we will be on earth, but trust that God has His own plan and purpose for each of us to accomplish.
In Psalm 90, Moses prayed, “Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom” (verse 12). May God give us wisdom, so that we will live wisely.
“The Lord has chastened me severely, but he has not given me over to death” (verse 18).
God chastens or disciplines us because He loves us and wants us to walk on the right path: the path of righteousness and justice, which are His attributes. As the psalmist had noted, our lives are in God’s hands. He does what is best for us. Even when the circumstances around you were not what you have imagined, trust in God.
The main theme of this psalm is that God’s love endures forever. It appears four times in the first four verses (one time in each verse) and in the last verse of this psalm. The message of God’s love is not just only in this psalm, but it is the theme of the whole Bible: from the very first word of Genesis to the last words in Revelation. His love endures forever.
The psalmist is calling the Israelites to remember God’s loving kindness. Time and time again the Israelites were unfaithful to God and yet, His love for them remained unchanged.
This is a reminder for us today. Our God loves us. Time and time again we took God for granted and thought we deserved more. We grumble and complain. Let us come back to God with repentance.
There are so many reasons to give thanks to God. And some of the reasons are expressed by the psalmist. We give thanks to the Lord because:
He answers my prayer (VV5-7)
He is trustworthy (vv8-9)
He is our strength (vv13-16)
His has a wonderful purpose for us (vv 17-18)
Let us give thanks to the Lord for His love endures forever.
Since the country is in a lockdown thirty-three days ago, life has a “new normal”.
Ministry are all online now: online prayer meetings, online meetings, online fellowships, online Sunday services… these are now the new normal.
In my social circle, it is easier now to have a catch-up session with friends. Everyone is at home. In the past, it takes two years to plan a dinner with a group of my girl friends – – – our timetables were always clashing with each others’. Now that everybody is home, it is easier to re-connect.
How are you coping with life when a significant amount of activities we used to do are now being carried out online?