Month: July, 2015

When We Find Hope

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Pastor Peter’s “Letter to My Grown Children: #lovewins”

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An open letter to my grown children

Hi guys,

The big hoo-ha in recent weeks had been the US Supreme Court legalization of same-sex marriage. The LGBT and liberals gloat. Most Christians groan, fret, get angry, panic, etc. I like to suggest all this commotion is but a red herring to the real issue.

First, I believe the core of this “battle” is the meaning of a word and not LGBT rights. My litmus test is this: If the issue had been to grant “civil-union” rights to homosexual couples similar to normal marriages, we will not see such angst or gloating. If homosexuals win full rights to civil-unions, they get their rights and Christians get to keep the term “marriage.” But the liberals have selected the more ambitious platform of “marriage” rather than “civil-unions” and they won.

On this, my take is that while the Supreme Court has the human authority to determine rights, they do not have authority over the meaning of a word. They can hear the case for same-sex couples to have equal rights as heterosexual couples in “civil-unions,” “domestic partnerships,” etc., but they have no right to change the meaning of a word. Be that as it may, I have not the energy to get involved in this word game – even though this word game brings with it significant social ramifications.

Second, I think not all the ramifications of this legislation are bad. We must not naively believe that all Christian opposition to same-sex unions flow from right views or good motives. Let me illustrate.

Let’s say I own a hotel. Today, I don’t inspect the marriage licenses of man-woman couples checking into a room to ensure they are not engaging in extra-marital intimacy. But when I see a homosexual couple, I refuse to rent them a room and say it is against my religious beliefs and my conscience. Is it really a matter of conscience? Both situations represent a non-biblical practice of sexuality. But I wink at the heterosexual sin and act against the homosexual sin. This is a selective conscience. And why do I have a selective conscience? Is that not prejudice? There is a biasness against the LGBT that is real. You may agree with my theology about homosexuality but you cannot agree with my practice as a hotelier with selective conscience.

This legislation, wrong as it may be, may go some ways to dismantle the sinful discrimination we practice against the LGBT. And this in turn will open opportunities for us to reach out to them; hopefully without our prejudice, and without their defensiveness.

The third reason why I’ve remained on the sideline is that I view America as a post-Christian country, as a secular state. Yes, America retains vestiges of Christian values, more than most western countries, but it is secular and we should expect a godless judgment, which may or may not be ungodly. It is simply a judgment without god, and therefore godless. Godless legislators may inadvertently arrive at godly or ungodly decisions. But their decisions are grounded on godlessness.

The fourth reason for my non-engagement is that there is actually some merit in the argumentation for a legislation that allows legal choice (even though the legislation as it stands is morally wrong). Liberals are actually correct to say they can choose anyone they want for sexual intimacy. Choice is a God-given right. We can choose evil. The ability to choose does not make something right. Cases in point: Hitler chose to kill millions. Genghis Khan chose to become the world’s bloodiest warrior. God has given us free choice, even the choice to kill Jesus. But the right to choose does not mean people choose what is right.

Now, let me share with you where I believe the fight ought to be. The Bible tells us clearly that we are not fighting people. We are to love them and to win them over to the Kingdom of God. Our first duty is to “make disciples” not pass good laws (not mutually exclusive but a matter of priority). “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but … the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12).

First, we have the struggle to love. The idea that love wins is powerful because it came from Jesus. When we engage in a fight that is full of vitriol, what good can come out of it? Liberals say “#lovewins” when in reality, they are practicing hatred against those who disagree with them. If we play their game of hatred, we lose, regardless of whether we win or lose. The bigger hater with the bigger, badder lawyers, the more conniving lobbyists, and more favorable justices, win the day. Who loses? What loses? The Kingdom of God.

Christians fight for the Kingdom of Man, for a Christian America. But our real fight is the Kingdom of God through making disciples of Jesus Christ. It is easier to fight with hatred than it is with love. In a hatred fight, we call upon our sinful nature to hate and direct it against those who disagree with us. In the love of Christ that wins, we have to first purge our hearts of prejudice, learn to love our enemies, humble ourselves and not strut around as though we are better, and then engage in the battle to save people from themselves – as we have been saved from ourselves.

Second, we have the struggle of the wrong referent. Sexual morality today is expressed by the phrase “consenting adults” against the biblical reference of “marriage.” Let’s see if I represent current sexual mores correctly: Sex before marriage is fine as long as both are consenting adults. Sex outside of marriage is fine as long as it involves consenting adults – better yet, consenting spouses. And by extension, homosexual activities are fine when the people are consenting adults. In contrast, rape, molestation, white slavery, pederasty, child marriages are all wrong. This is because one party is not consenting, or one party is not an adult.

Even when the secular world removes God from their morality, they still have one – even if it is a human fabrication. God has given all mankind an innate sense of morality not seen in animals. So that is the half-filled cup view of the “consenting-adults” morality of the world. The reality is that the struggle biblical Christians have is much bigger than same-sex marriage. It is when we replace “marriage” with “consenting adults” as our moral compass. Too many American Christians have given up on marriage as the moral reference point for our sexuality. And if we implicitly or explicitly adopt “consenting adults” as the reference point, we have lost the grounds for morality. It is no wonder that we cannot win the struggle against those who advocate the normalcy of homosexuality. If I may be blunt, Christians today do not say it, but live out their morality as “consenting heterosexual adults” and not “marriage.” Therein lies our failure and our mistake in the struggle.

Third, we confuse Christian morality and public morality. We seem to think that when we say sexual intimacy is only within marriage, we are saying that there must be legislation to support it. That is not the case. The early Christians were exemplary without legislation. Christians need not legislate all aspects of morality. Even if all legislators were Christians, there can be two standards: a legislated public morality for everyone and a voluntary morality for Christians. Christians are called upon to keep the biblical standards because we love God and we see the value of biblical morality. Eventually, when God’s Kingdom is come to earth, we will see the full expression of all that is right. And that Kingdom does not come through our efforts but at the second coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.

I am not suggesting we let the world go to pot, or there is no place to impose a Christian morality on the general population. For example, the abolition of slavery is ultimately an imposition of Christian morality on a secular world. Another example is monogamy. This is a biblical value successfully imposed on society as a whole. What I am saying is that the practice in Christian sexual morality is so far short of the biblical ideal that we need to (1) recognize the difference between Christian and public morality; and (2) clean our own house before cleaning the streets.

Fourth, our failed narrative. Christians respond too slowly and when we respond, we struggle to find a good narrative – which is essential if we wish to advocate a position strongly. E.g. The pro-abortion group style themselves “Pro-Choice” and with the help of the media, those opposed to abortion are labeled “Anti-abortion.” Eventually, we figured out the term “Pro-Life.” If we had been able to label pro-abortion as “baby-killers” the conversation may be different.

The hash tag #lovewins present the narrative that “love” wins over prejudice. We allow the media and other socially destructive parties to define their own narrative and ours. The disciples of Jesus need to consistently and consciously frame our own narrative. We must vigorously deny others the opportunity to frame our narrative. Conversely, we should frame theirs.

Our narrative ought to be like that of Jesus. He dined with sinners who were the equivalents of the LGBT today. He did not ostracize them. Instead, he loved them and offered forgiveness, and the power to lead a new life that is free from that sinful lifestyle. Love wins – Jesus style.

Jesus Touching LeperIn conclusion, I’ll say this. I have never had the privilege to lead an LGBT to faith. I don’t think it is within my known skillset. But the LGBT and same-sex marriage issues force me to examine my own attitudes in light of Jesus my Lord. And I can see areas I need to address so I can become more like Jesus.

You grow up in a generation that is more accepting of the LGBT than mine. Perhaps accepting them and showing them love is not the biggest challenge. Perhaps the biggest challenge of your generation may be a strong narrative for the great value of a biblical morality, a sexuality that is within marriage. My generation has failed to do that thus far. I think Christians tend to hate those who reject our morality, or if we love them, we then justify their wrong morality. Both are wrong. Our example is seen in Jesus. Jesus is clear that God’s moral ideals are unwavering. He is equally clear that he loves us while we are still sinners. He is the powerful conscience to all who do wrong, and the powerful love that draws all wrong doers to himself.

I seek to be more like Jesus. Will you also do that?

With all my love,
papa

Pastor Peter Eng, 25 July, 2015

Not Beyond Hope

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Pastor Peter’s “Letter to My Grown Children: OMG! Are you infected?”

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An open letter to my grown children

Hey Guys,

Every generation talks differently. I get that.

You all have spared me from coarse speech, and I am grateful. I hope this is just how you speak. Why do I need to even talk about this since we don’t have a problem? Well, mom and I are not always with you, and we dearly love to see you develop excellence in your life all round. There is a casual evil that concerns me. It is so prevalent in our society today that I find it alarming.

First, I am concerned with words that are related to God. I hear young people (with older ones following suit) using expressions like, “Oh My God” or OMG for short. Sadly, this is not limited to pre-faith people. Christians seem to say these terms like anybody else. This seems to fly against the quite clear injunction, “You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.” (Exodus 20:7). OMG is a variation of similar older statements such as “Good God,” or “Jesus!” This generation is no worse than previous to create “OMG” but it is the widespread use among young people who are supposed to be disciples of Jesus that bothers me.

We can debate what it means to misuse God’s name. But I think a good way to remain sensitive is to at least recognize how the Jews do it, even though we may not want to follow them. When the Jews want to write the word “God,” they write is as “G-d.” This as a way of avoiding a casual disregard for God and some inadvertent misuse of God’s name.

Let’s say every time we mention “God” or “Jesus” we do as the Muslims do, and include some doxology behind it. They will say “Prophet Jesus (Peace be upon him),” often shortened to (PBUH), or “Allah (May he be glorified and exalted),” usually shortened to (swt). I am sometimes amused at how complicated the conversation gets because of this practice. At the same time, it makes misusing God’s name extremely cumbersome. It’s a non-starter. A good non-starter.

I don’t suggest we follow Muslim custom. But I ask if we should be more or less respectful of the one true God, Maker of Heaven and Earth, and of Jesus Christ, true God of true God. For me, the answer is clear. My view of God needs to be so high that it automatically precludes the cavalier use of “God” as an exclamation point. To top this off, we are clearly told God does not find it cool when we use his name in vain.

I cringe when I hear OMG, or other similar exclamations that misuse God’s name coming from the lips of the disciples of Jesus. I expect it of the world, but as a disciple of Jesus, I love him, and don’t find it compatible with my love for Jesus.

the-historical-origins-of-6-swear-wordsWhen we first arrived at Aberdeen, we needed to buy a car to move around. I took a bus to get to the house to look at the used SAAB that we eventually got. While on the bus, I sat in front of two pretty blonde “lassies.” They couldn’t be more than 15 or 16 years old. Probably younger. They were speaking in Aberdonian (more properly Doric ? dialect). I didn’t understand what they were saying, but there were enough swear words similar to English for me to recognize them. Their speech was so coarse it would make a sailor blush!

That was some years back when you guys were really little. But the tide was only just beginning. Today, I hear so much coarse talk among young people that it is quite heartbreaking. We have come into a culture that accepts the vocab of foul-mouth rap artists. It is almost like vulgarity is elevated to a level of social acceptance not previously seen. That is my second concern – vulgar words.

Should such talk be accepted? I think not. I think there are times we are called to hate. “A time to love and a time to hate” (Ecclesiastes 3:8). This would be one such time – to hate coarse speech. We must not allow the repetition of evil to desensitize us to how loathsome evil ought to be.

From this depth of foul speech, which I cannot expect better from the world, I see people who consider themselves disciples of Jesus adopt a version of such foul speech. Perhaps not as foul, but foul nonetheless.

We can imagine the Ephesians to be as foul-mouth as anybody else. But when they became God’s children, they were enjoined, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths ….” And “Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving.” (Ephesians 4:29; 5:4).

We cannot help what we hear, but we can help what we say. It can be hard to stay our language in a perverse world. I distinctly recall my Basic Military Training (BMT) when foul language was the norm. After a while I had to make a conscious effort to deprogram myself from what I hear. I remember the words, “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” (Philippians 4:8). The need for me to deprogram my vocabulary from what I hear became a personal goal and delight.

Remember the Brazilian guy I met in Stuttgart? One of the things he told me was that he wanted to be like me, to stop using vulgar words. I didn’t sell him such an idea. I just didn’t use it in my vocabulary. Then I learned from him that it made a difference to him. He saw me as my own man, quite untouched by casual vulgarity, quite without the need to use vulgar words to gain acceptance.

You know we become what we say. When I yell at you, it doesn’t make me less angry but more. When I speak with you gently, the best of me comes to the fore so you see the best in me. If we say something, it molds us. If we use casual vulgarity, it moves us another step towards casual sex. It pollutes our minds and perverts our hearts.

Guys, grow up in the values of the Lord Jesus Christ. Stay away from anything that drags you down to the degradation of the world. What we say makes us what we are. Words of love, blessing, and encouragement build up those around us and builds us up at the same time.

“Let your conversation be always full of grace …” (Colossians 4:6)

With all my love,

papa

Pastor Peter Eng, 16 July, 2015

Finishing Faithfully

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Pastor Peter’s “Letter to My Grown Children: Christians and Tattoos”

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An open letter to my grown children

Hi guys,

Today, I will chat with you about tattoos.

One of you asked me about tattoos and I think it is good we talk about this trend in society.

In my generation, tattoos are associated with salty sailors, gangs, the yakuza, and the red necks of society. Today, it has become socially acceptable, and even trendy, to get a tat (or some exotic piercing). There are even company functions that are “tattoo nights.” I think most of these are temporary tats. Still, the idea of body art has clearly caught on.

The question I hear is “Can a Christian get a tattoo?” I think from the outset, that question is difficult to answer because of the way it is asked. I am more ready to discuss, “Should a Christian get a tattoo?” When we enter the world of “can” or “cannot” we enter the discussion of Christian absolutes. We like clarity, a simple “Yes” or “No” works better with many people. But that simple “Yes” or “No” is so fraught with “But …” that we are better off asking “Should” or “Shouldn’t.”

Another qualification before we begin is the term “Christian.” You know this term is overused in post-Christian countries like Europe and maybe also America. In language phenomenology, “Christian” is like a dead metaphor. People no longer remember that “Christian” was a derisive term like the “N’ word today, or that it means “belonging to Christ,” such as a slave belonging to a master. The reality of “Christian” having lost its original impact means we are better off using the more descriptive “disciple of Jesus.” So we ask, “Should a disciple of Jesus get a tattoo?”

1. Biblical evidence. There is one passage of the Bible that mentions tattoos specifically. It is Leviticus 19:28 “Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves. I am the LORD.” It was common practice among the people of that time to shave their heads, cut or tattoo themselves as a sign of mourning (Jeremiah 16:6). There was no prohibition against shaving hair as a sign of mourning. This suggests to us shaving the head for mourning is acceptable, but cutting and tattooing are not. This distinction is important because all three are cultural elements but there is a prohibition against two and not the one. So it is not easy to dismiss the prohibition against tattooing as culturally specific. The argumentation is not absolute, but it weighs in favor of not tattooing the body as a sign of mourning.

Of course, this begs the question, “Is it ok to tattoo as art, or for some reason other than for mourning?”

The death of a loved one is traumatic. From the anguish of that trauma, a person tattoos himself to immortalize the dead on his own body. Now with that in perspective. The Jews were told, “Even in your greatest moment of personal anguish, do not tattoo yourself.” What is the implication? If they were told not to tattoo themselves in their moment of greatest anguish, should they tattoo themselves in moments of lesser anguish? Or without anguish? The argument from greater to lesser applies here. If at the moment of greatest anguish, God’s people are not to tattoo themselves, it means in moments of lesser anguish, they should also not tattoo themselves. This understanding is lived out among the Jewish people, who as a whole, did not tattoo themselves.

This begs another question, “We are not Jews. Do these laws apply to disciples of Jesus or to Jews only?” And, “Was there a religious significance to tattooing then that is no longer true today?’

The earlier verse says, “Do not cut the hair at the sides of your head or clip off the edges of your beard.” Most scholars today agree that this was a prohibition of a certain haircut adopted by their neighboring people, who cut off the sides and leave a turf in the center, and that the prohibition is connected to that. So, if a prohibition is directly linked to some cultural-religious significance no longer true today, that prohibition may be obsolete.

Tattooing is linked to mourning and not to a particular religious practice that we know of. Perhaps it may be, but it would be tenuous to argue from silence or some speculation. There is no evidence to suggest pagan religious tattooing as the background to this prohibition.

2. Biblical principles. The most relevant biblical principle we should draw upon to help us decide is the meaning of the body for the disciple of Jesus.

Some Christians incorrectly assert that the body is only a shell for the soul. The body has no value other than the soul it contains. That is Greek philosophy, not biblical truth. The Bible said from the beginning that God created Adam as body and soul, and it was very good. There is nothing wrong with the body God created. Sin brought death. The body itself is good.

When Jesus rose from the dead – in the body – and promises the same for us, he clearly demonstrates that our redemption will be body and soul. Our body will be resurrected to eternal life.

If we truly embrace the right theology of the body, we will recognize that what we do to our body is not a private-personal matter. God is involved. Whether it is gluttony, casual sex, drugs, anorexia, etc., God is watching it.

“Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).

At the resurrection, our bodies will be immortal and incorruptible. Whatever damage we do to our bodies in our sin against God will be cleansed and restored. I imagine if I have a tattoo, it will be gone. The tattoo is a human “adornment,” an attempt to improve the body God gives me. I think this is one time when adding to something takes away from it.

So, I don’t own my body. Do I have the right to mark it? What does the tattoo do for the disciple of Jesus? There is no suggestion it contributes to the disciple who seeks the Kingdom of God before all else.

Who is the Christian but one who belongs to Jesus Christ? Does a slave have rights over his own body? Not that I know of. If all of me belongs to Christ, including my body, my approach to self-mutilation takes on a different significance.

3. Practical consideration. Have you looked at the fashion of the past and go, “Eeeee, that is so ugly!”? It doesn’t matter if it was the afro, the bell bottoms, or that Elvis Presley hairdo. Our tastes change over time. The art of yesterday is off today. The art of today will be despised tomorrow. Even without consideration of faith, I would choose to learn from the past and observe that the body art of today can be despised tomorrow. Do I really want to do something so permanent to my body when fashion and art are so fickle?

Look at the people who have tattooed their loved ones on their body, only to go for laser removal of the tattoo. Are there people who regret their tattoo? Do we see people regret not having a tattoo?

Until today, a tattoo is still considered incompatible with the best professions. Officers in the military cannot have tattoos. Professionals who tattoo themselves immediately devalue themselves. (Remember that dastardly optometrist operating from Walmart with a tattoo and did a lousy job? I had always told myself it was stupid of me to go to this “doctor” with a tattoo.) Why do certain professions have to hide their tattoos in places that cannot be seen? Does it not in itself indicate some issue with tattoos?

Even if I were not a disciple of Jesus, I will still see the tattoo as a decision that is unwise and a mere following after the fashion of the world. It is a bad deal to do something permanent that is essentially not changeable, for literally no good reason.

Tattoo (Doug)Conclusion

Is there a compelling reason for a tattoo? If there are compelling reasons for a tat, it is worth even deeper consideration. At this point in my life, I cannot think of one. The lack of good reason for a tat must then be weighed against the reasons for not having one. The reasons not to have a tat are not absolute, but are substantial. If we are truly neutral in our consideration, and not thinking like a kid who must have his toy no matter what, we can see that the disciple of Jesus should not get a tattoo. The practical wisdom is reason enough. All truth is God’s truth. But when you add the biblical evidence and biblical principle, the evaluation is clear.

For me, the most important consideration is that my body does not belong to me. I have enough challenges to treat my body right in the best possible way. The last thing I need is to make it more imperfect with a tattoo. Yet, I don’t abstain as a matter of legalism but as a matter of love. I am to love the body God has given me. I am to love God supremely and to focus my energies on his Kingdom.

With all my love,

papa

Pastor Peter Eng, 11 July, 2015

The Goodness of God

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