Month: November, 2015

A Child of War

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Pastor Peter’s “Letter from America: Thanksgiving”

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Letter from America to my beloved brothers and sisters in Singapore

My beloved brothers and sisters,

Today (Thur 26 Nov 2015) is Thanksgiving Day in America. Americans know the story behind Thanksgiving, but we do not have a shared history with them. So let me tell it briefly.

In 1620, pilgrims from England journeyed to America where they can worship God freely. They made land in what is later called Plymouth Rock. But it was only six weeks before winter. They had little food and no means to survive the brutal winter that awaited them.

What seems out of the blue, a native appeared. His name was Squanto (actually Tisquantum). He spoke English! He helped the pilgrims prepare for winter the best they could. That winter, half the people died. The other half survived with Squanto’s help. In Spring, he taught the pilgrims how to plant corn and other crops to help them survive the next winter. They harvested their first crop in Fall, and as the second winter approached, the pilgrims held a Thanksgiving feast. They invited Squanto and other natives to celebrate. That first Thanksgiving was attended by 90 natives and the 53 pilgrims who survived.

Abraham Lincoln later declared it a national holiday. It would be celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November.

The details of that first Thanksgiving are even more colorful than the outline I have given you. But the storyline is clear. It is thanksgiving to God our Father for his grace and mercy.

We can look at half the pilgrims who died and blame God for not taking care of them. But the pilgrims were true Christians (most of them) who understood their God well. They thanked God that despite their incompetence and poor plannning, half of them survived. And how did they survive? Through a native who could speak English and was willing to help them. What was the chance of that happening?

Blame God? Bless God? Where is your heart?

Today, I am thankful I can spend Thanksgiving with my family. It has been four years since my last Thanksgiving with the family. I am thankful. Lily has to work later today, so that messes things up a bit. But this Thanksgiving promises to be meaningful.

Last Thursday, our family pet, Pebbles, threw up. This is unremarkable for dogs. Stomach upsets are common and resolve themselves without fuss. She had accompanied me for a long run a few days before, and was still happy and lovey-dovey as usual. We were approaching a busy weekend. In the midst of Ari returning for the Thanksgiving break, full time work for all the ladies in the home, preparing for marathon, visiting my friend Drew in West Virginia (trip that took 20 hrs), we didn’t have much time to check on Pebbles. She was eating poorly on Sunday, and Ari said she was slow when he took her to the park – she is almost 8 years old, so more mellow now. But her poor appetite bothered me. We made the call to withhold food on Monday for her stomach to settle. Early on Tuesday, she threw up again. We then decided to send her to the vet just in case it is not a simple stomach issue.

The vet told us her blood work was terrible even though she was still that cheerful doggie. Her liver values are so bad that two of the three readings are higher than what their machine can read. Her liver is shutting down. “You may lose her,” she warned us. “You cannot look at her cheerful disposition and think there is nothing wrong. This is an emergency. She could have liver cancer, gall bladder issues, liver infection, autoimmune disease, etc. Liver infection with leptospirosis is the chief suspect, but that normally comes with kidney failure and her kidney seems ok. This means either the kidneys are not yet infected or it is not leptospirosis.”

Regardless, they put her on antibiotics and fluids to hydrate her. We then rushed her to the animal hospital where they have the diagnostic tools to examine her and the oncologist or internist to treat her.

At the hospital, they did an ultra sound, and informed us her other organs appear normal. The liver did not have abscess or mass. It was inflamed and there was a small abnormality with the gall bladder. From what could be detected, it points to either leptospirosis or autoimmune disease, with cancer / lymphoma now less likely. They placed her on antibiotics and IV fluids and sent her for blood leptospirosis test, which will not be returned till Monday.

Yesterday (Wed), we received a call from the hospital saying that Pebbles is responding well to the antibiotics. She ate a little, and her bilirubin (the yellow stuff that indicates jaundice) had dropped (from 8.7 to 5.6, normal is <0.5). Two other readings are 14x above normal and 40x above normal, and cannot be evaluated as the first office did not have equipment able to detect such high levels. The improvement in bilirubin reading and her overall disposition makes the internist vet think she can come home and continue antibiotics until after Thanksgiving. Tomorrow, we will send her for another blood test, and possibly a biopsy if the readings do not show improvement. This will also be the day I return to Singapore.

Pebbles came back to us last night. We are happy to have Pebbles back with us.

“Why bother with a dog?” you may rightly ask.

It is hard to put a finger to it. But there is one aspect I can talk about.

Pebbles is our happiness machine. She churns out happiness and makes you happy. She is always so happy, and happy over little things. When we bring her out to relieve, she is happy. When we bring her for a car ride, she is happy. When we walk or run her, she is happy. When we make her do tricks for treats, she is happy. When we sit at her level, she will give kisses. Regardless of where we are, if she gets to be with us she is happy. Happy to be in our room, by the sofa, in the study, or in the kitchen. She is happy just to be with you.

Lily is the other happiness machine in the family. She is the mother of happiness. She delights in what we have, and not gripe about what we do not have. She celebrates life and keeps us cheerful. Lily and Pebbles are a tag team to take down any grumpiness in the home.

We almost lost Pebbles, and may still lose her. But this Thanksgiving, we gather to thank God for his blessings to us. Every good and perfect gift comes from our Father in heaven. He is good. In him there is no variableness of goodness and no shifting shadow of uncertainty (James 1:17).

Thanksgiving is not about the pretend “perfect life” we often see on facebook. It is to understand the goodness of God our Father in this fallen world, and through our own failures and pain. It is to see God’s goodness in the land of the living and to give humble thanks to God.

The Mayflower pilgrims celebrated Thanksgiving in the midst of death. While they mourned their dead, they celebrated survival. Celebrated life. They celebrated God’s provision of Squanto. Can you imagine what would have happened if they met hostile natives?

We need to trust in the goodness of God. That is true hope. God will give us what is good even when we cannot recognize it as good. But where we can see the goodness of God, we come before him in grateful praise. Thanksgiving is not about everything being honkey-dory. It’s about our Father who never leaves us nor forsake us (Hebrews 13:5).

With my Love,
Pastor Peter

Be Still and Know That I am God

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Pastor Peter’s “Letter from America: FRANCE: Violence & Redemption”

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Letter from America to my beloved brothers and sisters in Singapore

My beloved brothers and sisters,

Paris is reeling from Jihadist attacks. At least 129 dead, more than 300 injured, and some seriously. Who will not weep with the French? Who will not feel for the victims? This is France’s 9-11. There is no doubt French policies from this point will be shaped by the events of 13 November 2015. France is arguably the most liberal of European nations to accept Muslim immigrants. Muslims now make up 7.5% of France’s population.

There have been endless warnings about dangers the Muslim community pose to France. In January this year, Charlie Hedbo was attacked. Right after that, a Jewish Supermarket was also attacked. But the blood bath yesterday was the worst yet. The French Prime Minister has called this an “act of war.” This is a rude awakening for the French. Some in France still think the way forward is to appease the Muslims, support Palestinians against Israel, etc. The package of liberal thinking.

Soon after the Protestant Reformation, Roman Catholic France decided to persecute the Protestant Christians, also called the Huguenots. They belong to the Reformed Tradition of John Calvin. It is estimated that three-quarters of the Huguenots were killed (1,500,000), and about 500,000 fled to different parts of Europe.

At the close of the 18th century, the violence was turned against the Roman Catholic Church during the French Revolution. This was the secularization of France together with a rejection of the monarchy and the Catholic Church. It was a bloodbath similar to China’s purges (the Hundred Flower Movement, the Cultural Revolution, etc.) The secular, liberal thinking of the French Revolution continues to define French thinking today. They may have the highest percentage of atheists for a non-communist country (34%).

The tragic events of 13 Nov is the result of liberal French thinking. To this day, some French continue to say the problem is not Islam, but France – which they say, supposedly discriminate against the Muslims in France. The solution is simple. Muslims who feel discriminated should simply return to their home Muslim country. And if the problem is not with the Muslims, why don’t the Chinese immigrants, also an underclass in France, go about bombing and killing people?

France is secular, extremely liberal in their thinking, and if they continue with such thinking, the Jihadist will continue to kill the French until they admit the issue is with the Muslims in their country. 13 Nov seems to be a watershed moment in France. They can learn a page or two from the US or Singapore policy towards Islam.

The majority of Muslims are peaceful people and are perplexed by the acts of mindless violence done in the name of their religion. All must recognize that there is something about Islam that makes it possible for Muslims to be radicalized. The governments in the US and Singapore support the peaceful Muslims while limiting the influence of the radicalizing elements. I think we under appreciate the peace we have in Singapore, and at the risk of sounding boastful, liberal Europe can learn a thing or two from Singapore’s less liberal management to ensure religious harmony.

France has two problems: anti-god secularists who are used to attacking Christianity and giving Islam a pass; and the liberal attitude towards radical Muslims. Until now, the French way to handle the issue of the Muslim population is more liberalism and the secularization of Muslims. To be sure, they can secularize the Muslims as they did the Catholics through a blood letting. But that is unacceptable and unlikely. In addition, it is not the secularizable majority of the Muslims who cause trouble, it is the radicalized minority that cause trouble. More liberalism is France’s doom. A greater pragmatism in policies to manage the radicalized segments is more realistic (as in Singapore and America). Perhaps with 13 Nov, France will take a new position.

But the first problem, that France is secular, atheistic, extreme left-wing thinking is not addressed. Where can redemption come from? The Kingdom of God is the answer to France’s problem.

The radical Muslims know nothing of the love of God, the sacrifice of Jesus, the forgiveness of sin, peace in Christ. They need the Good News of God’s Kingdom. Secular France has nothing to offer the religious passion of the radicalized Muslim. But interestingly, God is at work in France.

The year 2004/2005 seems to be the turning point of evangelical Christianity in France. The extreme left media stopped attacking the fledgling evangelical church in France. Evangelicals make up only 0.8% of the population (Protestant Christians make up 3%). Secular French, so used to beating up peaceful Christians, is beaten up by radical Muslims. This produces two reactions. First, France has outlawed expressions of Islam that is fundamentally radical: (1) Muslims may not pray publicly on the streets; (2) the full body burka is banned. A recognition of the limits to liberalism. Second, secular France is building a new respect for evangelical Christians, who speak a message of love, hope, and redemption that secularists do not have. They begin to see evangelical Christians are not their enemy!

Atheists are incapable of reaching Muslims. They can kill, outlaw, persecute, mock, disdain Muslims. But they have nothing to give Muslims that will meet their deepest spiritual needs. The redemption of France lies with the Good News of God’s Kingdom proclaimed by the evangelicals.

The younger generation in France are rethinking the truth of the Good News of Jesus Christ. The Alpha Course has made a very significant contribution to reintroducing Jesus to a population failed by secularists.

France was a graveyard for many missionaries. But the Holy Spirit is doing a remarkable work among the French today. (There is a renewal even among the Catholics as many begin reading the Bible for themselves.) Most remarkable of all is the growth of the evangelical church. In the sea of militant secularism in France, one church is planted every 10 days! While evangelicals make up only 0.8% of the population, it is the fastest growing religious community. In 2010, The National Council of Evangelicals in France was formalized, and 70% of the Protestant Churches belong to it.

Evangelical Christians follow Jesus. We do not return evil for evil. The French atrocities against God’s people must not be forgotten, but must be remembered in the context of returing good for evil. Evangelical Christians would no more set out to kill secular French than to kill radical Muslims. We do not use the arm of the flesh (even though we recognize and accept its role in this fallen world). Our agenda is to continue in the work that Jesus began – to build the Kingdom of God by making disciples of Jesus. We love the secular French no less than the radical Jihadist.

It is good that France is making a stand today, and perhaps continue the fight against ISIS. But the real solution is not more kiiling, but more of God’s love to reach the hearts of the radical Muslim. There is hope for the redemption of France. And that hope is in the hands of the small band of disciples of Jesus that make up only 0.8% of the people in France. Pray for them.

Pray for the victims of violence in France. Pray for a French national plan that will bring peace. Pray for evangelical French Christians. The redemption Jesus offers will come through them.

With my Love,
Pastor Peter

Pastor Peter’s “Letter from America: City Harvest”

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Letter from America to my beloved brothers and sisters in Singapore

My beloved brothers and sisters,

I confess I am not motivated to write about the conviction against the leaders of City Harvest Church (CHC) because the issues are complex. But I recognize we are looking for clarity even if we know the answers are not easy.

First, we note that CHC is a Prosperity Gospel (PG) church. In brief, a PG church tells you that you must give money to show you have faith in God, and when you have faith in God, he will bless you with health and wealth. God will give you what you want. Things will work out. Tomorrow will be better. Don’t talk about sin, confession of sin, or about doctrine. Just tell people God will give you what you want if you present your tithes and offerings.

The PG church is not just another denomination, like Anglicans, Methodists, Presbyterians, Lutherans, Baptists, etc. It is the new craze because it gives people hope (even if it is a false one), and in exchange they get money.

The PG Church is not new. It was present in the city of Philippi. Paul laments to the Church in Philippi:

18For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things. (Philippians 3)

1. They live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Unlike Jesus who sufferred the shame and condemnation on the cross, they live in opulence. While they preach Christ, they live in rejection of the cross of Christ.
2. God’s destiny for them is their destruction.
3. Their god is their appetite.
4. They take pride in what they ought to be ashamed of.
5. Their focus is on earthly things. It’s all about health now, wealth now.

Paul tells us the true disciples of Jesus think differently and live differently.

20But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.

1. In contrast to earthly concerns like health and wealth, our citizenship is in heaven.
2. Our hope is focused on the coming of Jesus our Lord who will bring all things in order.
3. Our bodies will enjoy the ultimate healing with our resurrection.

So what is our response to PG churches? Do we treat the leaders of CHC as people who have made a tragic but inadvertent mistake? What was Paul’s approach? I leave you whether to place CHC leaders as the type of people Paul was talking about.

Second, there is the issue of financial accountability. Many decades back, an American televangelist and his wife (Jim and Tammy Bakker) were using the gospel to get money. They lived an opulent lifestyle. PG people justify such a lifestyle. I will not debate it here and just say that this life is not consistent with the call of Christ, and does not reflect true servanthood in the Gospel.

After the Jim and Tammy Bakker debacle, the Christians in America formed the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountablity (ECFA). Membership in the ECFA assures the people that their church or organization is complying with very rigorous standards beyond what the law requires.

It is my hope that out of this debacle, Christians in Singapore will organize our own financial accountability body and not let the name of Christ suffer the shame that results from the actions of CHC.

Third, I am not focused on the verdict of the court. There is a distinction between moral right and legal right. For instance, some time ago, a church deacon was sent to prison because his real estate agent rented out his premises to an illegal alien. His sentence was legally right, but most of us would question the moral rightness to send him to prison for an inadvertent breach of the law. I am sure the court decided correctly according to the law, but the law is imperfect, and can create injustice in the execution of the law.

The CHC issue of criminal breach of trust is a legal matter. If they were found not guilty, it does not change the fact that what they did was not financially proper, and does not change their wrong teaching about the Prosperity Gospel. I have no opinion about the guilty verdict against the CHC leaders. It is a matter of law that is beyond my expertise. It is not the verdict that tells me they did not exercise financial responsibility. It is Scripture that calls on us to live and act responsibly.

Fourth, CHC fixation on worldly methods created the problem. This is not only true for CHC. There was a pastor who gave up his excellent preaching to become a substandard magician. The justification is the same: to reach the world. But they forget the Word of God is clear. It is the simplicity of the cross, the work of the Holy Spirit working through the foolishness of preaching that brings the Good News across.

Sun Ho

All CHC has to show for the debacle is a third-rate music video portraying Sun Ho (Kong Hee’s wife) like a slut. What effort by the arm of the flesh! What failure!

Fifth, there are few directly transferable lessons. CHC is a huge church and the dynamics governing them and most other churches are different. Hardly any church is so awash with cash that such financial breach is even possible. Most churches have committees that circulate and do not have “Yes” men under a controlling leader. In fact the opposite fault is true. Many pastors are so severely excluded from money matters that the church becomes inefficient because the chief executive cannot spend any money in the execution of matters.

There is also little chance that the leaders of CHC will listen to the counsel of others, if what is written even gets to them. To suggest they will listen to counsel from well-meaning Christians is more-or-less delusional. Unless God does the work of changing their hearts, it is not likely any person can get through to them. Conversely, most pastors I know are humble people and if a delegation of his peers approach him on an issue, he will certainly give their view due attention.

Conclusion

It is apparent to me that CHC has issues: (1) false doctrine; (2) using the Gospel for monetary gain; (3) lack of financial integrity; (4) too successful to listen. Regardless of the court verdict, they are quite clearly in the wrong.

At the same time, I take no delight in their fall. My wish is that they had seen their own error and fixed it rather than suffer the public display of their guilt. It’s not a cautionary tale as the issues have no transferablity to us. So I had hoped there was no need for me to comment on this matter. But I guess it is not something I can avoid any longer. So I write about CHC despite my reluctance to do so.

With my love,
Pastor Peter

The Challenge of Compromise

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Pastor Peter’s “Letter from America: The Language of Love”

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Letter from America to my beloved brothers and sisters in Singapore

My beloved brothers and sisters,

“Let your conversation be gracious and attractive so that you will have the right response for everyone.” (Col 4:6 NLT)

Last week, we talked about Jesus offending people at various points in his life. We must not get the impression that Jesus is offensive. The opposite is true, and the overall impression we have of Jesus is correct – that he is full of grace and truth.

Most of us do not need to learn to offend! We need to be “gracious and attractive” in our conversation.

Imagine this. You have not been to worship for a while. At the prompting of the Holy Spirit, you seek God in worship @theWell. You step into the hotel lobby and before you can make your way to the worship hall, people rush to warmly welcome you. They tell you they are happy to see you; they miss you. They ask if you can sit down for a coffee or tea. They ask if you can join them for lunch after worship. That is the language of love.

Gracious Words

Imagine this. You step into the hotel lobby and see several people who know you. They wave a casual greeting from a distance and continue what they are doing. You sit down alone and no one speaks to you for a while. Finally someone comes up to you and shakes your hand. He asks, “How come you absent for so long?” You don’t really know how to answer that question and mutter something about being busy. He replies, “You know worship very important. What’s more important God or your busyness?” He continues, “Also arh, we have this rule here. You can take your coffee and tea, but make sure you come in 5 minutes before worship starts ok?” That is the language of legalism.

A guy comes to worship in a crumpled shirt. He wears bemudas and sandles. He has his daughter with him. She is emo. She sulks. You notice them. What do you say to them? Then you remember the words of Scripture: “Let your conversation be gracious and attractive.” You know your call is to look beyond their dressing. You suddenly realize they are probably awkward enough because their dressing does not fit in. Instead of commenting about their clothes, you set out to make them feel comfortable. You speak words of grace.

As you shake their hands warmly, you ask, “How did you hear of us? Do you know anyone here?”

“No we don’t know anyone here. We heard some singing and stopped by” they reply. “Is that ok?” they query.

“Of course!” Your face lights up. You continue, “We love to have people visit us. And we won’t be strangers for long. You will find us an accepting and authetic bunch of people.”

“Did you notice the refreshment station? Can we go for a coffee before worship starts?”

“Have you been to a worship like this before? Would you like someone to sit with you and let you know what to expect? It’s not complicated, and you really don’t need any prior knowledge, but just so you feel comfortable.”

“Today we have so-and-so lead in worship and Pastor Tan to give us God’s Word. I particularly enjoy Pastor Tan’s preaching. It is always clear and practical, and it speaks to regular people like me.”

“Can I introduce you to our pastor? He loves to meet new people and welcome them personally.”

“We normally go for lunch after worship in no fixed group. Please join us later, if you can. It’s nothing fanciful, we just go to the coffee shop or food centre nearby.”

Your objective: love people genuinely and show it. Accept them. Make them feel comfortable. Dispel any anxiety they may have in worshipping God.

I’m not sure why Christians seem to think we can and should comment about other people’s clothes if they are not up to our standard of what people should wear for worship. So many women suffer unnecessary offense over remarks about clothes. Didn’t Jesus rebuke the Pharisees that they clean the outside of the cup and not the inside? Jesus did not have an issue with the multitudes of poor people who came to him in rags. Never once did Jesus rebuke people for inappropriate clothes when they came to him. But he has things to say about the well-dressed Pharisees. Yes, the only clothing Jesus ever criticized on record (that I can recall), is when he said of the Pharisees, “Everything they do is done for people to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long;” (Matthew 23:5).

It doesn’t matter that we may not know what phylacteries are, or why there is the issue of long tassles on their garment. But it is clear these are signs of religiosity and piety. Jesus is not criticizing their clothing, but their concern with appearances as opposed to what is inside them. Jesus said to the woman at the well, there will come a time when those who worship God will do it in spirit and in truth. The Pharisees are concerned with clothes. Jesus is concerned about the heart.

Let’s not get carried away and think that the more sloppy the dressing the greater the spirituality. Far from it. There is truth that when we come to worship God, we want to be in the right frame of mind. And what we wear does put us in that frame. So what is the point?

The point is that we should not be telling each other what to wear – especially in a casual manner, and without proper explanation. Let each person grow in faith and in love for the Lord. We will naturally want to be in the right spirit of worship.

We need to also bear in mind that what one person considers sloppy or casual may be the other person’s best. The moment we begin to tell people this or that is not appropriate, we run into the danger of legalism. We can explain to people how clothes affect worship, and leave it at that.

Whose community? Whose church? Whose kingdom? Not mine. Not yours. Our opinion on what is proper must align with Jesus’s view. Otherwise we build our own little “holy” huddle. The type of Pharisaism Jesus strongly rejects. Do you notice how some groups of people are so uniform? Can you guess why? Are we building our community or God’s community?

There is a language of legalism and there is a language of love. The language of love is attractive. The Word of God says, “Let your conversation be gracious and attractive so that you will have the right response for everyone.” (Col 4:6 NLT)

I am greatly encouraged that as a community, we are accepting and we share a renewed passion to build God’s kingdom. I understand old habits die hard. So I write this to encourage one another to love and and good works.

With love from America,

Pastor Peter

The Challenge of Comparison

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The Challenge of Competition

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Pastor Peter’s “Letter from America: Jesus, the Rock of Offense”

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Letter from America to my beloved brothers and sisters in Singapore

My beloved brothers and sisters,,

When we start using smart phones we learn new words. One of the first we learn is that the phone has icons (pictures) and when we press the icons, things happen. Then we have “emoticons” (icons/pictures showing emotions), a feature that uses pictures to express emotions. The pre-smart phone use referred to a religious picture, e.g. “an icon of Jesus” (compared to a statue). So in the eastern orthodox churches we see icons of Jesus, the disciples, etc.

From the original use of icon, we get the term “iconoclast” (attacker / destroyer of icons). This can mean a vandal who destroys religious icons (literal, and used in a bad sense) or one who attacks and tears down idolatrous religious beliefs (figurative, and used in a good sense). This term is regularly used to describe Jesus, that is, “Jesus was an iconoclast.” This means he challenged and dismantled the idolatrous way in which the religious establishment of that time conducted themselves. Jesus points us back to God’s intentions and purposes. The goal of the Pharisees on the other hand, was to be as conservative as possible. They used the expression “to build a fence around the law of God.” Some of it resulted in a more lenient way of obeying the law, but most times it resulted in a more severe way of implementing the law of God.

One example of how the fence around the law led to a more lenient application of the law can be seen in the limit on how many times a convicted criminal may be beaten. “but the judge must not impose more than forty lashes. If the guilty party is flogged more than that, your fellow Israelite will be degraded in your eyes.” (Deuteronomy 25:3). To ensure they did not count wrongly and beat a person forty-one times, they limited the beating to thirty-nine times. This is a fence around the law: a human law created to avoid breaking God’s law.

One area of making God’s OT law more severe is by way of the fence around the law of God (gezeirah) concerning the Sabbath laws. Let me quote from a Judaism website of the fence. “For example, the Torah commands us not to work on Shabbat, but a gezeirah commands us not to even handle an implement that you would use to perform prohibited work (such as a pencil, money, a hammer), because someone holding the implement might forget that it was Shabbat and perform prohibited work.” (http://www. jewfaq.org/halakhah.htm, 30 Oct, 2015).

In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus repeatedly rejected the fence around the law saying, “You have heard it said [the fence], … but I say to you … .” And in every instance, he rejects the fence and points us back to the Word of God without the fence. Jesus rejects the notion that we need to protect the law of God. What we need to do is not the legalism of protecting God’s Word with additional manmade rules, but to understand God’s heart in those laws, and to obey God out of love, seeking after God’s own heart. We ask, “What rules should I obey?” Jesus says, “Live according to the heart of God.”

I think that teaching would offend the rabbis who live by and create these laws (gezeirah). There was once when Jesus was teaching “Listen and understand. What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them.” (Matthew 15:10-11). The food laws were very important to the Pharisees. “Then the disciples came to him and asked, ‘Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this?’” (Matthew 15:12).

Jesus replied, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be pulled up by the roots. Leave them; they are blind guides. If the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.” (Matthew 15:13-14). Jesus didn’t do anything to appease the offense of the Pharisees. They were wrong, and they just had to stop this practice of fencing the law.

Another time when Jesus offended the teachers of the law and the Pharisees was when he publicly denounced them seven times, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees.” In his seventh denunciation, he said, “You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean.” (Matthew 23:27). That must have been offensive.

Let’s not forget the time when he went into the temple to clean it up. “When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple courts he found people selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!” His disciples remembered that it is written: “Zeal for your house will consume me.” (John 2:13-17) That must have caused offense.
We tend to create an image of a non-offensive Jesus in our minds. If that were true, why did people want to crucify him? We need to have it firmly etched in our minds that Jesus offended some people. And he didn’t try to ease that offense.

The Apostle Peter explains to us, “This precious value, then, is for you who believe; but for those who disbelieve, ‘The stone which the builders rejected, This became the very cornerstone,’ and, ‘A stone of stumbling and a rock of offense’; for they stumble because they are disobedient to the word …” (1 Peter 2:7-8, NASB).

Jesus is the cornerstone and the stumbling block. The cornerstone is the most vital stone of the building. It is the first stone to be placed and every other part of the building takes its bearings from the cornerstone. So for those who belong to Jesus, Jesus is the cornerstone. We take our bearings from him.

The stumbling block is a useless stone lying around. We kick against it and it causes us to fall. Jesus is a stumbling block to those disobedient to the word of God. He is the rock of offense. He trips up their merry trip to destruction. It is not so much that Jesus wants to trip them up. Jesus’s teachings are like the stones that act as a curb to keep us from straying. But when a person walks off the path, he hits the curb. Instead of humbly acknowledging that he is straying and that is why he is tripping over the curb, he takes offense at the curb that guides him to eternal life.

I don’t want to leave you with the impression that Jesus is deliberately offensive. He wisely chooses his battles, but he had battles to be sure.

Jesus did not believe they should pay the temple tax. However, he understood that if they did not pay the tax, his ministry denigrates into a fight about paying the tax. Jesus said to Peter, “But so that we may not cause offense, go to the lake and throw out your line. Take the fish you catch; open its mouth and you will find a four-drachma coin. Take it and give it to them for my tax and yours.” (Matthew 17:27).

People often use faith as an excuse for money. Jesus deliberately avoided offense over money so his ministry remain on high ground. (We see Paul later doing exactly the same thing following the footsteps of Jesus.)

Jesus was an iconoclast. You cannot be an iconoclast without giving offense. The idols you tear down are the idols, the gods, the ultimate things, in the life of some. They will hate you with a hatred that cannot be appeased.

When we say that we are a biblical community, it sounds trite, outworn, and obligatory to some. But the truly biblical community is iconoclastic. We tear down idols. First the idols in our own hearts, and then the religious structures that have wandered off into this or that brand of Churchianity away from Jesus, our Lord, our Master, our exemplary iconoclast.

I want to emphasize that Jesus did not come to tear down even though this letter points out this tearing down aspect. Jesus came to bring us the Kingdom of God. He came to build, not to destroy. But the reality is that when others build where he intends to build, he has to tear down the idols built on sacred ground.

Jesus is the cornerstone and the stumbling block. He is the rock of refuge, the rock that is cleft for us. He is also the rock of offense, the rock that will break all who smash themselves against him. Let us find in Jesus the rock of protection, not the rock of destruction. But let us also understand that offense is not always avoidable when we follow Jesus.

Pastor Peter