Month: April, 2016

Sons in Love

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What’s Your Style?

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Do you notice some people are all praise for everything with nary a negative thing to say about anyone or anything? On the other hand, there are those who seem incapable of seeing any good in life; every season is bad. What’s your style? I guess most of us are not on either end of the spectrum. For the sake of reflecting on our own style, I like to share with you two people I know who are close to the two extreme ends.

I met this lovely older lady who prays beautifully. Her prayer showed connection to God our Father. It showed passion, depth, discernment and a great sensitivity to the needs of people around her. My wife immediately remarked to me that she prays beautifully. Indeed so! Her prayer motivated us to know her better.

We got to know her quite well before she passed on. She is always full of encouragement. It was quite a while after we knew her that she implied her disapproval about certain things. Still, she was always gracious even when she was disappointed. She didn’t have children, and spent a good part of her energy teaching young people, many of whom grew up to be sterling Christians.

The one thing I began to realize after a while is that I needed to discount some things she said to me. She is always over the top with her praises, and I was more than happy to lap them up. But on one occasion, I overheard the same superlatives with just about everyone. OK, I get it, I’m not that special! When everybody is fantastic, maybe I need to discount her words of encouragement.

Without a doubt, she was a wonderful person to talk to. When she neared the end, Lily and I had occasion to minister to her at her bedside. She was in grave discomfort but she was always so happy to see us. Without children or immediate relatives there, the people in church were her family. There is so much of her style that I would like to emulate for she was a gracious woman of God.

I also met another person on the other end of the spectrum. This man has made some good observations, and has the ability to see through some issues that others may not see.

Whatever brilliance he has is always in your face. This man is abrasive. He foists his opinion on others on everything. After a while, it becomes apparent what moves him. God may be in his vocabulary, but God’s not in his heart. He regards himself as the father of discernment on things in the church, when half the time, he has a mixture of truth and error. He will speak up at every public meeting and find something to object to. He will tell you what’s wrong with you, but never says what is right. He is just incapable of seeing the positive. When he wanted to argue, and I choose not to argue with him, he says it’s because I am Chinese and so I avoid conflict. How I wish Chinese people really fight less than other people!

The apostle Peter calls us to “love one another deeply, from the heart.” And the reason is a powerful one. “For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable …” (1 Peter 2:22-23). We are to love each other deeply because we are family. We belong to the same forever family. We are of the same seed. And that seed is an imperishable seed.

The Holy Spirit of God puts in us the desire to love another deeply. And there are times when we need to examine our style of relating to others because it affects our ability to love deeply. If we take pride in developing a critical spirit to everything and everyone around us, we will make no friends, build no bridges, encourage no one, and bless nobody.

The one who sees only the negative cannot love and does not have many friends. I think the negative style is quite prevalent in Singapore, though I am pleased to say as a community, we don’t do too badly.

Still, I would like us to consider if our personal style better reflect the deep love to which we are called. And there is no better place for your personal development than the nurturing community here @thewell.

Pastor Peter Eng

Sons in Adventure

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Why I Stopped Asking Jesus Into My Life

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I shouldn’t quibble with words. The fact that the Bible never talks about asking Jesus into our life should not be an issue, and it isn’t. At the same time, words can give the right or the wrong impressions. What impression do you have if I say to you, “I have asked a mentor to come and help me improve.” Or perhaps, “I’ve invited my aged parents to come live with me.” Both of these are good things. But when we substitute Jesus into the mix, we begin to see the problem of inviting Jesus into our life.

The line: “I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul” is more well-known than the poem where it is found (Invictus), or the poet who wrote it. Like many Christians, I find something attractive about this spirit of self-determination. But that is because there is something dark in me that draws me to this idea.

The poet of Invictus is an avowed atheist and wrote this poem as a middle-finger to fate. He is saying, “By the way, if there is a God, to you too!” How then can this insult to God appeal to me! It appeals to the sin in me. The pride in me.

Yes, God has given us the right to choose. Yes, that makes us the master of our fate, the captain of our soul. Yes, he will not intervene if we choose to sail on rocks that wreck our life. Yes, we are the master of our fate, the captain of our soul.

When Jesus calls his disciples, he didn’t once say, “Include me in your life, invite me in.” Instead he invites them into his life. He is asking if we will give up our life and place it in his hands. Jesus sees Simon and Andrew fishing for a living. “’Come, follow me,’ Jesus said, ‘and I will send you out to fish for people.’ At once they left their nets and followed him.” (Matthew 4:19-20). Jesus didn’t say, “Can I join you as a fishermen? Will you take me in as your business partner?”

Jesus never asked to be invited into anyone’s life. Your life and mine are inferior. Jesus is not an optional extra we include into our life. He is saying, “Put your life in my hands, and I will take you on an adventure you cannot even dream about.”

Jesus is not the support for your vision. Jesus is your vision. Jesus is not the mentor you invite while you are captain of your soul. Jesus is the captain who takes over your ship. It doesn’t matter how much you elevate Jesus, as long as you keep him your servant, and you the master, you have missed the point.

Deeply devout Christians understand the rebellion against God in the poem Invictus. Dorothy Day responds with a poem entitled “Conquered,” which ends with this stanza:

I have no fear though straight the gate:?
He cleared from punishment the scroll.?
Christ is the Master of my fate!?
Christ is the Captain of my soul!

When we surrender our life to Jesus, as did the first disciples, we begin an incredible adventure. We lose our puny vision and redeem our insatiable appetites. When Jesus takes over, we will be like the woman at the well who loses her shame to become the first evangelist on record. We lose that endless thirst like hers and discover that the Holy Spirit of God makes our heart a spring that bubbles out fresh living water.

Tradition calls her Photini. She places her life in the hands of Jesus. Jesus becomes the Captain of her soul. And she becomes the inspiration of all who live in thirst, in need, in shame, in the shadows. Tradition calls her “equal to the Apostles” because she is the first disciple-maker. Her life becomes an adventure.

Every life that is surrendered to Jesus becomes its own epic story of adventure, made possible because even when the last breath is drawn, the veil will part and a new life begins – even more glorious than the last. 

Pastor Peter Eng

Sons in Battle

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Justice for Girls… or Boys

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There is a chain store in America called “Justice for Girls.” I find the name and idea quite amusing. Feeling somewhat brave, I walk into the store. Well, it is not remarkable. It is a store for tween girls. (For us dinosaurs in Singapore, that means girls between 9-14. Too old for toys and too young for boys. The in-between years.)

I half expect to see female version of stuff that guys would like. (Like a lefty store will sell left-handed versions of right-handed things.) I am taken aback by how girly the things are. They tend to sell things even more girly than regular stores. I guess it is justice for girls because girls want girl things they cannot get at regular stores, suggesting that it is a store that rebalances injustice because girls don’t have it as good as boys.

The store is just another store selling things to girls (justifiable aim), on the premise that girls are deprived of clothes and other things that boys have (highly questionable). I am not so sure girls have been given a raw deal in terms of products made for them. I don’t do a square footage check, but I suspect products for women take up more floor space than products for men. Ironically, it may be more justifiable to have a store called “Justice for Boys.”

The fact that “Justice for Girls” does not sell girl version of boy things is telling. There is no demand for it. Girls want girl-things and boys want boy-things.

In 2009 a professor of psychology at A&M University, Texas, discovered that babies at 3-4 months already have a distinct toy preference. Boys tend to pick trucks and balls, while girls tend towards dolls. This research is followed up and psychologists have discovered even male rhesus monkeys prefer trucks and female rhesus monkeys prefer dolls!

One of my girls had a passing fancy for a flashing gun when she was very little. I am not sure if she like the colors or the gun. I think it is the color because she never showed continued interest in guns after that one incident. My boy is different, he is interested in guns, knives, cars, trucks, and all the typical boy things. I can relate to that.

When I was growing up, a ruler soon becomes a sword, or a modified gun from which I can shoot rubber bands. Paper and rubber bands are quickly reduced to paper bullets and propellant. Green peas become more bullets in a straw. Boys love to weaponize anything at hand.
There was a time when people challenge the conventional wisdom that boys and girls are just different, and they argue that it is upbringing that creates gender preferences. That is now rightly delegated to myth of an era.

God made male and female different. The process God used to make the first man was different from how he made the first woman (Genesis 2:21ff). While the key point of the lesson may be how husband and wife ought to relate to each other, we can establish that God made male and female distinct and different. We have a clue to this difference. Adam was given authority to rule over the animals (seen in the naming of the animals) before Eve was created (Genesis 2:19-20).

The authority to rule immediately turns ugly when mankind falls into sin. Evil did not build up slowly. Cain murdered his brother on a flimsy pretext. From that time, it is clear men are born to fight. Men are more aggressive than women, and battlefields past and present are strewn with the broken bodies of men—not women.

Christian communities almost pretend that God did not ask Israel to fight and win battles. We like to dismiss all these events in the OT as from a different era. Yes, that is true to a point, but it does nothing to explain why men fight – and love to fight.

The entrance of sin into the world clearly had a profound impact on male aggression. But that aggression was there in the first place, even before the fall. That God-created male aggression turned sinful. So what do we do with male aggression? Do we deny the aggression in men and emasculate men? Or should the aggression be directed rather than denied? If men do not fight, who will arise to defend the women and children? Rather than deny male aggression to Christian men, we need to ask where God wants Christian men to direct their aggression.

Pastor Peter Eng

What is Temptation?

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Count it all joy, my brothers, when you encounter different temptations, for you know that the proving of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
(James 1:2-4)

I know what “temptation” means. At least, I think I know. And the dictionary bears it out. But when I come to the text of the Bible, “temptation” seems to have some of the same meaning as in English and some meaning totally unrelated to our contemporary use of the word. For instance, I can yield to the temptation of a chocolate cake without sinning. But in the Bible, yielding to temptation is always sin. And to make the puzzle worse, it seems that the Bible uses the same word (peirasmos) for “temptation” and “trial.” The two look very different to me. Temptation has to do with pleasure and trial has to do with pain.

This puzzle is demonstrated in James 1:2.

  • My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; (KJV)
  • Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, (NASB)
  • Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, (NIV)
  • Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy (NLT).

Some translators take the original Greek word (peirasmos) to mean “temptation” and some to mean “trial.” The NLT looks at this problem and decides on the word “trouble” to encompass both “temptation” and “trial.”

Our first hint to the solution is that temptations and trials are opposites. So they are connected. They are not two disparate terms with no commonality. And even though their commonality lies in their being opposites, one dealing with pleasure and another dealing with pain, we can be justly hopeful that there is exciting meaning to be discovered.

If we look at how the KJV translates this word, we will notice that the KJV always translates the word as “temptation.” This results in expressions like “the last temptation of Christ” referring to Jesus’s time in the Garden of Gethsemane. When Jesus was in that garden, there was no temptation to any pleasure. The temptation Jesus faced was not to go ahead with the cross. He had the option to lay down his life or to take it up again. This temptation had to do with pain, not pleasure. In our day, we will not use the word “temptation” to refer to Jesus’s experience at Gethsemane. What we see is that Jesus had a choice one way or another. He need not die if he did not want to. The emphasis on that use of “temptation” relates to Jesus having an opportunity to escape pain, or to escape a trial.

The word “temptation” in the Bible is used in two senses. The first we already know, that is, a temptation entices us to a pleasure that is sinful. The Bible also uses the term to refer to the sinful avoidance of pain. For instance, if we are asked to deny Christ on pain of imprisonment or death, we would be going through our Garden of Gethsemane as Jesus did, we will have to choose comfort and life versus faithfulness and death. There will be no pleasure involved in our choice. Instead, it is the opportunity to escape pain and death that draws us. So temptation is not just the attraction to sinful pleasure, it is also the sinful avoidance of pain.

Point: Temptation/Trial (peirasmos) is related to the indulgence of sinful pleasure and the sinful avoidance of just pain.

Another puzzling expression in the Bible is found in Hebrews 4:15 which says of Jesus, “… we have [a high priest] who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.” This makes it clear to us that we can be tempted, but if we do not yield to temptation, we have not sinned. That is clear enough. But what if we want to sin and lust in our hearts even though we do not do the act? Jesus makes it clear that lusting in our hearts is already sin. “I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28). This again creates two problems: (1) we cannot imagine that Jesus lusted but did not yield and Jesus himself tells us that the desire to sin is already sin; (2) our understanding of “temptation” in English always involves the desire for something.

It appears that the meaning of “peirasmos” (temptation/trial) in Greek is not about desire. In fact, we can affirm that when Jesus was tempted, it did NOT mean that he wanted to sin. So then, what is the meaning of the word?

I like to suggest to you that the Greek term focuses on choice. That is to say, Jesus was given the opportunity to sin, but did not sin. Temptation was not the desire to sin but the opportunity to sin.

This difference can be easily observed in life. If a man lusts after a woman at his place of work, according to Jesus, he has already committed adultery in his heart. He has already sinned. The desire to sin is evil in itself. He might have no opportunity to carry out his fantasy about the woman, so he has no opportunity for sin. In our day, we will say he is tempted by the woman, but the way the Bible uses the word would not allow it. If we use the biblical term, we would say he lusted after the woman. When we say he was tempted (but did not act on it) we are suggesting he did not sin. When we say he lusted (even though he did not act on it, or had no opportunity to act on it), we are saying he had already sinned. And that is Jesus’s view.

Let’s paint a different scenario. Let’s say the woman presents opportunities for the man to have his way with her. But he did not. He was not lusting after her, and when the opportunity came, he did not take up the opportunity. This would be like the case of Joseph and Potiphar’s wife. He fled from her. The biblical term “temptation” would apply to Joseph. Not because he lusted, but because he was given the opportunity to sin. In the case of the man who lusted, the term temptation would not apply because he had no opportunity. He simply lusted after her.

I like to suggest to you that in the Bible, “temptation” focuses on the opportunity to sin not the desire to sin. This is why a person can be tempted but not sin. And this is why the desire to sin is already sin, and not a temptation to sin.

Point: Temptation/trial (peirasmos) is not the desire to sin without the act, which is already sin. Temptation is the opportunity to indulge in sinful pleasure or to avoid just pain.

When I discovered the Bible uses one word (peirasmos) for both temptation and trial, two things become clearer. First, I become aware of the motivation for my own actions.

I had a hard time understanding my own failures. Why did I fall into sin? Why did I yield to temptation? It was only when I understood what motivated me, and what continues to motivate me that my heart is laid bare before God. When I yield to the opportunity for sinful pleasure, it is because my heart had not been right for a long time. And the devil presented an opportunity to the impure heart. That is temptation. If my first love had been to my heavenly Father, and my heart is kept pure, then the opportunity for sinful pleasure will hold no attraction to me and I will reject the temptation.

My first battle is not to say “No” when the opportunity arises. That is the final battle. My first battle is to say “No” when sinful desires arises in my heart. I have no reason to be smug if I say “No” to the opportunity but if I had said “Yes” to dark passions. This is because the heart that imagines sin will eventually indulge in it.

When I zoom out to all of life, I find that we are all motivated by pleasure and pain. These two aspects control almost every action we do each day. We will choose a pain to avoid greater pain. We will deny ourselves a pleasure to get greater pleasure.

The next thing I discovered when I understood the duality of pain and pleasure in temptation is that they are two sides of the same coin. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the courageous pastor who stood up to Hitler and was eventually martyred said:

“Temptation to desire always includes the renunciation of the desire, that is to say, suffering. Temptation to suffering always includes the longing for freedom from suffering, that is to say, for desire. Thus the temptation of the flesh through desire and through suffering is at bottom one and the same.” (Creation and Fall; Temptation, 134)

This observation is practical and sublime. We know from experience that when we seize pleasure that is improper, we will enjoy the pleasure but suffer the consequence of pain. Conversely, when we accept the privation of not yielding to sinful pleasure, the result is true pleasure. Yielding to sinful pleasure produces pain; and embracing righteous pain produces pleasure. So when the Bible uses one word for both pain-temptation and pleasure-temptation, it reaches beyond the immediate pain or pleasure. It brings us to the opposite results of sinful pleasure or of the sinful pain avoidance. The decision for sinful pleasure will result in pain and the decision to avoid just pain will result in more pain. Contrariwise if we reject sinful pleasure (which is painful), we will experience greater pleasure; and if we embrace just pain, we will be rewarded with true pleasure.

It is important for us to pause at this point and note that all true pleasure is from God. There is nothing wrong with pleasure. God created us with the capacity for pleasure. It gives God pleasure when we enjoy our life and thankfully drink deep of the pleasure God gives us. The devil perverts the pleasures that God gives us for our proper enjoyment. The devil corrupts pleasure into something selfish and excessive, in such a way that the pleasure becomes sinful and harmful.

This is easily observable. Food is good, but food in excess is sinful towards God and harmful for us. Rest is good, but laziness is a repudiation of the productivity God expects of us, and such indolence is harmful to us. Work is good, but when work defines our value and we become workaholics, we depart from God’s purpose for work and we harm ourselves and our loved ones. Temptation as sinful pleasure is a perversion of God’s blessing of pleasure.

When we see that sinful pleasure and the sinful avoidance of pain naturally result in the exact opposite, we begin to appreciate the true nature of temptation. To yield to immediate sinful pleasure is to choose long-term pain. To accept temporary pain that we are called to bear is to choose long-term pleasure.

Conclusion

For me, an understanding of where the battle line is at, has been enormously helpful. I had wrongly understood temptation to mean the desire to sin. So I did not guard my desire, only my action. But that guarantees failure in the long run. We can only say “No” to opportunities to sin for so long, and so many times before we give in, if our heart is not right. As the saying goes, it is not how much water outside the boat that will sink it, it’s how much water in the boat. If I indulge sinful desires, even from a distance, then I am letting water into the boat. My sinking has already begun. The opportunity to sin simply seals what has already begun.

In the Lord’s Prayer, we are taught to pray “And do not let us yield to temptation, but rescue us from the evil one.” (Matthew 6:13). The evil one prowls around like a roaring lion seeking to devour the soul of anyone whose heart is already given over to sinful desires. But his temptations are ineffective against the one who loves God with all his heart, and all his soul, and all his strength; and his neighbor as himself.

Pastor Peter Eng

Our Father’s Deliverance

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