THOUGHTS

Some of my thoughts and musings on faith, life and ministry. All that is posted here are of my own opinions and do not necessarily represent any organisation, church or ministry that I am a part of/affiliated with. 

What Should We Make of "Pokemon Go"?

The international phenomenon known as "Pokemon Go" was officially release on the 6th of July earlier this year, and boy has it been stirring up a storm ever since. If I am not mistaken, this is probably one of the first games that incorporates both the virtual and physical world. The general concept of the game is players walk around in public hunting these "Pokemon". Different locations serve as different hotspots for "Pokemons", with some areas having more than others and the possibility of catching a rare Pokemon depends on location as well. Players can visit PokeStops (which are usually placed in places of worship, restaurants, monuments, parks etc) to get items and experience (to level up) for free and a player can pit their Pokemons against others at PokeGyms. 

Pokemon came to Malaysia a couple of days ago (August 6th I think) and to say that it is really catching on is... an understatement. I decided to give this game a try just to see what all the hype was about and I'll admit it can be VERY FUN making it REALLY ADDICTIVE! While I knew this game is a big hit, it did not prepare me for what I was about to see. I discovered the area I lived in had many PokeStops, so I ventured out to go get myself some free items. I thought it would pretty embarrassing to be seemingly wondering around aimlessly while staring at my phone but when I got there - there were PLENTY of people doing what I was doing! Some in groups, some alone... some were young children with their parents (the parents were playing too), some were in office attire etc. In fact, I noticed everyone (almost) is playing it everywhere (really)! 

The game is definitely fun, and you actually do not need to have any prior knowledge of Pokemon to enjoy it.  So the question that comes to mind then is... is Pokemon Go demonic, evil, dangerous, bad? Should Christians avoid playing Pokemon Go? Is this a tool of the devil to bring about the destruction and demise of people all around? 

 

IS THIS DEMONIC/OF THE DEVIL/EVIL? 

Some people have responded to the game's popularity by deeming it demonic. Firstly, because "Pokemon" literally means "Pocket Monster" in Japanese (where the game originated from). These "monsters" vary from cute to grotesque and unnatural - they surely must carry demonic symbolism! Let's address this first. Pokemon is a cartoon, and like many cartoons out there they contain elements of fantasy and imagination. Think of every cartoon that comes to mind, they each have different characters ranging from fantasy creatures, talking animals, to a mystical world etc. 

Now, unless we have substantial proof that Pokemon Go has diabolical subliminal messaging (that conflicts with the Christian worldview) and/or creators and writers who are outrightly anti-Christian, it would be unfair to pass judgement based on this but giving exceptions to other fictional content. Think of every movie that Disney and Pixar have produced: don't they all involve more or less the same things? In fact, if I were to use the same line of thought I would go so far to say VeggieTales, a popular Christian cartoon for children which features talking vegetables is "unnatural" as well and hence should be boycotted!

Some then bring up the fact that Pokemon has elements of evolution which is against Christian teaching... again not very solid reasoning. The key here is to distinguish between fantasy and reality. If we are able to draw clear boundaries on what is real and what is imaginary, this should not effect us. If we are to absolutely avoid everything that could potentially influence us in a negative manner or lead us astray... the solution will be to completely avoid all forms of entertainment altogether. 

Yet, that sounds silly doesn't it. Christians and churches that wage an all out war against culture may do really well in avoiding "contaminating" themselves but end up doing really poorly in reaching out to the world, which is a mandate for all Christians (Matthew 28:18-20). So on this note, I will say this: to me there is no substantial evidence that Pokemon Go is demonic unless proven otherwise. 

 

EDIT: A few people pointed out to me that there was an "interview" supposedly confirming that the creator of the original Pokemon series was motivated by his disdain towards his parents' Christian beliefs. That interview is a HOAX. Read the real interview here

 

IS IT BAD ENOUGH THAT WE SHOULD AVOID IT THOUGH?

However, I will say this: proceed with caution. The fact that it is really fun just means that the temptation to spend a ridiculous amount of time and energy (and even money) is real. This is like any other video/computer game: prolonged exposure to it can cause addiction, irritability, feelings of aggression and inability to concentrate on anything else. This is not just limited to Pokemon Go, but applies to social media, the internet, other online games, movies, series etc. 

The key here is moderation. While there is nothing outrightly sinister about Pokemon Go, it does come with its own risks and drawbacks. Just as the bible tells us: 

1 Corinthians 10:23 (NLT)
23 You say, “I am allowed to do anything”—but not everything is good for you. You say, “I am allowed to do anything”—but not everything is beneficial.

The truth is, not many of us are disciplined enough to keep ourselves in check though. If you can, set a schedule for this game. Do not neglect your school, work, social, work and church responsibilities. If you have trouble setting boundaries, ask for help from your leaders, family members and friends. If you have been spending too much time on this game, allow other people to point it out to you without getting agitated. 

Take time to understand the risks and dangers that could potentially arise from this game. Search the internet for some safety tips, and parents read this for some helpful advice. 

 

CONCLUDING THOUGHTS

Not every new thing that comes along should immediately be labelled as "demonic." I understand that people have concerns, but that does not warrant a knee-jerk reaction that many Christians have. The truth is, we are too quick to pass judgment on things that we do not understand or that does not suit our own preferences. This kind of attitude actually alienates us even more from a world that we are called to reach, and we should be looking to build bridges instead of more walls.

But I do acknowledge that there is a real enemy out there who is actively trying to lure people away from God (1 Peter 5:8). He is known as a deceiver, and he would often use either TEMPTATION or DISTRACTIONS (which is more effective in my opinion) to keep us away from the things of God. We must be aware of the spiritual world and battle that we are involved in as Christians, and must do our part to live wisely (Ephesians 6:10-18). 

Here are some questions to ask yourself as you play Pokemon Go:

  1. Does it cause me to neglect my studies/work?
  2. Does this game take away quality time from my friends and family?
  3. Do I find myself making decisions based on the game without taking into consideration of those around me?
  4. Do I find myself constantly thinking about the game which makes me unable to concentrate on anything else?
  5. Do I find myself feeling frustrated, agitated, annoyed, grumpy while/after playing this game?
  6.  Does this game actually make me not want to go to church, read my bible and/or pray? Do I find the quality and quantity of my time with God has reduced as a result of playing this game? 

If you answered YES to any of these questions, then take some time to evaluate with the help of a leader and/or parent whether it is wise to carry on playing this game. Think of Pokemon Go, and any other form of entertainment really, in "nutritional" terms. Physically, we need a balanced diet of protein, fibre, carbohydrates, vitamins etc which would ensure we are "healthy" in our bodies. The occasional indulgence in "bad foods" will not be detrimental to our health, but we cannot live on cake, chocolate, pizzas, potato chips and the likes alone. 

In the same way, our "spirits" need to be fed the right amount of things as well. We need time with God (church, bible reading and prayer) and time with our loved ones to ensure that we are "spiritually healthy." So by all means, play Pokemon Go if you like with a clear conscience - just remember that you are the one who owns the game and not be in place where the game owns you. 

 

For more practical information by Focus On The Family including a guide for families, a review, parental guides as well as a breakdown on Pokemon's worldview, click this link. 

 

 

How Should A Christian Approach Horoscopes and Astrology?

I never really had a keen interest in horoscopes and astrology, but I did grow up being exposed and to a certain extent influenced by it. My childhood was spent before the age of the internet, where printed materials still ruled. My parents used to live on newspapers and magazines and I was an avid reader of... well anything I could get my hands on. At a younger age, current affairs and advice on women's fashion and love life (from mom's magazines) bore very little relevance to me... so my favourite sections were the comics and horoscopes. 

The date of my birth determines that my zodiac sign is a Leo (the coolest in my opinion.. a LION!) and I would examine the horoscopes to see what my day or week had in store. Horoscopes often provide pointers in everything: how much luck you will have, what you should avoid, when is an opportune time for something and even how compatible you are with other signs should you desire a romantic relationship with them (I admit, when I met a girl I liked I would often try to find out what sign they are... there was no such thing as Facebook back then). 

While newspapers and magazines (printed) may be losing it's popularity nowadays, horoscopes and astrology is not. You can often find it on social media, certain websites and there are people who provide "readings" as services. The matter at hand for this post is: should a Christian believe in horoscopes? Should they consult astrology and how much should they believe in it? 

 

WHAT IS IT EXACTLY? 

So how does horoscopes and astrology work and what is it really about? The word "horoscope" comes from the Greek words "hõra" and "scopos" meaning "time" "observer"... together they mean something like "watcher of the hour". Astrology on the other hand is a study of the movements and relative positions of celestial bodies and interpreting them as having influence and effect on our lives and world. In other words, it is looking at the stars, planets, moon and other stuff in space and figuring out how it would affect us. 

The authors of horoscope columns and forecasts are usually astrologers (or even "psychics"). They examine what they believe to be the meaning of the planets, the zodiac signs, and other astrological data. They also consider the present positions of planets (plus the sun and moon), and how they interact with the sun signs of Aries, Taurus, Gemini, etc., in order to give horoscope advice. The position of the moon is also a key element, as it changes its "sign" every 2.5 days.

So in essence, horoscopes are often not just some random ramblings of a person with too much time on their hands. What you read is a combination of careful examination, "divination", "psychic activity" and lots of speculation. 

 

IS IT WRONG THEN? 

So as a Christian is it wrong to "ready" and "find out" what our horoscopic forecast is then? I am going to presume that one would only read it to actually draw advice, comfort, assurance and even direction from the horoscopes (like how much of a match you are with that cutie you met and would fate determine you two get together) as oppose to just reading it casually or "for fun."

As Christians, we believe that God is the creator of everything (Genesis 1:1). God created the stars and set them in place, and they proclaim HIS glory and His alone (Psalm 8:3, Psalm 19:1). He determines the number of stars and even knows all of them by name. (Psalm 147:4)

So God is the creator, and all the stuff in space are His creation... the bible has something to say about esteeming the creation rather than the Creator.

Romans 1:25 (NLT)
They traded the truth about God for a lie. So they worshiped and served the things God created instead of the Creator himself, who is worthy of eternal praise! Amen.

One could say reading and believing horoscopes is not really "worshipping" the stars, but I would suggest otherwise. When you heed horoscopic advice, you allow it to affect your decisions and even behaviour. You are essentially giving it "worth" and "value", and to a certain extent you might even put aside the supernatural (God, creator) for the natural (stars, creation). In fact, if horoscopes are your first point of reference instead of the word of God, that is described to be what should really be guiding us (Psalm 119:105)... man have we got it wrong! 

The Bible tells us that we should seek God, and depend on Him for direction and in all matters of our lives:

Psalm 14:2 (NLT)
The Lord looks down from heaven
on the entire human race;
he looks to see if anyone is truly wise,
if anyone seeks God.
Proverbs 3:5 (NLT)
Trust in the Lord with all your heart;
do not depend on your own understanding.
Matthew 6:33 (NLT)
Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.
Hebrews 11:6 (NLT)
And it is impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that God exists and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him.

DO WE REALLY NEED IT? 

As Christians, we worship a God who is both powerful and personal. He is not some distant or aloof figure that does not care about us, but rather we are told that we are children of God (John 1:12) and that we now belong to God's family (Ephesians 2:19). Moreover, the Bible is not just some ordinary book but it is described to be "living and active" (Hebrews 4:12). That means that the Bible is able to SPEAK, GUIDE and DIRECT us ! 

Having that in mind, why do we need horoscopes? Why do we need astrology? We have a God who cares about us and He actually wants to be invested and involved in our lives!

Isaiah, the prophet of old cries out:

Isaiah 8:19 (NLT)
Someone may say to you, “Let’s ask the mediums and those who consult the spirits of the dead. With their whisperings and mutterings, they will tell us what to do.” But shouldn’t people ask God for guidance? Should the living seek guidance from the dead?

No where in the Bible do we see the prophets or any individual consulting psychics or astrologers, and the only mention of astrologers are of them failing to interpret royal dreams (Daniel 2:10-11, 4:7). Moreover, any form of divination and/or sorcery is outright forbidden:

Deuteronomy 18:10 (NLT)
For example, never sacrifice your son or daughter as a burnt offering.[a] And do not let your people practice fortune-telling, or use sorcery, or interpret omens, or engage in witchcraft,
2 Kings 17:17 (NLT)
They even sacrificed their own sons and daughters in the fire. They consulted fortune-tellers and practiced sorcery and sold themselves to evil, arousing the Lord’s anger.
Isaiah 47:13-14 (NLT)
13 All the advice you receive has made you tired.
Where are all your astrologers,
those stargazers who make predictions each month?
Let them stand up and save you from what the future holds.
14 But they are like straw burning in a fire;
they cannot save themselves from the flame.
You will get no help from them at all;
their hearth is no place to sit for warmth.

HIS WAYS ARE HIGHER

....and indeed much better. As a Christian, we have a God is not only all knowing and all powerful, but He desires to be close to us. All we have to draw close to Him and put our trust in Him... and not the limited wisdom of this world. Wanting to find answers in horoscopes and not in prayer and His word is almost an act of saying "I do not trust you God, I rather get into these stuff because it seems like to make more sense and I get an immediate answer." But...

1 Corinthians 3:19 (NLT)
For the wisdom of this world is foolishness to God. As the Scriptures say,
“He traps the wise
in the snare of their own cleverness.

I believe scripture is clear that God does want to guide us in all areas of our lives, the question is whether we are willing to submit and trust in our God. I know God is alive and He still speaks today, He is eager to direct and guide. We just have to open our hearts and really seek Him. 

Psalm 9:10 (NLT)
Those who know your name trust in you,
for you, O Lord, do not abandon those who search for you.

Is Getting Tattoos Wrong For A Christian?

tattoo1.jpeg

Is it wrong for a Christian to get tattoos? To determine this we must look at what the Bible actually says. In order to do so, proper hermeneutics must be done. What is hermeneutics you wonder? Well I am glad you asked - it is the method of ascertaining what a Bible text meant to its original hearers/readers (Exegesis) and then determining how to it applies to us today. 

So what does the Bible say about tattoos? There is only one scripture which mentions this directly, and it is:

Leviticus 19:28 (NIV)
Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves. I am the Lord.

At face value, it seems almost certain that the Bible forbids getting a tattoo. However, there is a problem with this sort of application. If we are to keep this literally, we should have to keep some of these other laws as well:

Leviticus 19:19 (NIV)
Keep my decrees.
“‘Do not mate different kinds of animals.
“‘Do not plant your field with two kinds of seed.
“‘Do not wear clothing woven of two kinds of material.
Leviticus 19:27 (NIV)
Do not cut the hair at the sides of your head or clip off the edges of your beard.
Deuteronomy 14:8 (NIV)
The pig is also unclean; although it has a divided hoof, it does not chew the cud. You are not to eat their meat or touch their carcasses.

I am pretty sure everyone reading this would have violated at least one of the three mentioned above. So if we are to say the Bible strictly forbids tattoos, we better be careful about buying clothing that is made of two or more materials (that rules out most of the clothes at the mall), forget about grooming (which is bad news for most Asian people: who cannot grow full, glorious beards) and better put down that BBQ and roasted pork (yes, bacon too). 

So how do we go about this then?

 

1. THE NEW TESTAMENT IS A RENEWAL, NOT A CANCELLATION OF THE OLD TESTAMENT

The easy answer is "Hey, we are Christians - we live by the New Testament and are no longer bound by Old Testament laws." There is an element of truth to this, but we must understand that this does not mean the Old Testament has less value than the New or that we can throw out everything in the Old. 

Think of the Old and New Testament as "contracts". When a contract is renewed, certain conditions are amended, some new ones are introduced but at the same time some older conditions are carried over. For instance, if you started working at a company you may be given a contract that fixes your working hours, responsibilities, salary and benefits. After a while you get a promotion which means your new contract offers you improved salary and benefits, however your working hours are the same and your responsibilities are increased. 

So, what is voided in the New Testament are civil and ritual laws from the Old Testament. However, the moral laws which bound Israel still applies to Christians today. That is how we distinguish what is binding and what is not in the Old Testament. If you read certain commandments in the Old Testament and go "this does not make any sense" or "why are these rules so strange" - chances are you are looking at a civil and ritual law for ancient Israel.

Moral laws on the other hand, are blatantly obvious to distinguish (like for example the 10 commandments). Make no mistake about it - the New Testament actually holds a HIGHER moral standard than that of the Old. Just read through the teachings of Jesus. 

Ultimately, Jesus did not come to abolish the law but to fulfil it (Matthew 5:17). That is why we do not follow laws anymore, but we follow Jesus - who is our righteousness (1 Corinthians 1:30). In fact, in Mark 7:14-22 Jesus himself speaks of how it is not what is on the outside that defiles a person, but rather what is on the inside. A person could have the cleanest appearance, but yet have the dirtiest thoughts or darkest heart. 

 

2. RIGHTS VS RESPONSIBILTIES

While the Bible does not specifically prohibit tattoos, nonetheless there are still principles that we have to apply as Christians. In 1 Corinthians 10:23-33, Paul talks about eating food that is sacrificed to idols. He speaks of how "we have the right to do anything, but not everything is beneficial." He further explains in verse 24 that as Christians "we should seek of the good of others and not just our own good." That is also repeated in verse 33.

In this passage, Paul basically argues that there is nothing wrong with eating food already sacrificed to idols, BUT - if it causes someone else to stumble, you should not do it (verse 32). This principle can be applied to anything in our Christian walk as well, and everything that we do should be unto the glory of God (verse 31).

One of the defining marks of a truly mature Christian is that they comprehend how that as they grow and mature they have a responsibility to other Christians - and they are not preoccupied chasing their "rights". 

As a Christian matures, his responsibilities outweighs his rights - and his priority should be in such order. 

As a Christian matures, his responsibilities outweighs his rights - and his priority should be in such order. 

While I personally do not believe there is anything wrong in getting a tattoo, and I at one point actually wanted to get one - I however chose not to for the simple reason of not wanting to stumble people. Being a pastor and Christian Leader in a conservative environment like Asia, I know that tattoos are often associated with bad character. So for me, my commitment to God and His people is more significant than my want of a tattoo. 

 

3. OTHER FACTORS TO CONSIDER

If you are thinking of getting a tattoo, here are some factors you should consider as well.

Modification - Be aware that a tattoo is more or less permanent. Getting it removed is not only costly, it is also a very very painful process. Go on YouTube and check out some videos. Think long and hard on what kind of tattoo you want to get, do not just go for the cool factor. What may be trendy and cool now will not be after 5 years - and you may end up regretting it. 

Motive - What is the reason for you getting a tattoo? If it is an act of rebellion towards your parents, leaders or society - ask yourself would Jesus approve of such behaviour? Is it just to draw attention to yourself? Or is it just a personal expression of art and creativity? A follower of Jesus has to check his motives - and ensure his heart is in the right place. 

Modesty - The bible has much to say about modesty, but that does not mean you have to be prudish as a Christian. On the contrary, modesty and trendy are not necessarily at odds with one another. However we really should not be chasing trends but following Jesus anyway. If getting a tattoo compels you to jeopardise your modesty just so people can see it - time to reconsider. 

Message - A big one, and basically sums everything up. What kind of message is your tattoo sending? Some pieces of art are meaningful: it speaks of scripture, experiences, memories of loved ones etc. But others could be sending the wrong message, and as Christians we have to be mindful of the design that we choose. Also think of the environment that you will eventually be in. If you aspire to be a professional (accountant, lawyer, doctor etc) having a tattoo in a conspicuous area may often harm your career than help it. 

Money - In case you did not know: tattoos cost... ALOT! If you do decide to get inked, consider all the other factors and make sure you are making a well-thought, thoroughly-calculated decision. Getting a huge piece may be extremely cool, but it may not be worth the kind of financial trade off that you need to make for it. 

You are free to make choices, but you are not free from the consequences.

While getting a tattoo is not a diabolical sin - we have to realise that choices result in consequences and we have to be willing to bear it. A tattoo may be able to open doors to witnessing to different types of people, it may also help you break into an artistic community or make you more "real" to different people... but you may also get unfairly scrutinised by the people around you depending on the culture and environment you are in. 

Hope this help clears things up :)

 

 

How Can We Explain Evil? - A Reflection on the Paris Attacks

Picture courtesy of my friend, Celine Wong 

Picture courtesy of my friend, Celine Wong 

Yesterday marked one of the most devastating terrorist attacks in Europe since the Madrid train bombings in 2004. The attacks left at least 129 people dead, 352 people injured (most critically). A state of emergency was declared in Paris, soldiers deployed to patrol the streets and the whole nation went into lockdown mode. This would definitely be far from ideal conditions for any city - for both tourists and locals. 

The question that comes to mind is - how can people be so evil? What drives people to commit such acts? What gives them the inner motivation to be able to perform such heinous deeds on another human being? How can we eradicate evil and be safe from its effects? 

I would suggest that in order to overcome evil, we must first know the source of it. Just like a sickness or disease, you cannot cure it until you know what caused it. We see the symptoms (evil acts) of the condition (evil), but what is the cause? 

While completely understanding these issues will continue to elude us this side of heaven, nonetheless I think the Christian worldview has an explanation to offer. To me, sin is the source of all evil. 

If you are familiar with the Christian story, you would know that sin first came into the world when Adam and Eve disobeyed God (Genesis 3). This is significant not in a sense that somebody failed to obey some simple rules, but that humanity chose to go on their own way instead of trusting God's way. That is sin - that we choose to go on our own way, we think we know better, we think we are wiser, we think we have it all together. 

Do we really though? The human race is as advanced as we will ever be, just look at today's technology. But look closer at the world and you will see it is far from perfect- people are plagued by corruption, poverty, wars, hatred, anger, greed, dishonesty, APATHY. 

Post Adam and Eve's fall and subsequent exile from the garden, we read in Genesis 4 the CONSEQUENCE of sin. Genesis 4 tells the story of Cain and Abel; descendants of Adam and Eve, and also the first ever murder story recorded in the bible. Cain murders his younger brother Abel because God accepted Abel's gift and not Cain's. 

Questions to ask: why was that a good reason to get angry? Who made it a competition? How is it acceptable to murder your own kin just because you were mad? The answer is found in verse 6, when God says to Cain:

6 “Why are you so angry?” the Lord asked Cain. “Why do you look so dejected? 7 You will be accepted if you do what is right. But if you refuse to do what is right, then watch out! Sin is crouching at the door, eager to control you. But you must subdue it and be its master.” Genesis 4:6-7 (NLT, emphasis added)

Here we have the problem and the solution: Sin is wanting to take over, but do not let it! Simple to grasp, yet not easy to do. We know the reality of this fact: we want to stop being bad but we somehow just cannot (we meaning us as individuals and as the entire human race). 

What is the answer to evil and sin then? It is found in none other than the Gospel. No matter how much we try to curb, control or rehabilitate the human condition, evil somehow still manages to wiggle its way out. The only way we can be fully restored and redeemed is through Jesus.

1 Corinthians 15:57 (NLT)

57 But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ.

It is only through Jesus that we can begin to make some sense of it all. Jesus is the only cure to the human condition, and the solution to the problem of evil. He who deserved no evil, but took on its full affects on the cross, and rose again to show us that evil has not and will never triumph. 

Pray for the people of Paris, for the families who lost people to this tragedy, for the governments handling this crisis and most of all for the people behind these attacks. Their hearts are enveloped in darkness which only the light of Jesus can illuminate.