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. 

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 :)

 

 

Some Thoughts On Youth Ministry In Malaysia And Around Asia

Recently I had the privilege to minister at The Edge in Singapore after being invited by Pastor Jeremy Seaward who not only leads The Edge but is also an executive pastor at Victory Family Center. Before the youth service, we had the chance to get together and just talk about the current state of youth ministry in Malaysia and all around Asia. I share some practical things I have picked up through my own experience on how we can be effective in this day and age. 

The interview is recorded as part of Pastor Jeremy's initiative called Elevate Collective which basically serves as a resource for youth pastors and leaders in the Asia Region. You can check it out here. 

Hope the video above blesses you! 

 

Teenagers: Why You Need To Attend Youth Meetings

NarrowStreet ! 

NarrowStreet ! 

Are you a teenager and are wondering: why do I need to be a part of my church's youth? Can't I just go for the church's services? Maybe you are a leader/pastor and you want reasons to encourage those under your care or those you are trying to reach out to. I offer some reasons below. 

Before I do, I understand that some churches may not have the resources to start or sustain a youth ministry: and that is OK. I am writing to those who already in a church with an existing youth program.

1. IT IS BIBLICAL

Acts 2:42 (NLT)

The Believers Form a Community
42 All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper[a]), and to prayer.
Hebrews 10:25 (NLT)

25 And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.

The Bible does not suggest that a Christian should be part of a church, in fact it is IMPORTANT that a Christian does. It is only through a community that one can truly flourish as a believer. Do not be misled into thinking that you can grow alone. In fact, Christians who refuse to be a part of any community often have issues in themselves that they have to sort out. 

Churchgoers are like coals in a fire. When they cling together, they keep the flame aglow; when they separate, they die out.

- Billy Graham

 

2. JOURNEYING WITH PEERS IS MORE ENJOYABLE

Anything done with friends is automatically more fun and meaningful.  We go to the movies, meals, play games with friends... so why not grow in faith together as well? Youth is a great place to share dreams, ideas, hopes, struggles and fears with people who are going through the same stage of life.

Heres the thing: it takes effort to make meaningful friendships at youth. I hear many say: "I get along with my school friends much better than my church friends." Want to know why? You probably spend at least 5 days in school but only 1 or 2 in church... so of course you would be more familiar with your school friends. All the more reason you need to be at youth REGULARLY. 

School friends are great, keep them by all means; but some of them may not be Christians and cannot help your grow in Christ. Make the effort to connect with more people your age at church! 

 

3. THE MESSAGES ARE MOST LIKELY EASIER TO UNDERSTAND

Have you ever been to the main service and have absolutely no clue as to what the pastor is saying? You are not alone. Most church services are more geared towards adults, it is just the way things are. It defeats the purpose of going to church if you go home learning nothing. 

I am going to safely assume that your youth pastor will at least be a whole lot more understandable, his messages are more applicable and hopefully he is funny as well. But, if you say that the messages in youth are too shallow or you often learn nothing then...

 

4. SERVE! 

Romans 12:11 (NLT)

11 Never be lazy, but work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically.

If you think yourself as more mature than others in the youth group, then you really should consider serving as a leader. We are called to make disciples (Matthew 28:19-20), and I am guessing as a young person you would not feel comfortable fulfilling this commandment on adults. 

The youth group is a great place for you to develop your gifting and abilities. There is a saying in my church, that TASK = C.A.S.K (Character, Attitudes, Skills, Knowledge). Every task that you do whether big or small is an opportunity to grow in C.A.S.K. 

Serve in any capacity that is needed, not in the avenue which you want. Do not only go for positions of "glamour" or serve to get attention, but do it because you love God and want to grow. We should always desire for others to see Jesus and not for others to see us through our service. 

Serving can be done in a variety of ways: setting up the hall, playing in the worship team, leading a small group, welcoming new people, taking care of younger ones in the group, making sure your pastor has water before he preaches... anyone can serve!

 

Hope this clarifies some things, have a blessed week ahead! 

 

Growing A Youth Ministry

What does it take to build a strong youth ministry? Some say it's all about the program: vibrant worship, relevant preaching, cool giveaways, epic games and so forth. The content of your program does matter of course, but it is not the be all and end all. I would suggest that one component is extremely important: Relationship.

Let's put it this way: imagine you were invited to a party in which you had to put up with bad food, poor choice of music and maybe some lame attempts at getting a game going. All these things you will forget and forgive eventually when the party fades into memory, but one thing that might stick longer is: if nobody talked to you at the party.

The horror! Imagine yourself standing in a corner trying to look like you are meant to be there or getting introduced to a bunch of people who do not really seem keen to hang out with you... how awkward! I'm not sure if we realised this, but this often happens to a lot of people who come through our programs and churches. 

Having a cranking program but no follow up can be counterproductive, and the most effective way of making someone come back is to make them feel welcomed. This to be honest, takes a lot of intentionality. When I first took on the youth ministry I am in, the one thing I had to do was drill into my leaders that they needed to break out of their cliques and to start looking out for people. 

So apart from just focusing on getting the worship, the games and the preaching right; make sure you (and your leaders) put extra effort into befriending and connecting with both existing and new people.

One problem that many ministries face is that they can become so comfortable and familiar with the usual regulars that newcomers find it hard to fit in. This too takes intentionality to overcome (I actually forbid my leaders to hang out with their friends during youth, they can do that on their own time). 

We have to remember that people matter more than the programs, and discipleship is most effective when done via relationships. Build a culture in your ministry where people are cherished and celebrated; where everybody who walks through the door feel like they belong - then your ministry will definitely grow!