Follow Me: An Invitation to the Next Level

Photo by Jeremy Ricketts on Unsplash

To mark 22 years since hearing the words “Follow Me” on 8 July 2000, I am sharing the message I recently preached at Wesley Methodist Church (24 April 2022). May many be convinced that when we believed in Jesus, we became His disciples. His invitation to follow Him is a continual invitation to the next level of commitment. I responded 22 years ago and have never looked back. My prayer is that you will do the same.

On the occasion of Wesley Methodist Church’s 137th Anniversary, TRAC President, Rev Stanley Chua said:

“The greatest failure of the church is not our poor evangelism but our poor discipleship. You see, when Christians fail to be true disciples of Christ, they become just like the world, behaving and living their lives that are no different from unbelievers. And in so doing, they become indistinguishable from unbelievers as they have lost their light and saltiness and become poor witnesses to those around them. And in the worst-case scenario, they stumble others and prevent them from knowing God.”

Methodist Message, April 2022

I am in full agreement with Rev Stanley. However, as I considered this predicament, I cannot help but wonder why this is so. After all, there is no lack of resources, teaching, programmes, seminars, conferences, where discipleship is concerned. In spite of the abundance of such offerings, in my interactions with different pastors and leaders, the issue of discipleship seems to be a very common challenge across our churches.

To make it more obvious, we add the word intentional; hoping that this will provide the needed emphasis and push. So, we intentionally preach and teach about discipleship, we intentionally offer more classes, seminars and conferences, etc. Sounds right, but is it?

Perhaps the issue is more fundamental than it is intentional?

What if we are missing a very basic point in the way we define and understand discipleship? … in the way we follow Jesus?

In our age of social media, the word follow has been totally re-defined.

For example, if you want to know what a person or company says, or has been up to, you follow them. Some celebrity and influencer accounts attract thousands and millions of followers! Very impressive.

We too are thrilled when we get a few more followers. But careful, a follower could also be a stalker! Or a gossip! Have you seen or heard the latest? Post. Share.

In today’s terms, not much is required of a follower. If we bring this understanding into the Church, what then does it mean to follow Jesus? We are happy to get the information, the updates, attend the meetings, maybe help out every once in a while. But that’s about it.

As such, a church could have thousands of members who consider themselves as followers of Jesus and still struggle with discipleship! Why? Because many believers/followers do not consider themselves disciples of Jesus. Like the celebrity accounts, Jesus has thousands, millions, of followers. But not quite as many disciples.

Let me state once more: the issue is more fundamental than it is intentional. We have missed a very basic point in the way we define and understand the word disciple.

In its simplest form, whether in Greek (matethes) or in Latin (discipulus), disciple just means ‘student, learner, pupil, follower’ In relation to Jesus, a disciple of Jesus is a student of Jesus; a learner of Jesus; a pupil of Jesus; and a follower of Jesus.

Here’s the truth: If you are a believer of Jesus, you are a follower of Jesus. And since a follower is a disciple, a believer of Jesus is thus a disciple of Jesus. If you are a believer of Jesus Christ, you are a disciple of Jesus Christ!

This is where the problem is. Most believers have no issue declaring that they are followers of Jesus. But many believers struggle with identifying themselves as disciples of Jesus. Without acknowledging and accepting our positions as disciples, can you see why discipleship remains such an issue? Intentional or not?

As you wrestle with these thoughts, allow me to encourage you through Matthew 4:18-22 – an extremely familiar account about Jesus inviting the four young men to follow Him.

And Jesus, walking by the Sea of Galilee, saw two brothers, Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen. Then He said to them, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” They immediately left their nets and followed Him. Going on from there, He saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets. He called them, and immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed Him.

Matthew 4:18-22 NKJV

However, the problem with familiarity is that we already have certain ideas and pre-suppositions about this account. To address this, let us be good students of the Word and ask FIVE key questions that will help unlock the right perspectives and answers.

Question 1: Was this Jesus’ first encounter with Andrew, Peter, James & John?

It is easy to presume that this was a first or chance meeting: Jesus walks along the beach, spots Andrew, Peter, James & John and says, “Follow Me.” Due to His over-powering charisma, they drop everything and follow Him.

This is not the case. Thanks to the gospel of John 1:35-42, we see that Andrew had already met Jesus earlier through John the Baptist – on the day after Jesus’ baptism. In fact, Andrew (and another) left John the Baptist to follow Jesus. Andrew then brought Peter to Jesus. John was very likely the other “one of the two” who followed Jesus (since it’s typical of John not to mention himself in his gospel). Since James is always mentioned alongside John, it is highly probable that James would have also met Jesus by then.

This was not a first encounter with Jesus. They were already following Jesus. Keep this important point in mind as we consider the next questions.

Question 2: “Follow Me” Was this a call to discipleship?

The section header in our bibles suggests so – Four Fishermen Called as Disciples. But in my opinion, NO.

We have already noted that Andrew and John were disciples of John the Baptist who “switched” discipleship to Jesus. Two days later, in John 2:2, “Jesus and His disciples” turn up at the wedding in Cana. I believe we can include Peter and James too.

Since these were already disciples, “Follow Me” was an invitation to the next level of commitment. Up until this point, Jesus’ exposure was largely limited, in smaller settings. Jesus knew it was time for a greater public ministry. The invitation was for the disciples to follow Him at a deeper level, a higher level. It’s no longer as and when, but all the way, whatever it takes.

It is the same for us. Jesus is always inviting us to go deeper and higher with Him. This is consistent with what the Church is inviting you to do: to take the next step. The Lord is inviting you to follow Him, to the next level of commitment.

Let me state again: This is not a call for believers to become disciples. You are already disciples. It is an invitation to the next level of commitment, to follow Jesus in the next phase or season of the work of the kingdom.

Many still think (wrongly I might add) that we have to be called to be a disciple. As such, too many are still waiting for the call. Others are happy to ignore or miss the call. In the gospels, not all disciples were called. There were many who expressed the desire to be Jesus’ disciples. They believed in Jesus and thus wanted to follow Jesus.

Andrew, Peter, James & John believed in who Jesus was and what He promised so they readily followed. If we believe, we will follow. Whilst one can follow without believing, one cannot believe without following. Conviction will always produce action.

You don’t have to wait to be called to be a disciple. If you are a believer and a follower of Jesus Christ, you are already a disciple. When Jesus says “Follow Me”, He is inviting you to get to the next level of commitment as His disciple. Take the Next Step.

I know some of you may still be struggling with this. It sounds right BUT I don’t feel very qualified to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. So let’s tackle another very fundamental question:

Question 3: What qualifies one to be a disciple of Jesus Christ?

Let’s consider the four young men.

Andrew, Peter, James and John were all Galileans. Galileans were not exactly well-regarded. They were not considered as spiritual people. If you want to find spiritual and holy candidates, you go to Jerusalem, where the temple is and where all the religious types are found. But Galileans? #cannotmakeitla

They were fishermen. These were considered tradesmen like carpenters, brick layers, blacksmiths. This meant that after turning 13 years old, after Bar Mitzvah, they didn’t make it to continue learning under a rabbi (basic Torah training). They were Rabbi Rejects! Hence, their involvement in a trade or returning to help out in family business.

In Acts 4:13, they were described by the religious leaders as “uneducated & untrained”. They were not theologically trained, didn’t go bible school, or DISCIPLE programme.

Yet, Jesus invited these to follow Him! It doesn’t take very much to be a disciple: Just believe and follow. However, because of how we have defined, taught and understood discipleship, many believers still feel unqualified to be termed a disciple. We think of all the requirements of discipleship and promptly disqualify ourselves, justifying it is a higher call for a special select of the elect; but not for me.

I preached a series of messages once, encouraging believers to see themselves as disciples. After the service, I asked a sister, “So how? Are you a disciple?” She hesitated and said, “I don’t know. I still feel I’m not good enough.” Guided by the Holy Spirit, I gently asked her, “What qualified us for salvation? To be children and people of God?” She replied, “Nothing. We just believe.” AMEN! We believe Jesus. He receives us! That’s just it. By grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9).

It’s the same for New Testament discipleship. We are qualified by grace through faith. Rabbis of old may have selected and accepted the worthy ones. Jesus only invites us to believe in Him and to follow Him. He makes us worthy and qualifies us!

None of us qualify to be good enough for Jesus. Not to be saved. Not to be His disciples. That’s why the Cross was necessary. That’s why the Resurrection is revolutionary. When we believe, we die with Jesus; and are raised up to live for Jesus. In Christ, we qualify!

Question 4: What enabled the four to respond immediately to Jesus’ invitation?

Have there been those who have responded immediately to Jesus, without question, without hesitation? Of course. However, in my observation and learning, for many, it is usually a process that leads to this point of deep conviction and total abandonment.

I believe this was also the case for the four young men.

As we have already established, this was not their first encounter with Jesus. They had prior experience with Jesus. From the start, Jesus invited them to “Come and see.” John 1:38-40. They went with Him on short-term missions. They saw miracles and witnessed power encounters. They saw Jesus in action.

More importantly, they had personal experience with Jesus. More than just learning about and seeing the things of the kingdom, they had a relationship with the King. This experience was personal. What is your personal experience with Jesus? I am not asking about your church experience. Or how you have grown up in a Christian sub-culture. You can do church and talk Christian and still miss Jesus.

Even more, they were given a glimpse of a promised experience with Jesus: They would progress from fishermen to fishers of men. They would get to do greater works than Jesus. They would be given the keys to the kingdom of God. They would get to rule and reign with Jesus!

If you had all these and a promise of what’s to come, would you not follow Jesus? If not, what are you believing in?

Having grown up in a Christian environment, I knew how to behave as a church person. That was not enough to keep me from backsliding. In 1994, by the Lord’s grace, He drew me back into a real relationship with Him. As I believed, I followed. Slowly. Step by step.

Six years later, on 8 July 2000, the Lord said to me “Follow Me.” I had already been following Him. But this time, I knew it was an invitation to the next level. With prior experience, founded on personal experience, spurred on with promised experience, I said “yes”, quite immediately.

I know many of you have prior experience with Jesus – you have experienced His grace and faithfulness, you have seen His power at work. I also know that you are aware of the many promised experiences, for these are offered to all without exception. The challenge for many is that their relationship and experience with Jesus is not personal. My prayer is that you will receive a fresh revelation of your Saviour and King today. When that happens, I am certain you will immediately and wholeheartedly follow Him.

Our hearts may be willing but I am also well aware of the struggles and hindrances. As such, we must consider the final question:

Question 5: What holds us back from a deeper commitment following Jesus?

To follow Jesus, the disciples left their nets, boats and father.

Nets represent the entanglements & entrapments of life. In the Parable of the Sower and Soils, Jesus warns about the “cares of the world”, the trappings of this life, as well as the deceitfulness of riches (Matt 13:22). Paul reminds Timothy that a good soldier of Jesus will not be entangled with the “affairs of this life” 2 Tim 2:4. For some, they are held back by fear and doubts, hurts and bitterness, or unforgiveness. For others, when sin is not decisively dealt with, Hebrews 12:1 warns that these will ensnare and hold us back from following Jesus.

Boats represent assets & securities. James & John may have had a thriving family business that they would one day inherit. There is nothing wrong with having assets and securities. The question is: Are we trusting in these or in Jesus? When Elijah asked Elisha to follow him, Elisha promptly slaughtered his yoke of oxen and burnt the equipment – his assets and securities – and followed Elijah. Sadly, too many hold on to their bank accounts and assets and end up not following Jesus.

Father represents relationships & comfort zones. Leaving parents may sound odd or irresponsible to us. But in the days of Jesus, it was not a surprising idea. Parents are happy to have their children follow after a rabbi who requires full commitment. Today, our preference is for our children to study hard, get a good job, just serve a little in church, no need to be so radical. In church circles, many are happy to stay where they are because of friends and family – although they are not learning or growing at all. Church then becomes a social club with great fei-lo-ship.

In Luke 14:26, a difficult verse about hating father and mother, Jesus is not asking us to neglect our relationships. He is asking us to serve Him first, then our loved ones. As disciples of Jesus first, we become better husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, sons & daughters.

If you are struggling to surrender these, I understand. However, I am also here to tell you, that in my nearly 30 years of following Jesus, He has never let me down. Our needs have always been provided for. Our King and Master is more than faithful! Jesus is totally worth following and the leaving of our “nets, boats and father”.

Before we close, here’s a bonus point about following Jesus for those who are leaders or involved in discipleship initiatives. This is where I believe the intentionality of discipleship is directed at. Even if more are convinced to acknowledge themselves as disciples, what we do not need are more discipleship classes or programmes; we need more discipling.

Then He said to them, “Follow [deute opiso] Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” They immediately left their nets and followed [akoloutheo] Him.

Matthew 4:19-20

In Matthew 4:19-20, two different words are used for the English word “follow”:

The first ‘follow’ has the notion of “being behind”. Jesus’ invitation was for the disciples to come after Him. We are to follow the lead of Jesus as He goes before us. He is the leader who sets the example and provides the reference.

That’s what disciplers are to do too. Classes and bible studies are good. But leading, setting the example and showing the way is even better. Conducting a class is much easier, of course. But we miss the heart of discipleship if we do not provide the right reference for others to imitate us as we imitate Christ.

The second ‘follow’ has the notion of “accompaniment, to go with a teacher”. Here, the invitation is to come alongside. We are to follow by keeping in step with Jesus. The picture is that of relationship.

Discipleship is primarily about relationship. But relationship takes time; and our greatest struggle is time. That’s why we compromise the process of discipleship.

Reference & Relationship. Notice the progression. We start by observing and learning from behind, then grow to be walking beside, working alongside, in partnership with Jesus and one another. That’s what discipleship looks like.

In closing, let me share a quotation from Bill Hull, the author of “The Complete Book of Discipleship”.

“When the distinction between disciple and Christian disappears, so does the damaging belief in a two-tiered church. A disciple, then, is the normal Christian who follows Christ.”

Bill Hull, The Complete Book of Discipleship, p33

I hope you are convinced that there is no difference between a believer, a follower or a disciple. A believer of Jesus is a follower of Jesus, a disciple of Jesus.

The question to ask is not “Am I a disciple?” but “Am I a faithful or unfaithful disciple?”

I say again: The issue is more fundamental than it is intentional . If believers refuse to acknowledge that they are disciples, then no amount of persuasion will get these to respond. After all, discipleship initiatives are only for disciples and I am not one. I’ll just be a believer, thank you very much. [If that is what you hold to, then to be consistent, I regret to inform you that many of Jesus’ promises and words and assurance do not apply to you. Because these were all directed to disciples.]

Allow me one last attempt to press home the point.

In the New Testament, there are 274 mentions of the word ‘disciple’.

Surprisingly, these are found only in the four gospels and in Acts. Which begs the question: If Jesus’ command was to go and make disciples, and discipleship is so important to the church, why are disciples not mentioned in the epistles and in Revelation?

There are only two possible explanations. One: The apostles messed up big time and never taught anyone about being disciples. Or Two: There was no need to mention disciples because it was understood that all believers were disciples. I don’t believe the apostles messed up. I am convinced that the epistles to the churches were letters and instructions to disciples.

In Antioch, the disciples were called Christians for the very first time (Acts 11:26). They were disciples who were labelled as Christ-ians (those who belonged to the Christ). Today, we call everyone Christians first. Then hope and pray that some will become disciples.

The issue is more fundamental than it is intentional. If we would acknowledge that we are all disciples of Jesus, perhaps we would be more intentional to live as faithful disciples.

Jesus is still inviting all to follow Him. To the next level of commitment. Brothers and sisters in Christ, disciples of Jesus, would you take the next step?

Let us pray …

Lord Jesus, the invitation to disciples to follow You is clear. We are the ones who have complicated things, even rationalized and justified why discipleship is optional, or only for some. Forgive us. Wherever we may be in our walk and relationship with You, enable us by Your Holy Spirit, to take the next step, to move to the next level of commitment to follow You. In Jesus’ name we pray. AMEN.

21 Years: A Coming of Age

Turning 21 is a milestone. In many cultures, it marks the transition from childhood to adulthood.

In our family, our first-born turned 21 in 2019. A month and a half ago, it was his sister’s turn. Serene and I still find it a little odd but officially, they are both adults now. Our babies have grown up, come of age. Even so, at any age, they will always be our children.

This was the impression that came to mind – a coming of age – as I considered the significant date of 8 July. Each year, I will take time to reflect, remembering the day I heard the Lord’s invitation to follow Him at a much deeper level. This year, it would have been 21 years since I first said yes to Him in 2000.

What a journey it has been and continues to be. I have experienced God’s love, grace and faithfulness every step of the way. If you have not started following Jesus (and I mean, really follow Him), don’t waste another moment. Make this day the day you decide to follow Him and we can celebrate this anniversary together.

Here are my past reflections if you’d like to know the details:

In a blink of an eye, it’s been 21 years.

I can’t really explain this impression of ‘a coming of age’. Truth is, I don’t even know how to express it adequately. Notwithstanding, I will try my best because I want to have a reminder of this.

Back in my days, we didn’t have the concept of adulting nor the complications and complexities attached to it. We just reached a legal age of responsibility and were expected to conduct ourselves accordingly.

As I entered adulthood back then, as I came of age, I enjoyed a new level of freedom. I could come and go as I pleased. I decided for myself without having to explain or justify. It was a nice feeling. That said, I quickly learned that I would be responsible and accountable for all my decisions – both the right ones as well as the wrong ones. Not quite as fun. In fact, very serious and rather overwhelming. Yet, that was how I grew and matured. Experience is a great teacher.

In the same way, after 21 year of following Jesus, it is as if a new level of freedom has been unlocked for me. This is not to say that I was not free in Christ before this, for those whom the Son has set free is free indeed (cf John 8:36)! In Christ, I always had the freedom but perhaps I never knew how to enjoy that freedom to its fullest.

As I ‘turn’ 21, I am hearing the Father give me permission to enjoy this new level of freedom as I embrace new responsibilities ahead. To be sure, this coming of age is not so much about arriving than it is about arising.

As children, we would ask for our parents’ permission before being allowed to do anything. As adults, we no longer have to do that. With experience and wisdom (and a lot of hindsight), we are free to choose and decide.

It is with this freedom that I believe the Lord is challenging me to move forward with greater boldness and confidence.

With all I have learned in the past 21 years, led and guided by the Spirit, He is saying to me, “I trust you. Go ahead. You know your kingdom assignment. Do what you need to do. You don’t have to keep looking over your shoulder, wondering or worrying about what I will say.”

At the same time, the Lord reminds and encourages, “You may have come of age, but remember that you are and will always be My son. As an adult, it may feel scary and uncertain at times, as if you are out there on your own. But you are not alone, My son, I will always be with you.”

On this note, I am reminded of how my father trusted me enough to let me to run the advertising agency he founded and painstakingly built up. He gave me the freedom to do what needed to be done. Yet, freedom didn’t mean ‘anything goes’. On a regular basis, we met – for me to give account, to seek advice; for him to give input, to provide counsel. I may have appeared to be out there alone, but I was never left to struggle on my own. Mistakes, I made quite a few. But he continued to give me the freedom to learn and grow from those mistakes.

Please don’t read this as there is no longer a need for me to read the Bible or pray or seek the Lord for His will and direction. That would be a totally wrong takeaway. This is why I mentioned upfront that I don’t quite know how to express this ‘coming of age’ impression. I certainly do not wish to confuse or stumble anyone. Let me state it a little more clearly: There is a certain level of freedom that comes with maturity and yet the adult remains a son that desires to please the Father and fulfil His will. Makes better sense? I hope so.

21 years of following Jesus. And as the Son went about His Father’s business, I too am learning what it means to partner Him in the same business. In the purposes of the kingdom of God. With the same liberty and joy in the Spirit. With the same favour and authority as His son.

A coming of age. With this fresh understanding of freedom, I am looking forward to learning so much more in the days ahead.

I have no idea how that will be or what it would look like. For now, I will just celebrate turning 21.

Bill Hull: I find no biblical evidence for a separation of Christian from disciple.

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Some months back, I came across this book “The Complete Book of Discipleship: On Being and Making Followers of Christ” by Bill Hull and decided to add it to my library. It is, after all, positioned as “the definitive A-to-Z resource on discipleship”.

Learning more about discipleship is always good. However, my main objective was to see what Bill Hull’s position was with regards to believers and disciples. Simply: Are believers and Christians one and the same? or Is there a separate decision believers have to make to move on to being disciples? Do Christians get to choose whether to be or not be disciples? If you have read my posts on this topic and issue, you would know my view and position. If not, here are the links for your easy reference:

Whilst I used to think that there was a difference, I am today solidly (and biblically) convinced that all believers are automatically disciples. The question for me is no longer whether we are disciples or not, but if we are faithful or unfaithful ones. Unfortunately, not everyone agrees with this position. In fact, what is more commonly taught and propagated across churches is that discipleship is a separate and distinct decision a believer makes.

Given my schedule and priorities, it would be a while before the book made it to my bedside table. I finally read the first pages and I didn’t have to get too far to be encouraged.

The Introduction opened with a bold quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “Christianity without discipleship is always Christianity without Christ.” Hull notes that today, “non-discipleship ‘Christianity’ dominates much of the thinking of contemporary church” because “we evangelicals accept and even encourage a two-level Christian experience in which only serious Christians pursue and practice discipleship, while grace and forgiveness is enough for everyone else.” Hull goes on to state that “we can’t truly follow Christ without desiring to become like Him. Following Him requires regeneration or new birth. If we’re reborn, we’ll follow Him – unless we’re taught that we don’t need to.” (pp15-17, emphasis mine)

In Chapter One: Biblical Foundations of Discipleship, in defining a Disciple, the author writes, “A disciple, then is a reborn follower of Jesus. I’ve already mentioned my distaste for the teaching that a difference exists between being a Christian and being a disciple. The common teaching is that a Christian is someone who by faith accepts Jesus as Saviour, receives eternal life, and is safe and secure in the family of God; a disciple is a more serious Christian active in the practice of the spiritual disciplines and engaged in evangelising and training others. But I must be blunt: I find no biblical evidence for a separation of Christian from disciple. In answer to the age-old question, ‘Are disciples born or made?’ I contend they are born to be made.” (pp32-33, emphasis mine)

Hull then clarifies, As a new Christian, an individual doesn’t take a ‘second step’ toward becoming a disciple. Instead he embarks on a seamless journey of growth that passes through spiritual childhood, adolescence, and adulthood to maturity.” Hull believes that “When the distinction between disciple and Christian disappears, so does the damaging belief in a two-tiered church. A disciple, then, is the normal Christian who follows Christ.” (p33, emphasis mine)

I love this guy! And I believe that I’m going to enjoy reading the rest of the book too 🙂

That said, it is not about winning an argument about believers and disciples. So what if I am right positionally but totally miss it relationally. I do not want to merely talk or teach discipleship and not be engaged in the lives of others. There is already enough for that in our churches where we run discipleship programmes but do not really disciple anyone at all. My prayer is that the Lord will enable me to be a faithful disciple who will in turn lead and impact others for Jesus. Amen!

I didn’t just take my hands off the plough; I burnt it.

By now, it should be open knowledge that I have stepped down from being a pastor in a church. Although it has been exciting and I am looking forward to what’s ahead, this move has also caused me to ponder the words of Jesus in Luke 9:62; or more accurately, my impression of what He said. In stepping down, have I taken my hands off the plough? And if I have, am I thus considered unworthy of the kingdom?

To answer these questions, I need to consider if Jesus did really say what I think He said in the first place. Impressions of biblical passages are convenient but can be rather dangerous too. If I suppose that something was said but in fact was not, I will end up mis-interpreting and thereby mis-applying it for myself; or even worse, for someone else. The right thing to do as a student of the Word is to check the Scriptures to see what this verse actually says and if there is a truth I need to heed. That was precisely what I did and this is what I found:

But Jesus said to him, “No one, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.” Luke 9:62

To make His point of complete devotion and focus, Jesus used the Old Testament imagery of Elijah’s call of Elisha (1 Kings 19:19-21). The context of Luke 9:57-62 was discipleship or following Jesus; not the relinquishing or change of a position in ministry. There was no reference to the taking off of hands at all. Instead, the caution was that one should not look back when a decision has been made to follow Jesus and to serve Him. There it is: plain and simple, without any need to jump through hermeneutical hoops.

So, the more accurate question to ask is, “Have I looked back?” Humbly, my answer would be an emphatic “NO!” Since the Lord called me on 8 July 2000 to follow Him , there has been no turning back. When Elijah issued the call, Elisha “took a yoke of oxen and slaughtered them and boiled their flesh, using the oxen’s equipment.” Elisha cooked the oxen over a BBQ pit made up of the yoke and plough. In our language today, Elisha gave up any notion of Plan B. Similarly, when I stepped out of the family business, which was subsequently closed and liquidated, I knew I made the decision to rely totally on my Lord and Master, Jesus, and to do His bidding.

Screen Shot 2014-03-07 at 1.56.41 pm

Nothing has changed. When I said that I would follow Jesus, I meant it. When He first called, Serene and I had only two children. When I finally stepped out, the number had grown to four. Today, we have seven children. We are still following and serving Him and not looking back at all. We have no plan B. In a sense, I did take my hands off the plough … of my own agenda. Not only did I take my hands off that plough, I burnt it.

Today, I plough for Jesus and His Kingdom, always remembering that His yoke is easy and His burden is light (Matt 11:30). He determines which field I plough in and for how long. I am thankful for all I have experienced and learnt in the past ten years; and especially the lives I have been privileged to impact. Today, I am being moved to a different field to begin a new work. I will not and must not be distracted. I don’t look back but keep my eyes fixed on Him, the Author and Finisher of my faith.

So, does that make me fit or worthy for the Kingdom now? I don’t know. But that’s not for me to determine. The words of Luke 17:10 come to mind: “So likewise you, when you have done all those things which you are commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do.’” Indeed, my part is only to serve Him as faithfully as I can as enabled by His grace. Jesus has already given me His all. Can I give Him any less? How I shall stand before Him when we finally meet, only Jesus knows.

All said, I am thankful for this little episode because God uses every situation to teach me and to open my eyes to His truth that sets free. As it has been demonstrated – and I have been guilty of it too – we must be careful not to use the Word of God based on an impression. This is indeed a good reminder to always get back to His Word to ascertain if what is said, quoted or preached has been done so accurately and contextually. And when rightly handled, the Word of God must always have the last and final say in our lives and ministry as we seek to follow and serve Him wholeheartedly as His disciples and servants.

Amen?

Non-Discipleship is Tragically Costly

Back in March 2011, I posted “The Cost of Non-Discipleship“. Of course, it was just another rambling thought of my searching heart and inquisitive mind. With all the talk about discipleship in church circles, it is rather surprising why there are so few true disciples of Jesus Christ. Perhaps, just perhaps, many hold the view that there is choice as to whether one decides to be a disciple or not.

Admittedly, I used to think that too, but that view has changed in recent times [Read “Seven Misconceptions of Discipleship“]. Today, I am very convinced and convicted that once we place our faith in Jesus Christ, we become His followers, His disciples. After all, we have been bought by His precious blood and we are no longer our own. Sadly, not everyone agrees with that view, thereby contributing to and propagating the more popular understanding that it is alright not to be a disciple. As such, non-discipleship continues to be the preferred option (not that there is one), and thus a major trend in the church.

And since I am a nobody, an unknown, with respect to being a discipleship guru, my little post (and messages) will only go that far. To this end, I was rather encouraged to stumble upon a short clip by David Platt (the current big name amongst other equally prominent ones where discipleship is concerned), entitled “The Tragic Cost of Non-Discipleship“.

In his words, “the cost is of non-discipleship is far, far greater than that of discipleship” and “many [who continue to sit comfortable in church] are eternally deceived.” And if those who call themselves Christians do not awaken to this, “the consequences of casual cultural Christianity in the world are tragic.”

Granted that Platt’s remarks may not have addressed my position on discipleship directly and are more evangelistically skewed, but they are no less relevant. Until Christians rise up to their positions as disciples of Jesus, the sacrifices and challenges notwithstanding, non-discipleship remains tragically costly — to each believer personally, and to the greater good of a world in desperate need of the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ!

Related Post: Seven Misconceptions of Discipleship

Misconception #7: Discipleship is about me

Misconception 7Discipleship may concern, involve and affect you, but it’s not about you. Every disciple knows that he’s in it because of the Master. For the Christian, it is all about JESUS! Get this wrong and our personal agendas will jostle for top spot over and over again.

At Caesarea Philippi, Peter gloated after providing the right answer and promptly proceeded to rebuke his Master for talking about dying. In return, Jesus rebuked him with the title, Satan! Clearly, Jesus’ agenda was not according to “the things of men, but the things of God!” (Matt 16:13-23) Similarly, in Luke 9:51-56, James and John revealed their hatred for the Samaritans, all too ready to call down fire upon them. But Jesus’ agenda was not about destroying those who rejected Him, but saving those who are doomed for destruction. Later in Mark 10:35-45, James and John asked for prime positions and got their motives challenged. Jesus’ agenda was not that He be served, but that He would serve.

The multitudes were no different. They received healing and provision, saw signs and wonders, and enjoyed great teaching and revelation. All these served their needs and agenda, but did they follow Jesus as disciples? No, it demanded too high a cost! Are we not the same today?

But Jesus will not conform to our definition of discipleship, on our terms. We must submit to His standards! Jesus said what needed to be said, never lowered the bar, and never played to the crowds. Jesus was not afraid to lose the big crowds, but we are! He never lowered the standards of the Kingdom, but we are all too ready to do it in the name of love and grace, so that more will fill the pews.

When Jesus didn’t give His disciples what they wanted, Judas betrayed Him and the disciples left Him. When the multitudes did not get a Messiah according to their desire, their shouts turned from “Hail Him!” to “Nail Him!” Believers, you think?

Make no mistake. Discipleship is about JESUS! Does your idea of discipleship have a personal agenda or a Jesus agenda? What do you want Jesus to be to you, or to do for you? Do you not know that what He came to do, He has already done when He declared, “It is finished!”? If you believe in Him, do you not realise He is already your Saviour. Would you now acknowledge Him as your Master and start following Him as His disciple?

Misconception #6: Discipleship is one aspect of the spiritual walk

Misconception 6This misconception extends from the previous one. Those ‘called’ to the prayer ministry will focus on prayer. Those ‘called ‘ to the worship ministry will elevate the worship experience. Those ‘called’ to teach will emphasise the discipline of study. And the more we specialise, the more we compartmentalise. To be sure, these are all different aspects that contribute to our spiritual walk. However, when we consider discipleship on the same level as these, we make a grave mistake. Discipleship is not just an aspect of the spiritual walk. It is the spiritual walk.

Discipleship is the Christian life as we learn how to handle people and situations as Jesus did when He walked on earth, empowered by the Holy Spirit! Everything we think, do and say as a Christian is discipleship because we desire to think, do and say as our Master, Jesus, would. Every aspect of our lives is open for the Master’s inspection! Every word we utter is subject to His approval. What this means is that discipleship is not something that happens only in church but how we walk as followers of Jesus Christ in life!

How does this look in real life? Simply, I am first and foremost a disciple of Jesus before I am husband to Serene, father to my children, pastor to my congregation and dean to my students. I want to learn from Jesus that I may be more and more like Him in my relationship with my wife, my children, my congregation and my students. Walking in His ways is what discipleship is all about! Discipleship is not merely one aspect of my spiritual walk; it is everything my spiritual walk is supposed to be.

The right perspective and understanding of discipleship will radically change the way we live our lives and how we relate to one another. Husbands, as a disciple of Jesus, love your wives! Wives, as a disciple of Jesus, love your husbands! Parents, as disciples of Jesus, raise your children in the ways of Jesus. Fathers & Mothers, as disciples of Jesus, love and serve your children. Children, as disciples of Jesus, honour and obey your parents. Bosses, as disciples of Jesus, run your companies well. Employees, as disciples of Jesus, do you work well. Citizens of Singapore, as disciples of Jesus, stop complaining!

Stop seeing discipleship as only one component of your spiritual walk. This narrow view will cause you to minimise the importance of discipleship and what it truly means to be a follower of Jesus.

Misconception #5: Discipleship is a programme or ministry in the Church

Misconception 5When we promote discipleship as a programme and ministry in the Church, we encourage the mindset of CALL and CHOICE again. Think about it: Why isn’t there a programme or a ministry called ‘Acceptance-ship’, ‘Redeemed-ship’ or ‘Forgiven-ship’? That’s because when you believe in Jesus, you just are!!! So why should we have one called ‘Discipleship’?

This ‘programme/ministry’ mindset deceives (yes, deceives!) us into the wrong thinking that if I attend church faithfully, I am a disciple; if I do Quiet Time regularly, I am a disciple; if I memorise Scriptures, I am a disciple; if I attend bible study, I am a disciple. WRONG! WRONG! WRONG! You are a disciple, that’s why you do all these things. Don’t get it upside down! We must be duly cautioned that we can study all about discipleship and not be a disciple! Discipleship is not something we do; it’s who we are as disciples that determine what we do.

Allow me to borrow an illustration from Pastor Francis Chan, author of Crazy Love and Erasing Hell. As children, we must have all played the game “Simon Says”. What Simon says, we are to do. What about when Jesus says? Instead of doing what Jesus says, we gather on Sundays or huddle into small groups to study what He says, how He says it, and what He means when He says it. If my wife instructed my daughter to “Do the laundry”, she would expect the young lady to obey that instruction. Imagine if after three hours, my wife checks on the task and my daughter reports that she has not done the laundry, but she has memorised the instruction, can repeat it in the same tone and nuance and has even studied what ‘laundry’ means in Greek and Hebrew?

This might sound ridiculous but is this not what discipleship in the Church is all about? That’s what happens when we turn discipleship into a programme or a ministry. We do discipleship but we don’t do what “Jesus Says”!

Misconception #4: Discipleship is an optional add-on to salvation

Misconception 4Sadly, we have made discipleship an optional add-on when it’s part of the entire package! We pick and choose what we want and leave out parts we don’t want. We want the rewards of discipleship but not the requirements of discipleship! This is not the case at all. When you believed and were saved, discipleship was included and thus expected of you. In case you didn’t realise, the moment you belonged to Jesus, you began learning and will go on learning until you meet Him. How else would you grow as a believer if you didn’t learn more about Jesus? And what’s another word for learner? Disciple!

Discipleship is not an add-on to salvation. It came with it. That said, you do have an option, and that is to OPT OUT. Before you select this option, thinking that’s your way out of being a disciple, do consider what it means.

After teaching about eating His flesh and drinking His blood, many of Jesus’ disciples were offended and complained (John 6:60-71). John 6:64 reveals something very interesting. These were referred to as disciples and yet Jesus said that these were not ones who believed. These so-called “disciples” must have once believed in what Jesus preached, but perhaps only what they wanted to hear. In other words, their beliefs were faulty beliefs. And when it got tough to swallow (pun intended), they promptly opted out. “From that time, many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more.” John 6:66

It’s not enough to simply believe. We’d better be sure of what we are believing in. In the last days, many will have faulty beliefs. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables.” 2 Timothy 4:3–4

Once again, we see the relationship between believing and following. When you cease believing in Jesus and His ways, you cease following. Conversely, if you are not living as a disciple should, it’s best to check what you believe, or do not believe. Don’t opt out without even knowing it!

Misconception #3: Disciples are a special class of believers

Misconception 3If you subscribe to misconceptions #1 and #2, this is how you will view disciples. You will consider mere believers as being inferior to disciples, as being lesser than those who have decided to follow Jesus. After all, these privileged ones received the call and have selflessly abandoned all to be with the Master. But not little ol’ me! Can you see what this is going?

Disciples are not a special class of believers! There is no one more special than another is God’s family! We were all undeserving of anything but have received everything by His grace. If we didn’t qualify to be saved, what qualifies us to be disciples? Nothing, except Jesus! If we understand this, we will not buy into the lie that some are more worthy than others to be disciples.

Of all the disciples, Jesus loved ALL the same. However, to prepare each for different assignments, He invested His time accordingly. As we have already noted, Jesus had more than 500 disciples, but He spent the most time with the 12 because these were chosen to be apostles, for specific assignments. Of the 12, His inner circle was three: Peter, James and John. Of the three, John was considered the beloved disciple, although Peter was de facto leader. In the early Church, disciples waited on tables and served the people. Others gave and shared their resources. Later, in the book of Ephesians, Paul clarified the roles of apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers.

In the army, one may serve as a storeman or a clerk. But he is still considered a soldier. Everyone who dons the uniform is a soldier. Likewise, when we believed in Jesus, we put on the uniform when we were clothed with His righteousness. This is standard issue and every believer is a soldier in the Lord’s Army, equally equipped with the armour of God!

Disciples are not a special class of super-spiritual believers! Every believer is a disciple and each has a distinct role. We are a body of different parts and every part must do its share according to the measure of faith given by grace.