Seven Misconceptions of Discipleship

Seven MisconceptionsIn offering scholarships to encourage school leaving youths to consider a career in the military, the recruitment office did not opt for the guts ‘n’ glory angle. Instead, they found that the following points proved more attractive and effective:

  • Academic Pursuit: get the paper and qualification you desire
  • Financial Perks: get paid to study when others borrow to pay their fees
  • Material Benefits: while your peers are begging their parents for more pocket money, get a car before they can even dream of it
  • Adventure & Exposure: get to experience extreme sports and life
  • Prestige: get honour and glory in serving the nation, plus your girl (who can resist a man in uniform?)

Catching up with a friend who signed on as a regular, we asked him if he was having a great time with all these promises. He answered, “Nonsense, la!” After all, no one said anything about being a soldier, tough training, and the possibility of dying in battle!

Is it not the same with Christianity? Very likely so, I’m afraid. Do we not advertise the good news, calling out to all, “Be a Christian and get your [fill in the blank]!”? Hardly, if anything is said about being a disciple of Jesus Christ. Little wonder then, that the Church has discovered a great disconnect between being a Christian and being a disciple.

As if a knee-jerk reaction (prompted by the Holy Spirit, I’m sure), there is now, of late, a sudden attention turned to discipleship. In the bookshops are so many titles and programmes on discipleship. Contained in every church mission statement is the word disciple or discipleship. Every church wants to be an intentional disciple-making church (IDMC). With the new buzzword of discipleship, another problem has arisen. Discipleship has become hip and cool; and in that, we have missed the mark again!

For sure, so much has been taught and written about discipleship. But why all the confusion still? What is a disciple? Who is a disciple? How is discipleship done? Why is discipleship so difficult a concept to grasp in our days?

In preparing for a series on discipleship, I asked the Lord to show me afresh. I knew what I had been told and taught about discipleship. But my desire was to approach the Word without any presupposition or preconceived notions about discipleship. And the Lord gladly obliged. When He opened my eyes with a fresh revelation and understanding, it rocked whatever I had previously held on to. Oh my! What have I been teaching the people?

That’s what this series of articles will be about – the SEVEN misconceptions of discipleship that are prevalent in the Church, in the hearts and minds of God’s people.

  1. Discipleship is a separate decision/event from believership: Part One & Part Two
  2. Believers must be called to be disciples
  3. Disciples are a special class of believers
  4. Discipleship is an optional add-on to salvation
  5. Discipleship is a ministry or programme in the Church
  6. Discipleship is one aspect of the spiritual walk
  7. Discipleship is about me

Of the seven misconceptions, the first two are the most controversial. You may or may not agree with me, and that’s fine. Since sharing these, I’ve had different responses and it’s been interesting. I’ve also found that people like to remain in their comfort zones. And Christians presume many things without ever checking the Scriptures.

Therefore, if you disagree with anything, don’t disagree just because it doesn’t sound nice to you, goes against what you have been taught, or rocks your cushy Christian walk. Be like the Bereans who “searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so.” Finally, if we are still in disagreement, that is perfectly alright. My desire is not to win an argument about discipleship but that more would rise up to be faithful disciples of our Lord Jesus Christ! If this exercise provokes and spurs you towards this goal, I would have more than done my part.

What Defines You? Understanding Purpose, Platform & Performance

“Today, a teacher is no longer just a teacher,” I remember my instructor saying in a class on The Principles of Teaching.  “A teacher is also a coach, a mentor and a guide,“ she added emphatically.  “Interesting,” I thought to myself, and my mind began to wander as I reflected on that statement.  After all, if a teacher is not just a teacher, than why do we still call him a teacher?  Why don’t we call him coach?  Similarly, is a father still a father, or a husband still a husband?

Plasticine man and notes

Bringing this closer to home, how does this affect me personally as a father, a son, a husband, a friend, a teacher, a mentor, a counselor, a guide, a disciple, a leader and a servant?  When am I one and not the other?  Which hat do I put on and which do I take off?  Without doubt, I want to excel in each of these roles.  So I place expectations upon myself to function as adequately as I can and be the best that I can be.  Add to these, the expectations that others have of me and you can understand how that presents new and fresh challenges (and pressures) from all points.  As if not enough, we are further defined by society’s performance indicators of income, position, status and achievement.  Then we come to church and are further challenged to a life of denial, of discipleship and of service.  At the end of it all, who am I and what am I to be or do?  When did life become so complicated?  Why can’t a teacher remain a teacher?!  Who changed the rules along the way?

I assure you that I have no intention to split hairs or to make a mountain out of a molehill.  But if I am accurate, what I have just described is a phenomenon (and a dilemma) that many of us face in today’s varied and demanding society.  Unfortunately, it is not much different in the church as Christians struggle “to be all things to all men”, possibly making 1 Cor 9:22 one of the most misapplied verse of our time.

“In being defined, and constantly re-defined, by the world, we have lost our understanding of who we really are and what we were created for.”

Back to Original Intent and Design When I was first introduced to the word “etymology”, I had no idea what it meant at all.  All I knew was that it had something to do with words.  In the course of my study, I discovered that the full meaning of a word is to be found in the origin of that word.  This is needful because over time, words are used, abused and misused, resulting in its present meaning often quite different from when it was first used.  Etymology then is simply the study of the history and evolution of words, the process by which we understand the original definition of the word by the person who first coined the use of that word.

Similarly, we are products of society and the changes that have taken place over time.  Over time, we have lost the original intent and meaning for which we were created.  And yet, our present understanding of ourselves must not be limited to what the world tells us.  If so, we merely take on and act out the roles expected of us.  Is it any wonder then that so many are aimless and without purpose in life?

From a young age, I was told that I must study hard so I can do well in society.  As I interacted with others, I become a part of the socialisation process that makes society.  Then came my army and university years and I was raised to contribute to society.  When I went out to work, the norms and pressures of society impacted me even more.  I quickly learned that money was important, that position brought prestige, that material accumulation was desirable.  If society told me anything, I accepted it without question.  If there was a new buzzword in town, I had to learn it or else I’d fall out of sync with society.  Without realizing it, I had been shaped and defined by society.

Like the words which we use, and those we employ to label ourselves, we have been swept along by the tides of change.  In being defined, and constantly re-defined, by the world, we have lost our understanding of who we really are and what we were created for.  As in the etymology of words, we need to return to original intent, design and definition.  In this regard, although society may influence me, it is not society that gets to define me.  God remains the One who defines me, for it is He who made me and only He knows what is best for me.

“In our culture of integrated systems, we have also tried to integrate varied concepts into our roles and relationships, resulting in much confusion and distress.”

More recently, I have been considering a mobile device that would help me be more efficient and productive in the recording of my thoughts and ideas.  You would think that it is a simple process until you begin the research for such a product!  Should it be a PocketPC, a SmartPhone or a PDA?  With or without phone, camera or video?  However versatile these devices promise to be, I would still use it for its primary purpose to serve my primary need.  This is because it was designed with that primary purpose in mind with the necessary operating system to support it.  If this is not clear in my purchase decision, I will be influenced by what it offers rather than by what it does well.  And when I can’t get it to do something I expect it to do, the result is frustration.

In our culture of integrated systems, we have also tried to integrate varied concepts into our roles and relationships, resulting in much confusion and distress.  Teachers are expected to mentor.  Parents are expected to counsel.  Husbands are expected to help.  Wives are expected to lead.  Not that there is nothing positive to be derived from these but we have sadly missed the big picture and the primary purpose for which each of us has been created.

As we can see from our example above, every device is designed with a purpose in mind, equipped with a platform to achieve that purpose so that it will deliver a performance with more than satisfactory results!

“We are called to a purpose; not of ourselves but of the One who designed and made us for that very purpose!”

The Bible tells us that Man was made in the image and in the likeness of God.  In other words, the design of man was modeled after the very Person of God!  That is not just a good design; it is an awesome design!  As we have noted earlier, every design fulfils a purpose.  A watch is designed to tell time, a vehicle for transportation, a hammer to hammer, and a nail to be hammered!  Similarly, we have been designed for a specific purpose.  Although all of us bear the image of God, each is unique in personality, talents and gifting.  These variations show us that each has been called to a specific task.  We are not called to mere existence.  We are called to a purpose; not of ourselves but of the One who designed and made us for that very purpose!

When my eyes were opened to this fundamental truth, everything looked different.  For the very first time, my life had clear definition; not by how others wanted to see me, but by God who knew me even before I was formed in my mother’s womb.  Today, I make every effort to align my desires with God’s purpose.  After all, it is He who defines me and gives me purpose.  Without the Vine, what use is the branch?  Without the Potter, what use is the clay?  If there is no Master, there is no servant.

Once my relationship with God is settled, my relationship with myself is also settled.  I have a healthy self-image as a redeemed child of God and a new creation in Jesus Christ.  This in turn helps me in my relationship with my wife, my children and with others.  I don’t have to be who I am not supposed to be, or what others want me to be.  I know who I am, and I know what I am to do!

It doesn’t matter where you work or what you do.  Everything flows from this understanding and conviction.  You could be a big-time businessman, a district judge, a preschool teacher, or a whatever.  If God doesn’t define you, you will not walk in the purposes He has for you.

 “A godly purpose requires a godly platform”

When Windows VISTA was first launched, the entire market welcomed it with great expectation.  That quickly turned to disappointment when this new platform showed itself incompatible with how devices were originally designed to run.  In much the same way, God’s original operating system (OS) was to serve His original design and purpose.  However, sin came into the picture and corrupted that OS.  At the same time, the influences of the world promised an alternative OS that appeared better and more attractive, but totally incompatible with God’s purpose and call for us.

Thank God for the redemption we have in Jesus Christ!  Where I was once conformed to the patterns of this world, I can now be transformed by the renewing of my mind.  My OS can be fully restored!  My core values, my principles and my thinking can all be realigned to God’s original purpose for me.

When I allowed full access to the work of the Holy Spirit in my life, He effected a thorough clean-up in every area that was laid open and yielded to Him.  With the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God, my selfish and worldly desires and ambitions were promptly cut away.  It was certainly no walk in the park for it required the surrendering of many things I held dear in my heart.  But it was totally necessary as I had already determined to be defined by God and no one else.  This ongoing renewal of my mind radically changed the way I viewed my business, my goals, my desires and my relationships.  For sure, a godly purpose requires a godly platform.

“To maintain peak performance for God, I must be very mindful of the things that pull me away from God’s call and purpose.”

If there is one thing Christians know to do, it is to serve.  Whilst that appears noble and in line with biblical teaching, we have to discern if it is truly service or mere activity?  Are we performing to design and purpose, or merely performing for outward display?  Just as society can define us, so can the church with her demands and expectations.  This too is erroneous for performance is not determined by church norms, but by platform, and platform by purpose.  Like many, I used to serve because I thought that was what Christians did.  After all, faith without works is dead, they tell me.  It didn’t take me long to discover that the works for the sake of works is also dead.  No wonder so many Christians suffer burn out after dutifully serving in ministries.

The performance of a computer is compromised when it is bogged down by unnecessary programmes.  Likewise, we can’t be effective in what God wants us to do when we are tied down and distracted by other things.  Paul says in 2 Timothy 2:4 that “no one engaged in warfare entangles himself with the affairs of this life, that he may please him who enlisted him as a soldier.”  Hebrews 12:1 reminds us to “lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us” so that we can run the race set before us.  To maintain peak performance for God, I must be very mindful of the things that pull me away from God’s call and purpose.

The trappings of this world are plenty.  Just how much is enough?  One of the best decisions I took was the giving up of business pursuits when the Lord called me into ministry.  In saying ‘yes’ to God, I consciously said ‘no’ to worldly treasures.  It has been liberating to say the least.  Day by day, I live the truth found in Matt 6:33.  True to God’s Word, when I seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, God has been more than faithful to meet my every need (and that includes one wife and seven children).

Material things are not the only distractions I face.  Ministry is extremely demanding, yet not every opportunity to minister is necessarily in God’s plan for me.  I am reminded that it didn’t matter how sought after Jesus was.  He always stayed true to His call and fulfilled what He was sent to do.  Jesus didn’t just perform miracles; He performed the Father’s will.

The expectations of others also add loads that we unconsciously bear.  In our bid to please people, we end up performing for them.  This is unwise.  Instead, seek to please God and in that serve others.  Be ready that some may take offence.  But it is far better to be in step with God than to dance to the tune of the world.

That said, it remains a daily challenge for me to stay lean and de-cluttered in my possessions and priorities.  Yet I must, that my eyes are fixed only on Jesus the Author and Perfecter of my faith and that my heart belongs to no other than the Lover of my soul.  My performance is premised on the partnership I have with Him and Him alone.  For apart from Him I can do nothing (John 15:5).

“The world may present new concepts as it evolves and shifts, but I stand unfazed by passing fads and trends.”

What do all these mean if I was that teacher mentioned at the start of this discourse?  Simple.  My concern is not to be every description or expectation thrown at me.  To be sure, I will learn what it means to coach, to guide and to mentor in today’s terms and situations.  But I will not conform to any image other than that of the Son of God, my Lord and Master Jesus Christ.  He alone is my model and my example.  Was He not a teacher?  Did He not coach?  He did!  In fact, Jesus did all that and more!  The religious system of His day, the crowds, and even His disciples had great expectations of Him and for Him but Jesus stayed true to His call and His mission.  He knew who He was and what He was sent to do.  In the same way, I would strive to teach as Jesus did; to impact and to touch lives.  Not just for the economy but for eternity.

So then, what or who defines you?  For sure, the permutations and possibilities are many.  As for me, I choose to identify myself with the One who made me.  God alone holds the master plan to my life and to who I am to be.  I stand secure and confident in the person I am in Christ and in the grace found in Him.  The world may present new concepts as it evolves and shifts, but I stand unfazed by passing fads and trends.  God has designed me for a purpose.  He has equipped me with the appropriate platform to accomplish that purpose.  When these are in correct alignment, my performance for the glory of His kingdom is a natural outcome.

The world says many things.  Be that as it may.  What does God say?

A Disciple and a Parent

Family Pix at Sushi Tei Christmas 2012

In my short stint as a father, I have had many opportunities to dialogue with Christian parents.  Although the conversations take different forms, the issues remain the same – time, money and children – more specifically, how to have more time, more money and preferably less children.  And when the discovery is made that I am in fulltime ministry, with seven young children, and a wife who homeschools and manages the entire household (without a maid!), I am instantly asked, “How do you and your wife manage?!” to which I reply, “We don’t … we rely on God.”

But this is not the answer they want.  What they really want to know is how we afford our larger-than-normal family, how we find the time and energy to do all we need to do, and how we manage, nurture and train all the children.  Yet, the answer is still the same … “We don’t … we rely on God.”

Like everyone else, we face the same challenges and struggles of parenting.  On our own, we don’t and can’t manage anything.  It is only in Christ that we can do all things through Him who strengthens us (Phil 4:13).

We don’t stop being disciples. At this point, you may be wondering what this has to do with discipleship.  Let me say that it has everything to do with discipleship.  When we decide to follow Jesus, it is a commitment that stands regardless our position in life, single or married, with two children or ten.  We don’t stop being disciples!  To stop means to stop following Jesus, to stop abiding in Christ, to cease drawing from the true Vine.

As such, it’s not about finding more energy to pray or more time to read the Word, but critically recognising the need to pray and to constantly abide in the Word.  Serene and I have experienced this time and again – the moment we take our eyes off Jesus, things go crazy around the house and everything falls apart.  We have learnt that, truly, apart from Him, we can do nothing (John 15:5).

All that we have is from God.  How else can we but manage these for His glory?  How else can we manage but with His strength and power?  How else can we have strength and power but to draw from Him daily?  Discipleship is not about knowing how to manage, but knowing who we are in Christ, our Master, out of which flow our call and our priorities.

Disciples know their Master. If I am a disciple, I have a Master.  The question is, “Who is my Master?”  Jesus said that no one can serve two masters.  We will love one and hate the other.  Anything and anyone can take the place of Jesus – my wife, my children, my career, my worldly pursuits, even my church.  When that happens, I only serve Jesus on Sunday mornings.  For the rest of the week, I serve my other masters.

I have come to acknowledge that I need Jesus desperately.  My source and strength is Jesus.  If I don’t spend time with Him, I have nothing.  It is only out of my relationship with Him that I can relate with others. In loving Jesus, I love my wife and my children.  In trusting Jesus, I know that my best can never match His best for my family.  In following Jesus, my family knows that we are headed in the right direction for the right destination.

My Master is Jesus and I am His disciple.

Disciples know their Purpose. Not everyone may be called to fulltime ministry, but every believer is to be a fulltime disciple. When Jesus says, “Follow Me,” He is inviting men and women to give up everything to be with Him and to learn from Him.  And everything includes our families.

To follow Jesus means to have my eyes fixed on Him.  Problems come when my eyes are fixed on myself, my wife, my children and our needs.  When I yield to the call of these needs, I invariably miss the call of Jesus to walk with Him.  In Matt 10:37, Jesus says, “… he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.”  So do I stop loving my family?  No, I don’t love them any less.  It just means that I love Jesus more.

We are disciples first before we are husbands, wives, or parents.  And disciples are very clear of the purpose of following Jesus – to become more and more like Him.  With this purpose and promise of transformation, a true disciple of Jesus makes for a better husband, wife and parent.

Disciples know their Priorities. So many Christians struggle with discipleship because of misplaced priorities.  An over focus on needs will lead to a focus on money, job, self-improvement, and career.  Soon, worry and anxiety set in, and they wonder, “Where is Jesus in all these?”  I believe the Master is still there, patiently waiting.  It’s the disciple who has gone missing.

A disciple’s priority must be to do what the Master has called him to do – to declare, establish and manifest the Kingdom of God (Matt 10:7,8).  When Jesus sent His disciples out, He told them not to worry about anything for they will be provided for.  Their priority was to do His will and to please the Master.  The same applies to us today.  Matt 6:33 reminds us that between our needs and God’s Kingdom, we are to seek the latter that the former will be taken care of.  How often have we got it upside-down?  To be sure, the question is not whether God will meet our needs, but if we are seeking His Kingdom and His righteousness.

A disciple’s priority is to look after the Master’s business.  The Master will look after the disciple’s needs.

So how do we manage? We don’t … we rely on God.  As you can see by now, discipleship, as with parenting, is not merely about methods and how to’s.  There’s something more fundamental – it’s relationship.

If you are struggling with being a disciple and a parent, it’s not more steps you need.  Instead, you have to determine what is it you find difficult to let go of, for it is that cost of discipleship with which you are struggling.  Don’t struggle to be a disciple.  Strive instead, to know the Master.  For when you know who your Master is, and how faithful He is, you will gladly follow Him wherever He leads.  When that happens, priorities become clear and everything falls in place.

Jesus be the Santa of My Life?

I guess it’s safe to assume that everyone is familiar with the hit worship song by Israel Houghton “Jesus At The Centre”, or the slightly older one, “Jesus Be the Centre” by Michael Frye.

We sing it with gusto, and at times, with tears too. But really, is Jesus the centre? Or do we just want Him to be a Santa to us? Hey, in this day of commercial and convenient Christianity, I can’t assume anything. Of anyone. And of myself.

Is Jesus the centre of your life? Don’t say “yes” too quickly if all you mean is that you desire Jesus to be the centre. That wasn’t the question at all. Once again, the question is, “Is Jesus the centre of your life?” In case this appears or sounds confusing, consider the following …

Take me, for example. I am one who serves in a full-time capacity. As a servant of God. I teach, preach and lead a ministry. By all counts, in the eyes of many, I have given my all to Jesus, so He must be the centre of my life. Accurate? Not necessarily. If I neglect the needs of my wife and not love her as Christ loved the church, if I do not parent my children in God’s ways, then Jesus is not the centre at all! Ouch!

How about the faithful volunteer each Sunday morning? He or she comes consistently to church and serves dutifully. Is Jesus the centre of his or her life? Well, we’d have to see more of his or her life to know, wouldn’t we? How does he conduct his business? How does she relate to her peers or relatives? What does he do in his private time when no one is watching? How does she respond in times of difficulties and challenges?

Then, there is the Sunday Christian who appears each week – 30mins into the service. He is perpetually tardy. But when a crisis hits, or a need arises, this dear brother is quick on the dial (smartphone keypad) to contact a pastor for prayer or counselling and – surprise! surprise! – comes perfectly on time for the appointment. Hmmmm … is Jesus really the centre?

Of course, what is the Christian walk without faith? So, there is the faith-filled believer who asks so he will receive – after all, that’s his entitlement. So, Lord, give me a job, give me a promotion, give me a baby, give me a husband, give me a house, car, an iPad, … How nice, when Jesus is the Santa of your life.

As with most blogposts, I have observed and so I write. But more than a post that gripes against what I have observed in others, it is one that provokes myself to evaluate if there might the presence of something larger in my eye than the speck I see in theirs.

Is Jesus really the centre of my life, my marriage, my family, my ministry as reflected through my thoughts, my words and my actions? Or have I too approached Him with a long list of gimmes based on a self-righteous view of myself having been good and faithful, and deserving of all I have asked for? If so, I have only made Jesus the Santa of my life. And however loud I sing and declare, Jesus is not the centre of my life at all … I am.

Related Post:
Santa? Or No Santa? Can We Please Make Up Our Minds?
Jesus be the Corner of My Life?

Are all believers of Jesus automatically disciples of Jesus?

Dear friends

I am wondering what the general view is to the above question, “Are all believers of Jesus automatically disciples of Jesus?” Please participate in this simple poll so that there are adequate responses for some meaningful analysis 🙂 Please feel free too to add your comments and thoughts as the answers in the poll have been deliberately kept simple and may not fully address your position or conviction.

Thanks for your support!

A Broken Generation

A lovely statement of love by 6-yr-old Ruth. Theologically sound too.

Just the other day, I heard another message about God’s love. Yes, another one. The speaker shared interesting points on how we should focus more on God’s love for us than on our love for Him. That if we know and understand God’s love, everything would be ok and we would be set for life. That because God loves us so much, He wants to keep giving to us and blessing us. Then, a few days later, a few friends attended a conference to hear more about God’s love. I am told that they were so encouraged to know that their heavenly Father loves them.

These are just two recent incidents. But it made me think, “What’s with this emphasis on God’s love in recent days?” Don’t we know that God loves us? Don’t we already know Him as Abba Father when we became children of God? Apparently not, sadly.

It suddenly dawned upon me – this generation is a very broken generation! Perhaps even more broken than the ones before. With all the advancements in the world, we have lost what is truly important. Through social media, we are all supposed to be more connected than ever before, but there is still a gaping emptiness in many hearts. There is an increased driven-ness and motivation to be the best, resulting in parents and children striving for excellence, resulting in less time spent knowing each other. Sex and physical expressions have become synonymous with relationships of love, producing even more disappointment and broken-ness.

No wonder, messages about the love of God are so sought after these days. After all, there is no love like the love of God, for God is love and in Him is perfect love! People in this generation clamour to be loved. And what better way to understand that than to expose oneself to God’s love, over and over again. Indeed, I am so blessed to be a child of God, to be a recipient of the Father’s Love!

Sadly, not every Christian fully understands this, and there is still so much broken-ness, even in the Church. What is more disconcerting is that there seems to be an over-emphasis on this one aspect of God … His love … at the exclusion of all the other attributes of God. Please don’t get me wrong, as if I am saying we can ever get enough of God’s eternal and limitless love. That is not my point at all!

Bask in His love all you want. Receive all the healing and grace that you need. Frolic in His glory and in His presence for as long as you desire. But let us not forget what God, our King and Master, has commissioned us for as ambassadors of Christ and His Kingdom. According to Paul the apostle, that’s the result of knowing and encountering God’s love … it compels us to live for Him and to impact others who need to know His love!

However, that people need to keep looking for His love only confirms how broken this generation is, how fragmented hearts are. The focus continues to be self. The love of God becomes a pill to pop just to get by another day of living in a broken world, to feel good about oneself.

I fully agree that there is nothing we can do to warrant God’s love, for His loved us all while we were yet sinners. But my personal conviction is that there comes a point when we must move on and grow up, and not abuse the love of God to be an excuse not to be obedient and faithful to the One who loved us and gave His Son for us.

As a father to seven children, I will never withhold my love from each of them. They may not understand it fully, but I love them all dearly and desire the best for them. I am thrilled each time they choose to hug me, sit on my lap, or kiss me to express their love for me, and to receive my love for them. But if they display an unusual sense of unhealthy neediness, I’d be very, very concerned. Yet, love them I would for such is the father’s love. But after that, I would be looking for signs of growth and maturity, not to mention obedience and faithfulness. Does that mean I love them less? Not at all. It is because I love them that I wish to see them grow into the persons that God has called them to be!

That is more the point I am trying to get across in this short reflection. This generation is typified by broken-ness and that’s why we crave for messages of love. The truth is that wholeness has already been secured for us all by Jesus. By faith, we can immediately walk in that truth. That said, be willing to walk in accountability with others so that we can live and grow in that truth!

Count It All Joy

We’ve heard it before, haven’t we? Whenever we hit a rough patch, or encounter some difficult people, a well-meaning brother or sister in Christ would proclaim, “Count it all joy!” Without doubt, this is totally biblical and a great reminder. However, it has also become yet another Christian slogan which everyone knows but few understand. And when glibly and insensitively dished out, it can be more of an irritation than an encouragement. That said, we all know to count it all joy, but do we know how to count it all joy? For sure, it is not some positive-thinking mantra that we are to chant, or a phrase that brings us into denying the severity of the moment or situation.

Firstly, what we want is the Joy of the Lord which gives us strength (Neh 8:10). Of course, we should have His joy all the time. But it becomes even more critical when we go through a trial for that is when our weakness becomes extremely apparent. It is the strength derived from the fullness of His joy found in His presence (Psalm 16:11) that sustains us, that enables us to bear through the challenge. This sounds good but don’t wait until you hit a bad patch before you learn how to practise the presence of God. By the same token, it would do you well to understand that getting into the presence of God does not just mean Quiet Time or daily devotions, important and useful as these are to help us draw near to Him. Determine, instead, to know how you can carry His presence with you and be in His presence wherever you are, whenever you need to.

Secondly, with a right perspective of trials, we can then understand the Joy of Participation. Let me remind you: if you are determined to live a godly life that counts for Jesus, you will face persecutions and tough times (2 Tim 3:12). If you consider yourself a child of God and a co-heir with Jesus, you enter into the fellowship of His sufferings (Rom 8:16,17). In other words, you should expect many opportunities to “count it all joy”. In Acts 5, Peter and the other apostles were arrested and beaten for preaching in the name of Jesus and performing great signs and wonders! When the authorities had no other reason to detain them, they were released. Acts 5:41 records that they rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for Jesus! This joy of participation keeps us going, knowing that all that we do for Him will never be in vain.

Thirdly, lest you have a wrong picture from the above two points that Christians must always be laughing and joking, we need to understand the Joy of Expectation. The joy of the Lord will strengthen you through the most trying times. The joy of participation will keep you in the right perspective as you trudge through the trenches. But truth be told, it is still really tough. You need something to look to, and the joy of expectation will keep you going until you finally overcome. Think about this … did Jesus have the joy of the Lord and the joy of participating in the Father’s work? Of course He did. But did He go skipping and dancing along the Via Dolorosa? Did He display great mirth when He was nailed to the Cross? I think not. For sure, the obedience of Jesus to the mission kept Him going forward. But the writer of Hebrews provides another detail … that Jesus, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despised its shame and overcame (Heb 12:2). We can and must have that same expectation of joy set before us that we will hold on and not give up, however dire the situation may be. As we suffer with Him, so we shall be glorified with Him (Rom 8:17). Jesus says “To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne.” Rev 3:21 What great expectation! What great joy!

The next time you need to “count it all joy”, I hope that these three points would serve you well and keep you in good stead. Indeed, in the context of James 1:2-4, we are to consider it all joy because our faith is being perfected. My firm conviction is that it is only as we grow in spiritual maturity that we can more fully appreciate and appropriate the joy of the Lord, the joy of participation and the joy of expectation.

The Other Glory School

It been quite a few years now where “glory” has been mentioned by various visiting speakers.  Quite a few books have also been written on this topic.  And it seems everyone now wants to get on the “glory” bandwagon.  No longer is it sufficient to just know Jesus, to be in God’s presence, or to be baptised with the Holy Spirit; these are all considered old buzzwords.  Today, you have to visit third heaven, to move in the glory realm.

Hey, I’m all for the glory of God.  But more recently, in my preparations for a sermon series, I came across a few passages which also spoke of the glory, just not in the way these “glory” people have been teaching.  The emphasis is totally different and I can fully understand why not many like to talk about this aspect of the glory.  Consider the following passages and you will see why …

“But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.” 2 Cor 3:18

From this verse (and you should read the passage for context), we see that the glory is not merely something for us to experience, but a destination for us to move towards.  This is the glory of the image of the Lord, and we can only be changed towards this image by the Holy Spirit.

And how is this done and achieved?  By merely asking for His glory or moving in the glory realm?  Read on and we shall find Paul’s answer in the next chapter.

“For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.” 2 Cor 4:17–18

Afflictions?!  Trials and tribulations?!  Difficult and challenging times?!  For a better idea of what Paul was referring to, he makes mention of these in 2 Cor 6:4-10 and with even more detail in 2 Cor 11:23-27.  For sure, not for the faint-hearted.  Yet, these are the tools that work deep in us to produce the glory!  Hey, these are not my words, but Paul’s!  Note that Peter says the same thing albeit with different words.

“If you are reproached for the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. On their part He is blasphemed, but on your part He is glorified.” 1 Peter 4:14

There it is again … if you are reproached for the name of Christ … the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.  Who changes us from glory to glory? The Spirit of glory.  How does He change us?  Through trials and sufferings, through difficult times, through afflictions, for the sake of Jesus.  In 1 Peter 1:6&7, we understand that trials reveal the genuineness of our faith.  Through these tests, our faith is refined and purified like gold.  Can you see the brightness of the purity of the gold?  That’s the glory of the genuineness of our faith, much more precious than gold, revealed through the fire of trials!

As we grow from faith to faith, we move toward maturity in the image of the Son with whom we are co-heirs when we are glorified together with Him … if indeed we suffer with Him (Rom 8:17).  And Paul writes in the next verse:

“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” Rom 8:18

Not exactly the kind of glory school one would readily enrol for, is it?  What happened to the promise of basking and soaking in the glory?  What happened to the claims of the manifestation of the glory through gold dust and precious gems?  None of that at all!  Just plain, good ol’ suffering for Jesus.

Well, just in case you think I am all raring to go, to get into some wonderful trials and tribulations, I assure you I am not!  But if it is the image and character of the Lord that I am after, if I desire to be conformed to none other than the Son of God, I need to know how to embrace and accept this other school of glory.

Caught this shot at Bishan Swimming Complex. Don't miss the dark cloud on the right as it makes way for the glorious cloud!

Just the other day, a brother asked me, “How do you stay sharp?  What keeps you sharp?”  It was at the tip of my tongue to say the predictable things like fast, pray, read the Word, be in God’s presence.  But somehow, in my spirit, I couldn’t bring myself to say it.  Instead, I said, “Trials.”  Even I was surprised with what came out of my mouth.  But it’s so true!  I can study and know much about God and the ministry.  However, it is through trials and tests that what I know is tested and proven.  Is it just intellectual head knowledge? Or is it real faith that will hold on regardless the situation or the outcome.  Is it all about declarations and claims?  Or is it an acknowledgement of weakness through which His strength is made perfect?

The other glory school.  Register now!  Any takers?

Blood Moon Rising

15 June 2011 The Straits Times

Did anyone stay up to catch this “rare lunar phenomenon” of a blood red moon?  I didn’t 🙂  But this article did get my attention.  If my memory served me correctly, is this not also mentioned somewhere in Scripture?  Well, a quick search (thanks to Bible software these days) provided the answer …

“The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, Before the coming of the great and awesome day of the Lord.”  Joel 2:31  Peter quoted this passage in his sermon on the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2:20.

“I looked when He opened the sixth seal, and behold, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became like blood.” Rev 6:12

What makes it even more interesting is that the next occurence of such a phenomenon will be in 2015.  Not that we should be setting dates but many are in agreement that we are in the final days.  2012 is a pivotal year – no, it’s not the end of the world.  And 2015 is yet another pivotal year for humanity.

As Christians, we may not know the exact date of the Lord’s coming but it does not mean that we should be clueless either.  Jesus spoke of many signs and these are given that the disciples of the Lord will know how to prepare themselves for His return.  I strongly believe that this “rare lunar phenomenon” that will next take place in 2015 is not a co-incidence at all.  The sun will be eclipsed and the moon will turn blood red.  It is a sign and a warning for the Church to wake up from its slumber.  The time is short.  The Lord is coming soon.  And there is no room for any excuse should we be found wanting.

Update (17 March 2013): Just viewed this video by Pastor Steve Cioccolanti of Discover Ministries which gives a good explanation of the next solar eclipses and lunar tetrad.

Discipleship Auditions?

Was just chatting with one of my church members who is a violinist. She has just graduated with a Music degree and is presently involved in nightly rehearsals for an upcoming concert. From what I hear, it’s really tough and gruelling. But she is willing to press on, to suffer, for the sake of playing amongst the best and learning all she can learn. Amidst all these, she will be auditioning to go under another violin teacher. But wait?! I thought she had already graduated! Why another audition and another teacher? Why more lessons? More practising? More stress? I can only conclude that she wants to hone her skills, to learn even more, and to really excel.

As she shared this with me, a thought crossed my mind … what if Christians were just as serious in their walk with Jesus, in discipleship? These would never be satisfied with just a weekly dose of nice-sounding sermons. They would attend classes to learn more – and not just learn but would also be willing to practise, practise and practise. My friend has shared with me of how her fingers would cramp up and her back would ache due to the many hours of practice and training. At times, even standing or walking would prove difficult. But she presses on, for the sake of her craft! Oh, if Christians would be willing to suffer the same and more for the sake of their own spiritual growth, not to mention for Jesus, their Lord and for the sake of His gospel.

These would be willing to be directed by the conductor, as he pleased. If the conductor passed a negative, stinging remark, the musician’s day is ruined. But if he said, “Well done!”, what joy and satisfaction! Oh, if only the believer would regard the words of Jesus as seriously and passionately. Afterall, is He not the Maestro of all maestros? Is He not the Conductor of one’s life, if we would allow Him to direct us as He pleases?

These would not stop at having attended a seminar or a conference every now and then. Instead, like my musician sister, they would be prepared to audition for the next level of training. Much like the people of Jesus’ days who sought rabbis to teach them and to help them attain a deeper understanding of Scriptures, these would constantly be on a look out for one who would mentor and disciple them. These would place themselves under accountability and supervision so that they are kept on the straight and narrow path that leads to life. Are Christians as hungry, I wonder? Sadly, no. After a course of study, few are willing to go on. They need a break, they say … and they never come back. I suppose they consider what they have learnt as enough, as sufficient. And to be discipled and held accountable? No, thank you!

Interesting thought that crossed my mind 🙂 What if all Christians were as serious as the best professional musicians in the world? Can you just imagine how awesome God’s orchestra of disciples would sound? Can you hear the music and the harmony? Would the Church of Jesus Christ not move hearts and rock mountains? Would the world not stop to listen?