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.

Setting the House in Order

Led to read 1 Peter 4:17 this morning:

“For the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God?” 1 Peter 4:17

Sensed the burden to release this as an urgent reminder – a word and a warning – from the Lord. The days ahead will not necessarily be easy days for the people of God. It will require faith, genuine faith, to endure every challenge for the sake of Jesus. [Read 1 Peter 4:12-16 for context.]

The challenges we face are God’s instrument of judgment (not wrath); a test of sorts. Will we continue to walk in His ways? Or will we compromise? Note that this judgment will begin with God’s people. First.
This judgment is not of condemnation, for there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ. Rather, it is one of separation; a sifting. This testing by fire reveals the genuineness of faith, that which counts at the revelation of Jesus, resulting in final salvation (1 Peter 1:6-8). Through this, the Lord will know those who are truly His.

This explains why Peter warned that “the righteous one is scarcely saved” (NIV: it is hard for the righteous to be saved; NASB: it is with difficulty that the righteous is saved). No place for presumption here. If this is so, can you imagine how it will be for the ungodly and sinner (1 Peter 4:18)? If you think judgment is tough for believers, you don’t want to be in the place of those “who do not obey the gospel of God.”

I believe this is a word of grace for every believer to check his or her own walk. We who have the gospel of God must live according to the ways of God. The Lord’s greatest indictments against Israel were idolatry and disobedience. God’s standards have not changed because our God is an unchanging God.

Every believer must honestly evaluate: Have I been idolatrous? Have I been disobedient? Have I worshipped and revered the Lord as He is to be honoured and feared? Have I obeyed the Lord, His ways, His will? The house of God – the ekklesia of Jesus Christ – must set the house in order.

At the revelation of Jesus my King, may the faith I profess in Him be found to be genuine faith.

Glory Only in the Lord

Reflecting on the celebrations and events of the past week, this one verse sums it all up.

Especially in our age of social media, others only see the good, the glam, the glitz. Few, if any, see or understand the pain, the plight, the perplexities.

Too easy it is to spew Christianese. Or God forbid, spout kingdomese. But to truly reveal the Christ … ah, that’s a totally different matter, is it not?Similarly, when it comes to assignments, the focus tends to be on abilities, affirmations and accolades. Truth is, one must be equally ready to encounter and embrace the woes, the weariness and the weaknesses. Both in others. And especially in the self.

Which is why 1 Corinthians 1:13 is such an apt reminder (cf Jeremiah 9:24). For good measure, the apostle quotes it again in 2 Corinthians 10:17. For amidst achievements, we are prone to forget all too quickly.

We really have nothing to boast about. When all is said and done, all glory belongs to God.

And yet, this is not to say that no glorying is allowed. We are just not to think that it is a result of our own wisdom, might or riches. We are instead to glory in the Lord: To understand and know God – who He is and what delights Him (Jeremiah 9:23-24).

It’s been a meaningful time of marking milestones this week. I’ve received much encouragement from many. For these, I am very thankful and grateful. In everything, I openly and readily acknowledge that it is entirely by His grace that I can even get to glory in anything; and especially in Him.

To God be the glory! #entirelybyhisgrace

Even in the Wrestling There is Rest

Almost out of the blue, as if an overnight occurrence, the most talked about topic is that of mental wellness.

The sad irony is that, just a while before this, the tone was a lot more accusatory and damning with many wondering why the younger generation is a lot less resilient and a lot more ‘strawberry’. Today, the narrative has been flipped on its head. If anyone as much as dare suggest that someone doesn’t have that mental mettle, he or she is promptly taken to task.

Here’s the scary thing. It’s not just a local problem. It’s a global one. Here’s a scarier fact. It’s not just experienced by non-believers. It’s also experienced by Christians. And judging from the sudden surge of articles, sermons and seminars in Christian circles, the percentage is not low.

Since I am no mental wellness expert, I will not attempt to write anything that may be misconstrued or challenged. All I offer is a simple word picture that popped into my mind as I pondered the place of wrestling and that of rest in the midst of challenges. The Lord opened my eyes to see ‘rest’ embedded in ‘wrestle’. Wow.

It’s all too easy to think that it is one and not the other. Clearly, we have swung to one extreme. But in trying to correct it, we must be careful not to swing to the other extreme. The key really is in knowing how to wrestle well and still be rested in that endeavour.

In Archippus Awakening – where I challenge many to know and fulfil their God-given kingdom assignments – the phrase that is used is ‘knowing how to work from a posture of rest.’ Yes, perseverance and endurance are required that we may fulfil our assignments. Yet, rest and restedness are very much a part of the process; without which, we will break down, give in and give up.

There have been many times where, in striving to give my best to the Lord, I have succumbed to stress, negative anxiety and even experienced extremely low periods of depression. Understandably, the work, demands and pressure may have been very heavy but the real issue is that I have taken myself out of His rest.

Kingdom goals, however well-intentioned, had become my own agenda. My reliance, regardless of how well I spewed Christian cliches, had been more on my own strengths and abilities than it should have been upon the Lord and His empowerment. My pressing on (more Christian-talk) was really more about preserving my pride than it was about persevering in humility. No wonder I was stressed and anxious. I was not rested at all. (I often quip that ‘stress’ is simply messed-up ‘ressst’.) I readily declare that it is all about Jesus; when in reality, it became all about me. Remembering the rest that I have in Him has helped me bounce back to continue to wrestle. And to wrestle well.

We have much to learn from Jesus, our King. He worked very hard but was always at rest. He knew when to engage and when to dis-engage. If anyone had to live up to expectations, Jesus did as Messiah and the Saviour of the world. #nopressure

Was Jesus ever mentally and emotionally stretched, anxious, stressed or perplexed? I believe so. Mark 14:33 records that our Lord was “troubled and deeply distressed” in the Garden of Gethsemane. To the point that it manifested physically through His sweating drops of blood, a condition known as hematidrosis (Luke 22:44).

Yet, through it all, because Jesus knew His assignment, He never once gave up. That He may fulfil what the Father sent Him to do, the only thing He gave up was His own will in submission to His Father’s will.

Jesus wrestled. Big time. Yet, in and through that wrestling, there was rest. It didn’t feel ok but He knew it would be ok. I believe this promise is available to us too – if we would learn how to appropriate it in Christ.

Today, more than ever, there is a battle for our minds. The pace of this digital world and the influences of social media are not helping one bit. What we set our minds on matter. A lot! If we do not renew our minds and be transformed, we will conveniently conform to the default pattern of the world (Rom 12:2). If we do not hold every thought captive to the obedience of Christ, we will be held captive by the arguments and philosophies of this world (2 Cor 10:3-6). If we set our minds on the things of the flesh, it will lead to death. But if we would set our minds on the things of the Spirit, the promise is life and peace (Rom 8:5-6).

It is really encouraging that there is increased awareness of mental wellness today and more attention is being directed to help those who are struggling and suffering. In this area, I have lots more to learn and catch up on.

If you are wrestling with any issue, don’t let it escalate or wait until it’s too late. My prayer for you is that you will discover the rest that is found only in Jesus Christ. That said, being a Christian doesn’t mean that you will no longer wrestle with the challenges and issues of this life or your own faith. Trust me – I am still wrestling with God on so many fronts. The assurance is that if our focus is always on Him and His promises, it’s ok to keep wrestling. Because in and through that wrestling, there is the promise of rest.

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.

Faith & Vaccination

Those familiar with this site will know that this is where I share my views and thoughts. At times, strong points are made and firm positions are taken. Then again, at other times, I may ramble a little as I process matters that are not quite as straightforward. This is one such case.

Regardless of how simple or complicated the issues may be, I strive to remain biblical, to the best of my own hermeneutical ability at that point in time. In no way and at no time do I wish to confuse, stumble or mislead anyone.

I am starting with this rather serious-sounding disclaimer because this post is about vaccination. Or more precisely, the place of faith for Christians where Covid-19 vaccines are concerned.

I am not supporting or recommending anything. Hence, there are no links or references to anyone or anything. I am merely making a personal observation. So don’t pick a fight with me here. Also, please do not spam this site with articles for or against vaccination. This is not the place for pro-vaxxers or anti-vaxxers to convince the other group of your stand. If you wish to comment, please do so cordially and politely. In any case, inappropriate comments will not be approved. Remember, once again, it’s more about faith than it is about vaccines. Thank you.

Here goes…

According to experts, the narrative is: Get vaccinated. It’s safe. Let’s label this as Position A.

However, the alternative narrative according to another group of experts is: the vaccines are experimental, not proven, and thus not safe. This will be Position B.

An over-simplification perhaps. But at the end of the day, it does boil down to two groups: those who are willing to be vaccinated; and those who prefer not be vaccinated.

At this point, I must emphasise again that this post is NOT about any particular vaccine. Instead, it is more about the faith of believers and how they respond to the above two broad positions that I find interesting.

For those who have accepted Position A, these have faith. In the authorities, experts and the system. Ultimately, they have faith in God since He is the One who has put these in place. Where spiritual leadership is concerned, pastors and elders have encouraged members to be vaccinated. Whilst not all have done this openly over the pulpit, many have led by example by being vaccinated (and proudly posting on their own personal social media accounts).

For those in Position B, these have faith in God to protect them whatever the outcome. For one, that they will never ever get Covid-19. For another, if they should be infected, that they will recover. And in the worst case scenario, it is still good news because they get to be with the Lord. Similarly, as for Position A, there are spiritual leaders who have opted not to be vaccinated. Or have adopted a wait-and-see approach.

Whether Position A or B, both groups have faith.

More recently, more information, discoveries and warnings have surfaced. Those who have already taken the vaccination are understandably concerned. But what’s the typical Christian response? Faith, of course. Vaxxed but not vexed (sorry, couldn’t resist that). For example, “I believe that even if the vaccine is harmful, God will protect me.” Or “If I pray in Jesus’ name, the negative effects will be reversed.” To these, those in Position B will ask, “If God can protect you from the ill effects of the vaccine, is He not also able to protect you from the virus? Why take the vaccine then?”

Again, both groups have faith.

But which is the correct faith? Or should such a question even be asked? After all, who are we to question a person’s faith, right?

If you have been vaccinated and are generally well, I am thankful for that. Yet, for those who have experienced less than favourable conditions and outcomes – although no one can or is willing to attribute any of these to vaccines – my heart goes out to these too. Sure, the percentage may be negligible but I sure do not relish that I or any of my loved ones be counted amongst those statistics, however small.

Does this mean that one has less faith if one opts not to be vaccinated then? Not necessarily. Does having faith automatically mean that one will never get Covid-19, vaccinated or not? Not at all. Faith, for the vaccinated as well as for the unvaccinated, means that no matter what happens, we are able to give thanks in all situations, continue to trust the Lord and to keep praising Him.

As at the time of this writing, where Singapore is concerned, vaccination is very strongly encouraged but remains voluntary. I am thankful for that and pray that it remains as such – voluntary. This is where decisions can be carefully and prayerfully considered and made according to one’s faith and conscience. This also means that whatever the decision, there should not be any reward or stigma attached. It would be totally inconsistent if the government says it is voluntary yet allow organisations and businesses to set their own rules and requirements, thereby making it mandatory. Yet, since vaccination is very strongly encouraged, a certain pressure to conform is only to be expected. Even so, for now, there is freedom to choose. Who knows what tomorrow holds?

At this point, you may be wondering where I am going with this post. You’re not alone. I am also wondering what I am trying to say, if anything at all. As mentioned, I am merely making an observation about the place of faith in this hot potato topic of vaccination.

Notwithstanding, please permit a small opinion here.

However faith is exercised, especially within the Body of Christ, this issue must not divide us. I am not here to tell anyone to vaccinate or not. At the same time, I will not judge anyone according to his or her vaccination status. Likewise, church communities should not discriminate between the vaccinated and the non-vaccinated. We must also be careful and responsible how we comment about the authorities and policies, whichever position we hold to. It would be totally ironic that we as people who profess and declare radical faith end up being viewed as those who respond as if gripped by irrational fear.

End of my one-cent opinion.

All said, I am thankful for the measures (vaccinations aside) that have kept Singapore’s Covid-19 numbers comparatively low. Admittedly, this has permitted me to ramble and reflect in a certain way. Would I offer the same perspectives if I were in a place where cases have spiralled out of control? Then again, should faith not be consistent wherever or however?

Hmmm… the processing continues 🙂 In the meantime, keep the faith.

The Crossing Over to the Other Side Always Begins with a First Step

I snapped this shot whilst on a short family break five years ago. As I looked over the horizon, the way forward extended into nothingness.

Having been instructed by the Lord to drop everything without even knowing the next assignment, this picture sure described my situation so accurately. And yet, I knew I had been told to cross over; and that cross over must begin with a very first step of obedience by faith.

It would be 10 days later, on 27 Oct 2013, that the Lord would reveal the next assignment to me – Archippus Awakening. Five years and many steps later, what a journey it has been! Even so, I still don’t know what lies ahead. All I know is that my King and Master, JESUS, is more than faithful and He will lead me forward as I determine to fulfil all He has assigned to me entirely by His grace.

Today, I face a new horizon and another crossing over. After five years, is it not odd that the next step still feels like a first step all over again? The principle remains: every step must be taken with obedience and faith. Truly, it is not where we have been, but where we will continue to go with the One who deserves all worship, praise, glory and honour.

And say to Archippus, “Take heed to the ministry
which you have received in the Lord that you may fulfil it.” Col 4:17

God’s “No Mercy” Policy

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I was hoping for “no pain”. Instead, I was told, “No mercy.”

Earlier this year, sometime in April, I began experiencing a tightness around my left shoulder. I have no idea how it came about. Just one day, it was difficult to remove my T-shirt after a run. Perhaps a pull or muscle strain, I thought. So, I left it for while, hoping it would go away on its own. But nope, the tightness persisted. I was just thankful it didn’t become worse.

Six months later, I find myself at the doctor’s, listening to the various possibilities of a tendon tear, an impingement or a bone spur. A common occurrence, I am told, for someone who has come of age. Yes, growing older.

This morning, with X-ray and ultrasound results in hand, I met my doctor friend again (same ACS cohort). Other than a slight bone spur causing mild adhesive capsulitis (fancy term for frozen shoulder), the tendon and muscles are all ok. As such, surgery is not required – for now. To help bring down the inflammation, the doctor administered two jabs (slight ouch). After this, it’s back to the physiotherapist for stretching exercises.

And that’s when he said, “No mercy.”

He added with a smile, “If she gently sayang sayang you, no point.” Ya right, thanks. Just what I needed to hear 🙂

As I drove home, I couldn’t help but think about the two words – no mercy – in the context of the Church and Christianity today. With the present focus on love and grace, “no mercy” sounds so incorrect. Too harsh. Surely, this has no place in the Body of Christ. After all, the God we know is full of mercy, is He not?

Of course, He is! And that will never change for His mercy, His lovingkindness endures forever! However, we must not forget that, at times, when needed, our God also administers a “no mercy” policy.

Like my shoulder, there could have been something that has caused irritation, stress and pain in our lives. As much as He is able to bring relief, He also desires that the tendon/muscle be stretched out and strengthened again. And for that to happen, pain may be experienced for a while more before the desired effect is achieved. Through that process, the Lord expects us to bear through the pain and discomfort, for our own good. In that, He says, “No mercy. You’ve got to push through until you get the breakthrough.” He knows that gently sayang sayang will not do the job at all. On the contrary, it is firmly sayang sayang (tough love) that our faith will likewise be stretched and strengthened.

In the Body of Christ, might there be an increasing proportion that seeks to grow without the pain? Are there questionable doctrines that have developed like bone spurs causing irritation and restricting mobility in the Body? Why can’t God just remove the discomfort instantly? If He is indeed good and merciful, surely pain and suffering cannot be from Him. With such thinking, no wonder there is such concern that the next generation of believers has grown soft, unable to take any pressure or pain. O, God forbid, that we should become a frozen (shoulder) generation!

At my first visit, the doctor took one look and observed that my left shoulder was a tad shrivelled owing to lack of use. Easing the inflammation was one thing. Getting me back in shape was another. And it’s the same with our spiritual walk and growth. As a miracle-working God, He could simply zap away all pain. But if that was all He did, we, and consequently, the Body of Christ, would remain shrivelled and weak. For sure, our God is more than able to do His part. But He also expects us, both personally and corporately, to do ours: to exercise, to stretch, to grow up in Christ.

Thankfully, we can rest assured that through it all, He watches over us, and will be with us, enabling us as we lean entirely on Him. For sure, His grace remains sufficient for us, even as He administers the “no mercy” policy.

With that, I fixed my appointment with the physiotherapist. Caution: Ouch Ahead!

If it’s Good For God, it’s Good For Me

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It wasn’t a response I was used to. Honestly, I don’t remember being taught to pray or speak like that. Perhaps, that’s why the verse caught my attention as I was reading 1 Chronicles 19.

The Ammonites had engaged the help of the Syrians to fight against Israel on two fronts. When Joab realised that the enemy was both “before and behind”, he assigned Abishai to handle the Ammonites, and himself, the Syrians. After pledging to help each other out should either front proved too strong, Joab said:

“Be of good courage, and let us be strong for our people and for the cities of our God. And may the LORD do what is good in His sight.” 2 Chr 19:13

Wait a minute! That didn’t sound like a prayer of faith, did it? Shouldn’t Joab have declared boldly that God has delivered the enemies into their hands? Or if that was too presumptuous, then at least that God would deliver the enemies into their hands. Should he not have proclaimed victory in the name of YHWH?

Given the faith teachings I have been exposed to, that’s what I would have done. Yes, victory in Jesus’ Name!!! Or at the very least, a good outcome – in my favour of course. After all, I am more than a conqueror, an overcomer! Yeah! Lemme at ’em! Grrrrrrrrr!

Well, Joab didn’t do any of that at all. In effect, what he said was, “Hey bro, let’s just do our part and leave the result to God. Whatever the outcome, it’d be cool. If we win, praise the Lord. If God decides it’s best to sacrifice a few pieces for the sake of His larger plan, and we lose and die, that’d be ok too. May the LORD do what is good in His sight.” In other words, whatever was good for God would have been good for Joab.

By our understanding these days, Joab would have been considered a doubter, one who is unsure hence choosing to leave it open-ended, just in case. But as I read and re-read the verse, I don’t see doubt at all, but faith. Here was a man who was willing to trust God, no matter what. He would still do his part – his very best – for God, for his king, and for his people. Given a choice, a good outcome would be to defeat the enemy and to win the battle. But ‘good’ was not for Joab to define. ‘Good’ was for God to determine. And whatever was good for God would have been good for Joab.

In no way am I suggesting that it is wrong to ask for favourable outcomes. There are enough examples in the Bible of such prayers. In fact, no one needs to teach us how to pray for good outcomes because we do that automatically. Going on a picnic, we ask for sunshine (not too hot). Sitting for an exam, we ask for good grades (easy questions). Playing against another team, we pray to win (because asking for the other team to lose just doesn’t sound right). Seldom, if ever, would we pray, “May the Lord do what is good in His sight.”

Joab’s response has really caused me to ponder if I would be willing to adopt that same posture in all situations? If I truly believe God is sovereign and in total control of all things, would I trust Him completely for and in all outcomes? If I declare that God is good and His mercy endures forever, would I accept that a negative or bad occurrence can still work for good because a good God has allowed it. And if He deems it good enough to be allowed, would I allow Him to show me the good in and through what has been allowed, even if it didn’t seem very good to me?

Through this reflection, I am reminded that faith is not only the ability to ask and believe what I have asked for, that I may receive. Faith is also the willingness to leave God to be God, to do as He pleases, however that may turn out in the end. And if it’s good for God, it’s good for me.

What Are Your Core Convictions?

When I set up One Day At A Time back in 2007, I felt it necessary to include a page where I shared My Core Convictions. For churches or para-church ministries, it would be a page detailing their Statements of Faith. But for a personal blog, it’s just a broad overview of what I believe in and what guides my spiritual walk.

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Over the years, this list has not only served as good reminders, but also a great source of encouragement to me. It points me back to what I regarded as foundational (still do), and helps me in my own alignment check. And especially in trying and difficult seasons, these simple lines anchor and hold me steady through challenges.

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Reviewing them again, I am thankful I made the effort to craft these ten statements then. I know that these pale in comparison with Jonathan Edwards’ 70 Resolutions. But then again, it was never meant to be too academic a piece or to sound overly theological. My Core Convictions simply detail what I believe about God, His Purpose, salvation, faith, obedience, the Word, provision, ministry, the Holy Spirit, God’s will and grace (supported by Scripture, of course).

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What are your core convictions? Do you have core convictions? If not, I highly recommend that you take some time to ponder and to write them down. It is a worthy exercise as it will bring clarity to your walk with the Lord, strengthen your resolve as you serve Him, and also provide focus as you navigate through life’s many distractions and uncertainties.