The Need to Rebuild the Walls Around Families

When I received the invitation to LoveSingapore’s Family Foundation Future Symposium, I thought I had to give it a miss as the dates coincided with our 18th Wedding Anniversary and our youngest’s 4th birthday. However, when Serene saw the key topic, she immediately said that I should go. So, with her understanding and blessings, I spent the whole of yesterday and this morning listening to the line up of speakers. So many points hit home, and I was challenged on so many fronts. I found myself evaluating my own personal ministry and that which I am involved in at Covenant Vision.

The points weren’t exactly new. I had heard and even preached some of the same points before but it was still quite an emotional time for me as I was reminded and made even more aware of the times we live in and the threats families face. At the same time, I felt my heart stirred and my mind opened to views and positions I had never considered before. I had to repent of my own pride, prejudice and self-righteousness! I now understand why the Lord instructed me to fast the entire week before.

What kept coming across was the need to rebuild the walls around families, as in the Nehemiah account in the Bible. This shot straight into my heart like arrows from the Lord! Since 2006, I have been teaching the seminar, “Building a Household of Faith”, more recently re-titled to “Raising Christian Families in Today’s World“. In this three hour seminar, I present seven points drawn from Nehemiah 4: Purpose, Prayer, Partnership, Position, Preparedness, People and Prophetic. Through these points, I bring awareness to the threats and challenges Christian families face in these perilous times, and how parents are to respond accordingly. Whilst response and feedback have been encouraging, it is not as well as attended as I feel it could or should be. Is the Lord affirming and encouraging me through this symposium? Is He nudging me to offer this seminar again now that a prophetic momentum has been initiated through our country’s foremost church leaders? Have I been rehearsing for a time such as this?

At the close of the symposium, the Spirit gently prompted me to examine the plank in my eye, convicting me through the speaker’s sharing of how God has already opened doors for a Fathers Movement in Singapore. Once again, this idea of Elijah turning the hearts of the fathers back to their children is not new to me. I had preached about the same Elijah spirit in the message “The Spirit of the Forerunner” some years before. And as a father of seven children, I am fully aware of my role, even as I challenge others to rise up into theirs. But we all know it’s one thing to preach it and yet another to live it. And this morning, I was convicted to take steps to address and plug certain gaps in my own marriage and family. When the symposium ended, I immediately messaged Serene, “I feel we should take time to seriously discuss what we want to address in our family. Not just a chit chat but a purposeful session with clear points of action.” Interestingly, Serene had just attended a seminar on “Preserving Purity” by Generations of Virtue last Saturday. I believe God has prepared our hearts accordingly.

Oblivious to many Christians, things are happening at breakneck speed and at an increasing rate. Our families have been sitting ducks in the schemes and ploys of the enemy. And sadly, we have played into his court without even realising it. Yet, this should not come as a surprise because we have been too caught up with our own brand of Christianity, one that panders to our desires and agendas. This is the deception that we have fallen prey to, thinking we are okay when we are not. Clearly, when we are not focused on God’s agenda, we will be distracted by the world’s agenda!

Thankfully, the trumpet has been sounded through God’s prophetic voices. I have heard and I will heed. Indeed, I am solely responsible for the raising of my family. That said, I acknowledge that it is not a journey to be made alone. I will align myself with those who are gathered for battle, and will do my part to rally others.  Will you join me?

“When you hear the sound of the trumpet, rally to us there. Our God will fight for us.” Neh 4:20

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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.

In Search Of Godly Men

When I asked a former female colleague if she had since married, she quipped, “No la!  All the nice guys are either taken or gay.”  The sad truth is, she’s not the only one lamenting.  Extend that to the Christian community and it’s not just nice guys the women are looking for; it’s godly ones!

In my recent conversations with many single Christian young ladies, this has become one common and major concern as they wait upon the Lord for the right guy… godly men have become a rare commodity these days!  Not that these are holding out for Mr Perfect but it seems such a challenge to find Christian men who love the Lord and desire to walk in His ways.  Over time, this criterion of godliness is quickly revised and reduced to a more attainable one – as long as he is a believer, never mind that he hasn’t even stepped into a church over the last 10 years.

Am I exaggerating?  I think not.  Just talk to the many women who have married men like that.  Or drop in to any Women’s Ministry or ladies’ cell group and you hear the same plight and prayer: “Please pray for my husband to come to church.”  “I’m believing for God to zap him one day.”  “Oh, in Jesus’ name, set him on fire, O Lord!”  For some others, it is a lot more desperate when their Christian men fail to assume biblical headship in the marriage and the family.  How I have seen and heard these women cry out to the Lord for strength and the preservation of their own sanity to go through each day.

How have we reached such a state?  What have we missed?  And what are we doing about it?  In my humble opinion, I feel we need to address three extremely critical points:

Firstly, we don’t even know what a godly man looks like, much less be one!  All we hear over and over again, is that men are to be leaders but no one tells us how or what we should be looking out for.  Add to that the deluge of Hollywood and media counterfeit-male images and you can imagine the mess and confusion we have.  And so, we see John Wayne’s alongside Rambo’s, and more recently, the metrosexual man and the K-Pop pretty boy!  Sadly, the Church really has not addressed this issue adequately.  Let’s be honest … when was the last time we heard a sermon about biblical manhood over the pulpit?  Hardly, if ever.  Instead, we reserve it for the mandatory (token?) pre-marital counselling course.  Too late!  The Church needs to begin again to address every Christian man, married and single, young and not so young.

Secondly, after teaching it, we need to get men to be accountable to one another.  Think about this: Isn’t it odd that the Men’s Ministry is often not the first ministry in a church?  We are usually more concerned about the women, the youths, the children, the aged, the poor.  But what about the men?  These are the leaders of the households!  No wonder our families are breaking down!  There needs to be a concerted effort to bring Christian men together.  I know this sounds like an impossibility but hey, what happened to, “With God, all things are possible!”?  If Jesus can impact the lives of 12 guys who later turned the world upside down, are we not to expect the same and more?  Perhaps, we need more men like Jesus?  Well, phrased differently, perhaps we need more to be changed into the image of Jesus that these can lead and impact like He did.  Yet, how are we to do it if we don’t first teach it (see the first point) and then hold each other accountable through serious, discipling relationships?

Thirdly, as the first two points are put in place, we can then grow to be godly role models that we may rightly raise our children and youths.  I read of, revere and respect men of God who lived righteous, holy and godly lives many years ago.  Inspiring as these are, I wonder if we are today not able to find similar giants in our midst?  Do we always have to time travel just to have a glimpse of what a godly man looks like?  How wonderful if we can see Christlikeness in husbands and fathers today.  In the absence of these first-hand, real life, godly men, our young boys and young men are being shaped by the world.  They may grow up to be nice Christians guys; children and youth ministry trained even.  But godly men?  Over time, these are the ones who will ask for our daughters’ hands in marriage. Shudder!

I write not as one who has arrived, but as one who would have short-changed my wife and children if not for the amazing, saving grace of Jesus Christ and the transforming power of the Holy Spirit.  Yet, like all my brothers-in-Christ, I too, am a work-in-progress.  That said, the state and condition of Christian men today serves as a stark reminder for me, challenging and provoking me as I consider the impact of my godliness, or lack of, on my wife, and as we raise our sons and daughters.

For sure, as there is need for godly men, there is also an equal urgent need for godly women.  This, I will address in the next post, “In Search of Godly Women”.

A Provoking Two Hours With Paul Washer

Some weeks ago, a dear sister sent me a link to a message by Paul Washer.  Deep in my spirit, I had a notion that this would not be an ordinary message but one the Lord would have me listen to.  Being a two-hour message, I knew I had to have the time and space to fully concentrate on the contents.  Most certainly, I wouldn’t want to be flippant to gloss over a sermon entitled “Ten Indictments Against the Modern Church”.

This afternoon, the opportunity presented itself.  There was work to be done, but I didn’t have the mind nor heart to do anything.  This message came to mind so I retrieved the email, clicked on the link and listened to the entire two-hour discourse by Paul Washer.  I was deeply challenged and provoked by each of the ten indictments.  Without doubt, I have been guilty of many of the points Washer raised.  That said, I also found many answers to the issues I had been wrestling with; issues which many like myself have taken for granted having grown up in the church but no less clear about certain critical doctrines and beliefs.

I love the way Washer challenged with the statement, “It’s one thing to believe the Bible is inspired and inerrant, but another to believe it is sufficient.”  His declaration that Christians are totally ignorant of God and His attributes struck such a chord in my heart, for of late, I have been crying out to understand and grow “in the knowledge of God”.  And because there is no knowledge of who God is, there is no fear of Him.  How true!

I also fully agree that there is such a failure today to address the depravity of humanity and sin.  Washer states, and rightly, that without a true awareness of self, there can be no repentance and no desire to be saved.  We have treated sin superficially and blocked the work of the Holy Spirit who comes to convict the world of sin!

Washer went on to contend that we have misrepresented the gospel of Jesus Christ, replacing regeneration for decisionism!  Without a clear understanding of the doctrine of regeneration, we have reduced salvation to a decision rather than a sovereign work of God.  No wonder there is no evidence of the supernatural re-creative work of the Holy Spirit in lives!  What’s more, for many, the motive for salvation is to get to heaven where there are no more problems. That sounds like a great deal but is unbiblical.  As mentioned earlier, it is our recognition of our hopelessness and depravity that renders salvation necessary.

According to Washer, there is no remnant in the Church.  Instead, the Church is the remnant!  Depending on how we see regeneration and salvation, our definition of the Church will also be affected.  Following his argument, only those who are truly saved and regenerated are the Church.  These are the ones who truly love the Lord and are being changed into the image of His Son, and being prepared as His Bride.  Makes you think harder about the parables about the tares and the goats, doesn’t it?

At the same time, I thank God for affirming me in how I have been preaching and teaching.  Issues like church discipline, holiness and godliness are all topics I challenge myself and my students with.  It’s encouraging to hear someone else stand on the same points.  Yet, it is sad to also note that he also observes the same thing across churches – that church discipline is not administered, that holiness is something frowned upon and that godliness is not being pursued.

Finally, as a husband and a father, I really appreciated Washer’s challenge to Christian families.  Instead of standing on God’s principles, we have resorted to worldly advice and perspectives where marriages and families are concerned.  No wonder then that we are seeing so many problems in our relationships.  He issued the same challenge as I have been raising … that effort should be put into raising and teaching fathers and men!  Instead, we see the reverse in our churches.  More time, money and effort is being put into our Sunday School programmes than in the lives of our fathers and men.

What a provoking two hours.  But time well spent, I must say.  It’s been a long while since I heard strong and solid preaching.  Dear Lord, enable me by the power of Your Holy Spirit to respond in the way I must.  Forgive me for where I have also gone off-track.  That said, thank You for stirring in my heart, the same issues and convictions.  Draw me deeper and bring my closer in my walk with You.  Help me to preach and teach without compromise so that others too can enjoy the relationship I have with you.  Amen!

Father’s Day Message: The Instruction of a Father

It had been a real challenge for me to find time and space to think about the message for Father’s Day, 20 June.  The past few weeks have been so packed with activities … church camp, Glory School, Silent Retreat.  I can’t even find the word to describe how I felt physically.  I guess “pooped” would have to do 🙂  Even after returning from church camp, it was one thing after another.  It was only on Thursday night that I finally got to sit down with my bible.  As I flipped the pages, I felt led to turn to Proverbs 4.  As I read that chapter, I knew that was what I would preach about … “The Instruction of a Father”.  The Lord led me in the preparation (only on Saturday) and the points simply flowed.  It was really exciting and I was learning so much as I worked on the message!  What a reminder it was for me too.

God has given fathers a mandate to raise our sons and daughters in His ways.  In Eph 6:4, fathers are the ones charged with bringing up children in the training and admonition of the Lord.  Fathers are to instruct their children.  The question is, “How are we instructing them?”

A father’s instruction to his son is a recurring theme in the early chapters of Proverbs.  Interestingly, it is mentioned three times in Proverbs 4 alone, clearly an indication of importance.  Having established that, Solomon says, “Get wisdom! Get understanding!” (Prov 4:5)  More than the pursuit of knowledge and achievements, it is wisdom that will set a person apart, bringing with it promotion, honour, grace and glory (Prov 4:8-9).  Yet, we must realise that there are two types of wisdom: the wisdom of the world and the wisdom of God.  The former is “earthly, sensual, demonic” (James 3:15) but the former is “pure, peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full or mercy and good fruits” (James 3:17).  Without exception, we all want the wisdom of God but in reality (unconsciously, I believe), we may be instructing our children according to the ways and wisdom of the world.  How subtle and deceptive it is, for the ways of the world also promise promotion, honour, grace and glory, bringing with it envy, pride, lies and strife.  It is the role of fathers to point this out to their children, knowing godly wisdom themselves first that they can teach their children to discern well.

Wisdom and understanding will prepare our children for life’s decisions and choices.  The path of life is fraught with many distractions.  The caution here is not so much to look out for obvious sins and vices (for these are easy to spot and identify) but to be wary of the subtle ones.  Prov 4:14-19 addresses this with a list of “avoid this” and “stay away from such”.  Yet again, what will enable one to discern these?  Wisdom and understanding!  Fathers must not only desire that their children travel “the path of the just” (Prov 4:18).  They have to instruct them in the ways of the just, and that is a walk of faith, for Rom 1:17 says “The just shall live by faith.”  Once more, we see the difference between worldly wisdom which focuses on a reliance on the material; and godly wisdom which focuses on a relationship with God.

Finally, in Prov 4:20-27, the father gets practical.  He warns his son to be careful with what he hears and sees, for what is taken in will affect his heart.  Instead of the rubbish that is prevalent in the world, the child is to focus on the words and instructions of his father, to hide them in the midst of his heart.  But that is not all!  He is to guard his heart with all diligence, out of which flows the issues of life, affecting how he talks and walks, what he says and does!  Wisdom determines what is taken is, what is hidden and what is finally revealed!

An awesome time of praise and worship!
Addressing the chinese congregation … with translation by Pastor Woon, of course 🙂
Seeing the backdrop, I thought to myself, “Nice. Creative. Men wear shirts.” Then the Spirit said, “Yes. But who wears the pants?” God has a great sense of humour!

This morning, I delivered the sermon at Full Gospel Assembly.  Praise God for His enablement and the anointing that was so present.  I could feel the words cut through and into the hearts.  It was amazing!  As always, I stand so amazed of God’s grace and power, as well as His faithfulness.  I was in no shape to preach at all, but as I yielded myself to Him, He came through so powerfully and wonderfully!  When I saw the men stand in response to the call to be godly fathers who would instruct their children accordingly, I knew the Lord had already begun a new work in each of their hearts, their lives and their families.  Glory to God!!!

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Fathers Who Feel Like Failures

I had a crazy idea the other day.  I think I will start a new support group for fathers and call it F.F.F.F. …… The Fellowship of Fathers who Feel like Failures.  If I am right, I believe the subscriptions and sign-up rate will be phenomenal.  Then again, maybe I’m the only one who feels that way 😦  So what, I will be the only member then!

On Sunday, I noticed how silent a brother was after church.  We were both in the same room but didn’t get to talk at all.  He was busy with his kids, and me with mine.  So, the next day, I made an effort to call him just to see how he was doing.  In a simple phrase, he was struggling with being a dad and a husband.  However hard he tried, it just didn’t seem to work.  Whatever he did, it just didn’t seem to be enough.  Then there were the feelings of guilt for not praying enough, not reading the bible enough, and not spending enough time with God.  Not to mention the need of connecting and reconnecting with the wife, but … you-guessed-it … no time nor the energy.

Boy, did I identify with everything he shared that day.  Suddenly, it hit me that I was talking to … a father who felt like a failure.  Hey, a potential member of F.F.F.F.!

I am sure there are lots more out there like us.  We know the right things to do, but they don’t always turn out the way those inspirational books suggest they do.  In fact, I’ve had, more than once, harboured thoughts of burning those in my library.  We know the right things to say to other fledging fathers and it spurs them on.  But when we try it on ourselves, it just doesn’t sound as encouraging as we thought it could have been.

Hmmmm … looks like F.F.F.F. is definitely worth a shot.  Indeed, I will give this more thought.  But for now, daddy duty calls.