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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen?

Non-Discipleship is Tragically Costly

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

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

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

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

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

Related Post: Seven Misconceptions of Discipleship

Misconception #1: Discipleship is a separate decision/event from believership [Part One]

PART ONE: Is there a difference between believers and disciples?

Discipleship Title PixFirstly, we need to know what a disciple is. The Greek word matethes comes from the root verb manthano, meaning “to learn”. The English word disciple is derived from the Latin discipulus, which carries the same meaning of “pupil, learner or follower”. From this, we see that a disciple is one who follows another with the purpose to learn as his pupil. As such, a follower of Jesus Christ is thus a disciple of Jesus Christ.

This may look and sound obvious but is it? Ask a believer if he is a follower of Jesus Christ and he would very likely say ‘yes’ without any hesitation. But when asked if he is thus a disciple of Jesus Christ, and you might get a pause, a shrug or a vehement ‘no’. Why is this so? That’s because we have been told that we believe first and then decide later if we’d like to be disciples. We’ve accepted that believership is a separate and distinct event from discipleship.

As I pondered this, the Lord gave me an illustration: Imagine a stranger walks up to my 3 year old and says, “Uncle has ice-cream for you. You want? Come with me.” If my little girl believed that man, what would she do? She’d follow him! Immediately, the relationship between believing and following became clear to me — the one we believe, we follow.

We’ve heard countless sermons about Andrew, Peter, James and John, of how they dropped everything and followed Jesus. But have you stopped to think why they did that? Surely, they didn’t just jump at the words of Jesus because they were tired of their jobs. I believe it’s because they believed in who Jesus was and what He promised that they readily followed as His disciples. This must have been the same for Matthew. Otherwise, why would a tax collector leave everything to follow a Galilean carpenter? And as long as these kept believing, they kept following Jesus.

The one we believe, we follow. We cannot believe and not follow. Faith without works is dead. Conviction will always produce action. If I believe, I will follow.

When Jesus issued the Great Commission, the command was simple: Make disciples. He didn’t say to identify those who are willing and available, then call these and make them disciples. In other words, when anyone believes the good news of the Kingdom, make disciples of them! Put another way, the moment someone believes and becomes a subject of the Kingdom, he also becomes a disciple. Make no mistake: Jesus is both Saviour and Master!

This challenges the way we have been leading people to salvation. The sinner’s prayer is a great device but so many don’t even what they have prayed (repeat after me), much less what they have believed! What does “receive Jesus into your heart” mean anyway? And if one is told to believe in Jesus to go to heaven, where is the place of discipleship then?

Salvation is when we repent (turn from sin), believe in Jesus’ work on the Cross (forgiveness), be set free from sin’s dominion (redemption), and we now belong to Jesus (serve and follow Him). It scares me to discover how few Christians are able to talk about their own salvation! I am not advocating printing out a 500-page theological document for the prospect to peruse and sign on the dotted line. I am, however, convinced that there is an even more critical need for proper follow-up so that a new believer knows that believing Jesus means following Jesus. He is, after all, no longer his own, but one who belongs to Jesus.

This misconception weakens the Church because it gives us an excuse not to be disciples, or that we need a passage of time before we qualify to be disciples. How many do you know who have sat in church for 20-30 years and not budged at all? On the other hand, imagine a congregation who is fully convicted that they are disciples the moment they declare their faith in Jesus. I believe that’s how the church was in Acts, empowered by the Holy Spirit, and they literally turned their world upside down.

Remembering His Call

11years ago, on 8 July, I heard the Lord call me to full-time ministry. That was in the year 2000! Wow! I was much younger then, with just two children 🙂

I had almost forgotten about this date until last night, when I took my diploma students through the Personal Reflection & Application Paper briefing. It’s a module I had designed to provoke students to seriously consider their place in ministry. This is the third batch and it just occurred to me that it is always around 8 July that I would teach this module. How significant, for at the briefing, I would share my own journey into ministry. I didn’t plan for it, but I get to revisit the wonderful ways the Lord called, prepared and enabled me each and every step of the way. Little wonder then that I would talk non-stop recounting and gushing about God’s goodness and faithfulness. My hope and prayer is that it encourages and spurs each student to serve the Lord with even deeper conviction.

This morning, I realized another key significance as I led my family through today’s 40Day2011 reading. 11 years ago, it was through 40Day2000 that the Lord spoke the words, “Follow Me!”. Although sentimental and meaningful, it is the odd ‘coincidence’ of this year’s theme that struck me … I am marking 11 years in the 11th hour!

Clearly, it’s not business or ministry as usual. I have changed and grown over the years. Similarly, the way I minister has also changed. The messages have also taken on a different edge with a more urgent and serious tone. Coincidence? I think not.

So today, as I look back, I look forward. I have done and learnt much, and still, there is much more to be done and learnt. The tendency is to rely on myself and my experience. But that would be disastrous! As before and even more, I must lean on Jesus and abide in Him. Apart from Him, I can do nothing … zilch! I serve Him and Him alone. He who has called me will enable me. For His Name and Glory!

Follow Me: It’s Been 9 Years

8 July 2000.

It was on this day 9 years ago that I received the Lord’s call to go fulltime into ministry.  It was the start of the second week of the 40 Day Fast.  The title for that day’s meditation was “Caught in the Net” and the introduction read …

“The call to follow Jesus is, at the same time, the call to do His work.  There’s no discrepancy.  There’s no distinction.  Following plus fishing [Mark 1:17].  Relationship plus responsibility [3:14].  Not either/or, but both/and.  “People who seek the Lord seek the lost” [Jack Hayford].  And the call is urgent.  Jesus’ mission takes precedence over the family business [v.18], and the family itself [v.20].  In fact, over everything!”

When I read Mark 1:17, I sensed the invitation by Jesus to “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.”  This was no general call but one specifically meant for me.  Somehow, I knew in my spirit.  I can’t explain it … I just knew.  And yet, I needed to be sure.  Maybe it was my imagination.  Maybe I was reading too much into it.  Maybe … maybe … maybe …

I picked up my other devotional, The Daily Bread, and that day’s passage was 1 Timothy 1:12-17.  I opened my bible and v12 read … “And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord who has enabled me, because He counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry …”

That did it for me, and I wrote the following words … “God is calling and I have to respond.  Lord, free me from the entanglements to respond fully to Your call, and to Your mission.”

The past 9 years have been the most exciting years of my life and I know it’s only the tip of the iceberg.  That’s more, for sure!  It’s been a tremendous journey and God has been with me every step of the way.  I have learnt so much in this walk of faith and nothing and no one can take that away from me.  The reality of God’s goodness and faithfulness rings true and deep in my heart, a sure foundation that holds me steady whenever I waver or falter in my steps.  Even so, His grace is ever sufficient for me, and in my weakness is truly when His strength is made perfect!

As 9 is the number of completion, I believe the 1st phase of my ministry has reached a completion of sorts.  I now look ahead to the next phase where the Lord will once again train and equip me for new things and new opportunities.  My part is to continue to seek Him and to stay close to His side.  He will do the rest and provide every resource that I need to fulfil the ministry.

Like Paul, I too thank the Lord Jesus Christ for enabling me!  By His grace, He counted me faithful and put me into the ministry.  This privilege and honour I will never trade for anything else the world can offer.  Thank you, Lord Jesus, for all you are to me!

The greatest thing in all my life is knowing You
The greatest thing in all my life is knowing You
I want to know you more
I want to know you more
The greatest thing in all my life is knowing You

The greatest thing in all my life is loving You
The greatest thing in all my life is loving You
I want to love you more
I want to love you more
The greatest thing in all my life is loving You

The greatest thing in all my life is serving You
The greatest thing in all my life is serving You
I want to serve you more
I want to serve you more
The greatest thing in all my life is serving You