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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

Behind That Smile

Smiles are often associated with positive outlooks and dispositions. Just check out the numerous quotations and sayings on smiles and you will see that the encouragement is to all to always wear a smile 🙂

When we meet someone, we automatically ask, ” How are you?” They quickly reply, with a smile of course, “Fine, thank you!” But what really goes on behind that smile? Is there something more that the person is going through? Could that smile be merely a facade of strength? I’ve come to realise that a smile may not be what it seems. Instead of revealing a spirit of joy and peace, it is often the opposite, concealing hurt, pain, sorrow and anxiety.

Behind that smile … a father’s heart is deeply broken by a prodigal son. He is concerned with the decisions his son has taken in haste, without much thought, without any regard to the consequences. The father’s hope and dreams for one who would bring him pride and joy, dashed for the moment. All these hidden from public view – behind a smile.

Behind that smile … a man weeps at the prospect of losing his wife to another man. His manly pride devastated at the discovery of an adulterous relationship, right under his nose. His desperate attempts to woo her back are repeatedly spurned by the one who once clung to him for love and support. What will he tell the children? Has he failed as a husband and a father? What else is there to do but pray? How can he face each day, but smile?

Behind that smile … a woman hides the pain of miscarriage, that all is well. Yet, deep inside, the sense of loss is very real. It’s not merely emotional or hormonal. There was a life and there is none now. The excitement, expectation and elation that is no more. Few can understand, not even her husband. Can she share with others? Should she share in the first place? Maybe it’s better to go through this alone, with a smile.

Behind that smile … a woman worries for her family’s survival. Her husband is out of a job and trying his best to earn his keep. She doesn’t know if their finances can last beyond the week. Her children are not aware of the situation and asks for things that children ask for. Her gentle “no” is challenged by an innocent “why?” So as not to give her man added pressure, she puts on a brave front, and smiles.

Behind that smile … a young lady wrestles with emotions for a man who pays her no attention. She waits but he never calls. She tells herself, “it’s ok, the right one will come along … soon.” As if her own questions are not enough, others ask insensitively, “you still not married?” What can she say? How should she answer? Just a plain “no, not yet”, accompanied by the sweetest of smiles.

So you see, a smile may look nice but it may not tell the full story. For many, it is largely cosmetic, hiding a much deeper issue. And yet, because we are all so busy these days, we just don’t have the time to get behind that smile! In fact, we may even be fearful to discover what really lies behind that smile, requiring us to give more time to this person. No, thank you! A smile is just fine!

But if we would be willing to scratch a little of that surface, we will discover that there is just so much pain in this fallen world. When that thin veneer of a smile comes off, we see people who need a listening ear, a compassionate heart, a shoulder to cry on, a directing of their souls back to Jesus. All it takes is sincerity to ask how this person truly is … “How are you, really?” You’ll be surprised how quickly the smile fades, making way for tears to fall and burdens to be shared.

As happy as the world presents itself, that is just what it is – a presentation. May we be sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit to discern a smile that radiates with true joy, from one that is merely a front. Then, with His love, grace and enablement, get behind that smile, restore the real person within, that a real smile would finally emerge.

A Faith of Their Own

It didn’t start out that way.  But the moment I responded to the Lord’s call to ministry, my children immediately became MKs, or Ministry Kids.  And a few years later, when I was commissioned to be a pastor, they became PKs, or Pastors’ Kids.

Whether they like it or not, there is an unspoken pressure that is placed upon them.  We try our best not to make it worse for them, but I must admit that there are times when I am myself conscious of how my children are behaving and how that might affect our testimony.  It doesn’t help that we are seen as people of great faith (or those with little self-control), having a large family.  And also people who dare to venture the path less trodden, deciding to homeschool our children.  It can be quite a lot for our children to handle as they grow up in such an environment and high expectations.

Yet, instead of always focussing on their behaviour, I really should be asking myself, “How am I living out my Christian walk in front of them?”  It is easy to be warm, nice, patient and loving to others in the church.  But am I the same with them?  It is easy to preach and teach in front of a congregation and class, but do I walk the talk at home?  It is easy to challenge others not to be hypocrites like the Pharisees of Jesus’ day.  But am I a big, fat hypocrite in the eyes of my children?  It is one thing to encourage them to read the Bible; it is yet another for them to see the Bible lived through me.  Finally, when all is said and done, even if I should do all thing right by the grace of God, I cannot force my faith on them.  They must develop and grow a faith of their own.

It was an article by Rebecca Kruyswijk about Priscilla Shirer in BibleStudyMagazine that prompted me to write this post as a reflection and a prayer for myself and my children.  As a pastor’s daughter, Shirer faced great challenges and “the greatest was making her faith her own”.  Today, she is a bible teacher and conference speaker who loves the Lord and His Word, having opportunities to speak alongside others like Beth Moore and Kay Arthur.  In particular, it was this paragraph that inspired and encouraged me…

I am reminded that however well I teach or encourage my children to read the Bible or to serve the Lord, it is my life and example that they will see and remember for the rest of their lives.  Like Shirer’s parents, I want to be real to them and with them.  But that does not mean justifying and rationalising my weaknesses nor making excuses for my shortcomings as a disciple of Jesus, a pastor, a husband and father.  By God’s grace, I want to be one who lives what I preach, that my children will see as little or no disparity between my public persona and who I am to them.

And my prayer for my seven children … that they will each discover and know Jesus for themselves, that they will each receive a faith they can call their own, one that will ground them surely and securely until they see Jesus face to face.

 

Husbands, Love Your Wives

What a way to start the day with this video on GodTube … “Husband Dies Saving Wife From Joplin Tornado

In the midst of the tornado, this man protected his wife by shielding her with his own body, taking the brunt of the force of the twister.  He suffered a puncture and died saving his wife.  What a demonstration of love and selflessness.

That’s what Jesus did for us.  He was pierced for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities (Isa 53:5, NIV).  His died in our place that we – His church, His body, His bride – might have life.

As I watched it, the verse from Ephesians 5:25 came to mind … “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, …”

Indeed, a big reminder for me that a husband is more than just one who works hard to bring home the paycheck.  How am I protecting my wife from the storms and challenges of life, of parenting, of homeschooling?  Am I willing to deny my own selfish wants that I may consider her needs, those which I often overlook and neglect?

Surely, I don’t need to wait for a tornado to tear through my house before I show and demonstrate my love for my wife …

Praying Together for Spiritual Intimacy

After getting married in 1995, Serene and I committed to doing “Couple Devotions”. And one precious lesson which stuck in my mind was the importance of developing and maintaining Spiritual Intimacy in the marital relationship. In those pre-parenting years, it didn’t pose too much of a challenge to us as we did everything together – and that included attending church services, fellowship groups and seminars. At the same time, the Lord stirred in each of us a hunger for Him and we found ourselves talking about spiritual stuff, reading the Word, being convicted by similar issues and praying together. It was so exciting and fun … serving God and discovering Him as a couple! With that in place, we were both ready and willing when the Lord called me in 2000.

Across my talks on Marriage and Family, I have found that not every couple has had this privilege of growing together and enjoying spiritual intimacy. Both may be church-people but each will have his or her own times of devotion and prayer, if that even takes place. They may go on couple dates or have couple activities. But build spiritual intimacy? Sadly, in many marriages, that is an alien-sounding concept.

Admittedly, it is easy to talk about spiritual intimacy but not quite as easy to implement nor maintain. If anyone has an excuse for not doing so, we have seven! Add to that homeschooling, housekeeping and a packed ministry schedule. To this end, over the years, we had also let this important aspect slip in our marriage. Yes, we pray, but individually. Yes, we read the Word, but separately. Yes, we minister and bless others through our lives and family, but in different spheres and areas. Aren’t these good? Of course, they are. But notice the operative words that should raise alarm bells and danger signals … individually and separately.

In my busyness, I had neglected my wife and the spirituality that must be nurtured together in our relationship. Issues must be discussed and items prayed through and over together. If not, a couple can drift apart theologically, each forming his or her own conclusions and interpretations on how the Word of God should be applied in various situations. The enemy loves couples like that! Theological and doctrinal gaps present great openings for him to drive his diaboloical wedges of dis-satisfaction, discouragement, bitterness, pride, self-righteousness, blame and unforgiveness into! He loves to see husbands and wives take biblical stands on marriage and family issues just so they can argue with each other from opposite sides. How sneaky, how deceptive, how disastrous!

More recently, the Lord convicted me of this area of neglect (yes, there is no softer word) in my marriage. As the husband and the head, I am fully responsible for the level of spiritual intimacy that Serene and I share. By assuming that we were both doing ok and obediently serving the Lord, I had allowed the gaps to widen and that began to show up in many aspects of our marriage and family life! We became tired and worn out by the workload. We were easily discouraged with things that didn’t go right. We were frustrated with the behaviour of the children. We lost focus amidst the 1,001 things to do. Soon, we were questioning God, wondering where He was in all these. It was just so easy to get into yet another pity-party, a woe-is-me and nobody-understands-our-problems session. We knew we had to bring it to the Lord – not individually, but together!

And that is what we have been doing … we have begun, once again, to pray together. Each night, after Serene puts our youngest to bed, we would spend time praying together. No TV, no computer, no newspapers. Just the two of us, crying out to the Lord. We would pray for one another, for the children, and for anything the Lord lays upon our hearts. And if there was nothing to pray for (as if), we would just pray in the Spirit, allowing the Holy Spirit to intercede on our behalf. These have not been earth-shaking moments and usually after the “amen”, we’d just chat or go back to our tasks. But in the spiritual, there has been a powerful shift! We have drawn so much closer to each other spiritually. It’s hard to explain, but somehow, the spiritual environment and climate at home is different from what it was just a few months ago. It’s less tense and there is more joy, more singing, more smiles, more laughter. There is a renewed consciousness of God and His presence in our lives and conversations. We sense it in our relationship with each other, and also with each of our children. In the natural, we are still struggling with the same issues and challenges. But in the spiritual, we just know that God is leading us and taking us through step by step; and that in turn, will affect and direct the natural.

We know that this is just the beginning and there is just so much ahead of us. Spiritual intimacy must be maintained and developed even more and more, and there must be no letting up. If not, we will find ourselves back at square one. Life presents new challenges each and every day, for our marriage and for our family, in the lives and situations of each growing child. For the family to be strong, the marriage must be strong; and only spiritual intimacy will ensure the solidity of that foundation. Out of our prayer times, I believe the Lord will cause us to identify and deal with other issues. These will cause us to search His Word, to rightly interprete and apply it together. Our unity in the Spirit will also affect the raising of our children. In time, we want these prayer times to extend to and include our children as they come of age.

Much has been written about this. Even more has been said about this. But spiritual intimacy cannot be simply read or talked about. It has to be developed and the best first step couples can take to draw closer spiritually is to begin to pray together.

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!