The Joys of Parenthood: Our Two Little Rabbits

Just a quick post on how children light up our lives in their own special way. In the past couple of days, this has been what Deborah Hope and Anna Joy have been doing – posing as little rabbits. They are just so so so cute and it never fails to bring a smile to Serene’s and my face.

Two Rabbits

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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.

Raising Christian Families in Today’s World

At the invitation of Wesley Methodist Church’s Family Life Ministry, I will be sharing this family seminar, “Raising Christian Families in Today’s World”*, on Saturday 18 August 2012, 9am to 12nn. Registration Fee: S$5.00 per person. For more information, you can contact Priscilla Shin at 6837 8610 or priscillas@wesleymc.org

Synopsis: Families today are under extreme pressure as they face new challenges in a fast-changing landscape. The enemy knows that if he hits the family unit, relationships will be broken and the testimony of the church will be weakened. What then are our roles as Christian parents? How do we protect our families from the spiritual and moral decline that is prevalent in societies today?  Indeed, parenting skills are important; but even more critical is a return to God’s Word and His mandate for parents to raise godly families for His Kingdom and glory!

If you can make it to attend, I’d strongly encourage you to; even better if both parents can make it. I won’t position this as a parenting talk, but a talk to and with parents. Feel free to share this seminar with others from your Christian community. It’d be a wonderful time of interaction, learning from one another and being made aware of the challenges that surround the Christian family in these perilous times.

*formerly titled, “Building a Household of Faith”

What We Take From Our Children When We Spoil Them

It’s hard to understand why anyone would want to spoil a child. And yet, these days, it has even become somewhat fashionable to indulge the little ones, to give them what they want – NOW – that it’s totally ok to spoil them. Also, experienced parents – otherwise affectionately referred to as grandparents – often see it as their right and privilege to spoil grandchildren.

Perhaps, these have never really understood the meaning of the word “spoil” and what it entails. Hopefully, the following definitions might help.

As a verb, to spoil means to ruin, to mar, to corrupt, to damage, to diminish, to destroy. Or as one dictionary puts it: “to damage severely or harm (something), especially with reference to its excellence, value, usefulness.”

Let’s apply this, word for word, to our son or daughter. When I spoil my child, I am practically ruining, marring, corrupting, damaging, diminishing and destroying him. With reference to his potential of excellence, his value and and his usefulness, I am consciously or unconsciously doing harm to him and what he could be!

As a noun, spoil refers to booty, loot or plunder, as in “the spoils of war”. In the context of spoiling children, we are in essence, plundering and removing what is valuable from them – the opportunity for discipline and character training that pertains to right and godly living.

Given this understanding, why would anyone want to spoil their children? It runs counter to everything a parent seeks and desires for a child.

Babies At Any Cost?

The Straits Times, Tuesday, 22 May 2012

My knees went weak when my eyes fell on the article “Tough ‘social choices’ ahead” in today’s papers. I couldn’t believe what I was reading. To address the dismal total fertility rate (TFR) of Singapore, Mr Chan Chun Seng, the Acting Minister for Community Development, Youth and Sports, is suggesting that our society consider having children out of wedlock! It may have just been a statement intended to provoke but it was no less surprising, and worrying, that it is a ministerial comment, no less.

Others have suggested before that we consider polygamy to help our TFR. Absurd as this might sound, it is at least having children within the institution of marriage. But to suggest that we make babies outside of marriage is totally ridiculous! Whilst it may appear to solve one social issue of having more Singaporeans, it is in fact opening another huge door to future social problems.

For one, the institution of marriage is openly challenged. On the one hand, we are promoting MarriageWorks; yet on the other hand, we are sending a signal that when it comes to having babies, it still works outside of marriage. With more and more engaging in pre-marital sex, we just gave them to green light to get pregnant in the name of national service. Don’t worry where these babies will go after they are born. Just know that the women will not be frowned upon as single mothers. Add to that, these children out of wedlock will likely have no father figure in their lives. No problem – just devote more budget and attention to “Dads for Life!” … if we can get the fathers to own up that they fathered these out of wedlock in the first place. Looks like we may need to draft a pre-coitus agreeement for easy download via an app! Worse yet, gay couples may be allowed to adopt these children … shudder.

The Straits Times, Friday, 4 May 2012

It really saddens me that we should be talking like that at the ministerial level. What kind of a people have we become? And what will we become if we continue along this path? It is so clear that Singaporeans are not wanting to have babies because of selfish reasons. That’s a harsh statement but there really is no other way to put it. We have had enough forums and seminars on TFR and these have yielded largely the same answers … we are all too consumed with ourselves, with making money and wanting our own freedom to sacrifice it for the task (or burden) of parenting.

Perhaps, the minister’s statement is one made out of desperation. And quite understandably too. Values built up over many years of nation building and economic progress are not easy to address, much less change. But does this really justify having Singaporean babies at any cost, even out of wedlock? As with everything else in Singapore, children are seen and regarded in economic terms too. Did not the debate about casinos go the same way? Don’t worry about the social ills of gambling, just think of how many more jobs the casinos will generate. Just set up more counselling centres to help those with gambling and debt issues. So, don’t bother too much about the consequences, just make babies, get the TFR up, and we will set up additional services to deal with the problems up ahead.

Yes, Mr Chan is right in that these are tough ‘social choices’, and my heart goes out to him for having to handle such tough issues in his first ministerial portfolio. My concern is that when statements like these are made publicly, it has already signalled the beginnings of a change management process for the ground to accept these tough decisions ahead.

Be a Super Parent!

I knew this title would catch your attention 🙂

Some months back, I was asked to contribute a few points to Scripture Union’s newsletter on how “to be a super parent”.  My initial reaction was to ignore the request, or give some excuse that I had no time to meet the extremely tight print deadline.  Serene and I have never considered ourselves as super parents and we definitely did not want to give any wrong impression that we were even close to being good or great parents; that perhaps, with more than a few children, we are now more qualified than others.

Well, despite my attempts to ‘run away’ from this task, I could not ignore the persistence of the editor.  And so, I penned a few statements and sent it off for print.

Reading these statements again, after leaving it for a while, I thought it’d be good to share it on my blog.  In no way are these “super parent” tips 🙂  Just great reminders for all parents, including Serene and myself.  And if you feel others can be likewise encouraged, feel free to share.  Be blessed …

As published in Scripture Union News Oct-Dec 2011.

Education, Examinations & Expectations

What do we expect when we pray for those taking exams?  This may sound ridiculous, silly even, but is it not an interesting question to consider?  What are we really asking for?

Take, for example, a conversation I had with a mother some years back.  She was really upset and disappointed with God.  I don’t think she was going to give up her faith, but she sure sounded like she was close to that decision.  When the PSLE results were announced, her son did well, but not well enough to get into ACS(I).  As such, he had to settle for ACS (Barker) – considered ‘second-class’ in the ACS family of schools.  To this mother, God did not answer her prayer, nor her son’s.  What made it harder for her to accept was that God seemed to have answered the prayers of the other parents – since their sons got into ACS(I) – and these were less-devoted Christians, and some non-believers!

You may be smiling at this true account 🙂  But I daresay such reactions are rather common in results-oriented, academics-crazy Singapore.  It sure makes me wonder what parents really expect God to do for their children when they prepare and sit for exams?  Perhaps they want God to supernaturally increase the academic capability of the child, to reveal all the questions and answers, to change the tough questions to easier ones for their child only, to blind the teachers’ eyes to wrong or inappropriate answers, etc.  Even more interesting, I hear of prayers for those collecting the results.  Are these praying for good results after knowing how well they did or struggled through the paper?  Are these praying for the marks and grades to miraculously change from D to A?  Or from A to A*?

Can God not do all these, you ask?  Of course He can for nothing is impossible for Him.  I have heard testimonies of how God had revealed the questions so the individual knew what to study.  But does He do it all the time?  For all?  I’m not too sure about that.  You may not agree with me entirely.  But if you are so convicted, I’d really encourage you to offer a course “How to ace your exams supernaturally!”  Not only will you have immediate sign-ups, you will have great opportunity for evangelism too.  Think about it … believe in Jesus, and get straight As!

Ok, coming back to praying for exams.  Of course, when the child does well, praises are offered to God.  But when the results are less than satisfactory, why question God?  Why accuse Him for not answering?  Do you really expect every Christian student to score As?  If so, you might as well believe in the prosperity gospel that suggests every Christian should be materially rich, wealthy and prosperous!

We need to get our perspectives right again.  The academic system needs a means of testing and evaluation and it’s called examinations.  In any group – in a class, a school, a precinct, a country – there will be those who do better and those not so well.  That is a given.  In the odd event everyone does equally well (or bad), you can expect the system to be adjusted to again separate the best from the not-so-good’s.  Given the emphasis on education and academic excellence in Singapore, we can safely assume that it will only get tougher, not easier.

As parents, we value the place of education in our children’s lives.  However, if we are not careful and mindful, it is also easy for education to take the place of God.  Simply put, we trust education more than we trust God.  We are so worried and anxious that without making it to the top 10%, we fear our children will lose out in life.  They will have to work under someone, or have their career opportunities curtailed.  At the end of the day, it’s all about landing a good job, for a good salary, to secure a good life.  Where is God?  Of course, He is there … but only to ensure exams scores are good that our goals for our children are realised.  How we pray and later respond reveal very clearly how much we truly trust God, or grades.

If one chooses to remain in the academic system, the pressure to perform and out-perform others will always be there.  Even for us, as homeschoolers, the pressure is still there, however subtle.  The key is to always have the right perspective.  I’ve found it useful to constantly ask myself, “Is it about education, academics and grades?  Or is it about learning life and knowing God?”  This is our prayer for each of our children – that they learn life and know God.  We recognise their strengths and weaknesses.  Not all may be academically-inclined to perform well in a school system; but all are individually gifted and talented, and capable of serving the Lord in whatever capacity He enables them in.

Also, not all bloom or mature at the same time – some earlier, some later.  It’s not a one-size fits all – whether you make it or you don’t. Sadly, school systems are much like production lines. If you don’t fit the mould, sorry!   You are promptly moved to the next line or category.  That’s what makes parenting and homeschooling so tough.  We need to know our children that we may encourage them along the right path at the right pace with the right perspective.  We too have been guilty of being a little impatient at times, only to discover that given just a few months more, the child suddenly gets it.

As a Singaporean parent, I am equally susceptible to the pressures and demands of our society.  Honestly, it’d be nice if each of my seven children do well academically and attain PhDs.  I’d be one proud father 🙂  But that is not my pre-occupation at all.  If the Lord so leads them that way, praise be to God.  If not, praise Him still!

In the meantime, my prayer is for them to have the right attitude towards exams, to do their best and to never give up, regardless the results.  I believe God can use any result and every life experience to shape them for His purposes.  And in the end, if each would love, know and serve Him passionately wherever they are placed, I’d really be one proud father 🙂