Saturday 29 June 2013: Family Day?

Saturday 29 June 2013. This would be an interesting date and day to watch. Not only in the natural, but also in the spiritual.

NFC Family Day Article
The Straits Times, Tuesday 23 May 2013, Home, B10.

This date will mark the end of Singapore’s National Family Council‘s (NFC) month-long National Family Celebrations 2013. They have designated it as Family Day Out, and families are encouraged to spend that day together, visiting places of interest or participating in activities and events together as a family unit. And specifically at 6:29pm, the NFC hopes everyone would call, tweet, text or hug their family members because “6:29 is Family Time”.

Pink Dot Article
The Straits Times, Tuesday 23 May 2013, Home, B12.

Coincidentally, or otherwise, the Pink Dot Movement will also be holding their 5th rally at Hong Lim Park on 29 June. As we know, this group that represents the LGBT (lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgenders) seeks to establish these ‘alternative’ expressions of love and relationships as fully acceptable and mainstream. Put another way, LGBT relationships that include same-sex unions and marriages are hoping to be recognised as “family units” by society, not to be frowned upon nor discriminated against at all. This rally has been gaining momentum and popularity since its first event in 2009. The high point is when congregants, comprising LGBTs and non-LBGTs, adults and children (family), form a giant Pink Dot to show their support for this cause.

Without thinking too much, these are simply two separate events. But are they? Events and dates are not determined overnight, at least not for these of such scale, size and significance. The question is, which came first? Is the Pink Dot Movement riding on and taking advantage of the NFC’s efforts, cleverly positioning themselves as a family-related event to the unsuspecting man-on-the-street? Or might the NFC be subtly supporting the Pink Dot Movement’s event, thereby sending a message that the family is being re-defined to include LGBT relationships? If not, would the national agency change anything so as not to send a wrong signal? Or would they gently request the Pink Dot Movement to consider shifting their Hong Lim event, at the risk of appearing as discriminating against LGBTs?

Surely, there are no easy answers or solutions, not that these are necessarily desiring to find any alternative (no pun intended). Am I suggesting that I know something, that I might have an idea that there is more than meets the eye? No, not at all. I am just a concerned Christian Singaporean parent, wondering where all this is leading to and how I am to respond. Indeed, 29 June is a date to watch. I may have no control over these events taking place in the natural, but I can and will pray because the authority I have is in the spiritual.

All said, I guess I shouldn’t make too big a deal of it. After all, it might really just be pure coincidence that both events are taking place on the exact same day. But why then did the two articles appear on the exact same day in the Straits Times, one page after another!? Sigh, there I go again — I will just wait and watch to see if the Pink Dot will be formed — at 6:29pm.

Related Post: The Need To Rebuild the Walls Around Families

Don’t keep blaming the devil if it’s sin you’re struggling with

Well, Eve did it when confronted by God and so, I suppose we’ve been doing it ever since. In case you’re wondering what this is all about, I am referring to the blame game. Not just the blaming of others, but more specifically, that of the dark side.

“… the woman said, ‘The serpent deceived me, and I ate.'” Gen 3:13

Today, it’s still happening although in a slightly different form. Thanks to the deliverance ministry, we have a better understanding of demonic operations and how evil spirits (fallen angels) oppress and attack people. Also, in the gospel accounts, we read of Jesus casting out a deaf and dumb spirit (Mark 9:25) and a spirit of infirmity (Luke 13:11). However, extending from these teachings, we have conveniently named spirits after every sickness or weakness.

Whilst it is good to be very aware of the spiritual battle we are engaged in, we must also be careful not to swing to an extreme (which we are all prone to do) and ascribe every weakness we struggle with to demonic activity and influence! For example, if you are plain greedy and can’t control your food intake, don’t blame the spirit of gluttony. Or if you can’t get off the computer, casting out the spirit of facebook will do you no good. Similarly, binding the spirit of drama serials won’t stop you from watching episode 318 of your favourite programme.

Forgive my overly dramatic examples, but I’m just trying to make a point and I hope you are getting it. Yes, the spiritual dimension is very real but you cannot pin everything on the imaginary demon you think is hovering over yourself. To do that would be far too easy, too convenient. And yet, we all love to do that because it gets us away from acknowledging personal sin and responsibility! And we hate to admit that because it means owning up to our own faults and weaknesses. More accurately, we don’t like coming to terms with how devastatingly and hopelessly sinful we are! Because if we do, we have to deal with it and it takes too much trouble, too much sacrifice, too much effort, and we’d lose too much face. And so, it’s easier to keep pointing the finger at some spirit which we cannot see. Honestly, if it were that straightforward, I would have cast out the spirit of laziness and the spirit of disobedience from my children long ago.

In majoring in naming and casting out these fancy spirits, we have forgotten about the reality of the power and dominion of sin that operates through our Adamic nature. Make no mistake! Often, the so-called spirit of anger or spirit of lust is nothing but a manifestation of the work of the flesh in your life that you have not dealt with. And before you respond too quickly to blame your fallen sinful state and use that as another cop out, let us not forget that it was precisely for this reason that Christ came to set us free (Rom 6:18), that sin shall no longer have dominion over us (Rom 6:14)! And to deal with the evil spirits, 1 John 3:8 says, “For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil.” That is why we strive to walk in the Spirit that we give no place to the flesh! For in the Spirit is where the victory is and where we will experience true liberty in Christ!

My dear friends in Christ, whatever you are struggling with, Jesus has done and taken it all at the Cross, disarming all power and principalities (Col 2:15) and securing a decisive victory for us who believe. When Jesus said, “It is finished!”, that was exactly what He meant. It is time you walk in that truth and stop passing the buck, giving demons credit when absolutely none is due to them. Instead, take personal responsibility for your walk as you lay hold of the promises you have in Christ. And to do that means to acknowledge your areas of weakness and failings, repenting and confessing that you may always walk in the light, giving the enemy no ground at all. To do that also means holding yourself accountable to others that they may help you in your times of possible compromise. This is what God’s community is about and it would do you well to get into a church that really means business.

Please, let’s stop this blame game. It’s time to wise up and grow up!

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.

Seven Misconceptions of Discipleship

Seven MisconceptionsIn offering scholarships to encourage school leaving youths to consider a career in the military, the recruitment office did not opt for the guts ‘n’ glory angle. Instead, they found that the following points proved more attractive and effective:

  • Academic Pursuit: get the paper and qualification you desire
  • Financial Perks: get paid to study when others borrow to pay their fees
  • Material Benefits: while your peers are begging their parents for more pocket money, get a car before they can even dream of it
  • Adventure & Exposure: get to experience extreme sports and life
  • Prestige: get honour and glory in serving the nation, plus your girl (who can resist a man in uniform?)

Catching up with a friend who signed on as a regular, we asked him if he was having a great time with all these promises. He answered, “Nonsense, la!” After all, no one said anything about being a soldier, tough training, and the possibility of dying in battle!

Is it not the same with Christianity? Very likely so, I’m afraid. Do we not advertise the good news, calling out to all, “Be a Christian and get your [fill in the blank]!”? Hardly, if anything is said about being a disciple of Jesus Christ. Little wonder then, that the Church has discovered a great disconnect between being a Christian and being a disciple.

As if a knee-jerk reaction (prompted by the Holy Spirit, I’m sure), there is now, of late, a sudden attention turned to discipleship. In the bookshops are so many titles and programmes on discipleship. Contained in every church mission statement is the word disciple or discipleship. Every church wants to be an intentional disciple-making church (IDMC). With the new buzzword of discipleship, another problem has arisen. Discipleship has become hip and cool; and in that, we have missed the mark again!

For sure, so much has been taught and written about discipleship. But why all the confusion still? What is a disciple? Who is a disciple? How is discipleship done? Why is discipleship so difficult a concept to grasp in our days?

In preparing for a series on discipleship, I asked the Lord to show me afresh. I knew what I had been told and taught about discipleship. But my desire was to approach the Word without any presupposition or preconceived notions about discipleship. And the Lord gladly obliged. When He opened my eyes with a fresh revelation and understanding, it rocked whatever I had previously held on to. Oh my! What have I been teaching the people?

That’s what this series of articles will be about – the SEVEN misconceptions of discipleship that are prevalent in the Church, in the hearts and minds of God’s people.

  1. Discipleship is a separate decision/event from believership: Part One & Part Two
  2. Believers must be called to be disciples
  3. Disciples are a special class of believers
  4. Discipleship is an optional add-on to salvation
  5. Discipleship is a ministry or programme in the Church
  6. Discipleship is one aspect of the spiritual walk
  7. Discipleship is about me

Of the seven misconceptions, the first two are the most controversial. You may or may not agree with me, and that’s fine. Since sharing these, I’ve had different responses and it’s been interesting. I’ve also found that people like to remain in their comfort zones. And Christians presume many things without ever checking the Scriptures.

Therefore, if you disagree with anything, don’t disagree just because it doesn’t sound nice to you, goes against what you have been taught, or rocks your cushy Christian walk. Be like the Bereans who “searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so.” Finally, if we are still in disagreement, that is perfectly alright. My desire is not to win an argument about discipleship but that more would rise up to be faithful disciples of our Lord Jesus Christ! If this exercise provokes and spurs you towards this goal, I would have more than done my part.

Christians & Halloween

Let me say from the onset that this article might offend some brothers and sisters in Christ. It’s about Halloween, or more precisely, Christians who see no problem celebrating or allowing their children to participate in such activities.

Halloween was never a big deal for us in Singapore. Not until recently, at least. I guess we are occupied enough with our own version of ghastly ghostlies in the Festival of Hungry Ghosts, or the traditional 7th Lunar Month, when disowned and disenchanted spirits are released from hell to roam the earth for food. In recent years, with the influx and influence of the West, Halloween is being celebrated in a much bigger way. Walk into any department store or supermarket and you will see pumpkins, scary masks and spider webs! Even nightspots and tourist venues are staging Halloween themed events.

Interestingly, local Christians are very clear that we are not to participate in the Festival of Hungry Ghosts. That’s a no-no. But Halloween? Sadly, we don’t have as clear a consensus on this. To my horror, I saw a Facebook photo post of a brother-in-Christ’s house being decorated for Halloween! Then, there’s another post of someone else’s child all dressed up for a Halloween party!

I simply cannot understand why Christians would want to be associated with demons, monsters, vampires, black cats, witches, blood, gore and death?! Rationalise any way you want, but it is all spiritually extremely dark and evil! How can Christian parents even think their children look cute and attractive in those costumes, simply in the name of fun and entertainment?

On the one hand, we war against principalities and powers, against rulers of darkness, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in heavenly places (Eph 6:12). Yet, on the other hand, we dress up to look like them! 1 Thess 5:22 exhorts us to “abstain from every form of evil” and we are rushing out to be ambassadors of evil. Something just doesn’t add up! Have we become so de-sensitized by pop culture that we no longer see these as Satan’s agents and co-workers? Do we not realise that these would one day share the same fate with the devil in the lake of fire and brimstone?

I know not everyone will agree with my position, passing this off as legalistic or narrow-minded. That’s fine. I will agree with you that we may not necessarily interpret our freedom in Christ in the same way. To this end, if you sincerely feel that celebrating Halloween brings glory to our Lord Jesus, I won’t stand in your way. As for me, I remain convicted that we as children of light should have nothing to do with anything that manifests the kingdom of darkness.

“For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light … and have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them.” Eph 5:8-11

A Positive Church Experience Is Nice But Not Enough

Worship-Background_crop1

This has become a concern as I interact more with various Christians facing challenges and difficulties in their situations and spiritual walk. In the course of our conversation, I would always ask them where they worshipped at. This would indicate at least three things to me: one, if they belonged to a local church; two, if they are regular in their attendance at this community; and, three, if they are actively involved in the life of this community.

Without prompting, these would proceed to describe their church experience, and it would usually sound like this: “Oh, I enjoy the fellowship. The worship (referring to the time of singing) is wonderful and touches my heart. The messages are really good and I am always blessed by the preaching of the Word. The pastor is very nice and friendly.” In other words, on the surface, everything sounds ok to me … you are blessed and having a great time in this church.

And so, I ask the next question, “Why aren’t you talking to your pastor or church community about this problem you are facing right now?” And almost always, the reasons given do not necessarily line up with the positive church experience described, ranging from “I don’t feel a connection or belonging,” to “I don’t think it would be right to discuss this with my church,” to “My church doesn’t teach us to handle such challenges.”

As I thought about this, I realised something about this rather common occurence: All these may have had a nice, positive church experience. But the main question that must be asked is, “Have these grown in the Lord at all?” Sadly, from what is shared and observed, I don’t think so. This may sound overly harsh, but it is the truth. The scary thing is that these can quite readily quote Scripture and spew Christian slogans as well as any other believer. But they go on living compromised lives, basking in the feel-good messages of God’s love and grace. They are deluded and deceived into thinking that as long as the church experience is positive, they are ok. NO, IT IS NOT!

I believe these are not isolated cases that I have come across in my limited sphere of ministry. Given today’s consumer culture that has crept into the Christian community, more and more are going to church for that feel-good factor. This explains the musical-church phenomenon that is so prevalent amongst believers as they scout for the best speaker, the message, the ambience, the experience, the goose bumps, the worship team, the children’s ministry, the youth ministry, and the menu for Sunday lunch. If they feel good about it, they stay. And if they don’t feel good, it’s time to be ‘led by the Spirit’ to look for another church.

In case anyone misunderstands me, or the point of this article (rant), I am not begrudging anyone of a great time in the community and fellowship of believers. As a pastor, I definitely do not wish for my congregation to be dragging their feet to church, or dreading another Sunday morning, or another sermon preached by yours truly (God forbid!). But more than just a positive church experience, my deepest desire is for each to grow and mature in Christ.

To this end, I am challenging and provoking us all to reflect and ponder more deeply what our faith is really about. Is it just about having a good time, being entertained and feeling good about ourselves? I think not! We have been saved from sin and judgment for a plan and a purpose! Hey, Jesus paid a high price for that! The spiritual journey is about growth and maturity towards the image of Christ. Along the way, we must be meaningfully engaged in the ministry and mission for the sake of Jesus and His Kingdom.

Don’t be fooled that everything is fine just because your church experience is fun and happy-clappy, or if bank accounts are full and life appears good. The Pharisees and the rich of Jesus’ day were all deceived into thinking they were the ones more favoured and blessed of God. We could as easily fall into the same trap.

All said, praise God if you are really enjoying church and Christian fellowship! But don’t stop there. Ponder the following questions, and allow the Holy Spirit to search deep to reveal what is truly in your heart …

  1. Is it primarily all about you, your emotions and your desires?
  2. Have you placed church experience above your relationship with God?
  3. Do you worship God for who He is, or only for what He can do for you?
  4. Is worship defined as a good song that brings tingles and tears, or a response to the awesomeness of God?
  5. Do you know and agree with the vision and mission of your church?
  6. Are you contributing, with God’s help, to the fulfilment of this vision and mission?
  7. Is it just between you and God, or are you connected with others who truly love Jesus?
  8. Are you willing to be held accountable, allowing others to speak the truth into your life?
  9. Is confession and repentance something you do regularly?
  10. Are you a taker or a giver?
  11. Do you ask “what’s in it for me?” or “who/what/where have you called me to serve, Lord?”
  12. Do you enjoy church only for yourself, or do you derive joy from serving God and others?
  13. Do you get upset and think of leaving when things don’t go your way in the church?
  14. Are you following the crowd, or truly being led by the Holy Spirit?
  15. Do you read your Bible? Do you know and abide in the Word?
  16. Are you a hearer and a doer of the Word? Are you applying all you are learning?
  17. Are you one who professes faith with no works to show for it?
  18. Do you only talk Christian but not live Christian?
  19. Are you growing and maturing spiritually?
  20. Are you pursuing a life of holiness by His grace, or presuming upon His grace with a life of compromises and excuses?
  21. Do you love Jesus as King and Lord of your life?
  22. Are you one of the multitude, or are you a disciple of Jesus Christ?
  23. Are you willing to surrender, to yield, to deny yourself, to take up your cross and to follow Jesus?

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.