Back to Basics: Reflections on Discipleship

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More than a week ago, I had the privilege to sit down with the very first person I shared the Gospel with. His name is Jake, one my best friends. I also had the blessing of discipling this brother, even if I was only a one-year-old Christian then. We were both in our junior year in High School when we began our discipleship journey. To date, Jake is a manager at a renowned company, a happily married man and they have a wonderful baby girl.

In my heart of hearts, I was overwhelmed by God’s grace and was floored by the beauty of His redemptive work in people’s lives. Our initial exchange of jokes about our High School experiences gradually turned into a mood of quiet contemplation as we surveyed God’s hand over the terrain of our lives in recent years. That short yet sweet reunion made me think deeply about my perspectives on discipleship. I am not perfect, but by God’s mercies, I have learned a lot.

Thus, today, I would love to share with you a few reflections that I hope would help firm up our philosophy of discipleship. I believe these points are not exhaustive yet fundamental – simple yet non-negotiable.

First, we must ask ourselves: What is “discipleship”?

Scriptures teach us that a disciple is a pupil or follower of Jesus Christ. Discipleship, on the other hand, is the life-long process in which we, in personal obedience to God and not to people, grow into the likeness of Jesus Christ. This is done through dependence on God who is at work in us through His Spirit to will and to do according to His good purpose and for His glory.  (Luke 14:25-33; Philippians 2:12-13; John 15:8; Ephesians 3:14-19)

 What then is “disciple-making”?

I believe that disciple-making is, and must always be, the main mission of the Church. It is the intentional process of reproducing Christ-like disciples who will do the same for others. It is anchored upon Jesus’ mandate (the Great Commission) and is motivated by our love for God and others (the Great Commandment). The Great Commandment and the Great Commission must never be divorced. (Matthew 28:18-20, 22:37-40; 1 Corinthians 11:1; 2 Timothy 2:2)

 Why do we need to make disciples today?

  1. It is a mandate for all believers/followers of Jesus Christ.
  2. It is a humble privilege to take part in God’s redemptive mission.
  3. It is an opportunity to make a lasting impact to the following generations.

 What are other practical benefits of disciple-making?

  1. The focus of the church becomes simple. We learn to be sensitive to what the Lord wants to prioritize. We allocate our energies to the things that truly matter.
  2. When there are movements of disciple-making happen, more people are reached and transformed by the Gospel.
  3. God-focused leaders, Growth Groups and churches are intentionally reproduced.

What helpful reminders do we need to constantly embrace in this disciple-making journey?

  1. We begin with the end in mind – following Jesus and multiplying Christ-like disciples.
  2. We start discipling others by building authentic relationships with a small number of people.
  3. We help each other deepen in our relationship with the Lord through disciplined study of Scriptures, fervent prayer, and in mutual accountability.
  4. We grow wide in impact by mentoring our disciples on how to disciple others.
  5. We must remember that all these are done through the empowerment of the Holy Spirit.

Again, I believe the abovementioned points are not meant to be exhaustive yet fundamental – simple yet non-negotiable. For that is exactly the point: we need to constantly get in touch with the basics of a biblical kind of discipleship so that we will not get lost along the way. We will go through pains and heartaches, but all these are part of the necessary journey.

The disciple-making journey can only succeed when we abide in Christ, and our comfort is this: the God who called us is always with us. Let us press on, Church. Just like the Apostle Paul in Philippians 1:6, “I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” Press on!

 

2 Ordinary People. 5 Lessons Each. 5 Years of Friendship.

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(At the bottom photo are Yang’s beloved parents, whom I highly respect: Tito Jack and Tita Minet. This was taken after we sought their blessing and affirmation to enter into a relationship.)

Within less than 24 hours, I did not have to “boost an ad” on Facebook (which was never our intention, by the way) to get such undeserved response, encouragement and affirmation from people across our circles.

Thus, on Yang’s behalf, we give our sincerest thanks to everyone who prayed with us and shared their kind words of blessings in this journey we are starting. While we are yet at that early stage of being “boyfriend” and “girlfriend”, I think it is good to pause, reflect and share a few principles that we have learned from the Lord and what we have been affirmed of, so far, as we seek His leading.

Below, you will find 5 lessons from me and another set of 5 lessons from Yang. The number five (5) essentially represents the number of years of our friendship. You would notice that our  writing styles are quite different, so bear with us a bit more as we share our hearts to you.

As a mentor-preacher, I try to keep things concise and my thoughts alliterated. So here are my two cents.

  1. Keep Christ at the very core — always!
  2. Keep a solid friendship as the bedrock.
  3. Keep a lifetime commitment (i.e. marriage, family) as the end goal.
  4. Keep “pushing” and “sharpening” one another towards his/her unique God-ordained calling.
  5. Keep yourselves connected to godly authoritative structures (i.e. family, church, leaders, accountability partners) where you can glean wise counsel.

Yang, being a doctor on the other hand, is able to articulate herself well in greater detail. Let’s learn from her.  

  1. Honor God. — Do not get into something that would decrease your appetite for His Word or presence.  If it does, that’s not His will.
  2. Wait. — God makes all things beautiful in HIS time, so wait on His timing.  Do not let love unravel until it so desires.
  3. Guard your heart. — For women, don’t fall for an “I love you” not backed up with marriage as an end-goal.
  4. Love. — Do not base love on butterflies in the stomach, pulses racing, or giddy feelings.  It is a decision to always place another’s highest good first.  We can, only because Jesus did it first.
  5. Strive for everyday purity. — Psalm 119:9-11 says, “How can a young man keep his way pure?  By guarding it according to your word. With my whole heart I seek you; let me not wander from your commandments! I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.”

While the lists we wrote here are not meant to be exhaustive, we share them out of a grateful heart, cheerful heart and… a hopeful heart.

By the Lord’s grace, we hope that we can be a good testimony to this generation and the next ones — to become a kind of people and foster a kind of relationship marked by Christ-like love, purity, joy, faith and a firm desire to honor God.

At the appropriate time, we shall share more of our story to you. But for now, we humbly seek your prayers as we grow in this God-ordained relationship — all for the sake of Christ and all for His renown!

Oh, may our Lord bless you and keep you, our dearest friends!

Living the “Now” with the “End” in Mind

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READ: Matthew 24:1-14

“And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.” (v. 13)

When we look at an epitaph, we see two dates.  The first is when a person was born, while the other is the date of one’ death. We often neglect, however, the short dash that exists between these two. The dash represents one’s life experiences and everything that comes along with it – the pain, the victories and the list goes on.  When you reflect on it a little more, and it would make the living breathing person ask: How’s my life? How am I living it? Where is my life headed to? What is really happening in my life?

The disciples inquired of Jesus about the things to come, and their dear Rabbi brought a heart-wrenching, faith-stretching news. Jesus shared about the birth pains that will occur before His return – wars, calamities, rise of false teachers, tribulation, and struggling with people who will continually reject the Gospel. Yet, when we look at vv. 13-14, we know there will always be hope for us who endure.

What, then, should we do with our own “dashes” in life? While we live and breathe, we press on in this race that the Lord has laid before us. The Lord began a good work in us and He will finish what He has started. We may suffer at the present, but Christ is our blessed hope. We may tremble today, but Jesus has been calling us to take heart for He has overcome the world!

  • For personal reflection, ask these questions: How’s my life? How am I living it? Where is my life headed to? What is really happening in my life?
  • While we anticipate Jesus Christ’s return, what are we doing at the present that contributes to our growth in our walk with Him? What areas do I need to improve on? Write some steps on your personal journal that we can take so we can grow deeper in our relationship with our Lord.

On Rootedness, Fruitfulness and Everything In-Between

 

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What we are so concerned about is a reflection of who we are. Your “fruit” defines your “root”. Your “root” determines your “fruit”. Then we take it some steps further and deeper, and we realize that “who” we are is much rooted in “whose” you are. Are we mastered by our Lord Jesus Christ, or are we led by another?

John 15 is a clarion call for the church of Christ to abide in Him – and only in Him. Jesus is the vine, the Father is the vinedresser, and we are the branches. Just as a branch cannot live apart from the vine, we are unable to do anything good apart from abiding in Christ. In being rooted in Him can we bear fruit. And in order to bear more fruit, we need to go through the process of pruning. Thus, we might want to further wrestle with this question: Why do we need to go through the pruning? I find two critical reasons.

  1. While we live and breathe, God is not finished with us yet. He is doing something in us every single day — until Christ is formed in us!
  2. It is a necessary journey in order for us to bear fruit — hence, glorify God!

Bearing fruit in God’s name is a mark of a genuine Christ follower. In John 15, we are given a better understanding of what kind of fruit God is looking for within us. Allow me to share five of my observations found in the life of a fruit-bearing disciple:

  1. A life marked by surrender to God’s will
  2. A life marked by obedience to God’s commands
  3. A life marked by intimacy with God
  4. A life marked by love for others
  5. A life marked by the “putting on” of the character of Jesus Christ (cf. Galatians 5, on “fruit of the Holy Spirit”)

Though these points are not fully exhaustive, I pray that this would lead us to an unhurried theological reflection towards a transformed life. Take it to heart that rootedness in Christ leads to fruitfulness for Him!

Refined Like Gold

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Reading: Job 22-27

“Behold, I go forward, but he is not there, and backward, but I do not perceive him; on the left hand when he is working, I do not behold him; he turns to the right hand, but I do not see him. But he knows the way that I take; when he has tried me, I shall come out as gold.” (Job 23:8-10)

Life often runs like a busy and noisy workshop. When unguarded, it is easy to fall into the trap of going through the motions. If we keep ourselves busy at a steadily increasing pace, we should not be surprised when, one day, we find out that our hearts have already strayed from the Lord.

God may be invisible, but he is not detached from us. In fact, our Creator longs to be in close fellowship with his created beings. Though unseen, he is never indifferent. Though silent, he always cares. Yet similar to the adverse effects of a hurried life, our troubles have a way of numbing our senses from perceiving God’s movement in our lives.

We must then shift our focus from the tension towards God’s intention. When we go through our faith-stretching moments, I believe it is wise for us to pause, reflect and prayerfully wrestle with these questions:

  1. Where is God is my situation? What is He doing?
  2. What is God teaching me? What does He want me to learn and do?
  3. Considering my answers to the previous questions, how must I respond?

Like gold refined through a furnace, God also refines us through the circumstances we face every single day. But admittedly, this is never an easy task. We must be quick to come to prayer, to seek God and his Word, and to be with people who are willing to carry the burden with us.

May we all become more sensitive to God as we meditate on Scripture today.

After Silence… Hope.

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The silent years that bridged the gap between Old and New Testaments must have been excruciatingly difficult. Those who’ve long waited for the Messiah might have already asked, “will He still come to save us?”… That I can only guess. Yet as we open the Gospels, we are reminded that what seemed silent to man was not at all silent in God’s perspective. Above all, He did not forget His promises. God worked throughout world history. Believe it or not, I believe the Roman roads and the Greeks’ affinity towards education were part of His master plan. His sovereignty was displayed in the midst of the “400 years of silence”.

Then after centuries of waiting, the seemingly deafening silence was broken by the voice of one crying in the wilderness (cf. Mark 1:2-3). His name was John the Baptist – a man known for his unusual appearance, eating habits, and boldness! This caught the attention of the religious people, so they inquired, “Are you Elijah? Are you the Prophet? Who are you?” Then he humbly replied, “I am not… I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said. I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know, even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie”.

God’s purpose for John was clear. He humbly came to usher in the entrance of Jesus Christ, the Savior of this broken world. John both had a proper view of his calling and a high view of the King he wholeheartedly served. He placed his trust on the promise-keeping God, while the vast majority might have been losing faith. He chose to point to the light while darkness seemed to have covered the earth. Insignificant as John may seem, I find myself deeply grateful while reflecting on what Scripture says about him. Through him, a bright ray of hope was ignited through the testimony of this man who served as the Messiah’s forerunner, which the Old Testament has foretold.

Because of John the Baptist, I am convinced that nothing could ever silence the Living Word (cf. John 1:1-5). God is real, and God is faithful. In Him, we can always have hope.

Single-minded. Laser-sharp focus. No. 1 spot.

The second day of 2013 has been swift, with majority of my time being spent in front of my laptop.  I checked the next two items on my to-do list, and both were something related to budget and schedules.

At this point, I knew I had to pause a bit before I could move forward.  I’ve been reading and writing during the past couple of hours and the next items on my list required more thought, I justified.

I took a shower, dressed up, and went back to my workstation here at our house.  I opened my bible and started where I ended last night. I read Philippians 3, and placed special attention starting from half of verse 4 until the 11th:

“If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.”

I breathed heavily. Then, I asked the Lord, “What do You want me to learn today?”

Single-minded. Laser-sharp focus. At the heart of this passage, Paul’s life was centered on this huge goal:  knowing Jesus Christ.  For him, it wasn’t just another “New Year’s Resolution” or an item in his list of “faith goals”.  His pursuit of knowing Christ was the only fulcrum to which every other detail revolved around.  His relationship with Jesus fell at the No. 1 spot, while everything else fell second.  No amount of achievement, credential, or any form of self-righteousness could match this very special relationship that Paul has with His Lord and Redeemer.

With my heart pierced, I leaned back on my chair and could only pray for the very same attitude that Paul had.

I wondered, if we would place all our plans and desires to an irreducible minimum, how would we state it in a few words?  Will we find Jesus in the equation?

Like in the case of Paul, is knowing God more our pursuit? I hope you’d time to think about it; and may God minister to you in a very special way as we ask Him to examine our lives.

Take it from the Psalmist ;)

I guess everybody wants to start their day right. But… the question is how?

Below, you could see how the psalmist exhorts all of us to live each day with an attitude of giving thanks to the Lord.

“Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth!
Serve the LORD with gladness!
Come into his presence with singing!

Know that the LORD, he is God!
It is he who made us, and we are his;
we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving,
and his courts with praise!

Give thanks to him; bless his name!
For the LORD is good;
his steadfast love endures forever,
and his faithfulness to all generations”

– Psalm 100 (ESV)

Imagine when, morning by morning, we take these words to heart.

Perhaps, even if things would not always go as how we desire them to happen, we can always find reason to rejoice for.. “the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations”.

Have a joy-filled day, friends!

Day 1: Refuge and Fortress

June 15, 2012.  Friday.

At 7:30 A.M, I left the house going towards a place, which I know would be the start of the journey I’ve began praying for since December of 2007.

It was quite a “wrestling match” with the Lord.  No audience involved. No referee.  Just me and Him.  It was never easy coming up with the decision to work not in a clinic, a hospital, or do “home health”.  This time, by God’s grace and mercy, the Lord called me to serve Him full-time in a local church as part of their pastoral staff.

Anxiety, anticipation, fear and joy – a strange concoction of such feelings crept in as I stationed myself inside my cubicle.  I honestly don’t know where to start.  Even if I’ve been in the ministry (as a volunteer) for more than eleven years now, everything just seemed different.  Everything’s new.  I was only left with one thing to do. I grabbed my bible while whispering a prayer to God, uttering words like these:

“Father, please speak to me.  Affirm me today.  I’m scared, but I know You have called me by name. I really need You.”

The passage assigned for me to meditate on that day was Psalm 91, which I want to share with you here. It’s a little long, but I enjoin you to read along and contemplate on the words of the psalmist.

My Refuge and My Fortress

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High

will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.

I will say to the LORD, “My refuge and my fortress,

my God, in whom I trust.”

For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler

and from the deadly pestilence.

He will cover you with his pinions,

and under his wings you will find refuge;

his faithfulness is a shield and buckler.

You will not fear the terror of the night,

nor the arrow that flies by day,

nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness,

nor the destruction that wastes at noonday.

A thousand may fall at your side,

ten thousand at your right hand,

but it will not come near you.

You will only look with your eyes

and see the recompense of the wicked.

Because you have made the LORD your dwelling place—

the Most High, who is my refuge—

no evil shall be allowed to befall you,

no plague come near your tent.

For he will command his angels concerning you

to guard you in all your ways.

On their hands they will bear you up,

lest you strike your foot against a stone.

You will tread on the lion and the adder;

the young lion and the serpent you will trample underfoot.

“Because he holds fast to me in love, I will deliver him;

I will protect him, because he knows my name.

When he calls to me, I will answer him;

I will be with him in trouble;

I will rescue him and honor him.

With long life I will satisfy him

and show him my salvation.”

Today’s the 17th and I can already feel both the fulfillment and the tension in this phase of transition.  It’s difficult.

But no amount of fear nor difficulty could surpass the peace that the Lord gives – especially when you know that it is God who calls us.  Furthermore, we can remain confident that He shall provide us with whatever we will need to accomplish His agenda.  It may be hard to believe, but it’s true.  (Oh, what a great God we serve, right?)

My prayer for you today is that your heart would burn as you open God’s Word, just like the people at the road to Emmaus.  May God meet with you wherever you are and in whatever situation that you may be.

I pray that you would be refreshed with the truth that He alone is our refuge and our fortress, which we can always trust!

Right Words at the Right Time

Since the start of the year, the Lord has been bringing me to an entirely new level of “faith stretching” (a term I’ve been learning to deeply love and appreciate, by the way). It’s so painful, yet the joy of knowing Him more is utterly incomparable.

By God’s grace, I’m in a process of learning to yield to His will, not mine (though I’ve still got a long way to go).  And tonight, as I press on in the midst of struggles, this psalm spoke to me in a way I’ve never experienced before.

I am left floored by how perfect God’s timing is. Like a very dear friend, He surely has a “knack” of saying the right words at the right time. I’m just thankful for how He ministered to me this evening.

So whether you’re experiencing victory or you are in a posture of pain, may Psalm 46 bring profound encouragement to your heart. 🙂

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God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.

Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way,

though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea,

though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling.

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,

the holy habitation of the Most High.

God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved;

God will help her when morning dawns.

The nations rage, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts.

The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Come, behold the works of the LORD, how he has brought desolations on the earth.

He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the bow and shatters the spear; he burns the chariots with fire.

“Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!”

The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.