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!

 

A Certain Kind of Family

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(Duco Family, ca. 2006)

Family has always been close to my heart. I was blessed with a beautiful family – one which I can proudly say is of a certain kind. My college-level thesis moved around the concept of family. My prayers for the body of Christ here in GCF South Metro often included families. The family, which we coin as the smallest unit of society, will always take a special portion in my heart.

My Nanay is a homemaker, while my Tatay used to be a seafarer.  My father, Jimmy, passed away back in 1989.  I am the youngest of four children. I have a brother and two sisters. All my siblings currently reside in the United States and have their own families. My brother, Jem, and my sister, Emily, are both Physical Therapists.  Jill, on the other hand, worked as an Occupational Therapist. My mother, Lida, has just recently taken oath as a U.S. citizen. She usually stays with my siblings for a little more than a year, then she flies back to Manila to stay here for a 5-month vacation. This has been our scenario since 2009.

While my heart could not help but rejoice when I remember how blessed I am with my family, I could also say that the Lord has used my own circumstances to humble me in so many levels. Probably, some of you know that I have been denied thrice at the U.S. Embassy. I also missed two job opportunities. With all honesty, I think I will not be used to getting denied of a Visa. There’s a unique kind of pain that comes alongside it every single time. I have failed to go to my two sisters’ weddings, unable to attend children’s parties and most of our holiday celebrations, and incapable of caring for them when a member of the family gets hospitalized. I remember moments of deep pain where I end up with a seemingly blank stare and tears just flowed out of my eyes. Then, I’d keep sobbing and asking the Lord “why”. Why am I here? Why do you keep me here in the Philippines? Why am I in this kind of situation?

 As I paused, prayed and processed, I learned so many things that have helped me press on up to this point. Let me share a few of them for all of us to ponder on:

  • Brokenness is a necessary journey. In Scriptures, we see men and women who went through various episodes of pain, which the Lord has leveraged as opportunities to mold their character. Similarly, the Lord has allowed me to wrestle with Him on the area of family in order to keep me on my knees, to not trust in my own resources, to appreciate the beauty of His calling, to acknowledge that He makes things beautiful in His time, and to utterly look to Him with a posture of humility.
  • To love the family is a daily choice. Our schedules could get very tight and keeping up with the differences in time zones could take its toll, but we need to be intentional in keeping a close connection with family. I keep on reminding myself that intimacy takes time and that love is a deliberate action. Thus, through social media and communication tools, we keep each other updated with what is happening in our lives and share what God is teaching us across the seasons that we all go through. Moments such as these are truly nothing short of amazing.
  • Family is the best starting point for discipleship. While the rest of my family and I are unable to be together as much as we would love to, the Lord has enabled these circumstances to make our hearts grow warmer towards one another. Over the recent years, our family chats, phone calls, and e-mails have evolved into sharing our prayer requests, being authentic with what we think and feel, helping one another navigate through different and difficult transitions, exchanging lessons in ministry, and learning how to wisely deal with the questions that our little children in the family ask, especially queries about God.

My family will never be perfect, but I believe that ours is of a certain kind – only because the Lord is gracious and faithful. If left to my own decision-making, I could have simply grown bitter and resentful because of the circumstances that we are in. However, I have been affirmed that a certain kind of family is one that is anchored on God and His Word, one who loves as how Christ modeled love for us, and one that makes the home as the primary place for discipleship.

The Greatest Identity Crisis

 

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The greatest identity crisis in life does not happen within adolescence nor when we reach a quarter of a century. It is not even upon reaching the age of forty, where most of us say that, “life begins at 40”. This great predicament happens when one claims to fully believe something yet, in our daily grind, lives a kind of life that is contrary to one’s belief system. What happened? Why is there a disconnection? What is actually happening in this great identity crisis? How can this be resolved?

Christians or followers of Jesus Christ are not exempted from this problem. In fact, we must admit that we are one of those most vulnerable to it. Every single day, we are faced with the choice of bending to our own will or cooperating with God’s will. It’s either we compromise or we abide. But is Christianity just about doing the right thing? I believe there’s more to it than simply looking at the outward behavior.

Galatians 2:20-21 is a clear illustration and a clarion call to the kind of identity we should all be putting on as a result of a regenerated, renovated soul – all because of the atoning work of Jesus Christ at the cross of Calvary. In the midst of a depraved world, we ought to be a kind of people who is marked by a new life in Christ where the old self is gone and the new has come. We are to be the kind of disciples who, though not perfect in this lifetime, would toil to surrender to God’s will with utter delight and forsake the old sinful nature with remorseful, repentant hearts. In a nutshell, the kind of life we live should be a reflection of an inward reality: a life redeemed and transformed by the living God.

We have been purchased with such an unimaginable price – at the cost of Jesus’ life. We have been called to such a holy calling, only made possible because of Christ who chose to represent us before the highest court under the judgement of God… and, my friends, He declared us free. Because of Him, we are a new creation.

Hence, today, let’s ask the Lord to scrutinize the inmost recesses of our hearts, and ask: do we abide in God as we claim that we are, or are we living a life in contrast to who we claim to be? May this great disconnection – this great identity crisis – be resolved and be fully surrendered to our Lord who is more than able to transform us from the inside going out!

Looking forward to Saturdays! ;)

Jesus, in His ministry here on earth, called young people to be His disciples.  What amazes me most is that He called and mentored them despite their age, life situation, and their varying temperaments.  In the book of Acts, even the religious leaders witnessed the life-changing impact that Jesus Christ created in these people.

“Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus.”  (Acts 4:13)

Even in the Old Testament, Daniel and his three friends are noteworthy examples of young people who lived out uncompromising faith and that of fervent prayer.

“When Daniel knew that the document had been signed, he went to his house where he had windows in his upper chamber open toward Jerusalem. He got down on his knees three times a day and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as he had done previously.” (Daniel 6:10)

Could you just imagine if our youths shared the same passion and commitment for the Lord?  What an exciting vision, isn’t it?

Two months ago, our core team composed of nine young men and women began to be on our knees to seek God’s direction for our youth ministry here in GCF South Metro.  Over time, He impressed in our hearts the need to be more intentional about building relationships with their peers and their families, to go deeper into God’s Word, to make prayer a priority, and be more focused in making Christ-committed disciples.  Now, the big challenge left for us is, how are we going to start?

Thus, we are enjoining all the high school and college students to attend our regular SATURDAY YOUTH FELLOWSHIPWe will launch this on August 18, 4:00–5:30 P.M, at the YDT Center.  In these gatherings, we will study the Word, worship God together, and experience the joy of being in the company of fellow young people!  Of course, everyone’s welcome to join!

Please feel free to approach our team at the lobby outside the worship hall, and sign-up!  For more information, you can get in touch with me at 0917.805.0531 or via e-mail at mike.duco@gcfsouthmetro.org.

A Prayer of Dependence on Independence Day

Pardon me for the abrupt lengthy silence. I yearned to write for the longest time, but I opted to wait.  I believe I just had to wait. I was at a period of restlessness since the month of March up until May — a span of time wherein I totally wrestled with the Lord.  And gradually… He shunned my doubts, silenced my fears, and relieved the intense anxiety.

 
I was only able to slowly overcome the struggle, not because I was good enough. Instead, I guess was merely honest enough to express my need to depend on the Lord.  My restlessness only turned to a phase of rest, when I said “yes” to God and let loose the nets I’ve tightly held on to (cf. Luke 5:1-11).

 
“Teach me your way, O  Lord, and I will walk in your truth; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name.” (Ps. 86:11 BNIV)

 
This passage I meditated on last night, I believe, sums up what I’ve been desperately asking the Lord to teach me these past few months. Despite my seemingly sad tone, I’m actually excited to share further and could probably write on tonight just to clarify the context.  But I’ll reserve my stories in the coming days and weeks. Bear with me some more.

 
For now, I just need to take a break and to contemplate on this new direction that God has set before me.  If you may (especially if you’re one of my friends), please include me in your prayers. Pray that I would simply delight in the Lord and joyfully obey Him with an undivided heart. Just like what King David prayed for in Psalm 86.

 
Thank you and God bless you, my dear friends! Expect to hear more from me soon. 🙂

Consumer vs. Follower

About two weeks ago, I was listening to one of North Point Community Church’s sermon podcasts while going to work.  Andy Stanley (NPCC’s senior pastor) gave a very timely message/sermon on being a follower of Jesus. If you’ve read my blog posts in the past, you’d probably observe by now that discipleship is really, really close to my heart.

Anyway, going back to the said podcast’s point, what’s even interesting to note there was how Andy highlighted the fact that a lot of those who claim to believe in Jesus may sadly fall more into the category of being consumers rather than followers.

So, here’s a question for you. What is a consumer?  The lexical definition of the term is a “person who purchases goods and services for personal use.” To put it in a church/religious context, you may say that more and more people want to be associated with Jesus because of the “benefits” that come along with having a relationship with Him.

“Could that even be possible?” You might wonder.  “Isn’t that too harsh?”

Well, I believe that is possible, because I used to think that way too. I could take myself as an example. I guess my life would be the best evidence that I could give as of the moment.  Here are just some things I used to embrace:

  1. I prayed to God because I need to pass an exam or rush a requirement.
  2. I used to go to church only on my birthdays to lay down a “wish list” for the coming year.
  3. I told God that I’d follow Him as long as He’s in agreement with my plans and ambitions.
  4. I pledged to serve Him.  But to go on a mission trip or share the Gospel to a stranger? Hmm… Maybe next time – when I’m ready.
  5. I asked Jesus to come into my life to give me inward peace and to save me from going to hell.

Peace. Good results. Healthy family. Financial provisions. Smooth “love life”. Heaven.

Let’s think about the abovementioned items first.

Are they inherently bad? OF COURSE NOT.

Are they legitimate desires? YES.

Should they be at the top of our priority list? NO. (Pardon me for being straightforward.)

At this point, let’s check Luke 14: 25-27 (ESV).

Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.”

A while ago, we described what a consumer is. Now, we’re going to clarify what a follower is.

To follow Jesus means you have to seriously put Him on top of all things.  Based from the passage, it doesn’t outright mean that you have to hate those you hold dear.  It simply means we ought to love Him – follow Him – to the point that all else will just fall second.

Yes, the gift of salvation is free.  But it only begins there, because the cost of being a God-follower (a disciple) is extremely high.  Here, you would know that salvation involve a change of status (from sinner to being a child of God), an infusion of new life, a change of heart, a change of mind, and a progressive pursuit towards Christlikeness.

Nothing mystical occurred.  Yet everything just transformed when I started to grasp this profound truth.

Taking a peek using God’s spiritual lens, I gradually understood that following God would involve so much risk and would not exempt me from deep hurt. Furthermore, to be a follower is not equivalent to a pain-free life.  But… But!  But to daily decide to follow Jesus (my personal Lord and Savior) gives me inexplicable joy, drives me to love others like He does, and creates in me a deep inward anticipation of the glory that awaits me at the end of my earthly journey.

I realized that I don’t want to miss the whole point.  Now, I can only reckon that my relationship with Him far outweighs all the treasures, all the glory, all the light momentary trials I’m experiencing and will be experiencing in the years to come.

I chose and will forever choose to be follower, by God’s grace.  I follow Him because He first loved me.

I want to challenge your thinking, friends.

Are you consumer? Or, are you a follower?

*You may view Andy Stanley’s message here – http://www.northpoint.org/messages/trading-up

Mentored people mentor. Discipled people disciple.

This afternoon, I got to spend quality time with my mentor (or discipler) at a coffee shop in Alabang. His name’s Allan Santos, our youth and young professionals pastor at Greenhills Christian Fellowship South Metro. It was only until this September that we started meeting in a “discipleship/mentoring” setting. I have had two other mentors in the past, namely, BJ Villanueva and Don Guico. They, too, are faithful pastors. Let me clarify at this point that it was not my intention at all to look for pastors as my mentors. (Haha!) They’re God’s blessings to my life, and forever will I be grateful for these men.

I am not writing to lead you to a conclusion that I will be a pastor in the future. (Though, like I’d always say, I’m quite open to that if God wills it to happen.) I’m neither writing to narrate their faith stories, for that may take countless hours to formulate. But my desire’s to impart my joy of having a solid few to stand with me, be it in my “Golden Age” or in my darkest hour.

In having such people, I learned what transparency, accountability, and what disciple-making meant. The guys I mentioned above (plus, my other friends who have influenced me in the most profound ways) are like living epistles unfolding before my very eyes. The written Word of God becomes more real, alive when you see people take their faith into action. And, I am overwhelmed by the presence of these inspiring faith-walkers.

(I literally got goosebumps as I wrote that part. I simply am amazed by God’s work!)

Now, forgive me for suddenly taking my writing’s intensity a notch higher, but I want you to face these two facts of life.

Point A: It’s easy to brag about what we have achieved, what we own, and everything else that’s positive.

Yet, Point B: It was never easy to expose our brokenness and our rottenness.

Would you agree?

But, you see, my mentors took the extra mile to hear me out… as I am. They embraced my life’s points A and B. They were never perfect people (nor they will ever be), but they stood firmly with me no matter what. These guys prayed hard. They likewise counseled… listened… rebuked… rejoiced… provided… affirmed… challenged… laughed…. pushed…celebrated… pushed some more… corrected… and loved me regardless who I am. Regardless who I was. It did not stop there, however.

They loved me too much they just could not leave me stagnant in my life-faith journey. They helped me correct my failures and encouraged me to leverage on my strengths. Above all, my mentors intentionally pointed me back to the Cross whatever the circumstances at hand be.

Call me “cheesy.” But, truth is, I never meant to sugar-coat all these stuff. Again, I’m just here to honestly impart my joy through writing.

In one of Bill Hybels’ books, I remember him sharing that people hardly change (for the better) because of living unexamined lives. I believe that’s true. And, I believe we need mentors who can help us in the processes of examination and of being transformed in conformity to the likeness of our Maker.

I thank the Lord for I have a mentor now. In fact, my heart’s desire is that I would always have one even if I’m way beyond the retirement age. And at present, I am also mentoring a chosen few whom I pray would do the same for others. (In fact, by the Lord’s grace, some of them already are mentoring/discipling other people!)

So, let me ask you just a few more questions and throw in a couple of challenges before I end. Have you been praying for a person to mentor/disciple you? Or, have you been praying for somebody that you could be so honest with? If none, then I urge you to pray and seek one.

For those currently being mentored, I challenge you to step out in faith and begin making disciples. Seek the Lord’s direction and boldly live out His Great Commission. Maybe it’s time to pass the baton.

To be a disciple (mentee) and a disciple-maker (mentor) must be two of the most important decisions I made in my life. Never will I regret these decisions; and eternally will they remain my joy.