Sunday, February 23, 2014

The Call To Discipleship

Do you remember these characters from the movies? Here’s Yoda training his padawan Luke Skywalker in the way of the Jedi… “Fear is the path to the dark side… Fear leads to anger… anger leads to hate… Hate leads to suffering. May the Force be with you”. On top right, Mr. Miyagi is father figure to the karate kid. He protects this young boy from a group of bullies and teaches him self defense through daily mundane activities like waxing a car and painting a fence. Wax on. Wax off.  And the last one is Master Shifu teaching Po the panda kungfu using food. A mentor/disciple relationship is a favorite theme in movies… It reflects our own longing to have someone guide and teach us as well as our desire to bring out the best in others.
I’d like to invite you to stand and find a partner. Someone you don’t usually speak to.

Question 1: In what ways, are you a disciple or student learning from someone else? If you are not yet a Christian, you can share: Is there a mentor figure in your life? What have you learnt from that person? If you are a Christian, maybe you can share how has someone discipled you and what you have learnt from this person?
Question 2: In what ways are you a discipler? How have you discipled someone else? How can you help someone grow as a follower of Jesus? Or how have you been a role model or teacher in some ways to someone else?
You can start like this: In what ways am I a disciple? In high school, there were two Sunday School teachers Sister Lai Kum and Sister Poh Yoke who loved Jesus and taught me to pray and to love the Bible. They gave me the first opportunity to stand behind a pulpit and preach to a group of teens in Cantonese. That was around Form 5 or Form 6. It was a horrible experience. I bored everyone to tears. But that was how I learn. Now it’s my turn to try and help young people in our church to read and understand the Bible and encourage them to serve too. Sometimes I still bore them to tears. That’s how I try to disciple someone else now.
OK please spend two minutes each person: Share with your partner in what ways are you a disciple and in what ways are you a discipler?

“16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
Debrief: How many of us have someone who has helped you grow as a Christian? How many people have actually made disciples? Which question is easier to answer? It seems that many of us find it easier to be a disciple than a discipler. As you share, I hope you realize how indebted we are to someone who took the time to disciple and how important it is that we do the same.
Let us turn to Matthew 28: 16-20 at the end of Matthew’s Gospel. The context is after Jesus has completed his ministry on earth, He was betrayed and crucified but raised to life again. He gathered His scattered disciples, encouraged them and sent them out on a mission: The Great Commission…

Imagine the disciples making the journey up the mountain to meet Jesus. It seems like only yesterday when all was despair. Their leader was arrested and killed. But here they were surprised by hope. Jesus has just risen from the grave. He has shown himself to be who he claimed to be – the Son of God. Like what we are doing this morning. A mixed group of followers… some see and worship Him. But some wrestle with doubt. But He didn’t reject any of them. He is big enough for our questions.

And He has defeated the powers of sin and the enemy. All authority in heaven and earth are now with Him. And how we the Malaysian church needs to see that? With all the provocations, Molotov cocktails and false accusations that we hear these few years, when we look at all the possible yet depressing scenarios of how the Allah issue will pan out, we need the confidence and assurance that above all authorities, Jesus is still on his throne. He is king of kings and lord of lords. He is in charge. Therefore… go and make disciples of all nations.

The first command in the Great Commission: Go make disciples. Every Christian knows it by heart. It’s in our SIMPLE DNA. But how many of us are actually, really making disciples in our churches today? I saw a funny Youtube message by Francis Chan this week called “How not to make disciples”. He says something like this: Have you played this game called “Simon says”? Simon says: Pat your head and you pat your head. You do it. Simon says. But it’s so weird that in church today, “Jesus says” is such a different game. When Jesus says something, you don’t have to do it. You just memorize it. You study it and discuss it. Jesus says: Go make disciples. But who are the people that we are discipling today? When I look behind me, is there anyone following? But of course, I memorized the Great Commission. I may even read it in Greek but do I do it? When was the last time I help someone be a disciple?

That’s not just a challenge for Puchong. It’s a challenge that churches around the world are wrestling with. As I talk to friends from various churches, I hear the same refrain: How can we follow Jesus and make disciples? It’s just not happening very much.

Why? There are many reasons but let’s talk about one. For the longest time, we function as if there were two categories of Christians. If you accepted Christ as your Saviour and say the sinner’s prayer, you were saved. You had Christ in your life. You would go to heaven when you died. You attend church, listen to sermon, sing songs, don’t smoke or drink. You are a respectable Christian. But if you were really serious about your faith, you would then commit yourself to spiritual disciplines, radically serve others. You would sacrifice comforts and do serious stuffs like reading the Bible regularly and actively lead others to Christ. If you were really serious about the Christian faith you would become a disciple. Mentoring others is a pastor’s job. Or a covenant group leader’s job. But disciples-making is an optional add-on for ordinary Christians. It’s only for those who are a bit over the top… You have an option.

But there’s something seriously wrong and unbiblical about this understanding. Jesus says: Go make disciples. It’s not optional. He didn’t say: “Go make converts. Or go make consumers. If they are interested, maybe they can move on to be my follower.” As a result of this, we have a kind of flabby, nominal, bare minimum, maintenance mode kind of Christianity where converts never graduate to be a disciple. (Rwanda) But you can’t have Jesus as Savior if he is not also your Lord. Your Master. Yes, we are saved by grace alone, and therefore we do not earn God’s favor through works. But that doesn’t mean that grace is cheap. It doesn’t mean that holiness is optional. It doesn’t mean that discipleship come easy. It takes effort, discipline, sacrifice, counting the cost. It takes dead-serious effort empowered by the Holy Spirit. At the heart of the Christian faith is our relationship with a Christ who says: Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the Gospel will save it. (Mark 8:34-35 NIV)

For some of us here, Jesus is calling you to give up all that you are in exchange for all that He is. You’ve been searching and seeking… but He has already come to seek for you and gave his life for you. And Jesus says: “Let go of what’s holding you and follow me. Learn from me. You can’t find life if you don’t lose it. If you lose a self-absorbed life, you find true life”.

For some of us here, whether you like it or not, you are already a disciple and discipler in some ways. If you really trust in Jesus, you would listen, obey and follow Him. The command to make disciples is not an optional upgrade.

But be careful… If we are a leader, we need to keep in mind that these are not OUR disciples. “Gabriel is my disciple, you cannot talk to him”. We become controlling and possessive. There is only one ultimate Master… one Teacher and that’s Jesus… But He chooses to involve us. So our role is to help people to follow Him by being a follower ourselves. Imitate me as I imitate Christ, Paul says. It takes humility to be a discipler and it takes humility to be a disciple. Your spiritual growth will be forever stunted if your attitude is like I don’t need to learn from anyone. I’m self-sufficient. It’s God and me – I don’t need anyone else. I have my sermon podcasts and books. But that’s not how discipleship works.

So what does the word “disciple” really mean? It basically means a learner, a student. Perhaps a better word is: an apprentice. An apprentice learns a skill, a trade from the master by practicing with him and observing him at work for years. There is close personal relationship.

And you can see this in how Jesus made disciples. He called His disciples so that they might be with Him, to be in a relationship with Him. He instructs them in the way of His kingdom (Sermon on the mount), He corrects and rebukes them when they messed up, He delegates responsibilities to them and sends them out two by two to preach the gospel, He trains them on what to do when they were rejected or when they were well received… then when they returned from their assignment, He debriefed them and rejoiced with them. When a disciple sinned and denied him 3 times, He restored him. He lived with them as they travel and serve people together.

Think about what it means if we are to follow Jesus’ way of making disciples. I’d rather not confront people when they sin. People will not like me very much and I want to be liked. But from Jesus, I realize that I need to create an atmosphere of open, honest feedback giving permission for others to speak the truth in love so that we could help each other grow in Christ.

Community: Baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

The second command in The Great Commision is to “baptize” – this act of being immersed in water signifies us dying to the old way of life and rising again in newness of life. There’s a new priority. It signifies that we give up sin and live in relationship with the Triune God (Father, Son and Spirit). At the heart of God is interpersonal relationship, mutual self giving in the Trinity. Through baptism, we are now incorporated, adopted and grafted into the family of Christ...  into the body of Christ… into the people of God… into the community of disciples. 

Jesus didn’t leave behind an empire or a monument or a book. He chose 12 disciples, invested His time in them and trained and equipped them. It’s no coincidence that he chose twelve persons. The King is reconstituting the people of God (the 12 tribes of Israel) around Himself… They learn the truth and live out the truth together in community. Stanley Hauerwas: God’s truth is credible to the world only when it sees a community shaped by the truth. If the gospel is to be heard, it must also be seen.

But the reverse is also true: You cannot have a community unless you go and reach out to people so that they also know Christ and be baptized in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We are a community that exists by mission, on mission and for mission. We exist for mission for the glory of God and good of the wider world. Not just a holy huddle for its own sake. 

So which is more important? Evangelism or discipleship? But that’s like asking whether the brain is more important than my heart to stay alive. Both tasks are actually one: “Making disciples”. If we grow better Christians they will be concerned about evangelism and disciple others. If we want to be effective in evangelism, we must also help people to grow in character to be more like Christ, fight sin and to serve others.

But there are a million distractions that draw me away from the mission to make disciples. My personal ambition. My desire to be liked and admired. I need a community (fellow travelers in this journey) to keep me focused on the mission. Stay on course. Stay on the mission, David.

You need a community where you can practice giving and receiving love, practice serving and being served by others. You need a community who can correct your blind spots and yet love you in the process. There can be no discipleship apart from relationship with the Trinity and this gathering, this community called the local church.

That’s why we have covenant groups. That’s why it’s key component to our discipleship in CDPC Puchong. There’s learning, Bible study and at the same time, you experience this personal modeling of the Christian faith… you have opportunities to serve and pray others… In principle, we would want everyone to participate and experience what a covenant group life is like. Some of us may feel not ready for that yet and that’s ok. But if you want to go deeper in your walk with God, this is where more meaningful relationship and discipleship happens. In a community.

Third command: Teaching them to obey all I have commanded you

You can’t make disciples by just sitting through a few class room teachings, homilies, lectures, sermon podcasts, take some exams and get a certificate of attendance. Don’t get me wrong. A new believer needs to know how to read the Bible, know basic beliefs of the faith and why they believe what they believe. We desperately need something like adult Sunday school, definitely (The Academy and PTI).

But if that’s all that we do, we miss out on Jesus’ way of teaching. That’s just not how Jesus made disciples. It lacks His focus on relational, hands-on, life-sharing, everyday ministry. Most of the lessons Jesus taught were over the course of ordinary life… at Lazarus’ funeral… at a wedding at Cana… while resting by a well… visiting a tax collector’s home… while traveling on a boat… Lives are changed through relationships. Through modeling a transformed life in everyday circumstances…  

Tyler Dirks… “Map of the world”… Spending time alone with wife… fetching son to school and pray… “Your car” (stewardship) naturally intentional… he would invite neighbors to Halloween gathering at home… planting a church… conversations with students… Teaching what it means to be a disciple.  

If you are a parent, you cannot escape from being a mentor and a discipler. Clearly you are called to disciple your child. And Yoong Zhen is my first responsibility.

Through parenting or a covenant group, we learn to be a spiritual friend… we learn to mentor a disciple. We learn to care, share and dare. It takes intentional effort. It’s time consuming. It’s not very efficient. You can’t mass produce disciples. You invest your life and love in people but you don’t know how they will turn out to be. There is no guarantee you won’t get a disciple like Judas. Making disciples requires transparency. People will come to know your strengths and weaknesses. You can’t maintain a mask of being someone who has it all together.

Why go through all these troubles? Because our goal is not just an informed person but a transformed person who can in turn make disciples. Because if we settle for anything less, we are just playing church and not making disciples. And the cost of non-discipleship is much greater than the cost of discipleship.

It’s not going to be easy, But Jesus promised: Surely I am with you always till the very end of the age. 

As we make “Evangelism. Pastoral care. Growing leaders” our priorities this year, you may think: Oh, the church is on a recruitment drive. We wanna get bigger by setting numerical targets, more programs, events and meetings. That’s not it. Actually, what we want to do is to go deeper… you can only make disciples if you are first a disciple. If we are disciples and care for others to also follow Jesus, then the question of growing bigger takes care of itself. We are more interested in sending disciples into the marketplace as salt and light to make disciples than having more sales targets and marketing gimmicks.

The church exists by mission just as fire exists by burning. Where there is no mission, there is no Church.  It is easy to determine when something is aflame. It will ignite other material. Any fire that does not spread will eventually go out. A fire that does not burn is an oxymoron.

It’s easy to see if we ourselves are following Jesus. The life we have will multiply, reproduce and bear fruit in making other disciples.  We will see that passion rub off on others. Others will catch the fire if we are on fire.

If we make disciples, if we become disciples ourselves, how do we know if we are growing and progressing? What kind of growth are we seeking for? How do we measure growth? When you look into the life of this church, our spiritual growth can show up in all sorts of ways.

Last week, Jacob wrote a beautiful tribute to his mother who has passed away.  Members of the church have come to show support at the funeral. The tribute included an email from Valerie:  "Aunty you will be missed. You were my role model in life. You had given me the encouragement to face all the obstacles in my life. You had made me understand what the real meaning of suffering in life is (Romans 8:18). You have made me understand how important it is to have faith in God no matter what happens. Today because of your testimony I Know who I am in Christ and I know no matter how tough, God will always hold our hands and walk through with us. Thank you for being such a blessing to people around you"

When we look back at the end of a lifetime of discipleship, may we see many testimonies like this of how people come to know Christ more deeply because we step up to serve them. 

Sunday, February 02, 2014

Joseph: Overcoming Sexual Temptations

Sexual temptations come easy these days. I’m sure they have always been around but with virtual dirty chats, porn downloads and livestreaming video feeds, they are much more accessible to more people, more discreet and so much more deadly, isn’t it? And it’s big business too. I came across an online dating website on Facebook recently. It has 21 million members and growing fast. Its niche market is for married people looking to hook up for sexual encounters. The tagline: “Life is short, Have an affair”.

 In the Scripture passage we read a moment ago, we read of a story about sexual temptation, a story of Joseph’s encounter with a desperate housewife. If we back up a little in the story, we read that Joseph was sold as a slave by his brothers for 20 pieces of silver. He ended up in a faraway land, in Egypt, where he worked for Potiphar the captain of Pharaoh’s guards. But God was with him and blessed all that he did. Whatever projects were assigned to him, they were on time, within budget and of such quality that his master was very impressed and put him in charge of everything except his food. We are told that God’s favour was on Joseph and that he was also a good looking young man. “Handsome in form and appearance,” we are told.

Unfortunately that worked to his disadvantage. Because Potiphar’s wife took a liking to him and she tried to seduce him. “Sleep with me,” she offered. She wanted a bit of fun and passion on the side. How bad can that be? But Joseph refused her flat. “Thanks but no thanks. Your husband put me in charge of everything but he didn’t ask me to take care of you. Because you are his wife. Not mine”. And he would be right because sleeping with Potiphar’s wife was never part of his job scope. It would be a breach of trust to his boss.

 But Joseph went beyond that: “How can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?” You see, Joseph could have said, “I’ve been dealt a cruel hand by Fate. I didn’t deserve to be a slave here in Egypt so I deserve this little bit of pleasure.” Or he could have rationalized: “I’m so successful in my career now. My boss will never find out anyway. I’m in charge of everything now. I deserve this pleasure”. Both self-pity and pride would have added fuel to the fire of his temptation. But he saw this choice in a God-centered way. Before adultery is a sin against his boss or his desperate housewife, it’s first and foremost a sin against God himself.

An affair is a betrayal of trust, absolutely. But you cannot commit any sine without first committing the sin of betraying God’s trust, of violating his will, of deriving pleasure apart from Him who is the source of all happiness. And Joseph knew that – How can I sin against heaven? Favour with God and right communion with Him is much better than any sex he was offered. So he refused her not once, not twice… but day after day, as she doesn’t take no for an answer. But one day when nobody’s at home, she caught him by his garment and tried to seduce him again. So he quickly ran away and left his garment in her hand. As the saying goes, “Hell knows no fury like a woman scorned”. With the garment as evidence, she accused Joseph of trying to molest her and her husband got so angry that he kicked Joseph into prison for sexual misconduct. Poor Joseph, he was punished for a shameful crime he did not commit. He suffered for something he did not deserve.

But the Lord was again with him and showed him steadfast love so that he prospered in all that he did even in prison. In the bigger scheme of God’s plan, we can see why He is taking Joseph through this painful route. We can see a huge contrast between Joseph’s life of purity in Egypt and Judah’s sordid family affairs in Canaan (Genesis 38). There are major moral problems in Jacob’s family – his grandsons were marrying pagan Canaanites, they did such wickedness that God had to put them to death. Even Judah the firstborn solicited cult prostitutes. They were becoming like the corrupt culture around them instead of being a blessing to the nations. They are losing their covenant identity. But here in Egypt God is now moving and preserving Joseph’s life in purity, preparing him to be the instrument that will save his family not only from famine but from the spiritual corruption in Canaan that would have wiped out God’s covenant family. Because unlike Judah, Joseph kept his heart pure and God’s favour was with him every step of the way.

So that in the fullness of time, the family line would be preserved from which the Messiah Himself would come. For He too would be sold by his brothers for a few pieces of silver. He too would refuse the lust of the eyes, the flesh and the pride of life for the sake of His Father’s will. He would also be slandered and made to suffer for something He did not deserve. He too was punished for a sin he did not commit. Jesus says: If you look at a woman lustfully, you have already committed adultery with her in your heart. And all of us have fallen short on this score. He died a death on the cross that we deserve so that sexually corrupt and adulterers like you and I could be forgive
n. So that God’s favour and steadfast love could now rest on all who would trust and obey Him as Lord.

 When that happens, everything changes. There’s no room for self-pity because you are unconditionally and dearly loved by God. So much so that He died for you. It costs him everything. There’s no room for pride because all our success is a gift from God who prospered what our hands are working on. It’s His favour. That takes away the fuel that feeds the flame of lust. The problem is not that our desire is too strong. It’s too weak. We settle for far too little. When you embrace this costly love of God, when you see and savour Christ for all He is, you begin to experience the expulsive power of a greater affection, a greater desire that overcomes the lure of sexual temptations.

Picture source is from here