Monday, November 10, 2014

What does God say about SUCCESS?

Success is a great goal. There are many promises of God that reminds us that our Heavenly Father loves to see His children do well.

The promise to Joshua as he takes on the new role of a leader to lead God's people into the Promised Land is an often quoted passage:

(Joshua 1:7-8) 7 Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. 8 Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.

But interestingly, when I do a search in all 33 different Bibles available in my computer software, the word "success" appears only in the Old Testament and none in the New Testament. In the NIV(1984), it appeared 36 times in the OT, and like I say, none in the NT.

Instead the NT (NIV1984) has a lot to say about these few words:
Fruit (or fruitful) - 54 times
Faith (or faithfulness, faithful) - 302 times
Humble (or other variations) - 28 times
Win - 12 times (11x in the context of evangelism - winning people, and 1x "win" about the prize in the context of heaven.)

God seems to ignore the word "success" and redefine it in the context of our life in fruitfulness, faithfulness and humility. In our success crazy world, successes are defined within our self-centred intention of personal goals for our benefits and recognition. In some sense we are reminded that we came with nothing and we will go off with nothing. 1 Tim 6:7 "For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it." The only prize we will carry with us from our earthly life are the souls of people we have influenced and everything we do "successfully" is always for the sake of the Gospel and the prize of heaven, and never just for ourselves. That's why we are stewards of the things we have and we never really own them.

1 Cor 10:31 So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. 
Col 3:17 And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. 
Col 3:23-24 23 Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, 24 since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.

Therefore we need to put "successes" within the context of the Lordship of Christ in our lives. Martyn Llyod-Jones put it aptly on his comments about Apostle Paul's "thorn in his flesh."

“It is very DIFFICULT to be HUMBLE if you are always SUCCESSFUL, so GOD CHASTISES us with FAILURE (so to speak) at times in order to HUMBLE us, to keep us in a STATE of HUMILITY.” 

In that sense, God said very little about "success!" He is more concern about other things, especially our inner life, character and service to others.

2 Cor 12:7-10
7 To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 

Friday, August 22, 2014

Blessed Birthday to My Wife!

Today is my wife's birthday and I have always felt that I am the most blessed man on earth to be married to her. I am bias of course, and what husband would not be if he feels he is truly blessed!

Proverbs 18:22 He who finds a wife finds what is good and receives favor from the LORD. 

So today, I have the privilege to declare one more time my undying love (until the day I die that is!) for her and if I have to go back in time, I would still make the same decision to marry her and I hope she feels the same. :) I love her as my wife and best friend, as the mother of my three boys and most of all a beloved child of our Heavenly Father.

Once, while preparing for a sermon about impactful living and the life skills that we need to have, I asked her how she would preach it. She said it is all about relating to others and she would preach her 3-point sermon this way.

1. The person you are talking to is not you. (People don’t think like you.)
2. There’s always two sides to a coin. - (Listen. Don't be too quick to talk.)
3. Love your neighbor as yourself. – (Treat others the way you would have them treat you.)

What wisdom that comes out from someone ad lib. It is just part of her life and that's why I am blessed!

I thought the best tribute, of the many messages she received today, is this one from a fellow cell member of the same name:

Happy Birthday Aunty Stella! Thanks for showing us that a woman can be authoritative yet gentle, to be admired instead of feared, respectable yet approachable. Thanks for showing with your life the wisdom of submission and how beautiful that makes of a woman and her family. May God continue to shine through your deeds and bless your family. Have a blast!

I rest my case! Blessed Birthday My Dear!

Monday, July 28, 2014

Why God Gives Us Families

Families form the basic building blocks of any society. For that matter, the Christian families are basic building blocks of the Church. Sociological research had affirmed the direct correlation on the positive impact made by healthy families to society and to the nation. In an interesting interview, Lee Kuan Yew, a former prime minister of Singapore, argued that after thousands of years of dynastic upheaval, the family is the only institution left to sustain Chinese culture. It embodies a set of virtues—“learning and scholarship and hard work and thrift and deferment of present enjoyment for future gain”—which, he said, underpins Asia's economic success. He feared that the collapse of the family, if it ever happened, would be the main threat to Singapore's success. (The Economist Aug 2011)

This is where the tacit influence of the Church can often come through building godly families and extending the love of Christ to our communities and nation. The importance of this cannot be underrated because these blocks set the forth the ultimate health conditions of our society and nation. Much of the problems of societies today can be traced directly to this basic building block.

So why did God create the institution of marriage and family? One thing we know for certain is that God loves people and His command was to be fruitful and multiply (Genesis 1:28). We are then to take charge and be responsible over the earth. This requires us to exercise creative stewardship of God’s creation, caring for and building up what God has created. This also means we need responsible people from one generation to another who understand this mandate.

So each family within a clan, a tribe and a race, under the rule of God, should be reproducing godly offspring, fulfilling this mandate for generations to come. Who then are the primary educators of the family? Interestingly as we go back in history, the families, vis-à-vis the parents, or more precisely the fathers, have always played that role, and not any governmental or non-governmental institution. Deuteronomy 6:4-9 sets forth a template how that can be done in a family.

Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates. (Dt 6:4–9)

Before the industrial revolution of the 18th century, fathers passed on their trade skills to their adolescent sons, guiding them through apprenticeship into manhood. Whatever that needs to be taught and modelled happened primarily in the home. The industrial revolution created a need for classrooms and schools due to the demands for manpower in the industry for both parents. Kids left at home were also eventually picked up by Christians concerned about their spiritual well-being thus creating the first Sunday School. Over time, the primary role of educating was relegated to governments and churches.

In a nutshell, the role of families is to produce godly offspring. It is a self-replicating system with God and His Word as the absolute standard. The family provides a consistent and safe environment for nurture, discipline, training and instruction of the Lord to take place (Ephesians 6:4). The family trains us to be loving and caring unconditionally. “Blood is thicker than water” is an apt saying in a sense that family should be the last bastion for refuge in a world gone wrong. Even in the worst of situations, home will always be home. Discipleship takes place first at home before anything else. No wonder Apostle Paul said in 1 Timothy 3:5 “If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?” The proof of the pudding is in the home, of a man’s leadership capacity for the church. This is an interesting insight to suggest that the family is the starting point. 

Ravi Zachariah, a noted apologist said “Marriage and family is a base for ministry to one another, not self-indulgence, but a greater platform for good. If marriage doesn’t make you a better person, don’t get married.” It is within the family that we learn not to be self-centered. All our life before marriage was about me, myself and I. I have often said in jest that if you think you are a kind, wonderful and patient person, try getting married and it will prove you wrong. If you still think you are after marriage, try being a parent. It’s a humbling experience. That I conclude is why God gives us children, to teach us to be more Christlike.

We learn love and forgiveness in the midst of our individual flaws among family members. As spouses and parents, we train ourselves at home to be responsible for others and not just be self-serving or narcissistic. As children, we learn to obey and honour our parents, rightly projecting the idea of honour to those in authority when we grow up.

Fathers play a crucial role in the life of their sons as they are the representation of God in their relationship with Him. They build their confidence, prepare them spiritually and socially for the real world and give them insights into the world of men. Sons learn about what it means to be a responsible man, husband and father. Adolescent daughters also need their fathers’ affirmation that they are beautiful and loved. Their choice of future partners and satisfaction in marriage often hinges on their relationship with their fathers.

These are modelled day in and out. When one is trained and instructed well in the home, it is not difficult to guess the kind of people walking into the community who are positive influencers. As Christians, they bring the love of Christ into the broken world. The starting point is the home which provides a daily training ground for about two decades.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Post LEAD2014 Conference Reflection - To Be In Order To Do

I shared (as the stage chairperson) at the closing of the conference that reflection is paramount and needful for our own spiritual growth and if we do not take time to reflect after the conference, it is merely a good conference but no life change. I believe and have often gotten the congregation to recite at the beginning of my sermons this; "This is my Bible. It is the Word of God. It informs my mind, inspires my heart and instructs my behavior. So help me God!"

Stella and I had just come back from a quiet retreat the weekend earlier just to pray and seek the Lord as to our own transition in one and a half year's time. We wanted to ask the Lord what is one word that would describe how we would want to see the Church to be. To come up with one word (amongst the hours of conversations and prayers) after a weekend retreat may not be something to shout about but it was very important for us at least because it will shape our thoughts and decisions as we move forward.

The word that the Lord gave us was "Christlikeness" and one of characteristics (among many others) was that we will learn to be kind to one another in the House of God. I was much influenced by my Quiet Time a few days before that about the qualities of a Christian leader. 2 Timothy 2:24 (NIV) And the Lord's servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful.

Christlikeness will lead us to be kind to each other, and hence to love each other, which will be a very attractive option to those outside: John 13:35 By this all men will know that you are my disciplies, if you love one another. 

At the first session when Pr Peter Tan-chi spoke about the goal of discipleship, he unequivocally states that it is Christlikeness. This may not be thunder and lightning to most, but for me to have that word just 4 days ago was a God defining moment for me. (I had goose bumps!) The conference ended with the idea of fruitfulness. Hence the importance of the right sequence: To be in order to do, and not to do in order to be. Simply put, we need to disciple Christians to be Christlike and they will naturally in response to the Christ who is in them do Christlike things.I believe this is about learning to live in the grace and sabbatical rest of the Lord. The Jewish day starts at 6 pm, meaning we sleep first before we work in the day. God is already at work when I am sleeping and when I wake up, I merely reap what God had already done. This is true restedness in God! Not that there is no hard work and discipline, but it simply means I learn not to strive in what I do because it is God's work!

Friday, April 18, 2014

Some Reflections on Current Water Rationing: How's Your Reserve Tank?

It is strange while in the bathroom just now during the two days when water the water came back on, a few thoughts came to mind how this rationing exercise had shaped some of my habits with regards to water. For those not in the know, the western coast of peninsular Malaysia is facing a dry spell, and the water dam level is at a critical stage. The predicted prolonged dry spell may continue and the authorities decided that water rationing would be the prudent thing to do. Hence what was started as a month long exercise in March, with an alternate two days on and two days off cycle, is now extended for another month. If the situation does not improve, this may continue beyond April.
The Sungei Selangor Dam in a photograph taken on 31 March 2014. The low water level at the dam has been caused by a dry spell that has hit the country.

What is interesting in my behaviour modifications is that I find myself saving water even when the water is full on. The hidden water reserve tank above the house, unnoticed and unimportant during times of plenty, suddenly becomes an all consuming concern with the question: "How long will it last?" The ubiquitous pail is in every bathroom during the dry spell and I am ever careful how that pail of water is being used. Instead of a full flush of the cistern, I now use the water from the pail, with an incessant desire to use water to the minimal. While lathering the shampoo into my hair, I turn off the water and no longer allows the shower to run without any definite purpose. I have even learnt how to bath with a pail of water by doing everything at one go! You know the drift here.

Behaviour modification comes when there is a lack of resources, like money or time. Here are my spiritual reflections:

1. Be careful and purposeful in how we use the resources we have. It is a gift from God. When there is plenty, we handle them carelessly and without thoughts at times. We are called to be conscious of our environment as the stewards of God-given resources in our land. The right ethical and biblical response through this is that we are to be conservationist and environmentalist at heart and practice in that sense.

2. There is a definite capacity to our human resources we have in terms of time, energy and finance. No one has more than 24 hours. Therefore planning is important. Why is it that some people can do so much more than others? No one can go beyond the number of calories his body can sustain. Therefore rest and recreation is important. Even for a wealthy man, his financial resources is limited. He can be a bankrupt in a blink of an eye when he is not careful. Therefore prudence and wise investment is a necessity.

3. The importance of the reserve tank comes to the fore in the times of lack. One man found out that his reserve tank doesn't last more than a day and upon checking by climbing up to the roof for the very first time, he discovered two things. First, the float did not work well, thus reducing the capacity of the tank to less than half. Secondly, the tank is full of filthy sediments due to lack of proper cleaning and maintenance since they moved in. Some time back, I had climbed up to the roof to clean my water tank and discovered that my neighbour's tank was half covered as the lid had detached itself and full of green slimy mould at the side. I informed my neighbour of it. 

It is time to climb up again. We usually do not think of our spiritual, relational, emotional, intellectual and physical reserve tanks until we hit a crisis. It will be horrifying to discover that it is almost empty and there are not much reserves left. Reserves are built over time with care and planning. Like making regular time with God and people who are important in our lives. They are the ones who will be the most important in our times of need. Great emotional and mental health allows us to handle challenging situations and I had often said that the real man shows up in times of crisis. Whether he has what it takes will be demonstrated then. Right eating and exercises build up a healthy body to last the distance. 

I am reminded of what Jesus said about our hearts: Luke 6:45 “The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.” We need to store what is good into our hearts because out of that will be the fruits of our lives. Often we revel in the big things and forget that the daily routines are the vital building blocks that will be the foundation of things to come.

Spiritually, feeding on the Word of God and prayer is of paramount importance to spiritual health and the constant use of spiritual gifts builds up our inner man. (For e.g. Hebrews 5:14 But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.) 

As the clich√© goes "When the going gets tough, the tough gets going." What if you are not tough when the going gets tough? How's your reserve tank?

Friday, March 21, 2014

My Reflection on MH370

It's almost two weeks since the disappearance of MH370 and our hearts and prayers go out to those suffering through the anxieties of not knowing exactly what happened and the fate of those missing. I wrote this article in DUMC's latest issue of Floodgates magazine as a reflection.
Ending Well by Pr Chris Kam (Issue 79 of Floodgates magazine)

In my last year’s article entitled “The Future is Now”, this was what I wrote: James 4:14 ‘What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.’ I was reminded that life is short and whatever we do, for most things, we have only one shot at doing it right and the consequences, good or bad will have a rippling effect for years to come, not only on us but affecting many others as well.”

The buzz around the world while writing this is the tragic disappearance of flight MH370. It has certainly been much on our minds and prayers. What saddens our hearts even more is that amongst the victims of this tragedy are people that we know. The feeling of helplessness can only drive us to our knees to intercede for those who are missing and for their family members whose greatest anxiety is that of not knowing what exactly happened and their whereabouts. Apart from coming alongside to provide comfort and help where we can, the next best thing we can do during this time is to reflect upon our own lives and how we should live it better as we ponder the elephant in the room, of our own earthly mortality and its brevity. It is not a question of “if” but “when” and this certainly reminds us to cherish our loved ones and be certain of why we are here. The greatest good we can do is not to leave behind a trail of brokenness but the glory and grace of God in our lives and others.

Just last weekend, a young man in his early twenties, came forward for prayer at the end of our church celebrations. He asked me whether there is something wrong with him because he kept thinking about death, but not in a suicidal way. While a morbid subject, I assured him that Apostle Paul himself thought about his death often. I die every day. (1 Cor 15:31a) What Paul meant was that he no longer lives only for himself but every day he becomes closer to God by doing God’s will and not his own. He is also referring to the daily possibility of martyrdom.

Hence it is a reminder that we are living on borrowed time and that life is a gift. It is not a question of how long but how well. I followed a plan set forth in my early thirties by asking this question. “What will my funeral be like?” For many, it was strange to think about death at such an early age. But it was not a joke. I was thinking about death seriously. Not that I was flippant about life and death, but rather by thinking about how my life will end, I can live my life intentionally from that point on so that I can end it the way I envisioned it.

Do not get me wrong. It is not about me. John the Baptist succinctly puts it: “He must become greater; I must become less.” (John 3:30 NIV) or in ESV “He must increase, but I must decrease.” It is about living responsibly and intentionally so that through our lives, His grace may be prominent. I thought about what people would think of me at my funeral? Would I be leaving a trail of broken lives? Or would I leave behind a legacy of transformed lives centred in Christ? Will I be history or will I be a history maker?

While working through my funeral program, I wrote down what I would like my wife and sons to say about me. Those eventually include my closest relatives, some friends, colleagues and even our domestic helper. Of course I am not suggesting that it is my desire to have them speak publicly these things about me. It would not matter anyway as I would already be in the Presence of the Lord! However, if these are what I wish their thoughts will be at the point of my departure, I need to live out that kind of live henceforth. I don’t know how else to be more intentional and purposeful than that.

It is a strange exercise 20 years ago but as I look back now, I thank God that He prompted me to do what I did. I did “die every day” and I echoed the heart of Apostle Paul which desires to be with the Lord but willing to stay for the sake of the Gospel (2 Corinthians 5:8). I finally understood why he wrote what he wrote in 2 Timothy 4:6-8, 6For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure. 7I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.”

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Cohesive Family through Truth & Faithfulness

Scriptural Text: Ephesians 5:15 - 6:4
Preached at DUMC 15/16 March 2014 by Pr Chris Kam
The state of marriage today in Malaysia

The national rate of divorce in 2012 was 26%
The propostion of Muslim divorces is about double that of non-Muslims

1. Biblical Theology of Marriage and the Family

The permanency of marriage.

Mark 10:6-9 “But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.’ 7 ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, 8 and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one. 9 Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.” 

2. Biblical Template for the family

Biblical pattern for marriage:

Ephesians 5:21-33 
a. Wives, submit to your husband as to the Lord (v22-24)
23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. 

b. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself for her (v25-28) 26 to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. 28 In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.

Ephesians 6:1-4
c. Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. 2 “Honor your father and mother”—which is the first commandment with a promise— 3 “that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.” (v1-3) 

Luke 2:51-52 51 Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But his mother treasured all these things in her heart. 52 And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.

d. Fathers, do not exasperate our children, instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord. (v4) 

The Roles and Responsibilities in a Household according to Scripture
Love your wife*
Eph. 5:25
Provide for family, children
2 Cor. 12:14
Ensure proper nurture and discipline
Eph. 6:4; Col. 3:21; Heb. 12:6
Submit to your husband*
Eph. 5:22
Raising of children, motherhood
1 Tim 2:15
Managing the home
1 Tim. 5:14
Obedience to parents
Eph. 6:1-3; Col. 3:20
Care for parents in old age
1 Tim. 5:8

God, Marriage, and Family: Rebuilding the Biblical Foundation
By: Andreas J. Kostenberger,David W. Jones
* Added by author of blog

Click here for detail of book.


Ephesians 5:25

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her
2 Corinthians 12:14

Now I am ready to visit you for the third time, and I will not be a burden to you, because what I want is not your possessions but you. After all, children should not have to save up for their parents, but parents for their children.
Ephesians 6:4

Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.
Colossians 3:21

Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged.
Hebrews 12:6

because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.”
Ephesians 5:22

Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord.

1 Timothy 2:15

But women will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.
1 Timothy 5:14

So I counsel younger widows to marry, to have children, to manage their homes and to give the enemy no opportunity for slander.

Ephesians 6:1–3

1 Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. 2 “Honor your father and mother”—which is the first commandment with a promise— 3 “that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.”
Colossians 3:20

Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord.
1 Timothy 5:8

If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.

The foundation of a cohesive family must be built therefore through: 
TRUTH – Biblical truth rooted in scripture about our roles in marriage
FAITHFULNESS – Faithfulness rooted in scripture about the permanency of marriage and family.

3. Biblical Transformation through the Family

How do we build a cohesive family? I want to suggest an IDEA.

Eph 6:4 Bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord





Luke 3:22 and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” 

3 things our children need to hear from us. 
I love you (Affection), 
I am proud of you (Acceptance
You are good in what you do (Affirmation). 

Appreciation to all our super mothers! Here is one who can do 10 things at one time:
Emily Lee - mother to Maya and wife to Paul Sebastian

To the singles looking for a life partner:
If you want to get married, you must make sure your marriage will give you a greater love for the Lord, the things of the Lord, a greater prospect of ministry. If not stay single. ~ Josh McDowell

Don't take your family for granted. Appreciate them in a creative way this week.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Fifth Commandment Children

On the final days of 2013, my wife and I reflected over dinner how our year had been. We reflected on our marriage, family, ministries and personal lives.

The 5th century BC philosopher Socrates said that “The unexamined life is not worth living.”  Slowing down enough to reflect is a luxury for most and for that matter, we have lost the art self-reflection entirely. In fact for some, being quiet with oneself is unnerving, if not downright awkward. Maybe we are trying to avoid condemning ourselves for not doing enough. But if we don’t, by default we are perpetuating annually that holy discontent in each of us to live our life responsibly. Maybe others simply want to take time to just regain a certain measure of sanity in life by doing nothing at all.

The call for self-examination is also a common exhortation in the Bible. “What is your life? You are mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” (James 4:14) We are to do that regularly at Holy Communion: “A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup.” (1 Cor 11:28) We pray the words of the Psalmist “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.” (Ps 139:22). We are to heed the call of godly men: “Let us examine our ways and test them, and let us return to the Lord.” (Lamentation 3:40) “But if we judged ourselves, we would not come under judgment.” (1 Cor 11:31)

In our evaluation of our family, let me share a thought. We do recognise that we are often quite harsh with our children, sometimes to the point of not being objective in our assessment of them. We need to also praise them for what they have done well, not just being corrected for what they did not. In fact, I think we should do more of the former.

If we look at the Ten Commandments, also known as the Decalogue, the first four have to do with our vertical relationship with God. The next six are related to human relationships and interactions. Interestingly, the remaining six biblical principles of the Decalogue on our horizontal relationship with others, honoring our parents was mentioned first. 

“Honor your father and your mother, as the Lord your God has commanded you, so that you may live long and that it may go well with you in the land the Lord your God is giving you." (Deut. 5:16)

It seems to suggest that training a child to honor his parents has a long term effect for good, not just for the parents (obviously) but also for the child. It pleases God as well. If we unpack this further, we can confidently conclude that should we want to see how well a person will do in life, watch how he honors his parents. This has major implications in the way we parent our children. Often we look at the tangible successes of wealth, status and power, but we forget that these are not the things that bring significance, fulfilment and contentment in a person’s life. If that is so, we should see more of that in famous, wealthy and powerful people. But the truth is that we read about their downsides every day on the news.

Personally I have counselled many parents over the years grieving helplessly over their wayward adult children. Parents in their golden years are meant to enjoy the well-deserved honor and respect bestowed upon them by their children, but sadly the opposite is true. Maybe in our quest to do the best we can for them in what we think they want, we forget to train them in what they need. If children are to be trained to honor and respect their parents from young, where clear boundaries of discipline and relationship are drawn, the effect is far-reaching beyond their family. When the fifth commandment is taught well, there would not be a problem with the rest of the five horizontal commandments. It would have a backwash effect on the earlier vertical commandments of honoring God in their lives too.

We see the wisdom of God here that the root and foundation of a well lived godly life often starts in the home where our children spend the first 20 years of their lives in. As my wife and I reflect on our three boys, we ask ourselves the same questions, now that they are slowly one by one leaving the nest into the world: “Will they do well in life? Are they fifth commandment children?” If they are, it gives us a glimpse of what their life will be like, including our children’s children. Candidly among them, they have already discussed what role they will play in taking care of us when we are in our golden years. Ian will make sure we go on our holidays. Shaun will pay for our utility bills and Ashton offers to have us live with him. Not that we will tie them to it but Stella and I smile amusingly at their bantering but we have a glimpse of their hearts for us. This we know pleases the Lord. 

Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.  (Pr 22:6)

Friday, November 29, 2013

Guardians or Fathers?

I have been surveying young adults with this question: “Is there someone in your life, someone older and wiser spiritually, whom you can turn to for godly counsel and advice?” Only one out of ten say they have one. I would presume from that answer they cannot even go to their parents, especially their fathers, for such a need. It saddens my heart that young people are left on their own to figure out what to do in life, or via their peers or the google. While they may have information at their fingertips, yet what they lack is the wisdom learned through experiences, hard knocks and spiritual maturity. Why should they repeat the same mistakes that others further down the journey had committed? Or on a positive note, take the route of successes?

It is clear from Scriptures that God is concern that history doesn’t repeat itself. Romans 15:4 “For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” 1 Corinthians 10:11 “These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come.” But our stubborn and sinful hearts are foolish enough often to ignore the wisdom that is already there, not just in the Bible, but also in older people who have “eaten more salt then we have eaten rice”. That is the beauty of generations and there should be no reason why any generation cannot do better than the previous one in terms of their moral influence and social impact.

There seems to be an invisible barrier. Sociologists have termed this as the generational gap and our Enemy relishes that fact. But it was never God’s design. We observe in Deuteronomy 6:4-9 that the family is central to God’s redemptive plan. He is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, a clear affirmation of passing on of one’s birthright and heritage from one generation to the next. This is very much a relational model of the Jewish family, where the Shema is regularly recited. Certainly the spirit of this command is not merely a ritual that one goes through, but the deliberate connecting of hearts of the fathers to their children when they talked about the commandments of God in their daily living. In this fast pace society, we can understand the problems of tired fathers, who are present but not really present. One man shared honestly at a Men Alive! meeting: “We give our best at work and by the time we reach home, we are at our worst.” The fathers’ role is now limited to be a financial provider and disciplinarian of last resort. Mother-child relationship became central and fathers are peripheral. 

A child is more likely to see God as his Father if he sees God in his own father. Ken Canfield, author of “The 7 Secrets of Effective Fathers”, used this metaphor: “We are fathers like God is a father. We are walking object lessons to our children on who God is.” Malachi’s last words in the Old Testament were that the Elijah would come and “He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers.” (Malachi 4:6) When God unites the hearts of the fathers to their children, and vice versa, we are not merely talking about restoring the rightful authority the fathers have over their children, but the rightful relational ties with each other. Through that, generations thereafter will have a right understanding of who God is and right theology determines right behavior in fathering our children and showing them the way to have a personal relation with God.

My heart’s desire is to see intergenerational discipling starting first and foremost in the family. If discipling does not take place in the home, it will not take place in the church because the family unit is a microcosm of the wider Body. Fathers need to recognize that they are not merely legal guardians of their children. Every man can be a biological father, but not every man knows how to be a spiritual and godly one. Apostle Paul repeatedly extols the need to father the Body of Christ. 1 Cor 4:15-17 "Even though you have ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel. Therefore I urge you to imitate me." (The “guardian” in this context is a slave tutor in a Roman family that supervises the child.) Fathers need to be spiritual. 1 John 2:12-14 sets the path of spiritual development for everyone to grow from a child to a father. The fathers in our midst know the heart of God intimately and live out a life desiring the pleasure of God. He models the same to his children. I believe this fathering and discipling mandate is first given to biological fathers and then to other older men and women in partnership within the Church to disciple the younger ones. 

In our Christian Church, not only do we have the biological family, we are blessed with a wider body of a spiritual family. The Christian faith is not just an individual faith. There is every indication especially by Apostle Paul to remind us that we are part of the Body (1 Cor 12:12-31; 27-31; Rom 12:4-5). So we do affect one another for the better or for the worse! “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Gen 4:9) was the first disastrous effect of the sin of murder. Sin kills the family bond. We who are older and more mature must take the responsibilities of discipling younger people and training them to be godly parents some day.

The command given in the New Testament to bring up our children “in the training and instruction of the Lord” is given to fathers, although it certainly is applicable to mothers as well. Fathers are singled out and the implication is that one day the Lord will single us out too when we are asked about our children. It is not good enough to provide for them by giving them the fish. Teach them to fish so that they are well equipped spiritually not just to be good people, but to exemplify a transformed Christ-centered life!