Follow-up & Discipleship

(Continued from previous post)

6) We do encourage people to attend church, read the Bible, pray etc. when they accept Jesus verbally. However, we don’t say what implications there will be in terms of salvation if they don’t do any of that. The way these things are presented, they sound like something good to do rather than absolutely important or critical. These things help to prepare new converts for the trials that they are going to face in v.13-15. Yet this part of the gospel presentation is so brief and almost kind of “after the fact”, as everyone basks in the euphoria of a soul being saved already. And if you are saved once, you are saved forever, right? No matter what happens tomorrow. That’s our assurance.

You pointed out a deficiency in how many churches conduct their discipleship, but assumed that everything needs to be presented upfront or else the gospel presentation is defective. As I indicated in my citing the gospel messages in Acts, the apostles and early church evangelists did not lean heavy on perseverance when presenting the gospel. Instead, they major in proving that Jesus is the Christ, primarily because of the audience’s Jewish background, and repentance.

It’s not that they did not emphasize attending church, reading Scripture, prayer etc. They did:

  • Acts 2:42 They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.

It’s just that these were part of the discipleship training, the follow-up, not loaded into part of the gospel presentation.

As Paul pointed out, the essence of the gospel is:

  • 1 Co 15:1-4 Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,

Perseverance and follow-up are important, but not of first importance. For Paul, it’s first things first, and that means believing in Jesus as the Christ, trusting Him as our Lord and Savior. Discipleship comes next, or else the good news won’t get preached to the end of the earth.

Having said that, nowadays many churches are failing in making disciples of all nations. We emphasize converts, building bigger churches, not making disciples who make disciples. No wonder we are not fulfilling the Great Commission as we should.

(To be continued)

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How God Judges

Q. I’ve known “Christians” whose behaviors do not measure up to what I expect of true believers. Are they saved? How will God judge?

A. I have written on related topics before, and refer you to previous posts:
https://raykliu.wordpress.com/2014/06/21/principles-of-judgment/
https://raykliu.wordpress.com/2014/09/13/seed-on-rocky-ground/
https://raykliu.wordpress.com/2014/10/12/lazy-wicked-servant-2-of-2/

I believe the key test of whether a person is truly saved is fruitfulness. The Lord expected fruit from the Jews:
Lk 13:6-7 And He began telling this parable: “A man had a fig tree which had been planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and did not find any. And he said to the vineyard-keeper, ‘Behold, for three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree without finding any. Cut it down! Why does it even use up the ground?’

And He expected it of His servants:
Mt 25:26-27 “But his master answered and said to him, ‘You wicked, lazy slave, you knew that I reap where I did not sow and gather where I scattered no seed. Then you ought to have put my money in the bank, and on my arrival I would have received my money back with interest.

However, unlike those who hold to “once saved always saved“, I do not believe one act of obedience once in a person’s life guarantees his/her salvation. Nor do I believe one act of disobedience cuts a person off from God’s grace, as the God of the Bible is:
Ex 34:6 The LORD, the LORD God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in loving-kindness and truth;
God is a God of second chances, proven time and again throughout the Bible, but there is a limit and we should not presume on His forbearance.

As I explained in the article on “Principles of Judgment“, I believe God’s judgment is cumulative and based on obedience. That is, God looks at everything in the individual’s lifetime to determine whether he/she is truly obedient. Everything will be taken into account. Nothing will be overlooked. That’s why only God can judge whether your friend is a true believer or not, because only He knows all the thoughts, circumstances, considerations the person went through in acting the way he/she did. We see only the surface, like the tip of the iceberg, and are in no position to judge our fellow-men.

What if a wicked man repents or a righteous man turns bad? Then the principles in Ezekiel 18 apply:
Ezk 18:21-22 But if the wicked man turns from all his sins which he has committed and observes all My statutes and practices justice and righteousness, he shall surely live; he shall not die. All his transgressions which he has committed will not be remembered against him; because of his righteousness which he has practiced, he will live.
• Ezk 18:24 But when a righteous man turns away from his righteousness, commits iniquity and does according to all the abominations that a wicked man does, will he live? All his righteous deeds which he has done will not be remembered for his treachery which he has committed and his sin which he has committed; for them he will die.

That’s why I believe it is the whole pattern of one’s life, not just single acts, that determine whether he lives or dies. God assesses all at the end, taking the beginning, the end, and everything in between into consideration. He bases everything on truth, according to what was done, and does not play favorites. That’s why He is fair and every mouth will be stopped.

One last thing. According to Jesus, our concern should be whether we are following Jesus, not what will happen to others, as all of us will have to give an account of ourselves to God.
Jn 21:21-22 So Peter seeing him said to Jesus, “Lord, and what about this man?” Jesus said to him, “If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow Me!
• Rom 14:4 Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls; and he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.
• Rom 14:12 So then each one of us will give an account of himself to God.

So focus on your own discipleship. Don’t to nosy about what happens to others except to help them.

God’s Training

God's training 1

Q. Everyone talks about discipleship but what should we really be trained in? Evangelism? Leading bible study? Praying? Is there a scriptural curriculum? What is the goal? How do we know whether we’ve done our job?

A. All the subjects you mentioned (witnessing, studying the bible, prayer), along with worship and fellowship should form part of a new believer’s basic follow-up. They contribute to the new Christian’s growth and balanced development. Having said that, the Bible does specify a few things we should be trained for, the process, and the desired end results:

Goals:
2 Sam 22:35 He trains my hands for battle, …
• Psalm 18:34 He trains my hands for battle, …
• Psalm 144:1 Blessed be the LORD, my rock, Who trains my hands for war, And my fingers for battle;
• Hebrews 5:14 But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.
• Hebrews 12:11 All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.

In the OT God trained David for battle. We apply this to NT times and today to spiritual battle, more specifically to discerning good and evil, and training for righteousness. These are particularly important in the last days when people reject the truth and lose their moral compass.

Process:
Proverbs 22:6 Train up a child in the way he should go, even when he is old he will not depart from it.
• 2 Timothy 3:16 All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness;

The training process involves applying God’s word from spiritual infancy. This requires discipline and practice over the long haul. There are no short cuts and quick fixes. The prevalent classroom method is not the best approach. On-the-job training is much more effective.

End-Result:
Luke 6:40 A pupil is not above his teacher; but everyone, after he has been fully trained, will be like his teacher.
The desired end-result is that the disciple will be like his Master Teacher. Conformity to the image of Christ is the standard by which we ought to be measured, not completion of number of courses or obtaining a certificate or diploma. In this sense our job is never done this side of heaven.

Challenges facing Panama’s Chinese Churches

challenge 11

Every church has her challenges, some more than others. For the Chinese churches in Panama, their ministerial fellowship have identified the top 3 as follows:

1. Getting Believers to Worship. Unlike most Chinese in N. America who work in white or blue-collar jobs and get their weekends off, most Chinese in Central & S. America work in small businesses which are open 7 days a week. This creates a problem for C&SA churches in that while it is not difficult to share the gospel and get a confession of faith, it is very hard for the new convert to go to church to be discipled. This challenge is unique to that culture, and N. American programs based on inviting people to come to church to participate do not work.

What’s more, without disciples, there could be no leaders. Which leader would entrust the work of the ministry to immature believers who have not learned the basics of worship, instruction, fellowship and evangelism? So the missionary or pastor end up doing most of the work himself, perpetually feeding spiritual infants with milk. What’s the solution?

At the core, this is a problem of priorities and values. New converts steeped in materialism simply do not see the value of setting aside time to worship God, for to them time is money. To rectify this, the value system needs to be restructured from the physical to spiritual. Now the word can help the spiritual babies grow:
1 Pet 2:2 like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation,

But how do you feed them if they don’t come? There are two alternatives. The first is to find another time for gathering together for worship and training other than Sunday morning. This is the method adopted by restaurant workers fellowship in N. America. Since Sunday is the busiest day for those in food services, they meet on Monday nights instead. Services start at midnight after the restaurants have closed, and run till 2 or 3 am including Sunday school. This is a group method and more efficient.

The other option is to go to the convert’s business to disciple him/her. Most have a slow period during the day with few customers. Instead of the convert watching TV programs streamed from China, the missionary can do bible study with them, slowly shaping their values via God’s word. This is an individual method and takes more time, but probably more effective as the mentor shapes the mentee’s life by example.

2. Reaching the Second Generation. As in N. America, the first generation consists of immigrants, legal or illegal, from China, Taiwan, Hong Kong or elsewhere. They speak Chinese, whether Putonghua (Mandarin), Cantonese or other dialects. Some subsequently obtain permanent resident status. The second generation consists of their children, born locally, and speak English in N. America, or Spanish in C&SA. Generally they are better educated than their parents, but unlike them integrate into mainstream society. If the church does not reach them, she loses her future and dies after the first generation. What do you do to reach the second generation?

God had been gracious to our host Panama Chinese Baptist Church (PCBC). Three years ago, before our friends’ arrival, the second generation was still young, being teens bored with church. Some spoke Chinese at home, but not well enough to understand the biblical vocabulary. The adults’ command of Spanish is sufficient for day-to-day transactions, but not enough to read the Spanish Bible. What to do? Just as N. American Chinese churches develop English ministry for their teenagers, C&SA Chinese churches develop Spanish ministry. The hard way is to develop such capabilities internally. The easier way is to enlist external help.

PCBC solicited the aid of a nearby Spanish Baptist church. They sent four youth workers weekly, and two children’s worker biweekly. With their assistance the Spanish-speaking congregation was built up from scratch to 25-30 youth, many of whom are beyond the children of the first generation, but their friends and classmates. It appears that this approach – working in partnership with Spanish churches – can be gainfully employed by other Chinese churches.

3. Sufficient Offering to Support Pastor. Generally churches worldwide do not pay their pastors enough, compared to jobs requiring equivalent education, experience, and working hours. But this is particularly a challenge for Panama Chinese churches. I don’t know the current salary scale, but a couple of years ago it was US$600 a month. Panama has minimum wage scales for different occupations. For example, for a construction worker working 48 hours/week, the minimum salary is:
$2.72/hour X 48 hours/week X 4.33 weeks/month = US$565.32/month

You can see that the pastor’s salary is barely above minimum wage. No wonder some locally trained pastors quit after a few years, because they can’t earn enough to support their family. A couple running a small convenience store can earn about US$2,000 a month, after costs of goods sold and rent. That’s 3.5 times that of a pastor! The pastor’s salary may have risen by now, and there might be certain expense subsidies such as gas, cell phone etc. But that hardly close the gap. Church members respect their pastors, but somehow this is not reflected in the remuneration. The offering is not sufficient to pay the pastor a decent salary, after rents and utility bills are taken care of.

I believe this is again related to the members’ value system:
1 Tim 5:18 For the Scripture says, “YOU SHALL NOT MUZZLE THE OX WHILE HE IS THRESHING,” and “The laborer is worthy of his wages.”
Once the members’ values are aligned with biblical norms, they will learn not to rob God in tithes and offerings (Mal 3:8). So the solution is in discipling the new believers right from conversion, and over time this problem should resolve itself.

I do not have C&SA pastoral experience, so I may not understand the culture enough to propose solutions. But for now that’s how I see things. Hopefully I’m not too far off the mark.

The Chinese in Panama

Obelisk commemorating 150th anniversary of Chinese in Panama

Obelisk commemorating 150th anniversary of Chinese in Panama

Panama is a small country, with a population of 3.91 million as of 2015, less than that of the Greater Toronto Area (GTA). The Chinese arrived there over 150 years ago, even before the construction of the Panama Canal (France 1881-1894; US 1904-1914). The Chinese population has been estimated at 200-250,000, 5.1-6.4% of the total. The high end of the range includes illegal aliens who smuggled into the country and do not form part of the official statistics. About 95% are Cantonese-Hakka speaking from Huadu (花都).

Ads of Chinese churches in Panama

Ads of Chinese churches in Panama

There are 15 Chinese churches scattered in 8 cities across Panama:
1 Panama City 8, including a house church which did not advertise
2 Colon 1
3 Arajian 1
4 Chorrera 1
5 Penonome 1
6 Chitre 1 + 2 mission stations
7 David 1
8 Changuinola 1
Of these, 5 are Alliance, 8 independent, 1 Evangelical Free, and 1 Baptist.

The number of Chinese Christians was estimated to be only 900 a few years ago, but probably a little more now with many short-term missions in recent years. Still, the average worship attendance for all churches is only 40-50 on any given Sunday (range 20-200), as some believers give priority to their business rather than worship. Discipleship and leadership remain the number 1 challenge among Chinese churches, followed by reaching the second generation, and raising sufficient offering to support their own pastor. With Christians at less than 0.4% of the population, the Chinese remain an unreached people group. Pray that the Lord of the harvest will send out workers to His harvest (Mt 9:38, Lk 10:2).

Altogether 14 ads of Panama Chinese churches

Altogether 14 ads of Panama Chinese churches

Panama STM Vignettes

Our missionary friend helping us to purchase sim card and data plan. He claims he has no language gift, but before he left for the field he enrolled in Spanish classes in four different schools to acquire survival language skills. He continued after arrival and forced himself to communicate with the local people. Now he has a working knowledge of Spanish for daily living. Our hats off to his persistence.

Temperatures are high in Panama throughout the year, ranging from a low of mid 20s Celsius in early morning to low 30s in the afternoon. Humidity is high between 80-90%. There are only two seasons, dry and rainy (Apr to Dec), and when it rains, it pours. Streets are flooded within minutes but the water also subsides fast due to extra-large drains.

One of the challenges for Chinese churches here is to get Christians to attend worship. The culture is such that people value earning money above worshipping God. It’s not hard to invite people to receive Jesus as Savior, but following them up to become disciples present major difficulties. Here the STM team is teaching the local Christians a new song in their weekly fellowship.

Flax Spiritual Lessons

We went to the Maritimes with our friends for a little rest and recreation after our short-term mission, which vacation turned out to be educational as well. For example, at King’s Landing, New Brunswick, we learned a bit of history about early settlers from the British Isles to Canada. The agricultural setting gave us some reminders of biblical truths. For instance, the yoke recalled Jesus’ yoke in Mt 11:29-30, or “unequally yoked” in 2 Co 6:14. And the muzzle brought to mind how we should look after our pastors in 1 Co 9:9 or 1 Tim 5:18.

But a very interesting lesson came from the flax plant. Farmers grow flax for both food and fiber. The plant is pretty with small bluish flowers. The seed is like brown sesame and rich in omega-3. The stem is long like that of rice or wheat. However, it is how the plant is turned into useful products that provided the object lesson. Going back to the old days when most jobs are manual, the mature plant is pulled up by the roots, sun-dried, and the grains removed by threshing. The straw is then retted for up to two months, during which time the sun and the rain produce an enzyme that breaks down the bond between the straw’s outer stalk and the inner fibers.

After retting the outer straw is broken into smaller pieces on a crusher, which is shaped like a paper-cutter except that the edge is not sharp. The “chopper” breaks the stalk but leaves the long fibers intact. The fibers look like long blond hair, and are drawn through a bed of long nails called a hackle or heckle to separate them into strands. The individual strands are then spun on a spindle into threads, which are 2-3 times stronger than cotton, and transferred onto a loom to be woven into cloth.

The preparation process is an analogy to the Christian life. To be useful in God’s hands, Abraham, Jacob and Joseph had to be uprooted for their training. Paul had to suffer beatings (2 Co 6:5; threshing). Retting is soaking flax or hemp in water to soften it and separate the fibers. It is removal of the woody tissues by partial rotting. In the same way, Joseph, Moses and David had to be put on the sideline and wait to learn humility. Heckling resembles afflictions. Paul knew about being afflicted in every way, but not crushed; struck down, but not destroyed (2 Co 4:8-9). Though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day (2 Co 4:16).

Most of us would shy away from any form of suffering, because we have not learned its value. But not Paul, who said in Rom 5:3-4 “but we exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character”. If only we’ve truly learned the theology of suffering, we would have been much better Christians and the Church would have a much greater impact. Pray that all of us would learn to pay the cost of discipleship.

Top - horn yoke; bottom - neck yoke

Top – horn yoke; bottom – neck yoke

Muzzle

Muzzle

 

Flax plant

Flax plant

Flax chopper

Flax chopper

Heckling

Heckling

Spinning into yarn

Spinning into yarn

Weaving into cloth

Weaving into cloth