Few of us will ever have that moment when our faith and character will be tested out in the open, with cameras and millions of people to applaud us. Many will be tested in secret, without anyone watching the choices they make. Some are tested with a plate of food (Esau), others with a woman in a bathing suit (David), and still others with a few gold coins for extra cash (Judas). The real question, however, is not whether you are tested in public or in private. It is whether you will pass or not, whether you are ready to give an answer that will satisfy the Ultimate Judge or just please the crowd.

We are not all beauty queens, and for most of us, our test may not even involve carefully crafted sentences with the right kind of accent. For most people, the test is not about giving sharp answers to a panel of judges but making silent choices in the face of trials on their daily grind where most of the battles of life are either lost or won.

Paul said that the power you have in your life right now IS THE SAME power that God EXERTED to raise Jesus from the dead. Not only that, it is also THE SAME power that He used to put Jesus on the throne, high above all the powers and authority and dominion known to mankind.

When we think of it that way, it can sound so grand but so detached from human experience. But what if I tell you that the verses we read actually tell us that God has heavily invested so much in our lives that we can never afford to be defeated?

Like Captain America.

Contained within his buff body and strong physique is the millions of dollars of scientific research that would probably go to waste if Steve Rogers didn’t begin to use his abilities to win the war. Rogers had the enhanced body, he can do a lot more than what he was doing, he can be a deadly weapon, but what did he do at first? He worked as a clown!

What does nitrogen fixing bacteria have anything to do with discipleship, or Christianity for that matter?

Blame it on my classmate, Leonard “Fessy” Fesalbon, for bringing this up while I was preparing for a discipleship meeting yesterday. In his post at our class FB group, he mentioned “roasted highland legumes” at the same exact moment I was reading Ephesians 1.3. And then pppfff, I saw the connection.

You see, in leguminous plants like soybeans and mongo, there is a kind of symbiotic bacteria that lives in their roots. They are the ones responsible for converting atmospheric nitrogen into nutrient form that would help plants grow. Without these bacteria, nitrogen would just float in the air and is pretty much useless to plants and the soil.

In Ephesians 1.3, Paul said that God the Father blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing IN CHRIST. See the connection yet? Blessings are floating in the air, God put them there before the foundations of the world, they are for us, and they are just waiting to be appropriated to our lives anytime. The only condition is we “break them down into usable form” by faith IN CHRIST.

Pastor Joey Bonifacio once mentioned that part of the reason why God created man on the sixth day and rested on the next is that He wanted Adam to see Him relaxed and approachable right after he opened his eyes. He didn’t want Adam to see Him buried with a thousand inter-galactic chores the first day humanity was awakened to consciousness.

He wanted to sit back, enjoy His creation and make Himself available to man, to walk with him in the garden and enjoy an unhurried friendship with him. Not that He is not available on some other days but to show humanity that He is available for casual conversations and coffee breaks. To set an example to us that resting is actually part of the pattern of life; that amidst the busy lives of endless work to do, there is supposed to be a time to sit down and enjoy the company of the people you love.

The question of using too much humor in victory group meetings has been coming up a lot lately in our coaching sessions. “We are not clowns!” I insisted. But truth be told, I’m probably saying that because I am not the type of person who can crack a joke spontaneously, at least not in colloquial Tagalog. If I was a natural born jokester, I’d probably dislike my own advise.

My problem lies in the fact that whereas I could very well appreciate the place and value of humor in discipleship meetings (namely, to keep us awake), I am also well aware of our natural tendency to amuse ourselves to death if we are left to our own devices. Perhaps we have all seen discipleship groups that are dying precisely because the leaders had the mistaken notion that discipleship is all about fun and laughter. The Word of God and prayer were relegated to the backseat. I believe that somewhere, a line must be drawn. But where?

This is a curious feature of God’s creation, each plant reproducing its own kind. Long before scientists discovered deoxyribonucleic acids (DNA) to dictate the genetic make up of reproducing organisms, God was already at work at nature, ensuring us that His creation doesn’t surprise us with weird mutations.

But more than the biological aspect of creation, God actually gave us one basic principle of discipleship: you reproduce the kind of person you are in the lives of those you disciple. Your spiritual DNA is replicated in the people you lead. The kind of culture you live out in front of them will be the kind of culture that they will pass on to their followers.

Keep watch over yourselves. When you do discipleship, do not forget to take care of your own spiritual life. Don’t you ever buy into the delusion that just because you are fruitful, you are automatically holy. Successful ministry is not measured by numeric indicators. When Christ addressed the seven churches in Revelation, he did not commend the larger churches and rebuked the smaller ones. Instead, he hit at the heart of character, faith, endurance, compromise, idolatry, and immorality.

Be shepherds. Don’t treat your victory group members as statistics to feel good about. They’re humans. They’re flesh and blood who need encouragement, prayers, friendships and a tangible expression of the love of Christ. Shepherd them. Know their names and their stories. Bind their wounds and mend their brokenness. Go to lunch with them and listen to their corny jokes. And while you do this, don’t forget that they’ll know when you’re faking it.

The purpose of the coming together of believers is spiritual impartation and mutual encouragement, not just to entertain one another with funny stories and anecdotes. Amusing your discipleship groupmates has its place in the life of the church but there is a serious business that needs to be done in every meeting- the feeding of the word of God.

Paul longed to see them for the impartation of spiritual gifts. There is power in seeing people face to face. While electronic communication has a role in keeping in touch with one another, don’t forget that there is a warmth that could never be translated into a million pixels.

When you meet, be sure to impart something that could strengthen each other’s spiritual lives. People need encouragement. They need to experience the transforming power of Jesus everyday. Anything less than that drains the life out of them.

Strengthen them. Don’t beat them to death with condemnation and accusing words. Remind yourself that discipleship meetings are supposed to give life, not inflict death. Communicate love and grace and life and freedom and faith and kindness and mercy. Tell them of Christ’s love, not the raging fires of burning sulfur in hell. When the good Samaritan found the traveler that was beaten to death on the side of the road (Luke 10), he didn’t tell him how stupid he was for going that way and for traveling alone. He bandaged his wound and poured oil and wine on it. That is a picture of tenderness and Christ-like love. The good Samaritan didn’t accuse. He treated the victim tenderly. Let’s do that to our victory group buddies.

Random tip for victory group leaders who wish to succeed in their discipleship: turn off your cell phones. Or at least set it to silent mode and don’t touch it again until the meeting is over.

Everyone knows how irritating it is when the person you are talking to stops in the middle of the conversation and starts texting. Aside from the fact that it’s unprofessional, it communicates an unmistakable message that we do not care and that they don’t matter that much to us.

Of course we care. We wouldn’t be there if we didn’t. But no matter how good your intentions are, when your actions say otherwise, that person may never see you again.

Two indelible images in my head today: former pastor Daniel Herrera Sr. coming up the pulpit at Victory Caloocan to preach a sermon with his son, our youth pastor John Paul Herrera. I attended the U-Belt/Caloocan staff meeting for the first time when our leadership team planned this. I thought I already imagined the picture in my head two weeks ago but nothing prepared me for the powerful impact the duo would make when they finally did the sermon today.

Exactly a week ago, Pastor Paul preached about investing our lives in the next generation. Today, his preaching happened right before our eyes. It unfolded in a way we would never have guessed. God, in His amazing sense of timing, spectacularly showed us what investing in the next generation really looks like in the flesh- a graying father sharing the pulpit with his young son.

They’ve got all the right programs, and they’ve got a preacher who can preach the congregation’s socks off, and they’ve got a band that rocks the house, but the average Christian leaves a week-to-week routine of attendance to live a week-to-week routine of … going on with what they go on with.

The church runs well, the money comes in, the money goes out, but discipleship doesn’t happen unless it’s intentional and personal and concrete and developmental and adjustable. But this takes careful planning-like weeks working on a mission statement and set of outcomes, exploring how those outcomes can be achieved, working with people to achieve those outcomes at a personal level, and then assessing both the people and the outcomes to see what needs to be done next.

It is far easier to gather, sing songs, preach and go home.