How I came to faith

I will share some very personal moments about how I came to faith and into ministry. I did not think I would ever do this so publicly on my blog and I don’t know why I’m doing this now… but here it goes.

As a teenager, I was raised an evangelical and attended a small Asian church in Vancouver. I remember wondering to myself in Sunday school class if God was real. The teacher was talking like God was real but I had not yet experienced God for myself.  I said to myself that if God was real, I needed to know more of God.

my first church

That day came.  It was at a Pentecostal summer teen camp somewhere between Calgary and Edmonton, Alberta. I was about 15 years old.  I remember distinctly being filled with the Holy Spirit.  This was my coming to faith in Christ.  This cannot be fully explained or understood using words.  It was a spiritual experience–an existential moment that I will never forget.  God poured his Spirit into this teenage boy.

At summer camp, I witnessed teenagers on their knees.  They were praying.   Seriously praying.  There was no kidding around with them.  No looking down at their Nintendos and pretending to pray.   They were praying like they knew God was real.  I had seen adults praying in church, but never young people like this.  It was the first time I had seen teenagers and young people praying in one large group.  A totally new thing to me.

It caused me to wonder and ponder if I was missing something in my life.  I remember telling God:

“God, if you are real, please make yourself real to me.  I want to know that you are real…that you really exist…and that you care about me.”

I looked up to see if anyone stopped praying.  No one stopped praying.  So I continued to pray and asked God to show me something.  Give me sign that you want to make yourself known to me in a personal way.

Then I began to feel a tingling sensation come over my body. It was like 10,000 volts of electricity. This sensation started in my hands.  It spread to my arms, then covered my entire body.  I was covered with God’s presence and filled to the brim.  It was an electrifying experience–literally.  How can I describe this?  It felt like a warm sensation, like as if I was set on fire.  I now knew that Acts 2 was real.

The summer camp speaker, a pastor, spoke prophetically and authoritatively.  He said that God is here in this place and is making himself real to you.  He can make himself known to you in a variety of ways. That was God’s way of making himself known to me that left me without any doubt about his existence in this universe, and in my life.

I knew then and there that God was real.  He satisfied my doubts, filled me with his love and presence.  I was weeping and sobbing with tears of joy.  I was oblivious to everything else around me because now, it was just me and God… together.  I told God that I would serve him.  I didn’t know how this service would look like though–until many years later.

God gifted me with a real presence that day.  He poured faith into me.  Where I once questioned God’s existence, I no longer doubted. He became very personal and tangible to me.  Simultaneously, I also realized the severity of my own sins, and experienced God’s love and kindness toward me, and of his mercy and forgiveness.

I had already learned all this stuff in church and Sunday school but it had never really sunk in until that day.  The revelation of God culminated in one moment on a single day at church teen camp.

1984 Vancouver CrusadeAnother experience. I was 16 years old when evangelist Rev. Billy Graham came to BC Place Stadium in Vancouver for a series of evangelistic meetings. Each night, he would give an invitation to come down to the front–an old-fashioned evangelical altar call.  I still remember Rev Graham quoting from Matt 10:33, “But whoever denies Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father who is in heaven.”

That was enough to motivate me to want to acknowledge Jesus in front of thousands in the stadium.  I decided to publicly acknowledge Christ. Upon mustering some courage, I walked down to the front. I typify this as is a sort of combined evangelical version of a ‘confession of faith’, plus a personal commitment to walk with Christ.

Later, as a university student, I was baptized in an Alliance church.   I remained engaged in Christian student clubs on campus (e.g., IVCF, Power to Change, etc.).  As a young adult, I continued worshiping at various denominational or non-denominational community churches.

lsa torontoAfter finishing my studies at Regent University, I packed my things and moved to Toronto. I lived there for a number of years and found work in the financial field.

During this time, God led me into lay ministry by using my spare time to serve as a lay-pastoral leader in a small local ethnic Pentecostal church (English-speaking congregation). I did this for almost one year and did not have any expectation of ever being called to ministry.

It was then that I began sensing and contemplating God’s Call.  This experience gave me an idea of what pastoral ministry could be like.  I reassess my life and asked myself if I could do anything for the rest of my life, and money wasn’t a factor, what would I want to do?  My answer: pastoral ministry.

I began to explore the idea of pursuing some theological education in order to prepare myself for the challenges of vocational ministry.  I returned to Saskatchewan.  I began inquiring with seminaries in nearby local provinces.

My parents were attending a small bible study started by a local Lutheran seminarian and I visited the open house at Lutheran Theological Seminary (LTS).  This intern-seminarian also recommended this place.

I prayed that the Lord would show me the way. I had a dream during the night.  In this dream, I saw a white dove perched on top of the letters ‘LTS’. This bird flew off, swirled around a few times, then very quickly, landed under my left arm. It jarred me awake. Both legs shot up. I became fully awake.

7Wl

I asked myself, “Was this a nightmare or a sign from God? If it’s a nightmare, I have nothing to worry about.  But if it is a sign from God, I better pay attention.”

That very next morning, I decided to visit the seminary a second time.  I had some questions to ask. I spoke with one fine professor who cared about ministry (who returned to parish ministry).  After our conversation, he encouraged me to apply and see where it would take me.

awardsThroughout seminary and my discernment process, I had some enlightened ‘aha’ moments and also countless moments of doubt. I asked myself, “Do I belong here? Why don’t I just leave? I don’t know anything about liturgy or theology.”

I was not a born and bred Lutheran.  Most Lutherans are just born into the church and cannot recall a specific point in time when they had an existential spiritual experience in coming to faith.

I do believe that God still gives us signs. God works in different ways in different people.  Some receive subtle signs.  Some are lightening-struck.  God’s calling comes to each of us in different ways and will be different for you.

For me personally, this sign of the white dove was a constant reminder of God’s calling to me. It kept me from veering off the path whenever I had doubts about whether to stay in seminary.

The rest is now history.  I thank the Lord for his direction, and for the guidance I received from God’s servants.

Pentecost: Festival of Harvest (Weeks)

Mexican Pentecost icon
Mexican Pentecost icon

This coming Sunday, May 23rd, marks a very special day in the church calendar: Pentecost Sunday.  The term “Pentecost” comes from the Greek word pentekostos, meaning fiftieth. Fifty days after Passover, Jewish people celebrated Shavuot (also called Festival of  Weeks or Harvest/Reaping (Hebrew: חג השבועות, Ḥag ha-Shavuot) as found in Lev. 23:15–21; Exo. 23:16. Jewish Pentecost became one of the great pilgrimage feasts for the post-exilic Jews.  Diaspora Jews made pilgrimages back to Jerusalem.

For Christians, this celebration of Pentecost has been a long tradition.  It is one of the most important celebrations after Christmas and Easter.  Since about the 2nd century, Christians have since celebrated the coming of the Holy Spirit 50 days after the death and resurrection of Jesus, on the Jewish feast of Pentecost.  This was witnessed or testified by the charisms/charismata being endowed up0n followers of Christ during the Festival of Weeks in Jerusalem.  This day marks the birth of the universal church of Christ on earth and many churches will be celebrating Pentecost Sunday.

Pentecostal and charismatic Christians regard the word “Pentecost” with greater relevance for today because they claim that the gifts (“charismata”) of the Holy Spirit are still being practiced today, and to a greater extent in Asia, Africa, and South America.

Testimonies and claims concerning the charismata (gifts of the Holy Spirit, e.g., Acts 2; 1 Cor. 12) being exercised in the church seem to be less frequent in the northern hemisphere (i.e., North America, Europe) and more frequent in the southern hemisphere.  Why?

Holy Spirit is making disciples of all nations

The Holy Spirit is on the move today.  World missions once flowed out from western nations, but today, world missions is flowing out from southern nations into other southern nations.  Our image of Christianity as a western thing is changing.  The old image of missions and evangelism is also dead.  Our idea of the western world being the place where Christianity goes out from into the rest of the world is now long gone no longer true.  An average Christian is no longer a rich Caucasian person from Europe or North America.  The normal average Christian today can be described as a poor woman or man living in, e.g., West Africa, China or Brazil.

In 2004, there were more Roman Catholic baptisms in the Philippines than in Frances, Spain, Italy and Poland combined.  This is the latest thing that the Vatican obsessed with.  South Korea is already the number one missionary nation in the world.  Korean evangelical-pentecostal missionaries are going forth into all the world preaching and teaching the gospel and are willing to be martyrs for Christ. Western Christianity is dying but global southern Christianity is growing at an astounding rate.  It is like an unstoppable freight train that is roaring through the global southern hemisphere of the world.

Today, the Great Commission is happening in the South where healings and miracles are an integral part of the gospel.   The teachings of Christ cannot be separated from the miraculous acts of Christ. For global south Christians, to minimize the gospel to mere philosophical teaching would be a dishonest and unsound.  “Global south Christianity is a healing movement….global south churches are a healing movement,” says Philip Jenkins.*

Demonic possession in liberal Christianity is minimized to a level of merely psychosomatic illness—but not so for global south Christians.  The Luke 8:26-39 is read as a real historical story because these exorcisms and healings are happening every day in global south churches. This is not only a normal thing happening in pentecostal churches, but this is also a normal in traditional mainline churches, including Anglican, Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian, etc. Countless healings also happening in Roman Catholic masses during the Blessed Sacrament.

Decades ago in the west, no one would have thought that Charismatic type of Christianity would become so dominant. Today, Charismatic-pentecostal Christianity, which recognizes the move of the Holy Spirit’s gifting as a present-day reality, is the 20th century’s number one religious phenomenon.  This is definitely not a passing fad; it is a long-lasting movement that will make an indelible mark on the universal Christian church forever.  The Holy Spirit is on the move today.

* I was inspired to write this post after listening to Dr. Philip Jenkins, professor of history and religion at Pennsylvania State University, and author of the book Next Christendom (2002). He spoke at 2005 National Vineyard Conference (where there are also sessions by Dr. Gordon Fee of Regent College) (Hat Tip: Justin K).

A new wave of the Holy Spirit’s work in the church has emerged

This is my response to the recent posts at InternetMonk.com on the “Coming Evangelical Collapse” (Part 1 and Part 2) and comes as my personal response just after I made my first post (here). I’m sitting here on Sunday night thinking: “Okay, the church seems to be waning” but I ask myself if Christ is still the lord of the church? I believe he is. Michael Spencer may be pessimistic (and perhaps also realistic) about the old-school evangelical church in North America, but I think he may be missing what God is doing around the world. Sorry Michael… but with all this bad news in the decline in evangelicalism, I do not think God is done with the evangelical churches, or even the mainline churches. In fact, I dare say that God will revive the evangelical churches and mainline churches.

Jesus is the Lord of the church and will always be the lord of the church. We humans may try to usurp God but think we can figure him out but God is going to confound us intelligent humans by doing something unintelligible. God will transform his church. Who is to say that the evangelical church that iMonk is speaking of will not change? I believe the Holy Spirit will do his work and move in a new and sovereign way to renew Christ’s church. It will look radically different from the old form. It may be scary to us but not to the new generations of new Christians who will enter this new church that will emerge.

Let’s never forget what God has done throughout the recent history of the church. God used Martin Luther and John Calvin to give birth to the churches of the Reformation (i.e., Lutheran and Reformed). The Holy Spirit used Luther and Calvin because the Pope, and those high up in the ecclesiastical ranks of the Roman Catholic Church, denied certain evangelical truths. (Note: let’s not get hung up on theology at this point, which can be debated until kingdom come). Later, God used evangelical revivalists such as John Wesley, George Whitefield, and Charles Finney to give birth to the evangelical churches because the churches of the Reformation became complacent. Then God used Charles Parham and William J. Seymour to give birth to the pentecostal churches because evangelical churches became complacent. Now God is using new generations of charismatics to give birth to third and fourth generations of Pentecostal-charismatic churches because the first wave of Pentecostalism has become complacent. Each generation of churches have neglected an important aspect of God’s truth and reality so the Holy Spirit has raised up a new generation to include important aspects of God’s truth in his church today. Today, a new wave that has emerged in the charismatic movement is spreading like wildfire around the world. However, God is not ignoring the older church denominations either. I believe God is merciful and will revive the older mainline and evangelical churches. I do not believe that God wants to throw out the old for the new.

While we are seeing a decline in attendance and memberships in many all of the mainline protestant denominations in North America and Europe, the charismatic movement is spreading very rapidly around the world. In fact, it is spreading so fast that we in the western world cannot even begin to keep track of what is happening in the new church around the world. That is where the bulk of the growth is. In fact, the charismatic movement is even giving a re-birth to the old mainline denominations in the developing world (e.g., Lutheran, Reformed-Presbyterian, Methodist, including the Roman Catholic Church). It is through this charismatic revival that the old mainline and evangelical churches are being revived in the developing world through. (Old school theologians may not want to admit to the huge contribution of the charismatic movement but it’s true).

Furthermore, evangelical churches around the world are not dying; they are actually also growing very rapidly. This charismatic revival is reviving the evangelical churches around the world too. Baptist churches around the world are also growing. In fact the number of denominations around the world are increasing every day.

So even though the mainline denominations seem to be in the latter stages of life, and the old-old school evangelical churches (e.g., Baptists) are just entering the latter stage of life, God is reshaping and recreating a new church that will take the place of the old. I am not at all afraid of the future because Jesus Christ is still the lord of the church. Just as old wine is meant to be stored in old wineskins, and new wine is meant to be stored in new wineskins, Christ’s new emerging church will take a new shape and form that we will not recognize. We might be wise to put on our seatbelts and take hold of the handle bars, because God is birthing his church around the world that will surprise the old former Christian world.

Why I am a Christian today

Why am I a Christian today? Luther’s Small Catechism from the Third Article of the Creed answers this one for me.

I believe that by my own understanding or strength I cannot believe in Jesus Christ as my Lord or come to him, but instead the Holy Spirit has called me through the gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, made me holy and kept me in the true faith, just as he calls, gathers, enlightens, and makes holy the whole Christian church on earth and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one common true faith. Daily in this Christian church the Holy Spirit abundantly forgives all sins—mine and those of all believers. On the Last Day the Holy Spirit will raise me and all the dead and will give to me and all believers in Christ eternal life. This is most certainly true.”

This is how I understand the theology behind this. The Holy Spirit unites me to Christ independent of any cooperation from my unrenewed human nature. This means that only God can illuminate my understanding of his word so that I can believe. It is only God who enables me to see God’s excellence and unsurpassing beauty. Due to my human nature, it is impossible for me to come to Christ on my own, no matter how hard I may try. My own hardened resistance and stubbornness wants to do everything on my own without God; but it is only by the power of the Holy Spirit who regenerates me so that I am born again.

Do you believe you came to Christ on your own power? Why are you a Christian today?

Charismatic movement: God’s Spirit on the move today

Recently, Peter Kirk has stepped-up his blogging at Gentle Wisdom about charismatic issues, particularly about Todd Bentley’s ministry; and John Hobbins and David Ker have also blogged a bit about charismatic issues. Perhaps this was sparked by Pentecost Sunday. I’m glad someone is blogging about what is going on around the charismatic world.

Apparently, there is a spiritual revival happening at Lakeland, Florida with Todd Bentley’s ministry, and also in Dudley, England. I’m not familiar with what’s been going on in Dudley, England and Brownsville at Pensacola, Florida, but I have personally been a part of the Toronto Blessing at the Toronto Airport Christian Fellowship. I have also heard Todd Bentley speak and experienced his ministry two times. The charismatic movement has been gaining momentum and is roaring full steam ahead in the world and is making an impact for God’s kingdom. There is a definite spiritual revival. God’s Spirit is leading many people to Christ and into a deeper relationship with Christ.

I recall my own experience with God the Holy Spirit. It was at summer camp at a Pentecostal church during my teenage years when I felt the fire of God flow through me. It was nothing like I had ever experienced before. I felt completely flooded with a joy. As a teenager, I felt for the first time, God’s holiness and my own human sinfulness, both at the same time. It was then that I realized how much of a sinner I was and how much Jesus loved me and how much I needed God’s forgiveness. The bible suddenly became a living reality to me and I no longer read it as a dry history book. I began to devour the word of God and read it with a passion and an understanding that the bible was the inspired word of God. I think this is where I got my passion for God’s word, even today. When I look back, I can say that it was a life changing experience because my faith was much stronger as a result of the infilling of God’s Spirit. The fruits resulting from this baptism by fire were life changing for me. I was transformed into a teenager who had doubts about God’s reality into one who was unashamedly a Christ-follower.

All though I am a charismatic, I am not a follower of the prosperity gospel. I do feel that there is error in this prosperity teaching. Some Christians get blinded by the teaching that God only brings prosperity and that persecution is somehow ungodly and unspiritual. This is a wrong understanding of prosperity and blessing. I believe that God has promised believers blessings but I believe it is blessings of a different type. God’s blessing is an inner blessing, as well as, an external blessing. God’s blessings also come in the midst of happiness and adversity. God’s blessings also come in the midst of joy and persecution for keeping one’s faith in Christ. The early church would have understood this very intimately. The church in revival in Asia and Africa understands God’s blessings but Christians there also understand how it feels to be tortured, ridiculed, and treated unjustly for their faith in Christ.

In spite of some false understanding and theology in the charismatic movement, there is a great moving of the Holy Spirit around the world that is unprecedented. Millions more are being drawn to Christ through the calling of God’s Holy Spirit. The charisms (gifts) of Holy Spirit are being given to believers to edify, strengthen, and bring healing to believers. It is for the extension of the reign of God on earth.

I have wanted to share this aspect of my Christian life publicly on this blog for a long time but did not know how to approach this. I want to thank other biblical bloggers who have blogged about this subject. It has motivated me to make this a more public part of my life.

Living godly lives through law and gospel

On a pastoral note, I wish to blog about law and gospel.

Our biblical and civil laws call us to live holy lives, as separate from the world’s standards of righteousness. The gospel of Jesus tells us that “Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes” (Romans 10:4). As sanctified Christians, we are called by the Lord Jesus and given the gift of the Holy Spirit so that we can live righteous lives. But what does it mean to be sanctified? The word for sanctify or sanctification is not much heard these days but it means we are to be “separate”, “to set apart”, or “a being set apart”. We, as Christians, are called out of this sin-filled world to be God’s children forgiven by God. A godly life is the trait of genuine Christian behaviour.

So how do we live godly and sanctified lives as Christians? Often we try to force others, and even ourselves, to live by God’s law in our civil realm. This may work to a certain extent but it is not the way we are called to live out our Christian faith. Our laws, though established by God, calls us to live righteously in the civil realm (left-hand kingdom), rather than in the spiritual realm (right-hand kingdom). Luther said that God’s left-hand kingdom is established and ordered by God; but it is ruled by power rather than by God’s grace. The law of God is only meant to guide or rule us as “a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our path”.

Without all our human laws and rules, it may seem impossible to live godly and do good works all the time. But the truth is that it is impossible even with all our laws and rules. However, we are blessed that it is God who lives in us who enables us to live in righteousness. If it were not for the grace of God and the Holy Spirit of God, we would never be able to do this on our own strength. The Holy Spirit has made us holy by bringing us to faith in Jesus Christ, redeemed us, forgiven us, and enabled us to lead godly and righteous lives.

Allow Holy Spirit to lead us into his righteousness rather than into human righteousness. The power of the gospel is enough to justify us and sanctify us. God’s Holy Spirit then lives in us to give us new life, transform our lives, energize us, enlighten our understanding, and strengthen our spiritual lives. Then we may be able to live godly Christian lives.