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2. Step by Step to Regeneration

Chapter 2

Step by Step to Regeneration

Thank you, Lord, for saving my soul,
Thank you, Lord, for making me whole;
Thank you, Lord, for giving to me
Thy great salvation so rich and free.

— From the hymn, Thank You, Lord

Then Lord Jesus said,
“Ask, and it shall be given to you;
Seek, and you shall find;
Knock, and it shall be opened to you.”

— Matthew 7:7

Count God’s blessings

God provides abundant blessings; and through trials and testing, I am continually refined. Every time I face test­ing, no matter how tough the going or how helpless the situation, God’s grace is always sufficient to tri­umph over obstacles. Even now, as a ser­vant of God, I am constantly being refined and molded by God according to His likeness. I would like to share with you my many exper­iences of God, and I hope that they will encourage you to pursue after Him.

In the last chapter, I described the agony of facing unem­ploy­ment shortly after my marriage. The next sharing is from a different chapter in my life, and highlights some of God’s work in me during my stay in Toronto.

I must say that during the first few months in Toronto, we had received so many blessings from the Lord that we simply took them for granted. Our wishful thinking and our biggest dreams became a reality right before our eyes. For example, it was expen­sive to rent an apartment, and we worried about finding a place within our budget. But God heard us and gave us a nice apartment. He also heard my prayers on other matters.

My wife was a fresh nursing graduate, and it was difficult for her to find a suitable job in Ontario. There were no hos­pitals near where we lived. If she finds a job, she would most likely do shift work and travel a long way to work. It would be laborious to say the least. I wished that she could find a regular 9-to-5 job next to my office so that we could start our days together. We submitted our dream to God and miracu­lously it came true! It was like what God promised:

Isaiah 65:24 It will come to pass that before they call, I will answer; and while they are still speaking, I will hear.

Be honest and faithful, and flee from greed

When the job offer in Toronto was confirmed, we had to ter­m­inate our apartment lease in Montreal. However, the lease had not yet expired. Ac­cording to the rental agreement, there is a penalty of three months’ rent for terminating the lease pre­ma­turely. The company in Toronto agreed to pay the penalty. However, just before our move, a friend called me and wanted to take over the lease. But I had already ac­cepted from my new employer the money to cover the pen­alty. So I came up with a shrewd idea: The company’s pay­ment would be given to the real estate agent and my friend would pay me rent for the three months. It sounded like a good deal to me, and it was a tempta­tion I succumbed to.

The cost of living was higher in Toronto than in Mont­real, but my sal­ary remained the same. The deal with my friend was too tempting to refuse. It meant an extra thou­sand dollars for us and we were tight on money. Further­more, since nothing was on paper, the company wouldn’t find out. However, my conscience was gnawing at me. Would a righteous God be pleased with my greed and dishon­esty?

Soon after I had arrived in Toronto, I confessed the situat­ion to the personnel manager. He appreciated my honesty but re­quired full restitu­tion of the money. He suggested de­ducting $100/month from my salary until the money was repaid. I didn’t feel good about having to repay the company. For my honesty, a thousand dollars just van­ished in the thin air. How­ever I accepted the arrangement and trusted in the Lord for my finan­cial needs.

We were still tight on cash. My wife didn’t have a job yet. Our new apartment needed basic furniture and appliances. After three months of paying back the company, I couldn’t afford the payment for the following month. So I approached the personnel manager again, this time to explain my dilem­ma and asked for a one-month deferment of payment. I stood there totally over­whelmed by surprise and disbelief when he re­plied, “Don’t worry about it. We’ll write off your debt and you don’t need to pay the balance to the company.” He then smiled and waved goodbye to me. I thanked him and walked out of his office full of thanksgiving and praise to God.

Do not retract: Let your “Yes” be “Yes”

Though we had already settled in Toronto, our hearts still longed for Montreal. We had yet to find a church in Toronto that could satisfy our spiritual hunger for the word of God. More import­antly, when I was still in Montreal, I had prom­ised Rev. Chang that I would make a transla­tion system for the Montreal church because it would be more time-efficient for them to have simultan­eous translat­ion. Although I grad­uated in elec­trical engineering, I knew not­hing about designing and as­sembling a translation system. The embar­rassment prevented me from telling Rev. Chang the truth. So I decided to do the research and build it myself. With all the technical difficulties resolved, I was about to build the sy­stem when I suddenly had to leave for Toronto. But whether I was in Montreal or not, I thought that it would be right to keep my promise. Therefore, in 1978, we drove back to Montreal for the Easter holiday. During that short stay, with the help of my former work­mate, the translation system was com­pleted and given to the church on Easter Sunday. Since I didn’t go back on my word, Rev. Chang got the translation system as promised.

Driving in the midst of a snowstorm: God’s safekeeping

Beyond presenting the translation system to the church on Easter Sunday, we longed for fellowship with the church breth­ren. They were very warm and persuaded us to stay for an early dinner before heading back to Toron­to. We knew it would be a long drive home, but we really wanted to have more fellowship over dinner. Little did we know that we were in the wake of a very heavy snowstorm.

At 7:30 pm we left Montreal with two other friends. The dis­tance between Montreal and Toronto is about 550 kms. Nor­mal driving would take about 6 hours for the trip. How­ever it began to snow when we started out. I had to reduce the speed to barely 50 kms/hr. If I maintained that speed, it would take over 10 hours to get home! After a couple of hours on the road, it was already dark and it was snowing heavily with zero visibility. I was losing patience. Then a big sedan sped past us. I stepped on the gas, deter­mined to keep up with the sedan. I figured that I could use its taillights for navigation. But the sedan was pulling away farther and farther, and my car began to hydroplane on the snowy road. My heart was beating faster and faster…

In a split second, I saw the taillights of the sedan swerving left and then right, and then disappearing into the darkness. To make matters worse, we were entering a curve at a furious speed.

Maneuvering the steering was of no use and the car went out of con­trol. I desperately pumped the brakes but it was too late. Like an unleashed stallion, the car skidded into the high­way divide and we were facing on­coming traffic. I in­stinct­ively turned the steering wheel to avoid collision, and that sent us spinning violently. Right at that critical moment, I heard Kathleen say, James, be calm. I instantly felt in her voice an instruct­ion from God about what to do. So I gripped the steering wheel tightly with both hands and slammed on the brakes. I let the car run its course, and in my heart, I just committed everything to God.

Bang! My car veered back in the right direction and ploughed into a snow bank. That woke up our two passeng­ers (they had fallen asleep and didn’t even know what had hap­pened). I told them that we just had an accident. The im­pact was so hard that the front hood was buried in the snow. It was still snowing heavily but thank God the snow was soft. I got out of the car to assess the damage. Amazing­ly, there was none. So together we managed to get the car back on the highway and continued our journey home. All along the way, we saw that many vehicles had skidded into the divides and soft shoulders. I suspect that the big sedan which I was following was one of them.

It took us over 10 hours to reach Toronto, maintaining a snail’s pace of 50 kms/hr, and eventually arriving at 6:00am. But near our destination, we were running out of gas. So every time we went downhill, I would put the car in neutral and let it roll down to save fuel. It would be another difficult hurdle to over­come if our tank was empty before reaching home. Most gas stations weren’t opened in the early hours of the morning. Once again, we committed the matter to the Lord.

Soon we were running out of gasoline. I put on a brave face for the sake of the passengers, but in my heart, I was anxious. I prayed silently, crying out to God for help. Sud­denly, I saw a bright “24” sign board just ahead of us. It was a 24-hour gas station! I was jubilant. We made it to our much-needed refuel. After that, we dropped off our two friends at their respective homes. When we got back home, we un­loaded our luggage. I brushed my teeth and washed my face, yet got up early to work promptly at 9:00 am. Surprisingly, I felt fresh after 11 hours of driving in the most treacherous snowstorm I had ever encount­ered. All praise to God for His safekeeping.

You may ask, “Since you did God a service in making the translation system for the church, shouldn’t God have led you home smoothly? Why did it take double the time to tra­vel, not to mention an accident in the snowstorm?” I didn’t blame God at all for the frightening and tiring jour­ney, but thanked Him for being with me and leading me through the shadow of the valley of death. In times of crisis, I would become more sen­sitive to His pre­sence, and appre­ciate His wonderful grace and deliver­ance more deeply. God does not promise us a rose garden, but He assures us of His companionship in times of testing and crisis.

Life belongs to God: a Christmas visit to my elder sister

I was involved in another near fatal incident on the highway not long after the previous one. Christmas was approach­ing and we were preparing for a four-hour journey to visit my elder sister in Ottawa. According to the wea­ther forecast, the skies were sup­posed to be clear. Before leaving, I looked up at the sky and sensed that there could be a change in the weather with the possibility of snow. Double-checking with my sister in Ottawa, she assured me that the weather on her side was fine. So with­out further delay we set out that after­noon.

A storm was brewing as we entered a two-way road. The snow fell more and more heavily and eventually developed into a major storm. The wind and snow were blowing in all direct­ions and soon overtook us on our way to Ottawa. The temper­ature fell, and the snow had turned into black ice overnight, all hidden under the fresh snow from the storm.

Traffic became heavy. We initially wanted to use an alter­native route to bypass the jam. Then we heard on the radio that this sudden storm had caught everybody by surprise. There was a chain of car accidents that led to a major pileup, and brought traffic to a complete halt. We quietly gave thanks to God that we didn’t take that route. We just had to patiently crawl our way to Ottawa.

Being careful to keep a distance from oncoming traffic, I drove closer to the curb. Suddenly I hit something hard and the car swung towards oncoming vehicles. Black ice! Right in front of me were the headlights of a sports car, and we were heading for a direct collision. It happened so fast that I thought we were going to die. Just at that instant, Kathleen called out, James, be calm! She said exactly the same thing as in our prev­ious traffic incident. But this time, the car skidded so fast that before I knew it, I had completely lost control. However, just in the nick of time, my car suddenly went back to our own lane and the sports car sped past us. It was as if an angel had pushed our car to avoid imminent disaster. The car ended up on the soft shoulder, with its back facing Ottawa. When the car came to a complete halt, our hearts were pounding and we were both shaking uncontrol­lably. Then we prayed to God thanking Him for His rescue.

In two near-death situations, my wife cried out, “James, be calm!” It wasn’t a coincidence. She couldn’t have been that calm at those critical moments. I knew that it was God who saved us, and our lives were in God’s hands. Silently, I made my pledge to God, “My life belongs to You. Sooner or later, I will serve You full time.”

Chasing after Mammon (prosperity and wealth): Being ungrateful for God’s blessings

I remember saying to Kathleen before we got married, “If Rev. Chang conducts a third Full Time Ministry Training, we will apply.” She agreed to that. However, once we moved to Tor­on­to, we soon forgot about the pledge for Full Time Ministry Train­ing.

We were living in increasing comfort and financial secur­ity. My career was on the right track and slowly taking off. Kathleen had a very good job. Unfortunately, ever since we moved to Toronto, we weren’t getting much spiritual nourishment at the church we were attending. Our zeal for the Lord slowly fizzled. We were like the Israelites who became prosperous after entering the Promised Land, and forsook God. We were drawn by the lusts of the world. When we became materially abundant, our hearts subtly became dull, losing our appetite for spirit­ual things.

In 1980, my in-laws immigrated to Canada and we helped them look for a house. The property market was very volatile. Within a month, the same property could increase by $10K in value. Kathleen said, “At this rate, if we don’t buy a house now, we will never be able to afford one!”

So while scouting around for our family, we decided to buy a house for ourselves. I couldn’t believe my eyes when we went to the real estate office—people were literally lining up to buy, adding to an already tense atmosphere. In fact, nobody could physically inspect the houses as they weren’t even built yet! All we had were a few floor plans and we were supposed to choose from them.

When it came to our turn to select a house, we were some­what hesit­ant. The real estate agent became impatient with us and pres­sured us into a decision. To him, we were holding up the queue. In the end, we just picked the cheapest one available and paid the depos­it. As we left the real estate office, I couldn’t even recall how many bed­rooms we had or what facilities were included! Days later, we drove to the location where our house was supposed to be built; there was nothing but a piece of bare land.

It took one year for the house to be completed. That gave us some breathing space to save up for the down payment. But that year there was a worldwide recession and the financial markets collapsed. The mortgage rate soared to a record high of 21% per annum. What about our deal? The real estate agent called and informed us that the government, for some reason, didn’t approve of the building site. He gave us two proposals: One was a refund of our deposit in full; the other was to choose a similar house already approved by the govern­ment. God gave me a choice to back off from our deal but I didn’t. Since Kathleen and I had a good and stable income, the mortgage was not a burden to us. We figured we wouldn’t have any problems paying off our mortgage even if the rates were to rise sharply. We decided to look at the houses available for pur­chase, and in the end the real estate agent approved one that was better than our original choice. We thought we were mak­ing the right decision and even gave thanks to God for leading us to a better deal. Our family members likewise thought that it was a very good deal.

The conviction of the Holy Spirit: The Word of God is like a two-edged sword

Inner peace did not come with my decision. Perhaps it was the conviction of the Holy Spirit. I experienced what I might call a “temperamental crisis,” that is, one in which I became easily agitated and every little thing got on my nerves. Even when unpro­voked, I was impatient and bad-tempered.

Ever since our move to Toronto, a steady stream of brothers and sisters from the Montreal church began to join us, reloc­ating to Toronto for work reasons. We met regularly every Friday even­ing for Bible study. I remember a sister asking me, “Shouldn’t you be re-baptized?” I was rather upset by her question because I strongly re­sisted the idea of rebap­tism. But the Lord slow­ly revealed to me that even though I had some dramatic spiritual encounters, it didn’t mean that I had the power from within to resist and overcome tempt­at­ion. Although I had kicked bad habits such as smoking, drink­ing and gambling, that was really nothing because I wasn’t addicted to any of these. I did notice, however, that my hot temper hadn’t changed. It was in my blood. I tried to sup­press it but it felt like a balloon that was blown to max­imum capacity, ready to explode any time.

Romans 7:19 For the good that I wish, I do not do; but I practice the very evil that I do not wish.

This verse describes my condition then. I was getting very frus­trated with this kind of life. After we had moved into our new mansion, Rev. Chang sent a couple to lead our Bible study for 10 weeks. They would drive six hours from Montreal to Toronto to share the word of God with us. During that time, the word of God pierced my heart like a two-edged sword. After every Bible study, I couldn’t sleep. The inner struggle almost tore me apart. Finally, I felt that I had to make a clear choice: either deal with my life or give up my belief. I didn’t want to be a hypocrite. Friends and relatives challenged my faith be­cause they said they couldn’t see God’s work in my life. Outwardly, because of the Bible studies, to some extent I did change for the bet­ter. But I still had my “temperamental crisis” and was full of pride. I knew that God was real, so I told them that although I am not a good exemplary of a true believer of God, they should not rule out His reality.

I have sinned: Through repentance, draw near to God and resist temptation

During one of her visits to Toronto, my elder sister asked me, “Do you real­ly love God?” She questioned my motive for be­lieving in God. Did I believe in Him because He lavished me with a posh mansion? I immediately defended myself, saying, “Certainly not! If this house causes me to be unfaithful to God in any way, I will sell it immediately.” She replied, “Mark your words!” In fact, before we moved into our new house, I said to my wife, “We should not spend money for the house at the expense of our offering for the Lord’s work. I’d rather give up the house instead.” Kathleen agreed.

In the first year of our new house, we overspent in up­grad­ing it and had reduced our offering for the Lord’s work. When I realized what I had done, my heart was in agony because I had grieved the Lord and was ungrateful for God’s abundant blessings. During the Bible studies, the word of God constantly brought deep conviction to my heart and forced me to face the ultimate question I had been trying to evade: the question of my regeneration. If I were serious in dealing with my regenerat­ion problem, the first step I needed to take was to sell the house.

But right at that time, the property market collapsed and the value of our house plummeted to rock bottom. We shared with Kathleen’s family the reason for wanting to sell the house. Her family was strongly opposed to the idea of selling at that stage. Out of good intentions, they said, “Don’t be such a fool. Don’t sell the house yet. A repentant heart is all you need.” Influenced and persuaded by them, I tempor­arily put the idea on hold. Still, I didn’t have peace in my heart. I pleaded to God for more time and to grant me the courage to withstand family pressure and influence.

God’s unexpected way of deliverance

One day, we went to Kathleen’s younger sister’s home for a gat­hering and ended up staying there overnight. We didn’t go home until the next evening. When we entered our house, we found it ransacked. Our bedroom drawers and wardrobes were opened and our clothes were strewn all over the floor and bed. The house had been broken into! My brand new sound system was stolen. Personal items of sentimental value were also taken, including a Hamilton watch given to me by my father and a press camera from my elder brother.

Before that incident, I was arguing with my home insur­ance company over an extra annual charge of $27 for a new policy called replacement insurance. The argument went back and forth for a month before I reluc­tantly forked out the money. About two weeks later, our house was burgled. Because of the additional replacement insurance, I got a brand new sound system. Furthermore, the insur­ance com­pany paid $3K as com­pensation for my father’s watch and my brother’s camera. I was deeply grateful to God for all this, but I was un­aware that He had a better plan to pave the way for me to sell the house.

Things felt different after being burgled. Every time we got home, we would enter cautiously, always checking to make sure that no one was in­side. Every bump in the night kept us awake. The house had three stories, including the basement. There was just the two of us with four big rooms upstairs and lots of space downstairs. Feeling insecure after the intrusion, Kathleen agreed with me that it was time to sell the house.

We approached our next-door neighbor, a real estate agent, about selling the house. She warned us, “Do you know that house prices have plummeted so much that if you sell, you won’t get your money back?” We knew that we would suffer a sub­stantial loss, as newly constructed houses with better facili­ties were cheaper than what we had paid for our house. We reas­sured her that money wasn’t an issue and asked her to go ahead with the sale. She told us that even if we were willing to suffer a loss, we would face very stiff competition from the many new houses on the market which were better value for money. She suggested therefore that we hold off for a while. However we insisted on selling because we knew it was God’s will. At the same time, we told our Bible study group to remem­ber us in prayer because we were putting up our house for sale.

When you honor God, God will honor you

God started to do amazing things. Within a week of our deci­sion, and without a “For Sale” sign on our lawn, a young Jewish couple came knocking on our door. They inspected the house and liked it. Our area was predominantly Jewish which suited them nicely. They were planning to get married soon and wanted to buy a house. As we were one of the few Chinese in a Jewish commun­ity, they approached us to see if we were selling. We took them to see our neighbor, the real estate agent. The next thing we knew, an offer was on the table. But it was ridiculously low and we didn’t know what to do. On the one hand, we knew that God wanted us to sell the house. It was beyond our expectations that an offer would come so fast. Could it be from God? On the other hand, the offer was so low that I almost couldn’t be bothered with it. The couple had to increase their offer by at least $5000 before it can even be called reasonable. We committed this matter with fear and trembling to the Almighty God.

The next day, not knowing if our counter offer had been accepted, we were surprised when our real estate neighbor rushed out to greet us as we drove into our driveway. We waited for the verdict with nervous antici­pation. As we got out of the car, she shook my hand and said, “It’s sold!”

I felt a dull pain in my heart for losing around $20K in this deal (in the 80s, it was a substantial sum), but the inner joy and peace I experienced far outweighed any monetary loss. Sudden­ly we felt all our burdens lifted, and we knew that it was again the Lord at work. Most importantly, we felt accepted by our loving God again. He em­braced us with His inexplica­ble joy and peace that the world cannot give.

When we told our Bible study group that our house had been sold, they were astounded. However, when it all sank in, we praised our God who, within a week, amid stiff com­petition, amazingly supplied a buyer out of nowhere.

After we sold the house, I made a pledge to the Lord to never buy another house for more than $100K. Once again, we asked our next-door neighbor for help. She took us to a prestig­ious area. The house was as big as our previous one, in a better location, and it looked gorgeous. She said the owner was desperate to make a deal. She was confident that if we made an offer of $105K, we would get it. It was a great deal, as good as the one we gave to the young Jewish couple. That meant, relat­ively speaking, we didn’t lose out. It was very tempting to make an offer but somehow, I remem­bered my pledge to the Lord to never buy another house for more than $100K. Again we were facing a bit of turmoil within our hearts: turning it down seemed like we were missing out on a good opportunity. God then reminded me:

Matthew 6:21 Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

God asked me, “Where is your heart?” I knew the answer and didn’t make an offer to buy the house.

After that, I asked my good real-estate friend to go on the hunt again. We had our hearts set on finding a house near my in-laws. Then the Lord miraculously provided a 4-bed­room house for us. The landlord had to leave for England urgently, and my friend made an offer which he immediately accepted. The timing was perfect: the day we moved out of the big man­sion was also the day we moved into our new home. If it weren’t for God, things wouldn’t have turned out so perfectly. We learned that when we honor God, He will honor us.

It all makes sense: Determined to be re-baptized

After all the house selling and buying, I was even more deter­mined to deal with my regeneration problem. Towards the end of 1982 or ear­ly 1983, Rev. Chang sent Rev. Hung to Toronto to lead us in Bible study. Rev. Hung asked our Bible study group, “Do you want to set up a church in Toronto?”

When I heard this, what Rev. Chang had earlier said in response to my sharing about my reluctance to leave Montreal and the Montreal church, came to mind: “Be faithful to the Lord always. When you do so, God will have a plan for you.” In 1983, five years after I had left Montreal, the church in Toronto was born.

That same year, I applied for re-baptism at our church’s sum­mer camp. The reason I was so determined to apply for re-baptism was my conversation with Rev. Hung. When I approached him about the matter of baptism, he suggested that I evaluate my childhood baptism as a Roman Catholic in the light of whether I knew then what commitment to God was all about.

He used the analogy of marriage, with two scenarios. First, my situa­tion could be like an arranged marriage where the par­ents choose a wife for their son. Although the son has never met his future wife and has no say in the marriage, he knows that marriage is a life-long commitment and that he needs to honor that com­mitment to his wife. The se­cond scen­ario is that of a marriage predetermined before birth. Both sets of parents agreed that their respective children would be husband and wife once they reached maturity. The parents made a covenant of marriage! In that case, the son would not know what commitment to mar­riage was all about.

When I looked at my baptism in the light of the marriage analo­gy, I suddenly realized that it fell into the category of a predeter­mined marriage rather than that of an arranged mar­riage. I certainly didn’t know what my commitment to God was all about. I was only 5 years old when I was baptized and 7 years old when I received my confirm­ation of faith. I didn’t really grasp the meaning of baptism in terms of a life-long loving re­lationship with God. Just as in a marriage, the relat­ionship with God de­mands total faithfulness and loyalty.

If one understands that commitment to God means a life-long rela­tionship with Him in faithfulness and obedience, and if he deter­mines to commit to God, then God will grant him the indwelling of the Holy Spirit as a pledge or guaran­tee of the es­tablished covenant. The person would then be consi­dered born again as a child of God

Ephesians 1:13-14: In Him, you also, after listening to the mess­age of truth, the gospel of your salva­tion—having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is given as a pledge of our inherit­ance, with a view to the redemp­tion of God’s own possession, to the praise of His glory.

Com­mitment is gener­ally made at baptism. Suddenly it dawned on me: All along I wasn’t really a child of God. In other words, I wasn’t born again because I had never had a gen­uine or total commit­ment to God. After I realized my own condit­ion, it was clear to me that I had to commit my life to God in faithfulness and total obedience through re-baptism.

In 1983, at the church summer camp, I was re-baptized. It was the turning point in my life. I remember that my vow to the Lord was a pledge to never to live a life of compromise again. From that day on, my life truly belonged to God. He contin­ues to mold and refine me. Through His refining, my faith is strengthened and firmly rooted in Him.

(c) 2012 Christian Disciples Church