The testimony in this chapter was given
in 1998 at Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
In this chapter, I would like to do what Scripture calls “declare” or “witness”. I will declare His glory, declare His mercy, declare His goodness, declare His wisdom, declare Yahweh the Name of God, declare who He is, His character, what God is like.
Becoming a Christian, as far as I am concerned, is not a matter of joining some religion. I have never been interested in religion as such, and to this day I am not interested in religion. Becoming a Christian is a matter of knowing God, indeed knowing God as a living Person. It is in this process of knowing God that we realize what it is to be a Christian and to grow in the Christian life. Being a Christian is not about how much you have learned in terms of studies. I have nothing against learning, as I myself have spent enough time in that matter. You are not a Christian simply because you know what is Christianity in terms of its doctrines, its history, its structure, or its organization. None of this makes you a Christian, not even if you believe all the items of the creeds. Fundamentally, being a Christian is also knowing Christ, the Son of God. As Paul says, all he wants to do is to know Christ (Philippians 3:8,10). John 17:3 says that to know God and His Son Jesus Christ is life—life eternal. So everything depends on knowing God and His Son. What I want to declare is what He has taught me about Himself.
God Reveals Himself Differently to Different People
I also want to make it clear that everyone’s experiences are bound to be different. Therefore your experience is not something you have to measure against mine, because God reveals Himself differently to different people. I want to stress this point because sometimes an experience can be very dramatic and you say, “I haven’t had such dramatic experiences.” It doesn’t matter. You can experience Him less dramatically, but nonetheless in very real ways.
We do not choose to make an experience dramatic or not. For example, when the Lord Jesus revealed himself to the apostle Paul, Paul was not yet an apostle and was still called Saul. But on the Damascus Road, a blinding light from heaven caused him to fall off his horse and be blinded for several days. Very dramatic stuff. And you say, “I never have experiences like that.” It doesn’t matter. Your experience of God is no less real just because you did not fall off your horse, or because you were not blinded for three days.
Be Prepared for Sufferings
One thing I do want to say is this: If the experience is particularly outstanding or even dramatic, you might need to be prepared for the event that God will ask you to do something very tough. For example, Paul did have this very dramatic experience, and the consequence is that God did have some very difficult things for him to do. In other words, if you are interested in getting some very outstanding experiences, you had better be prepared to endure some very outstanding sufferings, which was what Paul was called to (Acts 9:16). If you are not very keen on extraordinary sufferings, you had better forget about extraordinary experiences. Just listen to somebody else talk about their own experiences, and let them go through the sufferings.
When I share about these things, I won’t talk much about the sufferings I have experienced. By God’s mercies, I think I could say that I have had a fair share of sufferings. Every time these attacks and sufferings come, I recall that this is what the Lord has called me to, and a major part of His calling is to constantly confirm to me His relationship with me in a very living way through these experiences.
The word “declare” in the Bible occurs repeatedly in the Psalms:
• “Declare His deeds among His people.” Psalms 9:11
• “Come and hear all you who fear God and I will declare what He has done for my soul.” Psalms 66:16
• “That I may declare all Your works.” Psalms 73:28
This goes on and on through the Psalms: declare His works, and declare His glory to the nations, to the people. This is basically what I am doing now. I will declare Your mighty deeds, Your mighty works, Your greatness. Psalms 145:6.
Many people had said to me, “It is not fair that God gives you some dramatic experiences but doesn’t give me any.” Well, I hope you bear carefully in mind what I have said. You can have the same experiences, even greater ones, provided you are prepared to suffer for His sake. If not, don’t even think about it. That means to say, every revelation of God (that is basically what every one of these experiences is) brings with it a certain price tag. And if you are not prepared for that, do not even seek them.
For me, I delight in the privilege of knowing God and Jesus Christ, and more and more in the sufferings attached to it. I would say with the apostle Paul, “That I may know him, the fellowship of his sufferings and even to be conformed to his death.” (Philippians 3:10) That is how Paul is going to know Jesus. How much do you really want to know the Lord?
Let me get on with this fourth part of my testimony. I want to say that I will only highlight certain incidents, as within an hour I have no way of getting through even a small section of my testimony from one particular period of time: the London period. My previous sharings dealt somewhat with my background in China, and then my time in Scotland. In this chapter, I will concentrate on the years during which I was in London. During those years, I had experienced so many things that God had done in my life; but, as I said, I can only give you certain highlights here and there.
Our Needs: An Opportunity to Experience God
It is through all kinds of problems and suffering in particular that God reveals Himself. If there were no problems, we would have no opportunity to experience what God could do. For example, if you have no financial or material needs and if you are never in financial difficulty as a servant of the Lord or as a child of God, how would you have a chance to experience His provision? You don’t have a need, so there is no opportunity for God to intervene. I can only feel sorry for those who have no needs because they also have no opportunity to experience God. Bear this point in mind.
If you have no physical problems, you would not experience God along that line. I have to depend on God every day physically. I have now come to a stage where I cannot get through a day without His daily sustenance. I used to be as fit as anyone here and maybe even fitter, very fit and strong physically. Today, I have problems with my back, and even standing for 10 or 15 minutes can give me intense pain. So what do you do? You have to learn to depend upon God. My need becomes His opportunity.
Andrew McBeath, a Man of God
In Scotland, I spent two years at the Bible Training Institute which was one of the oldest and best known Bible institutes in the United Kingdom. It was in fact set up through D.L. Moody. Many of you who have been Christians for a long time in the western tradition would know the great preacher D.L. Moody. Moody Bible Institute in Chicago also came into being as a result of his ministry. Ira D. Sankey was his music minister. Wherever Moody went, Sankey followed and provided the music ministry. As you know, many famous British songs and hymns were written by Sankey. They held an evangelistic campaign in the United Kingdom, and many turned to God. As a result, many people wanted to be trained in the Lord’s work. That was how the Bible Institute was set up.
In my time, the principal was Andrew McBeath, a scholarly man, but more important than that, a fine servant of God. As I look through my life, I try to count how many true servants of God I have met—people who stand out in my mind as men of God. “Man of God” is not a title that one can throw around lightly. Very few people qualify for that title. I think there is no higher title in all of the Bible than the title “man of God”. There are very few men of God around. In my whole life, I can count perhaps fewer than there are the fingers on one hand.
I would list Andrew McBeath as one of these men. If you meet him and get a chance to know him a little, you would know that you have met a man of God. First of all, his outstanding humility struck me. I arrived one month late because I could not get a visa. I was having all kinds of visa troubles and finally I got to Glasgow one month after the Bible Institute term had already started. And Mr. McBeath himself welcomed me. Why should a principal welcome a new student? After all, he could have sent someone else to welcome me as there were lots of other students around, but he welcomed me personally. Not only that, he took me to his own living quarters which was in the same building as the Bible Institute. He took me to his own apartment and introduced me to his family. I had never heard of a principal who takes the trouble to introduce a student to his family. He introduced me to his wife who was sick at that time. So she greeted me sitting up in bed.
Most of you who are married would understand that when a woman is sick in bed and doesn’t have her hair combed properly, she wouldn’t want to see visitors. But no problem. Andrew McBeath introduced me to his wife and she very graciously welcomed me as well. That was my first taste of his graciousness and his humility.
One day while I was walking down one of the corridors, Mr. McBeath appeared. He said to me, “Come.” I wondered to myself what was going on. He called me aside and handed me an envelope. I looked at it and asked, “What is it?” He said, “The Lord has spoken to me and I would like to give you my tithe. This is the tithe.” I was deeply touched. There were so many students in the Bible Institute and here was the principal himself giving me not just any gift but his own tithe. I was speechless. I was stunned and deeply moved. This is just to give you an idea of the quality of this man. I was still only a first year student.
You can see the way his whole life radiated Christ. It was truly beautiful. What I took away from the Bible Institute was not a lot of knowledge but above all, the impression of what a man of God is like. There is nothing more precious, not only to have met one, but to have developed a friendship with such a man.
Many years later, when he was quite old, I once phoned him from Liverpool where I was pastoring. I asked him what he thought of the laying on of hands which I had been studying in the Bible. I had steadfastly refused ordination. I didn’t want to be ordained because I didn’t like to be addressed as Reverend so and so or Pastor so and so. I didn’t want to have any title. In fact, I wanted to serve God even without pay, which in fact I did for all my time in Liverpool. I had received no salary during those five years. I declined to receive pay. That didn’t make life easy, but I wanted to show the church that I didn’t not preach the Gospel for money. I didn’t want any income from serving. In fact I never said anything about it. When I left Liverpool five years later, some people discovered that in all the five years I was there, I had never received a salary. And they were quite shocked. They asked, “Where did all the money we put into the offering box go?” I said, “It has gone into the Lord’s work. Just because it didn’t come to me, doesn’t mean it didn’t go to the Lord’s work.” And they said, “How come you never said so?” I said, “I said so in the beginning but you hadn’t yet come to church at that time.“ The church had grown from a small handful of people to a larger congregation and most of them didn’t have any idea about the matter.
But I did want to know more about the laying on of hands which I had seen mentioned in Scripture several times. So one day I phoned Mr. McBeath and said, “Reverend McBeath, what do you think about the laying on of hands?” He said, “Oh yes, it is very important.” I said, “All right, what else can you tell me?” He said, “I am coming to Liverpool.” I said, “Is it going to be such a long exposition that you have to come to Liverpool to explain it to me?”
Notice this godly man. He came all the way from Scotland down to Liverpool. That’s a long way. I thought he was going to come to Liverpool to expound to me the laying on of hands. It was just before Easter. When he got to Liverpool, I said, “I am wondering why you have come all the way down to Liverpool to tell me about the laying on of hands.” He said, “I didn’t come here to tell you about the laying on of hands; I came here to do it!” I was speechless. I said, “What?” He said, “When you know that something is Scriptural, you do it. You don’t just talk about it, you do it.”
The amazing thing was that he came down on a weekday just before Easter; three days later, on Easter Sunday, I was ordained and received the laying on of hands. The church wasn’t even notified the previous Sunday because I myself didn’t know I was going to be ordained.
That shows you another secret of a man of God. He does not just talk about something; he does it. If something is Scriptural, you do it even if you don’t understand everything about it. He never expounded it to me. He never explained anything about the laying on of hands to me. He just got on to do the laying on of hands. Looking back, I consider it a very high privilege that I was ordained by an exceptional servant of God, a man of outstanding quality. I regard this truly as the apostolic succession through men of God.
I am spending some time on this because I would like to testify that there are very few men of God around. And in God’s wisdom and kindness, He granted me such a privilege as to meet a few of them. In the past, I shared about one or two others whom I have met, but that is not in line with today’s testimony.
Andrew McBeath wrote a number of books. Before I left Glasgow, I went to say goodbye to him in his office in the college. Always in his kind and gentle way, he said goodbye to me and said, “My book has just been published and I would like to give you a copy.” So he autographed a copy and handed it to me. It was a book, significantly, about the book of Job. Being very immature at the time, I didn’t really catch the significance of it. Only later did I understand that he wrote his commentary on Job because of his long experience of suffering for the Lord. Yet he never talked about his sufferings. Only later I gathered from here and there how much he had suffered. You don’t become a man of God without a lot of suffering. His commentary on Job was of great value because there are lots of commentaries and books written by scholars sitting in their armchairs, but Andrew McBeath was a man rich in both scholarship and experience. He experienced many things for the Lord as he went about preaching the Gospel in other places in the world.
Furthering My Studies in London
When I was set to leave Scotland, one of the last things Mr. McBeath said to me was, “Eric, you have to go on to higher levels of training because God has given you the gift. You have what it takes to go much higher. So go down to London and continue further studies.” I have to tell you the truth that I was not interested in further studies. The fire was burning in my heart and I wanted to go out to preach the Gospel. I did not want to waste more time sitting in college rooms studying stuff that was going to bore me to death. I never liked school all that much. I loved the sports field but not so much the school.
Here was Mr. McBeath telling me to go for higher studies and I thought, “Oh no.” But you do have to listen a bit more carefully when a servant of God speaks to you. So I said, “All right, I will go down to London and if the Lord opens the way for me, I will go and study, and if the Lord doesn’t open the way, great! I will go and preach the Gospel.”
I don’t know if Mr. McBeath was praying about this, but everywhere I went, the door was open for me. I thought this is incredible. The fact of the matter is that I had no time to do my University entrance studies (the GCE) in the usual way of taking two or three years to complete them. I was not even interested in it, but because Mr. McBeath said all this, I had to take up a bit of studies. Surely studying here and studying there part time would not get me very far. After all, London University is not the easiest university to get into in England. But behold, it must be this man of God praying for me because every college I went to, I was immediately accepted on the spot. I thought this was quite amazing. Many people have tried but never got accepted. I just walk in and the professor says, “I accept you.”
I was pondering on what exactly to study. Maybe some of you are confronted with this question, “What to study?” I thought, “Well, I want to study something that will be useful for the Lord’s work.” I thought to myself, “Lord, what do You want me to study? I am waiting for an answer.” I thought that because my heart’s desire was to bring the Gospel to China, I had better get more deeply acquainted with China. But what can I study that has something to do with China?
I should tell you that I dreaded any studies that have to do with literature, philosophy or history, because in the studies I ever did in school, I was good in science subjects and absolutely hopeless in arts. I could not write an essay. I did not know how to write an essay. I didn’t have a clue as to what I was supposed to do. In science subjects, things were straightforward. Two and two equals four. That one I could cope with. It is quite simple. But I didn’t know how to write an essay. My arts subjects were absolutely terrible. If I could scrape a pass, I was very grateful for that. With science subjects, I did reasonably well. My best subject was always mathematics. It was like a nice game that I could play with, so it was great fun. I never understood why some people are terrified of mathematics. Yet I was terrified of the arts. And I realized that I was not going to study science subjects because I didn’t know what I was going to do with them in God’s work at that time. Certainly there is use for them but I am just talking about my own considerations at the time. For other people, science might be useful in one way or another, such as opening a door to a job in China or somewhere. But for myself, I was thinking of deepening my understanding of culture and language. So I went into Oriental philosophy and other subjects like literature and history which took me very much into the arts. Here I was doing the very thing I was not good in doing.
Initially I was thinking about doing Greek. I could then specialize in Greek in order to understand the New Testament better. I walked into the Greek Department of University College, and said to the professor, “I would like to study Greek.” And I was accepted. He asked me, “Have you applied to Oxford or Cambridge?” I said, “I have not. My church is in London and I have no intention of going to Oxford or Cambridge.” He said, “If you apply there I am not going to accept you, but if you are applying to London only, I am going to accept you.” I thought, “Well, that was fast.” He was not beating around the bush.
Afterwards I found out that what I was going to learn was not New Testament Greek but classical Greek. They are not exactly the same, though they are related. I wasn’t prepared to spend three years learning classical Greek as it might be limited in its usefulness later on.
I then went to the School of Oriental Studies, University of London, and the same thing happened. I walked in and said, “I would like to apply for study here.” The professor asked me, “Why do you want to study this subject?” I said, “Because I want to preach the Gospel. I am going to be a missionary.” I could not be more straightforward than that. If he was anti-religion, he might have thrown me out there and then. They are not there to train missionaries. Most people who studied in that college were trained to be diplomats. They would study philosophy, foreign languages and foreign culture, and many of them became diplomats. In fact, the former Governor of Hong Kong, David Wilson, studied in the same college, doing his post-graduate research. One day I heard in the news of his appointment as Governor of Hong Kong, and I mentioned this to my wife Helen. He was the second last Governor before the handover in 1997.
Serving in the Chinese Church
I went down to London and a brother there asked me, “Which church are you going to attend?”
“I just arrived in London. I haven’t got a church.”
He said, “Come to our church.”
I said, “Which church are you attending?”
He said, “We just started a Chinese church.”
I said, “May I ask which church?”
And he told me about it.
I said, “Is it the one where I had met a certain Mr. H. before?” [I had a rather negative impression of this person.]
He said, “Yes, but that person has already left.”
“No, I think I will look for another church if you don’t mind.”
He said, “Please, we are short of people, how about if you come to the Chinese church.”
I said, “I am not very keen on this.”
The fact is that you are affected by what you hear, even negatively. No matter how good a thing is, if somebody says something negative about it, an impression stays in your mind and thereafter is very hard to get rid of.
Anyway, this brother had learned something about the parable concerning persistence, i.e. knocking on the door until the door is opened. He never gave up. He kept asking me week after week, and said, “I understand that you don’t like that church very much, so how about coming to the Bible studies?”
I said, “What difference does it make?”
He said, “I mean that you lead the Bible studies.”
“I don’t even know the people.”
“No problem, you just lead the Bible studies. There is nobody to lead it. Aren’t you going to do something to help?”
In the end, that was how I was persuaded into going to that church, through leading the Bible studies there.
When we talk about the Chinese “church,” it sounds rather grand. In fact it had only about five people, and they called themselves a church. It should have remained a Bible study. They would meet in the YMCA chapel, and that was perhaps why they considered themselves a church. Five persons in the chapel, and they called it a church.
The next thing I knew, I was the only person leading this church. I didn’t know where this brother who had invited me went to. He suddenly disappeared to do something else, and I was left taking care of this five-person church. This became a ridiculous one-man show because I had to do everything from announcing the hymns to playing the organ. I had never played an organ in my life. I knew how to play the piano a little, just enough to get by on hymns. Can you imagine what it sounds like to sing a five-stanza hymn with five people who can hardly sing a hymn? I thought, “Maybe I had better play this organ.” But I initially didn’t know what buttons I was supposed to press on an electronic organ.
God has a great sense of humor. I would be up there making announcements and then jog from the front to the back of the chapel to play the organ. No one was on the platform while I was playing the organ. When the hymn was finished, I would jog back to the front.
Gradually by the Lord’s working, the chapel became packed as God continued to draw people in. Within a few months, the chapel was packed full to about fifty people. The fifty filled the chapel and we had to open the foyer to put more chairs. Even that was getting filled, and some people had to stand in the corridor where people would walk up and down.
I began to see the power of God’s Word at work. God was pleased to use somebody totally green, totally inexperienced, and really unfit for the work, and He was gracious in blessing the work. We had to move to a much larger place in the YMCA building a few weeks later.
So far I haven’t told you anything dramatic, have I? I have only told you how you can experience God in all these seemingly day to day things, and experience God’s power even in drawing people to Himself and to His Church.
A year or two later, the church was still continuing to grow, not under my care, but under the care of a pastor who was from China. When I first came, he was already the pastor of that new work, except that he was in the United States raising funds to purchase a building for the church. Having been away for three to four months, he was surprised to see the chapel packed out.
Pentecostal Experience at Chislehurst
The church continued to grow. One day we had a camp at Chislehurst in Kent, southeast of London. It was an ordinary camp where we did the kind of things that people do in camps. About sixty people came to the camp. Already in the camp, you could see that God was working in the hearts of the people. Then came Easter Day which was also the last day of the camp. On that Easter Sunday we had a treasure hunt for an Easter egg. To hunt for the Easter egg, you need to find clues about getting from one point to another. If you don’t get the clue correctly, you will end up at the wrong place. From clue to clue, you are supposed to do some Sherlock Holmes’ detective work to find the egg.
If you know me, you will know that I am a fun loving person. I was joining in the fun with everybody looking for the clues. In the end, what happened? I won the egg. It may be great to win the egg, but coming into the Easter morning thanksgiving service with this great big golden egg in my hand, I felt like a clown. I thought to myself, “Lord, why did I have to win this egg?” This looked ridiculous. I tried to find some place under the chair to hide the egg. Soon the meeting began.
I share about the Easter egg hunt because many Christians have the tendency to try to work up a spiritual atmosphere by means of music or by means of working on people’s emotions, so as to get the results they want. But in our camp, there was no attempt to work up any kind of emotional atmosphere. There was no emotional buildup to what was coming. The meeting commenced. The person who was chairing the meeting stood up and began to say something. Everyone had just settled in, laughing and joking. There was a moment of quietness and the chairman said, “Let us open in prayer.” This was the last I heard from him that day, and he disappeared from the scene. He tried to mumble something in prayer, and suddenly the Spirit of God came down. That’s why I told you about the Easter egg. There was no psychological preparation whatsoever. It was totally unexpected. One moment, people were laughing and giggling. The next moment, total silence. And right after that, an overpowering sense of God’s presence. Unless you have gone through such an experience, there is no way to describe to you what it is like.
I can now understand what happened at Pentecost when the Spirit came down. As I told you, when the Spirit of God came down, He took control of our meeting. The chairman vanished into his seat and we never heard from him again for the rest of the meeting. In other words, he never chaired the meeting. The Lord took control.
I noticed there was sobbing in one corner. Then more sobs. Suddenly there was the sound of crying all through the room in which sixty people had gathered. There were tears. Next, people were confessing their sins. People were repenting. God’s awesome holiness is not something you can define on a piece of paper. What is holiness? You consult a dictionary and it says holiness is this and that. In the end, you still don’t know what holiness is.
But if you have met with God, nobody has to tell you what holiness is, because you have experienced it. Suddenly there was the awesome sense of His presence. God was in the room, and He was convicting people of sins. The man standing next to me was a big tall hefty fellow who wouldn’t want to be seen crying. I turned around and there he was crying uncontrollably, tears running down his face. This was going on all around the room. Everywhere God’s power could be felt. People stood up asking for God’s forgiveness, confessing their sins one by one. It was amazing. The Spirit of Yahweh God worked through the room, a truly unforgettable experience.
We lost all sense of time. The meeting was supposed to last an hour and a half, but it went on hour after hour. Everybody forgot about the camp program and nobody turned up for lunch. The staff in the camp grounds was waiting to serve lunch but nobody turned up. Everyone remained in the room, and the Spirit of God was working. If you want to talk about dramatic experiences, there the power of God was being manifested. It was dramatic, I tell you. It was a first-hand experience of Pentecost. Now I know what Pentecost was like. We experienced an awesome overpowering presence of God. I use the word “awesome” because I don’t know how else to describe it. Every person’s spirit was broken in His presence.
After many hours, we ended the meeting. I am not even sure how it was concluded. We all came out of the room dazed and stunned. I stress the length of time because it was not something that lasted two or three seconds, flashing by and disappearing, but it went on for hour after hour with the presence of God. It was not a fleeting, imaginary, ephemeral, evanescent, temporary experience. It went on and on, so that you could fully savor it. You could taste God’s presence to the full. He didn’t just come and vanish, or else you might say, “Did I just see a ghost passing by?” No, God was there. Nobody can be the same after that experience. It is etched in my spirit more deeply than I can ever understand. The power of that meeting with God was amazing. I don’t think anyone who was present would know how to describe that experience.
But having experienced God in various ways, I also knew that as soon as God had done such a remarkable work, the enemy was going to strike. The enemy came in like a flood. What happened was that the number of people in the church just exploded. The news that sixty of us had met with God in Chislehurst, spread like wildfire. Everyone wanted to see our church to find out what was going on. How do you catch this fire? The truth is that there is no technique of catching the fire. There is no way to tell you how to catch it. What are we going to tell you? It is not as though there is step one, step two, step three. We were totally unprepared for it. You have no way to organize it, or even to prepare for it. God just comes when He chooses. It was not that any one of us was better than anyone else, or that we were more holy than others, or that we were more saintly than others, or that most of us sang better than others, or that we clapped our hands better, or that we knew how to do dances better than others. We were not good at any of these things. Not at all. There was no human reason one can think of. God chose to come.
Fierce Attack upon the Church
Then came the fierce attack upon the church. As the church exploded and expanded, we jumped to 120, then 150, then pressing towards 200 people, all in a short time. Brothers and sisters, that is a bad sign. You ask why? I will tell you why: Most of these people were not serious with God. They were interested only in a temporary way. Crowds and numbers are not necessarily a good thing. It is what is deep that abides. What is shallow will not stay. Many people were curious because they had heard that we had an outpouring of the Holy Spirit in our church camp, and so they all crowded in. They wanted to catch a bit of this leftover blessing, to feel some of its rays, the leftover warmth, the leftover crumbs under the table. The result was that we suddenly expanded in number, but the people didn’t know one another well. The level of the sweetness of fellowship began to drop. Everything began to weaken. The distance between people became greater because we didn’t really know each other. It takes time to know one another. The sense of family disappeared. Suddenly we were looking at large numbers of unfamiliar people.
Those of you who have been to our joint camp in Hong Kong would know what I mean. Suddenly you have more than four hundred people gathering there. It is nice to feel the great numbers around you, but you don’t know who is who. Each time you meet somebody, you have to look at his or her name card: “Your name is this, and you are from that church.” You are experiencing a bit of what was happening to our church in England, since you don’t know the people from other churches. When there are four hundred people present in the Hong Kong join camp, it is impossible to get to know one another in any meaningful sense in the limited time available. It is hard to get to know each other especially because you are all from different churches. Some churches have over a hundred people, and they are already having a hard time getting to know one another. This is one of the negative results. Unless you have wise spiritual leadership, what is meant to be a blessing can ultimately become something less desirable.
Also, the larger the church, the larger its financial capacity. The greater the level of devotion in the church, the larger its income because there is more giving. And do you know what that does? That attracts bad people who join the church for the church funds. Before long, we had somebody who tried to become a church treasurer with the intention of siphoning some of the funds into his pockets, which he did with considerable success until he was discovered. This was one of the disasters. This person from East Malaysia worked himself up into the position of one of two treasurers of the church. By means of slander in a very subtle way, he got the other treasurer removed from office. He then somehow managed to arrange that no one would be appointed in the place of the treasurer who was dismissed. So he became the sole treasurer of the church. (By the way, the treasurer he contrived to remove was also from Malaysia, a very good man in fact. It was really unfortunate that the people believed the slanders brought against this dear brother.) And then he began to siphon off the funds by “fixing” the books.
Notice that I am taking you from the height of spiritual experience to the negative side that often accompanies it. We are engaged in an intense spiritual war. This is the nature of spiritual life. When there is triumphant advance, there will be counter attacks. And this happened quickly. This person stole funds amounting to thousands of pounds sterling. We couldn’t find out how much he stole because he had destroyed the account books. We brought in outside accountants to assess the situation, and the losses were enormous.
As you can see, one has to be alert and vigilant. When this scandal was exposed, the treasurer promptly vanished. But before he vanished, he married one of the richest girls in the church and disappeared back to East Malaysia. It was a shameful thing to happen in a church. It was a scandal. Our pastor was very distressed by the fact that our church, which had had an extraordinary experience of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, now had an outstanding scandal in its hands. The treasurer had run away with an enormous amount of money. The pastor did not know what to do about this and he wanted to keep it hush-hush.
By then I was one of the leaders of the church, so I said to him, “Pastor, you can’t do that. We must answer to the brothers and sisters in the church. It is their money, the money they offered to the Lord. We have no right to keep this thing hidden.”
He said, “But it’s bad for the reputation of the church.”
I said, “Well, we have to leave that in the Lord’s hands. Whatever is the right thing to do, we must do it. What people think of us is secondary.” But he refused to reveal it.
I said, “Well Pastor, if you don’t wish to expose it, I am sorry that I cannot be part of a cover-up, so if you will pardon me, I will leave the church.”
He was very distressed about it. He said, “No, no, please don’t do that.”
I said, “I have no choice. I’m not going to be part of a cover-up.”
He said, “What do you suggest?”
I said, “This man has stolen the Lord’s money, and nobody who steals money from the living God gets away with it. At Chislehurst we experienced how real God is. Put this man in God’s hands, deliver him into the hands of the living God, because it is a fearful thing, as Scripture says, to fall into the hands of the living God (Hebrews 10:31). And after God has dealt with this evildoer, you don’t have to worry about your reputation because the fear of the Lord will be upon everyone. They will know that God is the living God. No one can steal His money and get away with it. So let Him deal with it.”
He said, “Well, I still don’t have the confidence to do that.”
I said, “Well then, goodbye Pastor. This is where we must part.” And I left the church.
The result was very bad because the more he tried to hide it, the more the people in the church knew about it. I didn’t say anything about it because I had left the church. But the scandal was passed around by word of mouth, and people began to leave the church. There were people who wanted to leave the church with me. They said, “If you are going, we will go with you. We will set up a new church and you lead us.”
I said, ‘No, you don’t understand. I’m not going to do that.”
They said, “You have been giving us Bible studies in the past nearly two years, you are our teacher and we follow you out.”
I said, “No. This is the church where I have served. This pastor is the pastor of this church, and God forbid that I should do anything to split this church. God forbid that it would be laid to my charge that I raised my hand against the Lord’s anointed, because whether he is right or wrong, he is the pastor. God anointed him pastor and I won’t raise my hand to do anything against him.”
They continued to press me, so I decided to disappear. I vanished without telling them where I went to. They could not find me anymore. I pulled up my “tent pegs” and disappeared, not telling anybody where I went to. That was used against me later on, to say that I must have had something to hide and that was why I disappeared. Never mind. Let them say what they will. I would not have it said that I split that church. I didn’t. But all the same, many people left the church as they also did not wish to stay anymore.
Nobody Runs Away from the Living God
I am telling you all this because I want you to know what God did to this man who stole the money. Nobody but nobody runs away from the living God, I tell you. As Scripture says, “Be sure your sins will find you out” (Num.32:23). Because he destroyed most of the financial books, we could not press charges against him. At least it would be difficult to press charges. Humanly speaking, there was not much we could do. More than that, he had already left England. To pursue him, we would have to work on an extradition to bring him back to England to face trial. And with much of the evidence destroyed, it would be very hard to do that. But we don’t have to worry, because our God will take care of everything. God is to be feared in His righteousness and holiness, but also to be loved in His mercy and goodness, and these are not separate. To show kindness to His church, He has to be severe with evildoers, but evildoers will soon destroy themselves.
This man went back to Malaysia with his new wife, but his marriage began to fall apart. What do you expect from somebody like him? He was so insecure about his marriage that he confiscated his wife’s passport to make sure that she doesn’t run away. Can you imagine that? One day his wife managed to get her passport (whether the old one or a new one, I don’t know), and she went off to the United States. Hearing that she had left, he was in such fury that he followed her to the United States. He found her and murdered her. Thinking she was in a relationship with someone else, he murdered her in a fit of madness and jealousy. Having murdered her, he fled back to East Malaysia.
The United States had some kind of extradition treaty with Malaysia and had him extradited to face charges in the United States. He was extradited to the United States, sentenced to death, and was executed. So what did all the money he had stolen get him? Nobody runs away from the justice of God. God has a way to deal with sin.
Sweet Presence of God
In this long list of things I am sharing with you, I don’t know where to end. Therefore I will close with one last point. Perhaps I will share with you one other experience of God that remains deeply imprinted in my mind.
At that time, I was staying north of London in a place called the Foreign Missions Club. I stayed there because it was one of the cheapest places for accommodation, and they gave special consideration to students.
As you know, I lived by faith through all this time. I always had to look to the Lord for provision. Often times I would start a term in college with no idea whether I could pay the fees for that term. In London, you had to pay on the first day, on registration day. But I often didn’t have the money even the day before. I had to leave the matter into the Lord’s hands. It didn’t worry me at all. I would say, “Lord, if You want me to continue my studies, could You please provide the funds. But if You don’t want me to continue my studies, I thank You nonetheless because having a degree or not doesn’t mean anything to me. I will continue if You want me to, I will stop if You want me to.” Of course God had complete control because He controlled the money. It was not up to me to decide whether to carry on or not. The Lord was remarkable in His ways. Sometimes on the very day of registration, I would receive an envelope, unmarked and anonymous, containing sufficient funds to pay the college fees.
Staying in North London, I had to cycle down on my bicycle in order to save on bus fares. I would usually look like a panda by the time I arrived at college because of the pollution in London. I would wear glasses to protect my eyes from all the dust and exhaust fumes coming from the diesel buses. When I got to the college and took off my goggles, there would be two round circles. You can imagine that my face would have black and white rings around the eyes. It looked quite cute. People would smile as I walked by. At first I didn’t know why they were smiling at me, but when I looked in the mirror, I knew why.
That shows you how poor I was at that time, as I had to get around in a big city like London on a bicycle. There was scarcely another cyclist in sight, so it was a bit of an oddity to have a cyclist charging around the cars and buses.
A few months later, a brother whom I had known at the Bible Institute and who was now going to Japan as a missionary, sold me his old motorcycle at a low price. But I still had to wear the goggles when riding the motorcycle, so that “panda effect” remained!
One weekend in the Foreign Missions Club, because I didn’t have to rush off on my bike for college, I had an extended time of quietness before God in prayer. As I entered into prayer, suddenly I was transported. I don’t know what happened. I don’t know whether I was transported up to heaven or heaven came down to earth. Suddenly I was somehow in a different kind of world. I was aware of what was going on around me, and was not in a state of trance, if by “trance” we mean that you are not conscious of your environment. I was not ecstatic in the sense of being beside oneself, not knowing what is happening. Suddenly I felt that I was in some kind of heavenly world even while I was on earth. It was really mysterious. I don’t know how to describe this. All my faculties were clear, fully alert, fully aware of what was going on, and fully conscious. This time it was not the strong overwhelming power of God’s presence as at Chislehurst but simply a gentle pervasive beautiful sense of being in heaven. I don’t know what to call it or how to describe it. It was as though everything was full of light, and I was walking in the light. All darkness was driven back and I was surrounded by God’s light. As far away as I looked, everything was light.
At first I was in my room in the Foreign Missions Club. There I was transported into a sweet fellowship with God. It was as if God wanted to say to me, “At Chislehurst, you experienced Me in My awesome, overwhelming and frightening power; today I want you to experience Me in all My gentleness, love, sweetness, kindness.” There was this warm, sweet presence of God that was not in any way terrifying or intimidating.
Again it came totally unexpected. I did not work up my mind; there was no psychological buildup. Absolutely nothing. I had not been singing songs, none whatsoever.
In those days I would often pray on my knees, but I soon found out that I could not stay very long on my knees because the hard floor would make my knees ache badly. The pain distracted me and I could not concentrate. I learned to sit down more often so that I could stay on longer with the Lord. And there was His presence for something like two hours, in a state of being lifted up into His sweetness, into the joy of communion with Him. Yet I was totally aware of everything going on.
I looked at my watch and saw that I had a lunch appointment, so I had to get going after these two hours. I knew it would take me about 40 minutes to walk there. I don’t remember why I didn’t go by bike. That detail escapes me. I don’t recall why I decided to walk. Perhaps I thought I could continue in God’s presence if I didn’t have to pay so much attention to the traffic. I don’t know if that was the reason; I don’t remember.
I thanked God for this sweet and amazing experience. I was walking on the streets, and do you think that His presence had gone? Not at all. It was amazing. As I walked on the streets, His presence was there with me. I was still in heaven because where God is, as the song goes, heaven is there. As I was walking along, I thought, “Am I still on earth?” How come I can see everything clearly, yet I don’t seem to be here? I had a sense of being here and not being here at the same time. Does this sound strange to you? Unless you experience these things, you wouldn’t know how to explain them. As I was walking along, God’s presence was with me. I was thanking Him, praising Him, fellowshipping with Him right up to my arrival at the house where the meeting was.
When I got to the door of the house, I knew that this experience had ended right at that point. The sweet glow was there but God’s presence was not with me in that form anymore. It ended right at the door. Yet all along the streets, and amidst the traffic, as I was walking along the roads with cars passing by, God’s presence was there. When I arrived at the door, it was as if God was saying, “I am going to leave you now. This communion with Me must end here.”
I walked into the door in a bit of a daze, but in a sweet way. I walked into the room and saw the last unoccupied seat; all the other seats were taken. The people were seated around in a circle. They were mostly people from our church. I walked straight to the vacant seat and sat down. I had never seen the person who was next to me before. He turned to me and asked, “How did you come to know God?” Why would a person open a conversation with you with the first question, “How did you know God?” As I was pondering how to answer his question, he said, “I am asking because I want to know God.” And I didn’t even know his name!
Could it be that God’s presence in us is like the fire of the Spirit (Acts 2:3) which, though invisible, draws people to Him? You sit down and then somebody asks you, “How do you know God?” The strange thing is that people have spoken to me about wanting to know God, and they were strangers to me.
I began to talk with this young man. God worked so powerfully in him that very day, that very noon time, that an hour or so later, he knelt down with me. He was so anxious about committing his life to the Lord. It was not I who asked him but he who asked me about committing his life to the Lord. I said, “All right, let’s us kneel down here and you commit your life to Him.” I have seen God do this many times. The Lord’s power drives people to their knees and they want to commit to Him. It is amazing. I try to slow them down but they want to keep going. How can I stand in God’s way? So this young man committed his life to the Lord. He was due to enter into medical studies in London. God’s power so worked in his life that he decided not to study medicine but to be trained to serve the Lord. The price he paid for that was very high because his father disowned him and was not reconciled to him until recently. He and I are still in touch.
Experiences are Not for Our Personal Enjoyment
From this please notice that God often grants us an experience, but not for our own personal enjoyment. Perhaps one reason that He gave me a special communion with Him that day was to help this person turn to Him. I think that this experience was given not just for me but also for him. He was prepared to be rejected by his family. His father, a medical doctor, wanted his son to be a doctor too. His father, a Buddhist, was absolutely furious, and did not talk to his son again when he told him he was going to be a preacher. I said to this brother some years ago when he was in Hong Kong, “Are you reconciled with your father?” He said, “My father still doesn’t talk to me.” Thirty years later, he still did not talk to him. That is how bitter his father was.
Declare His Works to All
I pray that God will bless you through this sharing. I have simply fulfilled what Scripture says, that we are to declare His glory and His mighty works. This is what I was hoping to do today. To hear about His glory puts a certain responsibility on you. Nobody can hear God’s Word and go away without having to respond to God in some way. May God help you to respond to Him in the right way.
(c) 2012 Christian Disciples Church