My Testimony (Part 2)
by Pastor James Ho, March 2011
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.
Taken from hymn Thank You, Lord
Lord Jesus said,
“Ask, and it shall be given to you;
Seek, and you shall find;
Knock, and it shall be opened to you.”
Count God’s blessings
God provides abundant blessings and through trials and testing, I am continually refined. Every time I am faced with testing, no matter how tough the going is, or how helpless the situation appears to be, God’s grace is always sufficient to triumph over obstacles. Even now, as a servant of God, He continues to refine and mold me according to His likeness. I would like to share with you my many experiences with God, and I hope that they will encourage you to pursue after Him.
In my last sharing, I described the agony of facing unemployment shortly after my marriage. This sharing is 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 received so many blessings from the Lord that we simply took them for granted. Our wishful thinking and our biggest dreams came to reality right before our eyes. For example, at the time, it was expensive to rent an apartment. We were worried about finding a place that was within our budget but God heard us and presented us with a nice apartment. He also heard my prayers on other matters.
My wife was a fresh nursing graduate and it was proving difficult for her to find a suitable job in Ontario. There were no hospitals where we lived. If she found a job, she would most likely be on shifts and she would have to make long trips to work. It would be laborious to say the least. I wished she would be able to find a regular 9-to-5 job next to my office so we could start our days together. We submitted our ‘dream’ to God and miraculously it came true! It was like what God promised in 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, faithful and flee from greed
When the job offer in Toronto was confirmed, we had to terminate our apartment lease in Montreal. However, the contract had not yet expired. According to the rental agreement, there would be a penalty of 3 months’ rent in terminating the lease prematurely. The company in Toronto agreed to pay for the penalty. However, just before our move, a friend called me and wanted to take over the lease. At that time, I had already accepted the money meant for the penalty from my new employer. So I thought up a shrewd idea to make things work. The company’s payment would be used for the rental agent and then my friend would reimburse me personally for the three months. It sounded like a good deal to me and was a temptation that I succumbed to.
In Toronto, the cost of living was higher than Montreal. However, my salary was 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 dishonesty and greediness? Therefore, soon after I arrived to Toronto, I confessed the situation to the personnel manager. He appreciated my honesty but required the full reimbursement of the money given. He suggested deducting $100/month from my salary until it was repaid. I didn’t feel good about the payback. For my honesty, a thousand dollars vanished into 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 3 months of ‘reimbursing’, I really couldn’t afford to repay the following month. So, I approached the personnel manager again, this time with my dilemma and requested the deduction to be deferred for a month. I stood there, totally overwhelmed with 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 were settled in Toronto, our hearts still belonged to Montreal. We had yet to find a church in Toronto that could satisfy our spiritual hunger for the word of God. More importantly, before I left Montreal, I promised Rev. Chang to make a translation system for the church. It would be more efficient for them to have simultaneous translation. Even though I graduated in Electrical Engineering, I knew nothing of how to design and assemble a translation system. However, embarrassment stopped me from telling Rev. Chang the truth. So I decided to do the research and build it myself. I had resolved all technical difficulties and was about to build the system when I suddenly had to leave for Toronto. However, whether I was in Montreal or not, I thought it was 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 retract from my word, Rev. Chang got the translation system as promised.
Driving in the midst of a snowstorm: God’s safekeeping
Apart from presenting the translation system to the church on that Easter Sunday, we longed for fellowship with the church brethren. They were very warm and convinced us to stay for an early dinner before heading back to Toronto. We knew that it would be a long drive home but we really wanted to have more fellowship over a dinner together. 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 550km. Normal driving would take about 6 hours. However it began to snow when we started driving. I had to reduce speed to barely 50 km/hr. If I maintained that speed, it would take over 10 hours to get back home! After a few hours on the road, it was already dark, snowing heavily with zero visibility. I began to lose patience. At that precise moment, a big sedan sped past us. I stepped on the gas, determined to keep up with the big sedan. I figured I could use its taillights as navigation. However, the sedan was pulling away further and further 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 darkness. To make matters worse, we were entering a curve at a furious speed. Maneuvering the steering was rendered ineffective and the car was out of control. In desperation, I gradually pumped my brake but was too late. We were racing out of control like an unleashed stallion. We skidded into the divide on the highway and were heading straight toward oncoming traffic. I instinctively turned the steering wheel to avoid collision. We went spinning violently. Right at that critical moment, I heard K say, “J, be calm.” I instantly felt in K’s voice an instruction from God as to what to do. So, I just held the steering wheel tightly with both hands and rammed the brake to the floor. I let the car run its course and in my heart, I just committed everything to the Lord…
Bang! My car veered back to the right direction and ploughed into a snow bank. That woke our 2 passengers up (They fell asleep and didn’t even know what happened). I told them that we just had an accident. The impact was so hard that the front hood was buried in the snow. The snow was still falling heavily but thank God it 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 onto the highway and continued our journey home. All along the way, we saw many vehicles skidded into the divide and soft shoulders. I suspect the big sedan was amongst them.
It took us over 10 hours to reach Toronto, maintaining a snail’s pace of 50 km/hr and eventually arriving at 6 a.m. Nearing our destination however, we were running out of gas. So every time we went downhill, I would put the car on 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 gasoline stations weren’t opened in the early hours of the morning. Once again, we committed the matter to the Lord.
We were soon running out of gasoline. I put on a brave face for the sake of the passengers, but I was trembling within. I prayed silently, crying out to the Lord for help. Suddenly, I saw a bright ‘24’ sign board appearing 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 our 2 friends off at their respective homes. When we got home, we unloaded our luggage, I brushed my teeth, washed my face, and got to work promptly at 9 a.m. Surprisingly, I felt very fresh after 11 hours of driving in the most treacherous snowstorm I’ve ever encountered. All praise to God for His safekeeping.
Perhaps you would ask, “Since you did God a service in making the translation system for the church, wouldn’t God have led you home smoothly? Why did it take double the time to travel, not to mention an accident in the snow storm?” I didn’t blame God for the frightening and tiring journey that night. Instead, I thanked God for being with me and leading me through the shadow of the valley of death. In times of crisis, I’m more sensitive to His presence and I appreciate His wonderful grace and deliverance in a deeper way. God did not promise us rose gardens, but He assured 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-death encounter on the highway. Christmas was approaching and we were preparing for a 4-hour journey to visit my elder sister in Ottawa. According to the weather report, 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 and that there was possibility of snow. Double-checking with my sister, she assured us that the weather in Ottawa was fine. So without further delay we set out that afternoon.
A storm was brewing as we were entering a 2-way road. The snow was falling heavier and heavier and eventually developed into a major storm. The wind and snow were blowing in all directions and soon overtook us to Ottawa. The temperature fell and turned overnight snow into black ice. All was hidden under the fresh snow from the storm.
Traffic became heavy. We had wanted to use an alternate route to bypass the jam. Then we heard on the radio that this sudden storm caught everybody by surprise. There was a chain of car accidents that led to a major pileup. It brought traffic to a complete halt. Silently we gave thanks to God that we didn’t take that route. We just had to patiently crawl our way to Ottawa.
Being cautious to keep a distance from oncoming traffic, I drove closer to the curb. Suddenly, I hit something hard. The car reacted with a jerk and veered toward the oncoming vehicles. I had hit black ice that subsequently sent my car skidding into the opposite lane. In front of me were the headlights of a sports car and we were both heading for a direct collision. It happened so fast that I thought we were going to die. Just at that instant, my wife, K, called out, “J, be calm!” She said exactly the same thing in our previous traffic accident. But this time, the car skidded so fast that there was no room for reaction and I completely lost control. However, just in the nick of time, my car suddenly went back to my own lane and the sports car sped past us. It was as if an angel pushed our car back to my side to avoid the imminent disaster. In the end, my car spun to the soft shoulder facing the direction opposite to Ottawa. When the car came to a complete halt, our hearts were throbbing hard and we were both shaking uncontrollably. We made a prayer to God thanking Him for His rescue.
Twice in near death situations, my wife cried out, “J, be calm!” That could not be coincidental. In such times, she simply couldn’t be so calm as to say that. 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 to God’s blessings
I remember saying to K before we got married, “If Rev. Chang continues to conduct a third full-time missionary training we will apply.” She agreed. However, once we moved to Toronto, the pledge for full-time missionary training soon faded away.
We were living in increasing comfort and financial security. My career was on the right track and slowly taking shape. K had a very good job. Unfortunately, since our move to Toronto, we didn’t get much spiritual nourishment at church. Our zeal for the Lord slowly fizzled out. We were just like the Israelites who forsook God when they became prosperous after entering the Promised Land. We were drawn by the lust of the world. When we became materially abundant, our hearts subtly became dull and lost its spiritual appetite.
In 1980, my in-laws immigrated to Canada and we helped them look for a house. At the time, the property market was very volatile. Within a month, the same property could increase by $10K in value. K said, “At this rate, if we don’t buy a house now, we will never be able to afford one!”
So while scouting 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 literally lining up to buy, adding onto an already tense atmosphere. In fact, nobody could physically inspect the houses as they weren’t even built yet! All that was presented to us were a few drafts of house designs and we were supposed to choose from them.
When it was our turn to select, 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 line. Reluctantly, we just picked the cheapest in the range available and made our offer. We 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. However, in that year, there was a worldwide recession and the financial markets collapsed. The mortgage rate soared to a record high at 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 our building site. He gave us 2 proposals: One was a refund of our deposit in full; the other was to choose a similar house that was already approved by the Government. The Lord had given me a choice to back off from our deal but I didn’t. Since K and I had a good and stable income, the mortgage was not a burden for us. We figured we wouldn’t have any problem to pay off our mortgage even if it were to rise sharply. We decided to review the houses up for selection 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 thought likewise 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 that was the conviction of the Holy Spirit. I had what I would call a ‘temperamental crisis’, that is, I was easily agitated and every little thing got on my nerves. Even when unprovoked, I was impatient and bad-tempered.
Since we moved to Toronto, there was a steady stream of brothers and sisters from the Montreal church who were transferred to Toronto because of their work. We met regularly every Friday evening for Bible Study. I remember a sister questioning me, “Should you be re-baptized?” I was rather upset by her comment. I strongly resisted the idea of re-baptism. 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 did kick bad habits such as smoking, drinking and gambling, they were nothing as I wasn’t addicted to any of them. I did notice however, that my hot temperament didn’t change. It was in my blood. I tried to suppress it but it felt like a balloon that was pumped up to maximum capacity, ready to explode anytime.
The verse in Romans 7:19, “For the good that I wish, I do not do; but I practice the very evil that I do not wish” described my condition then. I was getting very frustrated with this kind of life. After we moved into our new mansion, Rev. Chang sent a couple to lead us in Bible Study. They drove 6 hours from Montreal to Toronto to share the word of God with us. It lasted for 10 weeks. During that time, the word of God literally pierced my heart like a two-edged sword. Every time after Bible Study, I couldn’t sleep. There was an inner struggle that almost tore me apart, trying to bring the conviction to my soul. Finally, I felt that I had to make a decisive choice: either I deal with my life or I give up my belief. I didn’t want to be a hypocrite. There were friends and relatives challenging my belief because they said they didn’t see God’s work in my life. Outwardly, because of the Bible Studies, I did change for the better to some extent. But I still had my ‘temperamental crisis’ and was full of pride. I knew that God was real. I told them that although I couldn’t exemplify myself as a true believer of God, they should not rule out His reality.
I have sinned. Through repentance, draw near to God and resist temptation
“Do you really love God?” my elder sister asked me during one of her visits to Toronto. She questioned the motives behind my belief in God. Did I believe in Him because He lavishly gave me a posh mansion? I immediately defended myself saying, “Certainly not! If this house caused 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 shared with my wife saying, “We should not spend money for the house at the expense of our donations for the Lord’s work. I’d rather give up the house instead.” K agreed.
During the first year in our new house, we overspent in upgrading it and had indeed reduced our donations to the Lord’s work. When I realized what I had done, my heart was in deep pain because I had grieved the Lord. I was so ungrateful for God’s abundant blessings. During the Bible Studies, the word of God constantly brought deep conviction to my heart and compelled me to face the ultimate question that I tried to evade: the question of regeneration. If I were serious in dealing with my regeneration problem, then the first step I needed to take was to sell the house.
However, right at that time, the property market collapsed and the value of our house plummeted to rock bottom. We shared with K’s family about the reason for us selling the house. K’s family was strongly opposed to the idea of selling at that stage. Out of good intention, they said, “Don’t be such a fool. Don’t sell the house now. A repentant heart is all you need.” Under their influence and persuasion, 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 K’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 into our house, we discovered it ransacked. Our bedroom drawers and wardrobes were opened and our clothes were strewn all over the floor and on our bed. The house had been burgled! 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 the incident, I remember arguing with my housing insurance company about an extra annual charge of $27.00 for a new policy called replacement insurance. The argument went back and forth for a month before I reluctantly forked out the money. About 2 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 replacement for my father’s watch and my brother’s camera. I really thanked God for that but I didn’t know that God had a better plan in mind to pave the way for me to sell the house.
Things felt different after being burgled. Every time we went home, we entered cautiously and needed to check around to make sure no one else was there. Every bump in the night kept us awake. The house had 3 storeys including the basement. There was just the 2 of us with 4 big rooms upstairs and spacious areas downstairs. We felt insecure after being abruptly intruded upon by criminals. The burglary caused us to lose confidence in that particular area. Finally, K agreed with me that it was time to sell the house.
We approached our next-door neighbor who was a real estate agent. She warned us, “Do you know that house prices have plummeted so much that if you do sell, you won’t recover your money?” We knew that we would suffer a substantial loss, for newly constructed houses with better facilities were cheaper than what we had paid for our house. We reassured her that money wasn’t the issue and asked her to go ahead with the sale of the house. She told us that even if we were willing to suffer loss, there were many new houses of better value in the market and we would face very strong competition. She suggested therefore, that we hold off for a while. However we insisted on selling because we knew that it was God’s will. At the same time, we told our Bible Study group to remember us in prayer because we were putting our house on the market.
When you honor God, God will honor you
God started to work 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 our table. But it was ridiculously low and we didn’t know what to do. On one hand, we knew the Lord wanted us to sell. It was beyond our expectations that an offer would come so fast. Could it be from the Lord? On the other hand, it was so low that I almost treated it with contempt. It was really unfair. The couple had to increase their offer by at least $5K. We committed this matter with fear and trembling to the Almighty God.
The next day, we didn’t know if the counter offer was accepted or not. Returning from work, as we were driving into our driveway, our real estate neighbor dashed out of her house and approached us. 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 slight dull pain in my heart for losing around $20K in this deal (in the 80s, it was a substantial sum), but there was inner joy and peace that far outweighed any monetary loss. Suddenly all our burdens were lifted away and we knew that it was again the work of the Lord. Most importantly, we felt accepted by our loving God again. He embraced us with His inexplicable joy and peace that the world could not give.
When we told our Bible Study group that our house was sold, they received the news with disbelief. However when it all sank in, we praised our God who mysteriously supplied a buyer out of nowhere within one week and amidst stiff competition.
After we sold the house, I made a pledge to the Lord to never buy another house more than $100K. We asked our next-door neighbor. She took us to a prestigious area. The house was as big as our previous one, in a better location and looked gorgeous. She said that 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. It was as good a deal as the one we gave away 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 more than $100K. Again, we were facing a bit of turmoil within our hearts: turning it down seemed like a good opportunity missed. The Lord then reminded me of what the Bible says in Mat 6:21,”Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” He asked me, “Where is your heart?” I knew the answer and didn’t make the offer.
After that, I asked my good real estate friend to be on the hunt. We set our minds 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 the offer and he immediately accepted. The timing was perfect. The day we moved out of the big mansion was the same 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 the whole ‘house’ incident, I was more determined to deal with my regeneration problem. Toward the end of 1982, 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 he asked us that, I recalled sharing with Rev. Chang that I didn’t want to leave Montreal and the church. Rev. Chang replied at that time, “Be faithful to the Lord always. When you do so, God will have a plan for you.” Five years after leaving Montreal, in 1983, the church in Toronto was born.
That same year, I applied for re-baptism in our church’s summer camp. The reason why I was so determined to apply for re-baptism was because of a conversation with Rev. Hung. It was one day when I approached him about the matter of baptism. He suggested for me to evaluate my childhood baptism as a Roman Catholic in light of whether I knew what commitment to God was all about. He used the analogy of marriage.
There were 2 scenarios to consider. First, it could be like a blind or fixed marriage where the parents chose a wife for their son. Although the son has never met his future wife and had 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 marriage is predetermined before birth. The parents had an agreement with another couple that their children would be husband and wife once they reached maturity. They made a covenant of marriage before birth! In that case, the son would not know what commitment to a marriage was all about.
When I looked at my baptism against the marriage analogy, I suddenly realized that I fell into the category of the predetermined marriage rather than that of a fixed or blind marriage. If so, I certainly didn’t know what my commitment to God was. I was only 5 years old when I was baptized and 7 years old when I received my confirmation of faith. I really did not grasp the meaning of baptism in terms of living a life-long loving relationship with God. As in a marriage, it demanded total faithfulness and loyalty.
If one knew that commitment to God meant a life-long relationship with Him in faithfulness and obedience, and if he/she were determined to commit to God, then God would grant the person the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, as a pledge or guarantee that a covenant was established. 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.”). Generally, commitment is done through baptism. Suddenly it all made sense to me. All along I wasn’t really a child of God. In other words, I wasn’t born again since I never had a genuine or total commitment to God. After I realized my own condition, it was clear to me that I had to go for re-baptism in order to commit my life to God in faithfulness and total obedience.
In 1983, at the church summer camp, I was re-baptized. It was the turning point of my life. I remember my vow to the Lord was to never live a compromising life 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 established in Him.
(c) 2012 Christian Disciples Church