Cancer, was one of the best things that ever happened to me. 6 years ago, for my 19th birthday, doctors gave me a wonderful birthday present! A prognosis for Seminoma Stage I, testicular cancer. For those of you who may not know, this is the same cancer that Lance Armstrong endured; hence, Lance has become a personal role model for me. But I digress, on June 2, 2004, the night of my surgery; I lay in bed and prayed to God. I told him that although I didn't know why I had cancer, I thanked him for the experience and strength to overcome it. I laid my life in his hands and simply asked for his will to be done. I didn't know what would happen in the future, so I promised that if I would be healed post surgery, I would devote my life to his kingdom.
Today, I can happily say, "I survived cancer." But getting to this point was no picnic. For about a year following the cancer, I became passionate for Christ and even considered seminary immediately after Rutgers. I became close to him and my relationship was really materializing into something tangible. I experienced the Holy Spirit at a retreat center in Chicago for the first time that year, where I was literally frozen and couldn't move. As I prayed, my hands would not separate and they literally became hot with an intense burning sensation. I started to cry and I couldn't stop, and when the pastors and missionaries started to pray for me, they suggested that God wanted to give me a gift - The gift of Healing. Astonished I just sat there, stupefied by their claim. And a few moments later, they said God wanted to give me another gift, the gift of tongue! At this point, I looked at them in disbelief and said "You're joking, right?" I thought one gift was enough and even one was hard to believe! But while praying for those gifts, the missionary told me to exercise the gift of tongue in Jesus Christ's name! I tried twice but nothing came out. And right when I was about to give up, mostly because I was embarrassed and no longer believed in this 'gift,' I began my own conversation with God. I said, 'God, this is super great, I really feel blessed and I feel the Holy Spirit in me! Thank you, but please, I don't need this!' That's when I heard a familiar voice through the speakers. The missionary exclaimed, "Listen now! To the word of God!..." And that's when I realized... As I was praying, as I was having this simple conversation with God in my mind, I lost all control over my mouth and these sounds just constantly poured out of me! Again, I cried, someone who didn't even cry over cancer, one who restraints from tears as much as possible, I couldn't stop crying! But all those tears were out of sheer joy - A joy for something that I can only explain as a true encounter with God, the Holy Spirit.
Life was great. I thought it'd be smooth sailing after that. But ironically, everything started to fall apart. It only took one semester, where I would begin to lose my closest friends, feel true betrayal from people I loved, go through constant drama at every direction in my life, fall into drugs and alcohol hard core, stop going to church, denounce the very existence of Jesus Christ, fall into complete isolation and even get kicked out of college. That was probably the lowest point of my life. And since that time, for a period of 5 years or so, darkness remained inside my heart. I wasn't fully aware until coming back to Christ this year, but something had been oppressing me the entire time. I'll admit, It did a really good job with discouraging my faith, but all its' efforts were in vain because if anything, now, I am much stronger than I was before. Christ's existence in me is so evident that for all the trials and hardships I endured, while I was burning in that furnace, I came out that much more solidified and victorious with God. And ever since my deliverance, God has shown me more amazing things.
I met Pastor Jason Chang in the parking garage elevators of the building where we live. I'll admit, by first impression, I was kind of weirded out by him. He literally waited for me for a couple minutes until I reached the elevator door. His first words were, "Hey... I saw you had the same jacket as mine, [we were both wearing Northface Denalis] and I felt compelled to wait up for you..." I was like, "WOAH..... *awkward*...OKAY?" I said to myself, "Get me outta this elevator ASAP," but oddly enough, as we began to talk, what I thought would be a painful 30 seconds, became a liberating 3 hours of conversation in the lobby of our building. I told him my story, where I was in my spiritual life, what I went through in the past and my then Taoist approach to life of just going with the flow. This was November 2009. For two months, I'd continue to very randomly run into him. Now, I never believed in coincidence, so I found it odd, to constantly run into him. There are so many people in my building and never have I run into anyone else as much as I have with Jason. It wasn't even at around the same time of the day! But I look back and I see, that's when God was saying, 'it's time for you to come back, Sam.' The day after meeting Jason for the first time, he invited me to go to a cell group meeting. I said, 'sure, why the heck not.' Again, just going with the flow I thought 'let's see where this takes me.' But once it started, it hasn't stopped. The grace of God, Jesus Christ and The Holy Spirit, just, moving mountains in my life! I've been blessed to have Jason witness a lot of the things I'm sharing with you today. There have been so many things that have happened to me since the launch service of GCC Bergen, through numerous prayer meetings, cell groups, and fellowship, I began to really submerge and surround myself more with brothers and sisters of Christ. And as I continued to ride that wave and go where the Lord wanted me to go, one day I landed at the back section of a frozen yogurt store, Fruits Geletaria.
But let me just back track for a second here. Before I get into the exciting things I've experienced, during my period of darkness, not only was I doing bad things but my attitude towards life and the church were very negative as well. I considered myself to be a very logical person, and would always over analyze any given situation. I saw the bible as something only fools would follow. I tried to intellectualize religion and what faith is, I tried to categorize people of faith, and believed that they were just using it as some sort of outlet, or even as a cheap dating service. I felt they weren't true to themselves, and that they were just too hypocritical. And that the concept of God and Jesus Christ and all the stories in the Bible were made by man, for men, to just create movements all throughout time. I was numb to the idea of Church and just everything it represents, and to be frank, I wanted to just be done with it all. But ever since that night at Fruits, whenever I read the bible, awesome scripture comes to me, like this
1 Corinthians 1: 18
For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
There it is! God helped me realize just how much of a fool I have been. But since the night I repented for my sins at Fruits Geletaria, and experienced a true deliverance, words like these have just continuously come to me whenever I read the Bible. To remind me of what is really important. Now I'm someone that, back in the day, would say "God, please speak to me!" – And then I’d just sit in my chair and wait quietly until I heard something. Or I'd open the bible to a random spot and read the first verse of the first chapter I see! But you know it was always around the same spot because of that ribbon I used as a book mark? Kind of foolish, right? And whenever I read, I would usually fall asleep. I read more out of obligation, than true desire. But now! Oh my goodness, it's a completely different story! I am reading the Bible, and whatever passage I read, I read and re-read over and over again! The scripture is so sweet and I can really immerse myself with the gospel and its teachings. I'll contemplate over a couple chapters throughout the entire day! Even while I'm at work, I'll read the bible on my blackberry every chance I get, just because I feel it feeding my hungry malnourished soul!
Now how did I become this way, literally overnight? On February 26, 2010, we had a major snow storm and I was stuck in Cliffside Park, working in my room. I invited Jason to come down and hang out, and it started to feel like college again. While we were just chilling in my room, Jason asked if I wanted to pray. I've become used to this, whenever one of us feels like praying, we just stop what we're doing and start praying. But anyway, we prayed for just, more of the Holy Spirit in our lives, and for great things to happen within us, the church and Bergen County. When we were done, I went straight back to working (which consisted of chatting with co-workers, talking about the snow and reading email) and he tried to read his book again. I think he only got through about 10 pages that entire day. [Just like college, we weren't being very productive!] But anyway, that night, Jason went out to have dinner with Soon, another brother at GCC and I planned to meet up with them afterwards. When I got to Fruits, I anticipated just the three of us to be there. To my surprise, there was a semi-large group which consisted of other pastors including Jason and Soon. As I sat down, they were all praying for someone and inside I felt like, "Woah...*awkward*... i'm at Fruits and a bunch of people are praying out loud and this is considered 'normal?'..." but whatever, I was a Taoist at the time, and I was just going with the flow - so I sat and listened and it was okay. But then they started to pray for Soon, and as they continued, my heart started to race and I could feel a lot of anxiety building up. I also felt compelled to start praying out loud! At that time, I had never done anything like that before. Pray for someone I barely know, out loud in front of others, at a public frozen yogurt spot? Like, WHAT?! But yea, I felt this urge to pray so I stood up, walked over to sit next to him, told him how uncomfortable I felt, yet was about to pray for him because I couldn't explain this feeling. Apparently, what I said throughout the praying really touched him that night, and he felt like a lot of his anxiety was lifted away. When I was done, I too felt that anxiety leave me, and my heart rate came back down! Amazing stuff! It was as if the Holy Spirit made me feel uneasy, and I broke my comfort zone because I couldn't contain myself anymore. Then, Jason's friend, whose name is also Sam, asked if I would like for them to pray for me. Now when that day started, THIS, was probably the least expected thing that I thought would ever happen to me on any given Friday night. But all the things just fell into place and there I was, because I was meant to be there - no coincidences, right? When he asked I immediately said 'Sure?! Why not - haven't done this in a really long time so let's see what happens?' and as we prayed he said, "Sam, do you want to repent?" I said, "That’d be great, but How?" To which he replied all you have to do is ask for forgiveness and God will take care of the rest. I felt like, man - when I would feel sorry and ask my parents to forgive me for doing something bad, I had SUCH a hard time! and never was their response "Oh, it's okay"... it was never EASY to say 'sorry' and now, for me to say sorry to God, for all the things I had done for the past 5 years? Even more so, my entire life? GEES - could you say, just.. 'a little intimidating?' So yea, I could not believe it would be so easy - but it was! However, as I started, I began to feel a literal knot inside my stomach. When the pastors helped me understand what I should repent for, it became so clear. As I repented for people in my past, people I had not really forgiven, including myself, each time I would pray for a specific event/person, I would literally feel something un-knot itself inside my gut. I would then dry-heave as if throwing up, and I could literally feel something exit from my body! After the first time, one of the pastor's said she had a vision of a pretzel knot that had three knots. One had just unraveled, and two remained. Immediately, two traumatic events in my life came to mind, and as I repented for those two things, each time I would dry heave again as if literally throwing up, and I could feel something exit through my throat. By the second prayer of repentance, my hands became hot and they were glued to the table, as if the Holy Spirit was saying, You're not going to leave this exact spot until you're done repenting! And tears of joy just kept flowing out again! This is when I realized, when it comes to God, that's when I can really cry.
I don't think I'll ever forget that night because afterwards, that's when my passion for Christ really started to come out again. I started reading the Bible, not out of obligation, but because I was hungry for it. I made peace within myself for all the people that hurt me in the past, and all those I might have hurt as well in the process. Every time I prayed for something, whether it was small or significant, God was just answering my prayers left and right! Within a week's time, even sometimes within a single night! It is undeniable, all the things that were happening to me! And although I may have lacked faith before, I can only strive, and continue to strive, to remain faithful to someone that truly loves and cares for me. I truly feel born again, refreshed, and anew. Praise God.
I share with you this testimony of mine, because I am compelled to let you know how God has affected my life. Wherever you are in your walk with Christ, even if you don't think you're walking with Him, I pray that you may open yourself more to the Holy Spirit and ask God to dwell with you for a while. He is there, always, patiently waiting. He loves you and it is undeniable that miracles are happening around you every day. I believe it's up to you, and really want to challenge you, to open your eyes and ears more (even if it means, literally closing your eyes) to see and hear the word and voice of God. I know you will encounter Him, if you so desire. It may not be as ‘crazy’ as my encounter; it might even be ‘crazier!’ But wherever this life takes us I hope we all humbly submit to the will of God. I can only hope to participate in a beautifully, logically sound, plan that I may never understand, but faithfully believe will restore us all with the Holy Spirit. To you, I may not sound like I’m in the right state of mind, but if that’s the case I'm actually grateful because I want to be crazy for Christ! Thank you for taking the time to read this, I pray it may be refreshing to you, as it is for me! God bless.
A few verses that have touched me in recent days
If you make a vow to the Lord your God, do not be slow to pay it, for the Lord your God will certainly demand it of you and you will be guilty of sin. But if you refrain from making a vow, you will not be guilty. Whatever your lips utter you must be sure to do, because you made your vow freely to the Lord your God with your own mouth.
I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
2 Corinthians 5:17-21
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ's behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.