Jesus said to him, “Follow Me” (John 21:19)
Growing in Grace, Learning in Serving
Thank God for giving me and my wife a new heart in knowing Him, serving Him. After baptizing in 1994, we started participating in the choir, and as we grow in faith, through God’s mercy and protection, and with the encouragement and support of pastors and co-workers, I have become core co-worker of the Mandarin fellowship. We served in the church as one body with other brothers and sisters of different culture and background.
In 1996 I was nominated and elected as church deacon in evangelism. Serving a church of 400 in three different dialects/languages (church without elders) has brought challenges and opportunities to grow as well. Within that two years, God let me learn a lot, I found short comings in myself as well as the need of humbling myself.
At that time, I was involved in multiple services, always eager to bring people to Christ, then later joined the Chinese Christian Internet Mission working in technical support, even though my personal bible time, prayer time, and quiet time had been very irregular. My past experience continues to dominate, prompting me to rely on my own hard work and persistence. As a result, my personal witness and serving during the first few years heavily relied on my own skills and guts instincts.
Learning to be Disciple, Following Jesus
After four years, God brought two brothers into my life and through them made changes and building up my life.
First one is a matured Christian gifted in teaching, caring, training, and ministering who moved in from Michigan. We started a Bible Study Fellowship (BSF) for brothers. Under the circumstances that the church was without an administrative pastor, he has been instrumental in helping young Christians building up their spiritual lives, and equipping them to serve. It is through this kind of mutual encouragement, self-accounting, I was able to establish a good personal devotion routine: Studying the bible, knowing the truth through prayers, exercising daily lives in truth and through obedience to God’s words. I started to experience the power and grace of “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). To this day, I always thank God for bringing this spiritual brother to my life, he has since become my spiritual teacher and friend alike, he continues to show me good literature, giving me concrete guidance to my service.
As I mentioned before, due to my brought up and education in China, I have been reluctant to accept classical dogmatic and doctrinal teachings. Yet, our church hosted basic theological training twice within that year as a trial. It’s the systematic theology taught by pastor Lu Pei Yuan that caught my interest. God sent another brother in Christ from Michigan (working in the same company with me). Soon, we turned into very close friends. He is a fourth generation Christian, and despite being a PhD and professional in computer science, he is well versed in other areas like literature, history, and philosophy. After coming to the U.S., with proper pastoral help, he was able to reform his faith, establishing a very good foundation in the bible and theology. God transformed me through him in various areas. Specifically, in building me up with a biblical theological paradigm, a practical godliness training with God’s kingdom in vision. Through befriending him, my bookshelf has also started bending under the weight of the book collection.
God’s Calling, Man’s Escape
At the encouragement and recommendation of this brother, me and my wife enrolled in an intensive one-week training conducted by Reformed Theological Seminary in the summer of 1998. We have greatly benefited in lots of conceptual reformation (back to Bible), knowing God in knowledge and in grace more and with a clearer vision, resulting in truly knowing God. Yet, our Lord had something more to achieve through us.
Back in 1996 during a summer camp, me and my wife stepped out to the altar together, in determination to serve our living God ministry in ministry. With the guidance of the Holy spirit and with the wisdom perceiving our hearts, Rev. Stephen Tong talked about God’s calling of people into different areas to serve Him. At that moment, all my sins against God as well as serving Him with misguided motivation became entirely exposed. I was disobedient to God’s calling of me into full time ministry, my reaction was “I am not deserving”. The reasons beneath are all my worry and fear: Are my children destined to have no future? Will my parents bitterly oppose to my decision?
I reached my spiritual abyss that Fall, I seemed to be serving God in thin air, with neither direction nor vigor. I frequently questioned myself how to be a person in God’s will, what exactly is God’s calling and what is it leading into. These concerns dominated my prayer and thoughts at all time. Then one day I picked up a booklet “Who is Willing” written by Rev. Tong. About half way through, I quickly put it down, I was afraid that God’s will on me was coming to reality!
Response in Faith and Action
I was teaching adult Sunday school on the Gospel of John that quarter. It was a Saturday while I was preparing the class on John 12. I was totally crumbled by Jesus’ view of his imminent death and his requirement towards his disciples in serving him. The Holy Spirit called me again through God’s words, “If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him” (John 12:26). That is the glory of the cross, may God’s name be glorified! Tears started streaming down from me, and when I came to tell my wife who was working at the computer, she answered “Yes”. We decided to submit to God’s authority, respond to Him to prepare myself in full time teaching of God’s words through seminary training.
Thank God for giving me a dear helpful wife who always shares in spirit, and taking steps ahead of me. I have finally stepped on solid ground after floating in air for a period of time. I finished reading “Who is Willing”, and at the end of that year, I became co-worker of Chinese Christian Internet Mission. We participated in 1998 North American Chinese Mission, witnessing how God called out four to five hundred Christians to serve Him.
As I look back to those seven years, I am at awe that me and my wife almost synchronized in every step: being transformed in life, being cleansed, being taught, being molded, being used. As in Ephesian 2:10, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”
“Follow me!”, the calling of Lord Jesus to his disciples was still very vivid at the moment I began seminary study. Yes, my Lord, I will follow you for the rest of my life, me and my family!
(Pastor Chen Biao: speaker at 2021 Mandarin evangelical meeting in Vancouver, he is from China, currently director of East Asian Region, Theological Education Resources, Third Millennium Ministries USA)