“Then said I, Woe is me! For I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts.”
Such was the tremendous sense of the holiness of God that struck so deeply the soul of Isaiah that it caused him to cry out those Spirit-inspired words recorded in Isaiah 6:5. Something of that deep and abiding sense of the holiness of God is, I believe, what is needed in the soul of every young aspirant to the ministry.
Unlike a vast majority of the youth of our churches who are born and raised in God-fearing covenant homes and taught in our distinctively Reformed Christian Schools, I grew up outside of such a covenantal environment. Dear youth, what a rich heritage you have been given. Are you thankful for and making the most of it?
I was born in a suburb of the capital city of Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur, the younger of two sons, and my family moved to Singapore when I was four. Educated well in the secular education system there until age 18, I was a self-declared “free thinker” throughout my childhood and teen years. I had a great love for math and liked to read books by the philosopher Bertrand Russell, one favorite title being, Why I Am Not A Christian. However, little did I know that things were going to take a turn when I was awarded an overseas scholarship to study computer science and left the country in 1987 to pursue that course of education at the University of Illinois in Urbana Champaign. It was there, midway through my junior year in college and through a witness given by an on-campus International outreach Christian group (I would later discover that it was fundamentalist Baptist) that I was led to confess repentance from sin and faith in the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. After finishing my college education in Champaign, I moved to the University of Maryland in College Park and obtained my master’s degree in computer science. There I continued my association with an on-campus Christian group that was under the same organization as the one in Champaign.
As a young believer, though I enjoyed fellowship with these groups of believers, I was never entirely satisfied with some of the issues I faced at Bible Study. One issue that troubled me was that though I was taught that God loved everyone in the world and sent his only begotten Son Jesus Christ to die for everyone equally on the cross, yet God declares in his word in Romans 9 that “Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.” Why would God hate Esau? What had Esau done for God to hate him? Such questions I asked remained unsatisfactorily answered by all my friends, Bible study leaders, and campus pastors, and would remain that way throughout my remaining stay in the US. I resolved in my heart to get to the bottom of this issue when I returned in Singapore in early 1992.
Through much personal time spent reading and studying various Christian books, the Lord led me to embrace the Reformed faith and then to join the First ERC in Singapore as member in 1995. It wasn’t too long after I joined First ERC that the Lord placed a holy desire, even burden, in my heart for the gospel ministry. While I am not able to identify concretely any one circumstance that led to this, I will say that over the course of my personal reading and studies, one thought I had within me was this: “How wonderfully rich and God-glorifying is God’s truth of salvation revealed in the Bible, summed and set forth in the Reformed Faith! God is God! Yet how few there were who faithfully taught and proclaimed the truth of this great and glorious God in all its fullness!”
This desire or burden in my heart was what Rev. J. Kortering, who was my pastor during that time, told me was an important aspect of the subjective call to the ministry. I personally felt God’s call in my heart. Now there was need to give evidence of its validity objectively. If God was truly calling me to the ministry, then he would also equip me with gifts for the ministry and have this demonstrated to others around me. If God was truly calling me to the ministry, he would also open the way for me to be called by his church. Who could have imagined, though, the path that our sovereign God would lead me through?
That long and winding road taken to demonstrating this objective side of my call began immediately with taking two years of pre-seminary Greek at a seminary in Singapore during a busy, busy time in my life when I was a young father to two young boys, working as a full-time computing professional, and serving in the church as a deacon. It continued with my family and me leaving for theological studies at the PR Seminary in 2001. It went through a very difficult and trying time for me and my family when I ended up being examined and sustaining that examination at Synod 2005. It eventually culminated in a call to the ministry I received and accepted in early 2006 from the congregation at Edgerton, MN, and which would lead to my ordination and installation there.
While that was a milestone towards the establishing of my personal call to the ministry, it was exactly that: a milestone, and not the end of the call to the ministry. That call that the Lord placed in me continues to be tried, proven, and deepened through doing all of the work of the ministry: preaching and pastoring his precious flock given me by God’s own hand to care for. Though I am finished with formal theological studies, the ministry continues to be a place not just for giving instruction, but also for learning and growing in the tasks given to me to perform and in my abilities—growing spiritually. What joy it is to behold God’s flock doing well spiritually, and when there is peace, unity, joy and growth in the midst of her! What joy it is to be involved in and to behold a church extension work so blessed by God that it becomes an instituted church! What joy it is to behold God’s people, so different from those of my upbringing but sharing the same faith, living out and enjoying their confession of their one and only comfort in life and in death, even under greatly trying circumstances! And what sorrow it is to see others mired in sin and rebellion, forsaking truth and godly admonition, and leaving their confession and the churches which so love and cherish God’s truth! It is deeply humbling and at the same time a holy delight to be used by God to minister to his church on earth!
Through it all, that deep sense of the holiness of God remains with me and affects me in all of my labors: in preparing sermons from week to week and going to the pulpit to preach them, in ministering to the sick, the afflicted, the dying and the grieving, in catechism instruction, in leading Bible societies, in giving pastoral counsel, etc.
Through it all, he who is truly continually called of God must also be like Isaiah who, when asked of the Lord, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” placed himself under him and stood ready to obey and do his will. That, to say the least, is not always easy. How we must be ready always and say with Isaiah, “Here am I; send me”! Would a gifted young man consider pursuing the ministry? Let a sense of the majestic holiness of God and his great glory be in his soul. Let humility and readiness to submit to and do his will so abide with and grow in him. Let him ever and always live in the great love of God in Christ Jesus, and in trust and dependence upon him, that he may be assured of God’s abiding care for him and his family wherever he is called to preach the gospel. And let him demonstrate his love for the flock by feeding her faithfully with the sincere milk of the word. The God who calls him puts him in remembrance of these things and will see to it that he does.