Archive for March, 2011

A Stroke of Grace (My Dad’s Story)

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Stephen Samuel was born into a prominent Pentecostal minister’s family in India. His father, Rev. P. M. Samuel (1903-198I), was one of the pioneers of the Pentecostal movement in India and served as the first president of the Indian Pentecostal Church of God (IPC), one of that country’s largest Pentecostal denominations.

Rev. P. M. Samuel (in black), Stephen Samuel (in suit just left of his father), & family/friends/ministers

Stephen’s family experienced both challenges and blessings. Early in his ministry, his father lived in such poverty that one of his sons died in his arms due to the lack of food. Yet his father eventually oversaw hundreds of churches in the state of Andhra Pradesh, India, where there had been no Pentecostal churches until he brought the Pentecostal message to that area. He ministered throughout India and around the world and witnessed God’s power at work.

At the age of 18, Stephen went to Germany to study. He enjoyed his time there and was involved in church ministry. While there, Stephen discovered a number of letters directed to some German pastors who supported his father’s ministry. These letters were from a few jealous pastors associated with Stephen’s father in India and contained gossip and lies about his father’s ministry.

After two years in Germany, Stephen went back to India. At a large annual convention led by his father in Andhra Pradesh, Stephen came across one of those jealous pastors and confronted him. This pastor was upset with Stephen, but did not respond directly – not then at least.

One day during the week-long convention, Stephen came across a group of leaders engaged in a heated discussion. Later he was confronted by a gang armed with bats, ready to beat him. There was a great uproar, and an accusation was levelled at Stephen that he had threatened a pastor with a gun. Although Stephen denied it, some leaders argued that unless he apologized for his threat they would disrupt the convention.

Stephen saw his father praying and crying. Witnessing his father’s tears, he decided he would comply. So in order to appease some of the leaders and bring calm to the convention, he apologized in front of 3,000 people for something he never did.

Though calm did settle upon the convention, the experience left Stephen feeling bitter and angry toward Christians—and ultimately toward Christ. Reconciliation took place within months between his father and those pastors who caused the turmoil, but Stephen was unwilling to do the same.

That same year, 1963, Stephen met and married Molly. He was attracted to her beauty and musical talent. Little did he know that she was passionate about her relationship with Christ. They eventually had three children: Jenny, Jasmine and Josh.

Sadly, much of Stephen’s anger toward Christians was directed at Molly. He not only burned his own Bible, but tore up his wife’s Bible too. This mistreatment affected all aspects of their relationship. Stephen’s children also experienced the effects of his bitterness since they, too, sought to follow Christ.

In April 2007, Stephen and Molly attended a friend’s funeral. While sitting in the car waiting to go to the cemetery, Stephen suffered a stroke and lost control of half his body. An ambulance was called. His wife, family, and friends prayed for him as they waited. When the ambulance arrived, he regained his consciousness. He received treatment at the hospital, and everyone hoped for the best. One of the doctors, though, said that he would be permanently paralyzed.

After a number of days in the hospital, Stephen returned home. To his wife’s amazement, he let her pray and read the Bible with him on a daily basis. Stephen began getting physically better as the days went by. One day Molly asked Stephen if he would pray too, but he said no. She continued to ask and one day he finally agreed to pray, but only to a generic “God.” She continued to talk to him about God, the Bible, and his need to follow Christ. Finally, it happened— he prayed and made a decision to follow Jesus Christ! While Stephen’s physical health has improved to the point where he is able to do all that he did before the stroke, his spiritual health has changed even more dramatically.

Stephen and Molly (Kunjunjamma) Samuel

By now you may have realized that Stephen is my dad. From personal experience I can tell you: he has changed! So much so, we have had to learn how to relate to him afresh. Why? Because he is truly a new person! To everyone’s amazement, we regularly hear his quiet yet passionate voice in our home as he prays to God. Our entire family can truly affirm what the Apostle Paul wrote: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Corinthians 5:17, NIV).

My dad admits he has lost many years, but he’s doing all he can to reclaim them. He is studying God’s Word and seeking God in prayer for his family, his friends, the world, and himself. My dad has also had a change of heart about his past. Whereas he used to live with bitterness, now he has forgiven those who hurt him.

Don’t give up on that person you are praying for. Our family has seen that, with God, all things are possible! And if you want to make a change like my dad, seek Christ because He’s worth it (and I would be happy to pray for your situation as well, feel free to contact me).

[This is an article I wrote with my family’s support, including my dad. It was originally published in the magazine, Testimony, on January 2009; and later posted on Christianity.ca.]

“Born Again” by the Newsboys

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If you have a moment, play this video above. It’s a song I really appreciate by the Newsboys, entitled, “Born Again.” Here are some of the lyrics:

The Newsboys

“I found myself looking into the mirror
Knew I wasn’t who I wanted to be
I was living like the way that I wanted
But my eyes reminded me I’m not free.
Believed that I saw everything that I know
Says I got to go, tired of going solo
But I’m never gonna go there again.

This is what it is
This is who I am
This is where I finally take my stand
I didn’t want to fall
But I don’t have to crawl
I met the One with two scarred hands
Giving him the best of everything that’s left of
The life inside this man
I’ve been Born Again”

So often when we hear the words, “born again,” I think many immediately think of someone who has decided to make a commitment to follow Jesus Christ. Maybe they’ve heard a message at church about Jesus dying on the cross for us – that Jesus has paid the penalty for our sins – that we can be completely forgiven of our sins when we ask Jesus for forgiveness and trust Him as our Lord and Saviour – and some have made commitments to follow Jesus Christ under these circumstances. To me, this is one of the greatest miracles one can experience – a life changed by God’s grace and mercy extended to us. Salvation is incredible. If someone has genuinely decided to follow and believe in Jesus Christ, they have truly been “born again.”

Jesus explained the need to be “born again” and what it means in John 3. Of course we cannot be physically “born again,” but we can be born again in a spiritual sense when the Spirit of God brings new life into us as we believe in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Saviour – we may then live eternally in the presence of God through this new birth.

The challenge for some of us, I think, is that when we speak of being “born again,” it is limited to that “moment of conversion.” What I like about the song and video by Newsboys entitled, “Born Again,” is that through the visuals of this video they have connected this new life with a new way of living that is consistent with the Kingdom of God – they are seeking the values of the Kingdom of God established here on earth – through helping the poor and disenfranchised. In James 1:27, the writer explains that “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world” (NIV).

I think it’s critical that being a “born again” Christian is not just something that points to a mere “moment of change,” but a change in lifestyle inaugurated by that new life the Spirit brings. A life that reflects the heart of God towards the world – particularly those who are in need. Let us consider how we might bless others who are in need today. I recognize that one does not need to be “born again” to help those in need, but I think that a lifestyle of blessing others should be particularly evident in one who is “born again.”

Most of us have heard about the devastation that has occurred recently in Japan due to the tsunami. You can help them today by donating something to an organization helping with the relief efforts. There are a lot of great organizations out there helping. One I know of that is helping is World Vision; if you like you can give to World Vision from anywhere in the world – check them out at this link – World Vision International. There are links on this page so you can select the country you are from, and subsequently make your donation.

Feel free to contact me or add your own thoughts here, always a pleasure to hear from you.

Reflections from My Trip to India – Communication and Communion with God

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People seeking God at the 2011 Andhra Pradesh IPC Convention

It has been a long time since I’ve written anything here, but I’ve been quite busy with teaching and a trip to India. For this entry, I thought I would include a few (among many) random reflections on my trip to India with my wife Joyce.

1) India is tremendously diverse. As soon as you try to say, “This is what India is like,” you likely get it wrong. We got the chance to visit four different states in two weeks, and each visit brought us to a new culture and language group. Languages like Malayalam in Kerala, Telegu in Andhra Pradesh, Kannad in Bangalore, and Hindi in New Delhi. Of course, you can find people who speak English and Hindi all throughout the country, but the reality is that there are numerous languages and different cultures in India, of which I only very briefly touched upon. This leads to my second reflection.

2) Clear Communication is Key in Relationships. Of course this does not just relate to one’s time in India –clear communication is key in all relationships. However, it is only when you are in a context where you are limited to communicate, that you realize how important communication is. Sadly, my abilities in languages like Malayalam are weak, so I’m thankful for family members (our parents were also visiting India) who were there with us and able to help us communicate. This is something I really want to improve on, and have been praying that God helps me with.

Josh and Joyce Samuel Celebrating the 70th anniversary celebration of the IPC Andhra Pradesh Annual Convention

When you are limited in communication, you see how even non-verbal communication is important. For instance, in India hospitality is a highlighted value, and as soon as you visit with someone you will likely be treated with great hospitality. Since I was limited in my verbal communication with some, I couldn’t help but recognize the positive communication received non-verbally through their hospitality. While visiting family in Kerala, we visited somewhere between 6-10 homes EACH day. And in one day, we literally had 6 meals. Six. And the food of course was great. And to not take part in the food offered would, in my opinion, show your lack of appreciation of their hospitality. So, you gotta eat. Not a bad thing though, since the food was great.

Anyone who is in a relationship, whether courting, engaged, or married knows the importance of clear communication for sure – both verbal and non-verbal. Seeking to be better at communication should be an important endeavour of all – listening, asking questions, clarifying, and generally speaking in a way that makes sense to the hearer.

3) The Passionate Response to the Word of God at the IPC Annual Convention in Vijayawada, Andhra Pradesh.

Rev. P. Noel Samuel

 

During our time in Vijayawada, Andhra Pradesh, we had the opportunity to celebrate with thousands of others who convened for the Indian Pentecostal Church of God’s annual convention. My cousin Rev. P. Noel Samuel is providing great leadership there, a ministry initially founded upon the ministry of my grandfather, Rev. P. M. Samuel. It was a 70th anniversary celebration.

Anyways, there was so much going on there, but I cannot help but remember the faces of the people who wanted prayer (see the first picture at the beginning of this post). I had the opportunity to share a few times for this convention.

Josh Samuel

The people’s response to the call to God and prayer through the various ministries going on was beyond what I could imagine. This experience reminds me of what the biblical writer states in Psalm 42:1: “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God.” What I appreciated about the people at this convention was their humility and hunger for more of God in their life – and their passionate and sincere belief that God could truly make a difference in their life. They were very much a sharp contrast with some of us in the West, as I feel we can sometimes be a lot more cautious, suspicious, and generally doubtful. However, in Hebrews 11:6, the writer states, “without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him” (NIV).

How important it is for us to humbly come before God and seek Him with everything in us. We often wonder why God seems to powerfully move among people in various places of the world, but not so much in the West – may I suggest that one factor relates to this issue of humbly seeking after God. If you’re reading this, I encourage you to take some time today to seek Jesus in prayer with everything within you, He’s definitely worth it!

I could go on and on here, but let me conclude here. Feel free to comment if you like, whether you have been to India or not. However, if you have visited India, live in India – or some other country that may be similar –it would be great to hear your reflections on Christian spirituality in such contexts.

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