After my parents settled in Corio, Geelong, they became members of St. Matthew's Anglican Church in East Geelong. The minister of this church at the time was the Reverend Peter Payne. My recollection of Mr Payne was that he was the real deal. He led me through Confirmation which became a transforming experience for me at the age of 15. While I wasn't aware of the politics behind the scenes at the time, he left shortly after this as apparently too many in the church objected to him continually proclaiming the need to be converted to Christ through the new birth experience. But before he did, he organised for Canon John Chapman to hold a series of meetings. This was revolutionary. He presented the Gospel in a passionate and compelling way. He was humourous and very engaging. He made a huge impression on me and helped me to see that Christianity was not a religion, not just a Sunday deal, not a label for the Census Form, but a life of surrender and devotion to Christ that made every facet of life an act of worship of God. This was revolutionary! From the time of Mr Chapman visiting St Matthew's and calling for everyone to fully surrender to Christ and make Him the centre of our lives not merely the appendage to it, my parents (and therefore me and my brother and sister) became "full Sunday" Christians attending both the Sunday morning and evening services. I have maintained a passionate commitment of this expression of my devotion to Christ ever since then too.
Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith—
As I reflect on my upcoming pastoral anniversary I've also had cause to reflect on three of my most significant paradigm shifts over my pastoral career. I began to formally prepare for pastoral ministry in 1983 when I undertook my first Theological subject with ICI College. After completing two Advanced Certificates with them, I completed my Bachelor of Arts in Biblical Studies in 1996 with Emmanuel College. I was then invited to undertake Doctoral Studies with Cambridge Graduate School which I completed in 2002.
I found my Doctoral studies both enjoyable and humiliating. I had to undertake a lot of course work and begin a Dissertation. I was so confident that my first complete of my Dissertation was so perfect that I had it hardcopy bound with an expensive blue fabric over card binding by the University of Tasmania print shop. I had to get multiple copies done to be sent to my two supervisors. After my supervisors examined it, a copy was returned to me with the red ink of their corrections, suggestions, and questions on every page! I was gutted. My dissertation would eventually go through another six drafts before it was accepted. The result of this humiliating and painful process was an increased ability for research, clearer thinking, and how dogged determination is always needed to help complete things that matter. This training contributed to my three significant pastoral paradigm-shifts.
¶ And God was doing extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul
|Canon John Chapman|
Mr Chapman introduced me to the previously unknown ministry of an evangelist. But shortly after this, Rev. Payne was compelled to leave St Matthew's and this new spiritual experience of my parents created a desire for a deeper experience with God. At the time their chain of furniture stores was hit by the rise in interest rates in Australia to around 18% (they are around 4% now). Business became difficult and my parents faced the real possibility of losing their home. They looked to God for help. Murray Harkness, who had recently been employed in my parents' business, suggested trying a Pentecostal Church. We went to his Pentecostal Church one Sunday night in Ocean Grove. It was the weirdest thing I had ever seen in my life up until that point! But that night marked the beginning of a life-long journey for me. From that time I was introduced to the person, presence and power of the Holy Spirit. I began to see in the Gospels how Christ spoke about the coming Holy Spirit who would regenerate, sanctify, empower, comfort, gift, lead, the believer.
¶ "I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire."
As I read through the Gospel of John and the Book of Acts, I was struck by the Person, presence and power of the Holy Spirit. I saw that what Christ said about the Holy Spirit was still relevant for today. As a result I began to seek God for the baptism with the Holy Spirit. On a Wednesday night in a small Apostolic Church chapel in Cox Road Norlane in 1979, where a guest preacher from America invited people to come forward for prayer to receive the baptism with the Holy Spirit. I responded. Something very strange happened to me that night. A short time later, I had a Pentecostal experience which has abided with me to the present day.
When I moved from Geelong to Hoppers Crossing for work there was no Apostolic Church there at that time and I joined an Assemblies of God Church. I became the youth leader. It was during this time that I experienced acute loneliness and an unnatural heaviness. I went on a three day fast to try and shake this off my life. Nothing particularly happened during these three days of fasting but within a week or so I had a strange, very vivid series of dreams about a girl. I saw her face, I heard her name, and I heard a part of her recent story. I told some of my non-Christian work colleagues about this dream. It was about a month later that I was at the regular Overseas Christian Fellowship meeting at Deakin University in Geelong, which Pastor Richard Winter had introduced me, to that I first met this girl. In my dream I heard her name was "Ken" and I was thrilled to discover that her actual name was Kim. She and I were the only Australians present in a meeting comprised almost entirely of Malaysians (at that time nearly all my friends were Malaysian). I asked Kim about some of the things I had seen in the dreams and she instantly began to cry and soon slumped to the floor. We talked for a long while and 18 months later we were married.
I cite these notable experiences among the many I enjoyed so that there may be an understanding that I was, am, and will be, ever open to what the Holy Spirit can do. In 1990 I was credentialed with the Assemblies of God as a pastor. This was an amazing time to join a really great movement. The period from 1977 to 1997, under the leadership of Pastors Andrew Evans and Phil Hills, the Assemblies of God in Australia movement had grown from 140 churches to over 800!
Miracles were central to Assemblies of God ministry at this time. I think it would be fair to say that in every AoG church on any given Sunday during this period, there was prayer and ministry for God to work miracles in people's lives. This was a major thrust by evangelists. It was a major emphasis at the Conferences. There were teaching seminars and courses being taught and offered- How To Hear From God ... How To Heal The Sick ... How To Move In The Prophetic ... How To Be Led By The Holy Spirit. For the most part I didn't question this. But as I continued on in my studies and growth of God's Word I became aware that none of these things were prescribed or practiced in the New Testament. I also became increasingly convinced that the Reformed Theological views of God's Sovereignty and His grace were correct. This challenged me to examine some of my understanding about miracles - especially the miracle of salvation. I became convinced that salvation was by God's grace and not by human effort. This meant that there was nothing - nothing - any person could do to merit their salvation. Putting your hand up in a meeting didn't save you; coming forward in response to an altar call didn't save you; deciding to follow Jesus didn't save you - only the miracle of God's gift of salvation could save a soul!
¶ And Stephen, full of grace and power, was doing great wonders and signs among the people.Acts 6:8
In 2006 I was invited to speak in London. I had been wrestling with how I could harmonise my undoubted Pentecostal experience with my emerging Reformed theology. My visit to England at this time helped to galvanise how this was possible. The Peniel Pentecostal Church held to Reformed theology and yet had a healing and miracles service each Friday in which people travelled from all over the U.K. to attend. The Pastor was clearly gifted. The first Friday night we were there we saw some extraordinary miracles. I still recall them to this day in amazement. The pastor spoke about the grace of God being the source of any miracle. Just as with salvation, there was nothing we could do to merit a miracle. Healing, he argued was not in the Atonement - but was an act of God's grace. I had prior to this began to explore this very notion, but it was now becoming very clear to me. God did not heal anyone because they got the words of the right prayer spoken, or because they had paid their tithes, or because they had fasted - or because they had done anything, except ask in faith (trust) - and even this was the result of God's grace.
So they remained for a long time, speaking boldly for the Lord, who bore witness to the word of his grace, granting signs and wonders to be done by their hands.
This was a huge paradigm shift for me. No longer could I think that God was subject to human efforts. On the contrary, I now realised that any move toward God or seeking Him was the result of God first doing something in that person. That is why we call it grace.
¶ And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed.
This was a tremendous weight off my shoulders as a pastor. No longer did I think that someone's salvation was dependent on how well I did that Altar Call. Now I believed that it was the Holy Spirit who worked in the hearts of the unregenerate through the preaching of the Gospel. My role was simply to be prayerful and faithful to the Text as I discharged my sacred duty as a preacher. I became convinced that the working of miracles, such as healing, was also by God's grace. That is, no one had a "right" to it. If God chose not to grant healing, He was still a good, faithful, adorable God. If God did grant healing to someone, He was gracious to them.
As with my first pastoral paradigm-shift, this second paradigm-shift magnified my vision of God. In the Creation events, I saw God as careful, methodical, patient, grand, organised, deliberate. The sheer vastness of God's Creation displays a glimpse of His immense glory. Because God saves, heals, delivers, regardless of someone's undeservedness, these miraculous acts are given by God graciously. This magnifies God's limitless love and reveals Him to be impeccably good, compassionate and merciful. I have just now returned from speaking with a large group of Year 11 and 12 students at the local Public College. The question that came up in the Q & A session over and over was, "Why does God allow people to suffer?" After explaining that God Himself has graphically answered this question by sending His Son to the world to suffer after experiencing rejection, humiliation, scorn, and mockery, and then to die the cruelest death, He is well qualified, willing and able to bestow the grace of comfort to all those who are similarly (but to a lesser extent) suffering and hurting. But there are no magical formulas to make God do miracles. And there is no miraculous reward for those who worship longer, louder, deeper. Yet, we are given this amazing promise from God that if we ask of Him anything, we will be granted a hearing. By doing so we are asking in faith because our 'ask' is in itself an act of faith. This is why every Sunday at Legana we will pray with and for people through the laying on of hands as we often seek God for a miracle. And it has been our delight that many times God has indeed been gracious and granted our petitions. And in the meantime, we worship Him as infinitely adorable whether He grants our request or not (Dan. 3:17-18). This paradigm-shift helps me to pastor those God has charged me to care for.
Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.