My Encounter with God
Around the age of 10, I received Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and Savior by asking him to forgive all my rebellion against Him, asking him to have His way with my life as I committed to do as He told me. Since then I received assurance that Jesus really was in my life and that I would live with God forever in heaven after death. Nevertheless, in my middle school years, I was tormented with attitudes of perpetual anger and self-hatred, which I usually took out upon my younger brother through verbal and physical abuse. In the midst of those struggles, I was memorizing the word of God in 8th grade with some friends from my home church. I was desperate for change in my life, as I was ashamed of my anger, depression, hatred, and hypocrisy--desiring to obey God and love others, but unable to do so.
One day in 9th grade (February, 2006), a classmate invited me to a Friday night youth group (worship gathering) (1). The youth pastor gave a message that we've got to have joy in our salvation. This came from the verse, "Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit." Psalms 51:12 ESV. Although I had the assurance of my salvation, I knew in my heart that this joy of my salvation was missing.
After the message, the pastor said to raise one’s hand if, among other things, any of us didn’t think about Christ’s death on the cross within the past couple weeks. He told those of who who raised our hand to come to the front, which I felt obligated to do, having "been caught" raising my hand. Nevertheless, as happened years before when I received Christ, I suddenly became deeply sorrowful, hit with the reality of how messed up my life was due to my disconnectedness from God and His plan for my life.
At the front of the church, I felt a hunger (desperation) for God and thirst for righteousness (right standing with God) as various church members placed their hands on me and one of them asked God to “Take away his heart of stone and give him a heart of flesh” (2). I then experienced something like a wave of love, joy, and peace crash all over me, as if the blood of Jesus washed over me, cleansing me from all sin (more specifically the anger and hatred) (3).
Those who were placing their hands on me suddenly started to speak in tongues (unknown languages given by God's Holy Spirit) and encouraged me to open up my mouth to do the same. Part of me was a little skeptical and wanted to get out of there, as I’m a shy introvert who doesn’t like attention (then much more than now). Nevertheless, I did open my mouth to imitate the others who were speaking in tongues, after which they cheered and applauded.
That night marked a major turning point in my life. Since that night I was a new person in many ways. For instance, I no longer hated my younger brother and no longer became easily angered. Suddenly I loved the people around me and wanted them to know about God and how He could change them as He changed me. Thus I would have more conversations with the kids in my high school about God and his plan of salvation. Part of loving others more came from the fact that I had less self-hatred. Some self-hatred came from a speech impediment (R-sounds) that caused me great shame, as I couldn’t even pronounce my last name up to that point in my life. However, another miracle that occurred after that night was that the R-sounds speech impediment was gone (4).
Amidst the life-changing results of that night, I did struggle a while with confusion as to whether that night marked my baptism in the Holy Spirit or my salvation experience. For I previously gave my life to Jesus, asking Him to forgive all my sins through His death on the cross around 1999 when I was about 10. In 2003 (6th grade) at a summer camp I became assured that such was enough to mean I was saved from God’s wrath (c.f. John 1:12; Romans 5:9). Thus I wondered why I didn’t recall much any spiritual fruit (love for God and others) in my life until after my youth group experience in February, 2006.
Part of those doubts came from my feelings regarding my speaking in tongues at the end of that experience. By God’s grace, however, I received assurance that my 2006 experience did mark my baptism in the Holy Spirit, as I re-read an article by Dr. Bill Bright during a semester abroad in Nagasaki, Japan, in 2016. Towards the end of Dr. Bright’s third Transferable Concept, I read the following:
“The moment you received Christ, the Holy Spirit not only came to indwell you, but He imparted to you spiritual life, causing you to be born anew as a child of God. The Holy Spirit also baptized you into the body of Christ. In 1 Corinthians 12:13, Paul explains, ‘We were all baptized by one Spirit into one body.’
There is but one indwelling of the Holy Spirit, one rebirth of the Holy Spirit, and one baptism of the Holy Spirit -- all of which occur when you receive Christ.” (5)
His life-changing article was 99% on the money, but something struck me as slightly amiss on his last sentence of the above paragraph. The Holy Spirit led me to Acts 8:12-17:
“But when they believed Philip as he preached good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. 13 Even Simon himself believed, and after being baptized he continued with Philip. And seeing signs and great miracles performed, he was amazed. 14 Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent to them Peter and John, 15 who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, 16 for he had not yet fallen on any of them, but they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 17 Then they laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit.”
Then I read a similar situation in Acts 19:1-7. In both instances, new believers received Christ and were baptized in water, but they didn’t yet receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit until a little later through the laying on of hands (which is just of the the ways Jesus chooses to baptize someone in the Holy Spirit). As Dr. Bright correctly states, we receive the indwelling Holy Spirit the moment we receive Christ. But typically one receives the baptism (or full immersion) of the Holy Spirit usually a little afterwards upon meeting the biblical conditions. The disciples received the (indwelling) Holy Spirit after they confessed with their mouths Jesus is Lord and believed in their hearts that God raised him from the dead (see John 20:22 and Romans 10:9). But they received the baptism of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost (see Luke 24:29; Acts 1:4-5; Acts 2:1ff).
As I continued to read Dr. Bright’s article, I came across more life-changing truth:
“The Holy Spirit is not given to you that you might have a great emotional experience, but that you might live a holy life and be a fruitful witness for Christ. So, whether or not you have an emotional experience is not the issue.” (6)
Reading this statement, I realized that I had been relying upon my emotions as my authority rather than the trustworthiness of God’s word. When I spoke in tongues that night in 2006, it felt like I was faking it out of desire to get away from the “spotlight,” but I nevertheless did hunger and thirst for God to fill me and opened my mouth to receive something from Jesus. In hindsight, then, because I did speak in tongues and saw other indicators of the Spirit’s power and fullness in my life (more love, deliverance from anger, miraculous removal of speech impediments, etc.), God used Dr. Bright’s article to give me assurance of my baptism in the Holy Spirit and that my regular practice of praying in tongues wasn’t just a language I made up.
When learning Japanese from English, teachers will often compare these two similar sounding phrases: これはかわいい赤ちゃんです。(Kore wa kawaii akachan desu.) ⇒ This is a cute baby. これはこわいい赤ちゃんです。(Kore wa kowaii akachan desu.) ⇒ This is a scary baby. This short comedy clip demonstrates the meaning of the latter:
I heard in 2017 from Dr. Kofi Thompson that during the baptism of the Holy Spirit, a believer shouldn't expect to be speaking in tongues fluently, but may just utter a couple syllables. He said that is perfectly reasonable, for if we saw a new baby speaking fluently, we'd be really freaked out and might run away.
If you're a believer in Jesus but haven't yet received this baptism of the Holy Spirit, then don't be afraid to ask your heavenly Father for it as you come to Jesus in total surrender and obedience--He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. See Acts 1:1-8; 2:38-39; Luke 3:16; 11:9-13; John 1:33; 7:37-39.
This youth gathering occurred at present-day New Life Church in downtown Sioux Falls with Pastor Alex. http://www.newlifechurchsf.org/
“And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.” (Ezekiel 36:26-27 ESV)
C.f. 1 John 1:7-9. Later I came to the conclusion that this experience marked my baptism in the Holy Spirit as described by Romans 5:5 ESV-- “and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”
To this day I strangely still have some kind of European accent, even though I’m 3rd generation American and no one else in my family does, but I can also speak in over a hundred different accents and voices upon command.