From Self-Reliance to Relying on the Lord God Almighty
Manna 79: Religious Education

Francisco Macias—Cerritos/Glendale, USA

First of all, I thank my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ for the honor and privilege of sharing with you His great mercy, power, and glory.

Sharing a testimony can be challenging; we can sometimes be self-absorbed and self-centered. We may even present ourselves as victims rescued by Christ rather than as guilty culprits restored by Christ. The tendency to focus on and talk about ourselves in a favorable light—glorifying ourselves instead of God—is something we must always be wary of when bearing testimony for the Lord.

MY EARLY YEARS

I was born and raised in Mexico; life was quite difficult, especially for my single mother. Raised as a Catholic, I had catechism classes, which I did not pay much attention to, and I only attended church for special occasions. As a result, I was not familiar with God’s word.

When I was twenty, my mother passed away, leaving my two brothers and me in the care of my mother’s youngest sister. Life became even tougher for us and I had to work and study at the same time to help my aunt, who also had a daughter to support.

That was when everything in my life changed. I had the reputation of being a “good guy,” but in a matter of months, I started drinking, smoking, lying, and going home late, especially on weekends. Then people thought of me as that “poor young guy”—they mistakenly thought I was a victim. On the contrary, my mother’s passing allowed me to do whatever I had always wanted to. Without a strong figure of authority keeping me in check, I could live as I pleased. I was not a victim, but a guilty culprit, manifesting my true colors.

Over the course of a decade, my relationship with my aunt, cousin, and brothers deteriorated until one day, we had an explosive argument. I was so angry, disillusioned, and fed up with my life in Mexico that I left everything I had ever known and headed for the US with the intent of finding a new life in Canada.

EARLY ENCOUNTERS WITH LORD JESUS AND HIS TRUTH

However, I ended up working in southern California. Not long afterwards, a member of the True Jesus Church (TJC) started working at the same place. She spoke some basic Spanish and invited me to church. I accepted out of curiosity since I did not know much about Christianity. My first impression was that the church was plain and bare, full of people who did not think or look like me. I asked myself, “What am I doing here?” Nonetheless, I continued attending services with the believer who had first invited me.

One thing that really caught my attention was praying in tongues. In the Catholic Church in Mexico, I had been told that praying in tongues was only a gift of the Holy Spirit. Thus, I thought only a few would pray in tongues. To my surprise, however, almost the entire congregation was doing so.

HARD-HEADED & HARD-HEARTED; LEARNING THE HARD WAY

Over a year later, the believer who had first invited me to church left the US to work abroad. Eventually, I stopped attending services at TJC; instead, I visited other churches, but I always felt something was missing despite their good teachings.

Years passed and I was fairly content with my life. Then one day, while working in construction, I fell from the second floor. With a beam breaking my fall, I survived unscathed. About a month later, I fell down a skylight and survived that too without any significant injuries. That got me thinking about God again, but not for long ….

Then in 2005, I saw blood in my urine. Worryingly, the problem did not go away. Anxious and afraid, I consulted a doctor. Being diagnosed with bladder cancer completely stunned me—I felt that my life was over. Yet somehow I also felt that there was still hope, and that hope made me turn to God. I pleaded, “If you really exist, please help me.” I had no choice but to surrender myself to the Lord God Almighty.

Within a week after this shocking, life-altering news, I attended services again at TJC, and by God’s amazing grace and mercy, I received baptism. Praise the Lord, everything went smoothly: the cancerous tumor was surgically removed and I had check-ups every three months.

In spite of all this, I remained unchanged—still an egocentric sinner, reverting to my old ways and relying solely on myself. I attended services on Monday and Friday evenings, but worked Saturdays because I did not think that keeping the Sabbath was important.

About a year after my baptism, the believer who had first invited me to church returned to the US, and a year and a half later, we got married. God had blessed me with a beautiful wife and marriage, but I still continued having many difficulties and struggles.

In 2009, during a routine check-up, the urologist told me that he saw a tumor, which needed to be surgically removed. The news shook me up, but my wife encouraged me to rely on God in prayer and to get a second and third opinion.

After a month of intercessory prayers and consultations, I settled on a different urologist. During the pre-operation exam, he looked troubled and kept shaking his head. Afterwards, he told us to wait in another room. Meanwhile, my wife and I prayed earnestly. When the doctor finally entered, he incredulously said, “I looked and looked, but didn’t see any tumors.” We joyfully left, praising God with gratitude. You would think that after experiencing such a miracle, I would have completely turned over a new leaf, but no! Stubbornly and foolishly, I clung to some of my old ways.

It wasn’t until 2010, when God gave us the awe-inspiring privilege of parenthood that I truly started to submit to God and rely more on Him than on myself. It was then that I stopped making excuses for not keeping the Sabbath. I realized that I had been pleasing myself, and worst of all, lying to God, merely obeying Him at my own convenience.

Every birth is a miracle, especially one with complications like the birth of our first child. Praise God she was born healthy, despite frightening odds. Seeing the frailty of human life and the suffering my wife endured spurred me to heed God more seriously.

DRAWING CLOSER TO LORD JESUS

Since 2011, I have had the privilege of being involved with church visitations in the Dominican Republic (DR). Serving the Lord is a humbling experience; I felt ill-equipped since I had not yet received the Holy Spirit. Despite this, I relied on Lord Jesus and volunteered as often as possible.

In 2012, a tumor was discovered in my bladder. Praise the Lord that the biopsy showed it had neither taken root nor spread to other parts of the body. Thank God it was removed quickly and painlessly. Plus, I didn’t have to take any additional time off from work.

In late 2013, I was offered the responsibility of helping with the church construction in the DR, which would take about six months. Though I had initially agreed, I began to have second thoughts about being away for such a long time, especially since my wife had just given birth to our second child. While the ministers in charge of the project encountered delays, I secretly hoped they would forget about me.

The ministers eventually contacted me in early 2014 and asked if I was ready to go to the DR the following month. To do so, I had to quit my job and leave my family. My anxieties almost got the better of me and I nearly backed out, but my wife reassured me with her unwavering faith that God would take care of our family. After putting the matter in God’s hands through prayer and with my wife’s support, I mustered the courage to go.

In the DR, I had countless opportunities to share about Jesus and His truth with many people, which shamefully made me realize that I didn’t really know that much myself! I had to constantly search the Scriptures to find the answers to all their questions as well as my own.

By speaking to people on the streets and studying the Bible day after day, I learned more about our faith and how to share and defend it. The believers there also helped me address the many questions I could not answer. Although we shared the gospel with surrounding neighbors, nobody came to believe. Initially, I got upset and frustrated with the apparent lack of results.

Then it dawned on me that I used to be just like those neighbors—rejecting God, unwilling to admit how sinful we are, and not wanting to rely on Him. This realization sparked a change in my prayers and prompted me to fast and pray, out of a desperate need for God’s guidance, wisdom, and the courage to share His truth. Each day, I would ask God to reveal His will—where to go, who to talk to, what to do and say. I thank God for enabling me to share His word with whomever I encountered on the street for a few hours each day after work.

RECEIVING THE HOLY SPIRIT

I came across numerous questions about our faith during that time in the DR, but whenever asked about the Holy Spirit, I became nervous and uneasy. How could I give an answer when I myself had not received the Holy Spirit? Nonetheless, the questions encouraged me all the more to pray for God’s will to be done and for me to be equipped for His service.

After being in the DR for over five months, my return to the US was delayed by a month due to a couple of unforeseen circumstances, one of which was to interpret for the next visiting preacher. Before his arrival, I had a couple of weeks to think, reflect, and pray.

A little less than two years prior to this point in time, I had the first of three related dreams: While at an outdoor church service, I received the Holy Spirit during the prayer. It was so real that I felt very happy. Alas, it was only a dream.

Within a year of the first dream, I had the second one. This time, I was attending a service inside the church. While praying, I suddenly started speaking in tongues. Of course I rejoiced upon receiving the Holy Spirit, but again it was just a dream.

The third dream occurred during my extended stay in the DR. However, my reaction was significantly different from the previous two. I dreamt that I was inside the church and when I knelt down to pray, I started speaking in tongues. Weeping and pleading with God for His forgiveness and mercy, I could only see myself as a sinner—arrogant, cowardly, disobedient, and self-centered. I then realized that in my previous dreams, I had desired the Holy Spirit for selfish reasons rather than for surrendering myself to God.

A couple of days after this third dream, I prayed to God to direct my footsteps. As soon as I felt my tongue start to move on its own, I stopped praying. I could not believe that I had truly received the Holy Spirit! At first, I thought I was only imagining my tongue moving, so the next few times I prayed by deliberately repeating, “Hallelujah” very softly so that my tongue would not move freely.

When the preacher finally arrived, we prayed together. Afterwards, he immediately asked, “When did you receive the Holy Spirit?” By confirming that I indeed had received the Holy Spirit, my doubts disappeared and I was inexpressibly grateful to God for granting me His precious Spirit.

As in my dream, I felt so unworthy of God’s love and mercy that I was moved to tears. I asked, “How could you grant Your Holy Spirit to such an undeserving sinner like me?” I recalled how God had shown me tremendous love throughout my life.

Previously, I had only been praying to receive blessings for my own benefit, but did I truly believe, obey, surrender, or have faith in Him? What had I done with my life but wasted a good portion of it? I realize now that God does not need me—I need God! I love Him because He first loved me, and the best way I can show my gratitude is by denying myself and taking up the cross to travel on the path that God has allotted for me.

Being baptized and having received the Holy Spirit are just the beginning of my journey with Christ. I am still a work-in-progress, in need of God’s forgiveness every day, and I ask for mercy and sanctification, to grow in His likeness. As Apostle Paul says in Philippians 2:12, “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling.”

Author
Francisco Macias
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