Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Only by the Grace of God

A short account of my conversion and call to the ministry

I was born and raised in a Roman Catholic family in central Philippines, in the province of Capiz to be specific. I was baptized as an infant, catechized as a child and received confirmation in the Roman Catholic Church. I had known and believed in the doctrine of the Trinity and the virgin birth of Jesus Christ since I was a child.

I also learned the Ten Commandments and I was active in church youth activities in high school. Out of these experiences I have desired to serve God in full-time ministry as a priest in the Roman Catholic Church.

But in spite of this, I grew up a disobedient child alien to the concept of the fear of the Lord. I may have looked nice and okay outwardly but deep within I was miserable. My conscience would always bother me and give me a strong feeling of condemnation and uncertainty of the future.

It wasn’t very obvious to others, but I was so afraid to die. Although I was told that Christ saves, still I did not have the faith to trust Him fully. So I tried hard doing penance and other good things that would make me feel good. I was taught that in doing good works and sacrifices for the Church I can sort of earn my way to God. But it did not help me at all and I was quite frustrated. There was something that I was looking for that I haven’t found and tasted during those years.

It was the French physicist and philosopher Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) who spoke of people’s need for Jesus Christ when he said, “There is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of every man, which only God can fill through his Son Jesus Christ.” Then about 1200 years before Pascal it was Augustine (354-430) who said, “You [Oh God] have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.”

Those quotes from Pascal and Augustine are true in my life. There was a vacuum in my life that needs to be filled, and there was some kind of restlessness that I didn’t know how to put to rest. Thank God that in Christ God fills my emptiness and enables me to rest and to live in peace.

In God’s appointed time, around February 1986, I came to meet Mr. Samuel Colinco Jr., a Baptist school teacher from Bacolod City. We were roommates at a student conference in Iloilo province. One night he saw me reading my blue Gideons New Testament. It has been my habit to read my blue Gideons New Testament before I sleep at night. He then asked me if I was a Christian and I told him I was a Roman Catholic. He then asked me if I could spare a few minutes to talk with me about some important things. I said "Yes" out of respect.

Using a Bible tract, he then started to explain to me the holiness of God, the sinfulness of man, and the death of Christ in a way that I did not see in my Catholic upbringing. Gradually I was beginning to understand the gospel, the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ, the concepts of grace and faith and regeneration.

In my Roman Catholic upbringing, grace was an obscure concept, and somehow one has to earn or work for it. Faith likewise was understood as something that man could do all by himself. To be born again you must be baptized (as a child, especially) and faithfully receive Christ in the Holy Eucharist during mass. My basic belief was being challenged by this new Baptist friend whom I met only once in my life.

At first I was so skeptical at what he was telling me but later, I was enabled to believe that Christ indeed saves and through Him, by faith, I can truly be assured of my salvation.

Seeing this gracious act of God in Christ toward sinners like me, I was led to confess my sin and repent from all my known wickedness – you know, lying, stealing, disrespect to parents, envy, covetousness, lust, idolatry, and many more.

Oh after confessing my sins and renouncing all those horrible, shameful acts, I felt that sense of joy and peace and gratitude deep within. The things that Augustine and Pascal were talking about are now real to me. That peace within that wasn’t there before starts to overwhelm me.

My contact with this Baptist teacher was short. But when I entered college in 1987, one of my older brothers, who was a new convert to a fast-growing Pentecostal church, was instrumental in my decision to leave the Catholic Church and join the Jesus is Lord (JIL) Church. One good thing I’ve experienced with JIL Church was learning to submit to the Lordship of Christ by submitting to the authority of His Word in every area of my life – from my daily, ordinary choices to future, long term, major decisions – everything.

God has used the experiences I had in with group to develop in me the love for His Word in spite of the group’s tendency to elevate ‘spiritual experiences’ over the Bible itself in relating with God. About a year and a half later, I became discontented and uncomfortable with the group, specifically with their practice of ‘speaking or praying in tongues.’

So in 1989 I moved to a conservative Evangelical church, Caloocan Bible Church, where Rev. Elvin Mijares was pastoring. (Another brother of mine and his family are actually members there). During this time I also became actively involved with Inter Varsity Christian Fellowship (IVCF). I was drawn to join IVCF in the campus partly because of the sound teachings about the Bible and God, and the priority of Christian discipleship and missions that I was getting.

But aside from that, I was really impressed by the kind of relationship that the members and leaders have had toward one another and toward others. There’s something unique and attractive in them that I also wanted to experience. So I first became a small group member in the campus, then a leader. I attended many leadership and discipleship camps and conferences and the most memorable and revolutionary camp, of course, was the month-long intensive leadership Kawayan Camp (KC) in Cebu province in 1990.

Then in 1992, a year after college, I was surprised to receive an invitation to join the Inter Varsity staff team. So I considered it and after several months of prayers and seeking godly counsel I was gradually led to decide to join the staff team. And in the providence of God my five-year ministry with Inter Varsity was one of the most faith-building experiences in life.

While with Inter Varsity I was greatly influenced by the writings of many authors. One of those authors is Bill Hybels. His books Who You Are When No One’s Looking and Too Busy Not to Pray were my favorites. But my top two favorites authors are John Stott and J.I. Packer.

Oh I am greatly indebted to these two evangelical giants in my understanding of the Christian faith. Stott’s Basic Christianity increased my knowledge of my sinfulness and misery through his clear exposition of the Ten Commandments. I was convicted of my sin. At the same time, because Stott also emphasized in that book the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ at the Cross and how that sacrifice provided for me the assurance that all my sins are forgiven in Him, I was also comforted and delighted to know that I don’t need to add anything to Christ’s atoning sacrifice to save myself.

Wow, that’s a very profound truth, I thought! I wasn’t taught that way before. Simply said, Christ did everything to secure my salvation. All I need to do is to receive it by faith believing that Christ died for me and lives again for my justification.

Packer’s Knowing God also deepened my knowledge of and devotion to God. His scholarly yet pastoral exposition of God’s sovereign grace in the salvation of mankind through Jesus Christ has left me dumbfounded. Through Packer’s various expositions I was able to understand the gospel better and became more grateful to God. I make it a habit to read this classic every year.

Since then, the peace and assurance that I have been longing for has come as a result of the knowledge of God’s grace in Christ. My reading of the Scripture, like that of the prophet Isaiah, especially his words in chapter 53 verse 5, became very meaningful to me. There it says, “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him and by his wounds we are healed.”

There’s a lot of comfort that comes from the knowledge that God will not take my sins against me anymore, all because Someone has taken my stead and paid for the penalty of all my sins. That’s really amazing! That’s grace! It gripped me from the inside out.

Shortly after I moved out of Inter Varsity in 1997 I was introduced to the writings of R.C. Sproul and James Montgomery Boice. These authors contributed in shaping and strengthening my theological and Biblical perspective. Sproul has helped me grasp clearer many ‘difficult’ Biblical doctrines. Boice has increased my appetite in reading and studying the Word of God through his theological treatises and Biblical commentaries.

Providentially, God led me and my wife to regularly attend a Reformed Bible study in 1999. This was led by Mr. Nollie Malabuyo, a Wycliffe Bible Translator missionary who eventually became a minister and missionary in Metro Manila area with the United Reformed Churches in North America (URCNA). This Bible study later became a small congregation in January 2000. It has become what is now the Davao Covenant Reformed Church, a member congregation of the Pearl of the Orient Covenant Reformed Church (POCRC).

My desire to serve God in full-time ministry did not wane after my move from Catholicism, Evangelicalism and to the Reformed tradition. To some extent, it has actually strengthened my desire to be formally trained and equipped to do the ministry.

Through various providence, the Lord has given me the opportunity to study at Mid-America Reformed Seminary in Dyer, Indiana, USA in 2001. However, my seminary study was interrupted in 2002 when my family and I had to return to the Philippines in June of 2002. The American missionary who was then ministering to a small Reformed congregation in Davao City was recalled due to some security reasons occasioned by the 9/11 bombing. So he and his family were asked by their sending church to leave the Philippines immediately.

By the grace of God, the congregation has continued to exist after the missionary and his family left in November 2001. So in June 2002, having been examined and was given the license to preach by Trinity United Reformed Church of Walnut Creek, California, which was the supervising church of the Davao congregation at that time, we arrived in the Philippines and continued the ministry in the Davao City. My one year seminary training has helped me a lot although I kept on hoping that one day I could return to the seminary to finish my training.

I praise the Lord for granting that desire in 2006. I am thankful to the Lord for using several individuals (particularly Mr. David Linden), churches and organizations who have become instrumental in my return to the seminary to finish my formal, rigid, but very edifying theological and Biblical training.

In 2008, by the grace of God, I was able to finish my Master of Divinity degree. Two months after graduation at Mid-America Reformed Seminary, my family and I returned to the Philippines to minister to our congregation.

In God’s gracious providence, I was examined by the pastors and elders of the Pearl of the Orient Covenant Reformed Church during its special Classis meeting in September 2010 and I was able to pass the examination and declared eligible for call. On October 19, 2010, I was ordained to the Ministry of the Gospel and installed as the pastor of the Davao Covenant Reformed Church.

I thank God for the great privilege He has given me to bring the good news of salvation in Christ to our own people. I have been serving the same congregation until now. Please keep on praying for me and my family that in my desire to serve the Lord among our countrymen He would graciously grant me to see the fruit of my labor, that is, a growing and healthy congregation vibrantly living for God and serving one another for the glory of God. Soli Deo Gloria!

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