Thursday, June 2, 2016

When I Met Grace

NOTE: The following article is a testimony of Camille Faith R. Enriquez, a PhD student at Doshisha University in Kyotanabe City, Japan. - Pastor Joseph


When I Met Grace

By Camille Faith R. Enriquez

It was winter’s night. I was trudging back home when the trees surrounding me started to sway and rustle as the wind blew hardly on them. I lifted my eyes upon the skies while bending beneath the strong wind, and at that moment... I heard a whisper. It was when I first encountered grace – God’s grace.

I grew up attending Sunday schools. I had my elementary studies in a Christian institute. Both of my parents are Christians. At young age, I was exposed to the do’s and don’ts of being a Christian.

It was a good discipline for me. Little did I know, my discipline caused me to drift away from the true gospel I once heard and believed. I continued walking in my own strength, trying to be right in the eyes of God. It was in college that the Lord had shown me my real frailties. Wicked thoughts I dared to conceive out of assurance that I could cast them out of my mind anytime because I knew they were wrong – became uncontrollable. My mind turned into a battleground. Every second, I would wrestle with my self, trying to block the recurring thoughts in my mind. There are times that I would be successful, but in the end of the day, my strength had been wasted away. I was so exhausted both mentally and emotionally.

I was too ashamed to share anyone what was happening to me. I learned that once the enemy tells you you have problem, the next thing he makes you believe is that you’re the only one with that problem. So, I kept it between me and the Lord. I would cry out to Him and ask why He had let these things happen to me. I was no longer living a normal life. It became difficult for me to think straightly, to concentrate, and to remembering things. I started to stammer and develop short attention span. Night and day, I would plead for a peaceful mind, for control, for sanity... it was when I learned to depend on God completely and unceasingly.

After several years, when I thought I had fully overcome my struggle, an event that deeply changed the way I see God came to pass. From fighting the thoughts, my heart chose to succumb to them. I let down my guard and committed wicked things in the eyes of God. I felt unworthy of forgiveness, of second chance... of life.

It was during that cold winter night, when I finally saw Him far greater than my sins and failures. My heart cried aloud when the wind assured me of His presence... of His unconditional love. That moment He whispered to my soul: “Let’s go home My child.” Tears started to fall from my eyes and from that time I surrendered myself wholly into His grace.

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.”

I learned that my greatest challenge was not my discipline or my devotion. It was BELIEVING the gospel – that I have been saved by grace through Jesus Christ – and Him alone.

“If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.”

Truly, Jesus is my righteousness, my holiness and my redemption. (1 Corinthians 1:30)

By His grace and power, I am no longer who I used to be. His peace garrisons my heart and my mind. Yet, I am still far from perfect. Occasionally, I could experience anxieties, feelings of worthlessness and inadequacy. I can't help but ask the Lord every time when will be the day He will take all these away from me. It is in those moments that God had to remind me that His grace is sufficient for me. He is teaching me to depend on Him and on His grace in all situations that I may not boast before Him.

Paul wrote in his letter:

"...Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me."

So whether it's depression or disease, whether it's criticism or cancer, whether it's persecution or pain, it is working in us for our ultimate good. For when we are weak and empty, we are dependent on God - revealing His glory in our lives. Ravi Zacharias once said that we are called “not to overcome trials in spite of it, but to overcome THROUGH it.”

I know that I need to remind my self of these truths day by day, perhaps for the rest of my life. Yet, I will not lose heart. I am holding fast to the hope that someday God Himself will wipe every tear in my eyes, the day that His Spirit will completely take over my flesh - and there will be no more mourning nor crying nor pain (Revelations 21:4).

"My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever."

Since that one winter’s night, every single day of my life began to be a fresh encounter of grace - God's unending grace.

Friday, February 5, 2016

God Knows

139 1 O Lord, You have searched me and known me.
2 You know my sitting down and my rising up;
You understand my thought afar off.
3 You comprehend my path and my lying down,
And are acquainted with all my ways. (Psalm 139:1-3, NKJV)

I am on my bed as I write this blog post. My illness has given me an unplanned leave from missionary work and a needed respite to consider my ways. I refuse to lay idle and accomplish nothing. My mind stays active though parts of  my body are in pain. [I expect to fully recover soon and shouldn't be a cause of concern to anyone. I just don't want to go into the "gory" details.]

The Scripture passage above tells of God's perfect knowledge of man. Most of the chapter, in fact, delves into the expressions of God's knowledge in terms that are too wonderful for man to comprehend. The result of this contemplation is an unabashed praise, prayer, worship and an affirmation of commitment to God and His cause.

It gives me comfort knowing that God knows everything about me. This moment in time gives me a greater appreciation of His love and care for me. No matter what I go through it's not a surprise to Him. Rather, it's an opportunity to completely put my trust in Him. The psalmist ends Psalm 139 with a prayer that aptly describes what's in my heart right now:

23 Search me, O God, and know my heart;
Try me, and know my anxieties;
24 24 And see if there is any wicked way in me,
And lead me in the way everlasting.

Monday, January 11, 2016

New Year Reminiscences

A blessed New Year to all! It's 2016 and this year marks our 15th year in Japan as missionaries.

The God who called us is faithful (I Corinthians 1:9). He has sustained and blessed us in ways that can be described as amazing, even miraculous at times. My wife's health scare in June, is a good example. She was initially diagnosed with a life-threatening illness. The lab tests done were intended to confirm the stage and severity of the said illness. Taking a step ahead, the Ob-Gyne even gave Jo Ann a few things to consider to help her come to terms with the seemingly insurmountable trial that is to come.

But, we believe in Jehovah Rapha, the God who heals. Family and friends, far and wide held us up in their prayers, petitioning the God of heaven for a miracle. As the Bible says, those who hope in the Lord "will not be disappointed" (Isaiah 49:23). My wife's doctor was joyfully puzzled to see that when all the results came in for her to look at, she declared that my wife is after all, cancer-free! Hallelujah! What a mighty God we serve!

Before the close of last year we've taken stock of what God had done among us in 2015. The Assembly Kyoto Church, our host church, was humming with activity and producing modest accomplishments along the way. We thank God and give Him the glory for all these things as well. Here is a sampling of what we have achieved:
  • Both the Filipino Service and the Lighthouse English Cafe reached five (5) years of ministry
  • New and currently in development website
  • New professions of faith in Bible Studies and other evangelistic endeavors
  • Additional members added to the roll
  • 2 actual water baptisms 
  • 116 Operation Christmas Child's gifts-filled shoe boxes
  • 110,000 yen (over US$1000) cash donations to various missionaries and causes  

The Assembly Kyoto Church has a new Senior Pastor since April. Pastor Satoshi Nagasawa has taken the helm of leadership from Pastor Hisoka Murakami, who served at this church for twenty-seven (27) years. Pastor Nagasawa was converted through Pastor Murakami's ministry, after the former was saved from a cult group. Nagasawa-sensei later trained through correspondence and through direct tutelage of Pastor Murakami. He is now an ordained minister of the Japan Assemblies of God.

In June, Motomichi Harada joined the church's staff after he graduated with a Master of Divinity degree from Singapore Bible College in May.

The first sermon I delivered to the church this year is from Isaiah 43:18-19. God says,

 18 “Do not remember the former things,
Nor consider the things of old.
19 Behold, I will do a new thing,
19 Behold, Now it shall spring forth;
Shall you not know it?
I will even make a road in the wilderness
And rivers in the desert.

God said these words in the context of His promise to the nation of Israel as they anticipate a time of exile and their eventual restoration. It is a good place to start the new year with a hopeful note to anticipate great things from God as He promises to do NEW things that seem unlikely if not impossible to the human mind, but certainly are not beyond His sovereign power and grace.