The Lord showered me with gifts, abilities, and opportunities. Instead of learning to know Him, I spent countless hours pursuing selfish interests, succeeding in my career while ignoring God. I spent 19 school years to earn a law degree and become a lawyer. I spent 7-8 years training to earn a black belt in the martial arts. I put in over 5 years’ law practice to qualify for a judicial position I later held for over 26 years. For about 17 years, I spent multiple hours every week exercising in health clubs to achieve physical fitness. I ignored the fact that “it is He who gives you the ability to produce wealth.” (Deuteronomy 8:18) All this, and barely a trace of time, talents, or treasures invested toward knowing God and pursuing His kingdom.
Yet, even before I surrendered to Christ, He answered my prayers. He repeatedly bailed me out of bad situations although I didn’t deserve rescue. Each time he rescued me from a bad situation, I soon reverted to my selfish ways and broke my promises to God. I was not bringing Him any glory. Instead, I squandered the talents He entrusted to me, even at times using them to dishonor His name. The handful of “good deeds” I performed were driven by wrong motives – contaminated by a mixture of desires that included my selfish aspirations to be seen as a “good guy,” to keep my good standing with my parents, teachers, and peers, and various other desires, rather than being centered on doing God’s will.
I deserved no less than death. He gave me the equivalent of ten talents’ worth of gifts and blessings, and I had perhaps one left to show for it. I wanted God as my Savior, but not my Lord. I wanted “to have my cake and eat it too,” as the saying goes – all the benefits, none of the costs.
A good friend, Bill, put it this way. He explained that God chooses the gifts He bestows on each person (and when), and the individual chooses whether to use them for God’s glory, for the individual’s self-gain, or for Satan’s kingdom. The “prince of the air” (Satan) wastes no opportunity to influence us to use these very gifts for his own purposes – anything that draws people away from God serves Satan’s purposes. Ultimately, whether we use the gifts for self-gain or directly for Satan’s cause, both roads end in the same final destination – Hell. Even those believers who have received spiritual gifts sometimes turn away from God, yet continue to exercise those gifts; but not for God’s glory or for His kingdom. (Romans 11:29)
I misused God’s providential gifts and abilities. One example comes from a high school experience. I was a superior student as long as I could remember. During high school, I was among a minority of Hispanics who were on the 1500-student body’s “college prep” program. I always made the honor roll, almost always with “straight A’s,” and was among the top two students in my large class. I won a class award for creative writing in my junior year. I was elected junior class president at the end of my sophomore year and senior class president the next. I didn’t appreciate until later how much of an impression students make on the faculty, and that certain students gain certain reputations with them. Before, I’d always assumed most teachers didn’t invest much emotion in individual students. I learned I was wrong there too.
In my senior year, I enrolled in an elective English course with a teacher from Argentina, a proud Hispanic woman, Mrs. Hughes. I sensed she liked me from the start, sometimes reading my essays to the class, to illustrate writing techniques. She gave me “special privileges.” When I finished my class work, she would allow me to go to a gym class or to visit with friends at other campus locations. The choice was mine.
Once, she gave the class a writing assignment, and I chose the topic of “Sex in the Schools.” I researched mainstream periodicals in the school library for resource material, and used them as the basis for my composition. I discussed the ethical issues surrounding the topic and what, if any, restrictions there should be. Today, I don’t remember everything I wrote, but I do recall taking a stance that would be considered immoral, criticizing school policies that forbade some forms of sexual conduct. I thought I’d written a good paper, and turned it in with a sense of satisfaction.
When she distributed the graded assignments to the class, I was shocked Mrs. Hughes gave me a “C.” That was unthinkable and unacceptable to me. At the top of the paper, she wrote something like, “I can’t believe you believe this!” After sharing what happened with my classmates, they couldn’t believe I got a “C.” Several took up my cause and protested the grade she gave me. Some went further and sided with the position I advocated in my essay. I had put Mrs. Hughes on the spot. She asked me to stay after class.
After everyone else left, she began by saying that she was changing my grade to an “A,” the appropriate grade based on pre-set criteria for essays. But she was not convinced that I believed the opinions I expressed in the paper. Indignant, I told her I did believe them, otherwise I wouldn’t have written them. I was not being candid, however, for I had merely mouthed the opinions of reporters from Time, Newsweek, and similar mainstream magazines.
Deep disappointment marked her facial expression and body language. She seemed “deflated.” Things were never the same between us after that. For the remaining year, I went through the motions, writing pretty good papers, getting A’s, and she made no extra effort to affirm me. I was blind to what had happened, temporarily appeased by my restored grade.
I recognized much later that Mrs. Hughes had invested herself in me. Racial tensions infected my high school. Many students, and a few faculty members, were openly racist. The term dumb Mexican, was commonly expressed. I was one of very few Hispanics that attained the level of academic achievement I had. Mrs. Hughes was one of perhaps three faculty members with a Hispanic heritage. Up to that time, I was her source of pride, a vindication of her own efforts to prove to the faculty that Hispanics were as capable at succeeding in academia as our Anglo-Saxon counterparts. In a sense, Mrs. Hughes lived vicariously through me. However, something did not align – our values and character.
While she valued ethics and morality, I undervalued them. I went “with the flow,” buying most of what the media was selling the youth of our time. Most times, the outlook I adopted from the media sources didn’t express itself overtly, and therefore she didn’t know that side of me. But she learned about it from that experience. Her image of me – and her source of pride, encouragement, and hope – was shattered. And, with good reason.
I’d taken gifts and abilities the Lord gave me for the purpose of glorifying Him, and instead put them to use to advance the cause of the secular – effectively serving the Enemy. There is no other alternative. Either I was expressing in writing agreement with Biblical principles of morality or I was opposing them. I don’t know what spiritual toll this experience took on Mrs. Hughes – whether I became a “stumbling block” on her spiritual journey. Fortunately, the Lord enabled me to change directions (repent), although too late to apologize to Mrs. Hughes.
When I submitted to God’s lordship at about age 40 or so, I began realizing how wrong my previous direction had been. I understood that I had much yet to learn. A friend who headed our church’s Bible college asked me once if I was interested in enrolling in any courses. I said something then that I later regretted. I told him that I had recently attended a Bible college graduation. And, I noticed that each graduate (without exception), while giving a short speech, described some ministry they would be pursuing or missionary work they would be doing after graduation. I mockingly explained to my friend that if I graduated, “they were going to expect me or want to send me somewhere, like Mexico or something, to make use of whatever Bible college education I received.” I didn’t want that! I just wanted to study for “my own edification.” I didn’t want the pressure of having to use what I learned for some other purpose.
What a foolish, shameful perspective! Of course I should want to use the education for God’s purposes, no matter where He wants to send me! Whenever He calls, He also equips and enables. One day, during an extended period of fasting, I was reading the following passage, and its meaning dug deep within me for the first time:
My food, said Jesus, is to do the will of Him who sent me and to finish his work. (John 4:34)
Imagine that! Just as Jesus pleased the Father and brought Him glory by doing His will, and as Jesus was driven by the “fuel” of desiring to do His will – so he wants us to be similarly motivated.
This insight has changed my outlook, making me more sensitive, and willing, to do what God wants me to do, and to go where He wants to send me. And the motivation stems from a desire to please God, in response to the love, mercy, and grace that He has given me. It is not based on compulsion or obligation.
A young girl, Karis, expressed something years ago that I won’t forget. Her parents were discussing that they pray now for God to work in the lives of their daughters’ future husbands, whomever they may be. Karis was only about 11 or 12 at the time. Elaine, her mother, told us that Karis had remarked: “You know, mom, it’s really not important to me what my husband will look like or if he has a fancy career. I want to marry a man who loves the Lord.” Now I understand how she could have said that without hesitation, and with passion and conviction. She knew that if her future husband loves God, he will seek to please Him, and therefore love her as Christ loved His church. God has given me many “second chances,” and I finally got it. I too can now say I love the Lord.
He’s even given me a second chance as it relates to my little sister. The sister that died as a six-month-old baby was named Rosa, and we called her Rosita (little Rosa). Years later, shortly after moving to the United States, my mother gave birth to another baby girl in our new homeland. Mom named her Rosa. I didn’t understand why my mother did that, and I never really probed her about it. But God works in strange and wondrous ways. Rosa is one of my two sisters who received Christ as an adult. Since her conversion, we’ve grown much in the Lord, and have shared much from the heart. Unlike the situation with the first “Rosita,” a bond has grown between me and the second “Rosita.” I have learned to love her not only as a blood-relative, but also as a “sister in Christ.”
Words are inadequate to describe how “proud” of her (and of my older sister who is also serving the Lord mightily) I am. We have so much more in common now and, when we visit, we talk into the “wee hours of the morning,” including about ways to help bring the rest of our siblings to know Christ. It so “happens” that she is the same sister who popped the question: “Manuel, how do you love God?” We both have experienced the answer.
Is there any lingering doubt that He wants each of us to know Him?
The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him. (Lamentations 3:25)
Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many . . . will try to enter and will not be able to . . . [Y]ou will stand outside knocking and pleading, “Sir, open the door for us.” But he will answer, “I don’t know you or where you come from . . . Away from me, all you evildoers.” (Luke 13:24-27)
And this is the way to have eternal life – to know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, the one you sent to earth. (John 17:3 NLT)
Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners–of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life. (1 Timothy 1:15-16)
These last words were penned by the Apostle Paul, and he was referring to himself. But they apply to me just as well.
Manuel M. Melgoza © Copyright
 My youngest brother once confronted me about my church non-attendance in relation to all my “extracurricular activities.” He said words to the effect that, “God gives you your entire life. Can’t you give Him just one hour a week?” I was unmoved and undeterred, but he was right.
 The apostle Paul, too, initially used his fine-honed Pharisee skills and education to persecute Christ’s church, then later, with God’s revelation, turned him around so that he used them to advance His kingdom.