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Chapter 1: Rebellion
I grew up in a home with Christian parents, who loved and cared for me and really tried to provide for every need that I had. Even though things were pleasant in our home, my heart was always rebellious. From as far back as I can remember I was always getting myself into trouble by trying to find new things that my parents never told me I couldn’t do. For example, nobody told me not to lock my family in the backyard, purposely clog the sink drains, and try to flood the house when I was only two years old. That’s just one of the many many horror stories of my early years.
As I grew older and older the rebellion began to express itself in not-so-cute ways. I didn’t like listening to my parents at all. In fact, I always wanted to do exactly the opposite of whatever they told me. I joined the “bad” crowd in my high school, getting involved in drugs, drug-dealing, alcohol, parties. My heart always longed to be cool and accepted by others. I thought, “This is where I’ll be happy. These people are more fun, and they’ll accept me even if I don’t get straight A’s, play 3 instruments, join the swim team, and have good manners! I’ll just do what I want to do, and nobody can stop me…”
I thought I was cool because I was “bad”. I wanted to be tough, so I made friends with lots of people to make people think I was a secure, strong, person. The irony was that the reason I had to do all this was because I was as weak as they came, filled with insecurities.
While I was in college at UCLA I ended up living with two other guys who were a lot like me. They went to parties and enjoyed recreational drug usage. Eventually I got involved more deeply in the drug scene and it began to consume my life. I was a really proud person and was full of myself.
I thought I was really happy for a while. I made lots of new friends and went to parties and social engagements. People liked my roommates and me because they thought we were cool and we could supply them with drugs and alcohol. It didn’t take long, though, to realize that many of the friendships I had made were transactional and superficial. A lot of my friends only hung out with me because of something I could offer them, and vice versa. I knew there was more to life than living for the next high. Each social engagement left me longing for the next and after a while I got sick of it.
Chapter 2: Life is changing
During my sophomore year of college I started to get worried about my health because of all the smoking, drinking and drugs I was doing. So, I decided I couldn’t smoke marijuana or cigarettes anymore.
With that small step in the right direction I soon realized how boring my life was. I began to feel like sitting around doing drugs and going to parties to fill my time was pointless.
At the same time, a lot of my friends began to think I was uninteresting because I would no longer do what they did. In the end, most of them stopped calling me. I no longer had anything to offer them. This whole time I had deluded myself into believing I was the center of the world and everything revolved around me.
Suddenly, I had nothing. I felt lonely, and betrayed. I didn’t know who I was anymore. I just felt so guilty for messing up my life and the only person I could blame was myself! I became such a miserable person towards the end of my sophomore year and began to spiral into a lonely depression. I felt like all the problems I now had were the result of all my foolishness and I would never be able to make up for it. I had made what could have been the best years of my life into the worst years of it. I then turned back to alcohol to try to drink my problems away. That, as you might imagine, only made it worse.
Just about this time, my dad visited me in L.A. from New Jersey during one of his business trips. He brought me with him to Grace Community Church and urged me to continue going on my own . I saw that my parents had a loving relationship and they really loved God. I decided to go to church because I trusted them. I eventually got involved with the church’s college ministry at UCLA. There, a guy name Steve Runyan urged me to join a small group bible study. After saying “no” to him about ten times, I finally gave in and agreed to check it out. By God’s providence I ended up in a Bible study with two great guys, Richard Ho and Brinton Kwok. Brinton, Richard and I would study the book of Romans each week and they would answer all my questions .
Chapter 3: I believe
Suddenly, the vocabulary words that I had heard in Sunday school growing up began to have more and more meaning. I realized that God is holy and perfect. I saw that He was the Creator of everything. And since He is Creator, I am accountable to Him. I understood that my sinfulness is an offense to a perfect, pure, and Holy God, whose standard was Himself. And because He is just, it would be inconsistent with His perfect character to leave sin unpunished. In the American legal system a murderer, if found guilty, is punished in prison and sometimes even sentenced to death. Society has a moral obligation to punish the murderer and not let the crime go unpunished. How much more would the perfect God of the whole universe have to punish my sin against Him. Therefore, I knew that nothing could save me from eternal punishment in hell for my many sins. No amount of good deeds could ever make up for my offense to the holy and perfect God, just like no amount of community service would be able to bring back the life that the murderer took. I was guilty and there was nothing I could do about it except beg God to pardon my sin and forgive me.
Romans 3:23-26 “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.“
The key to my understanding of the gospel is that I finally realized that Jesus Christ died on the cross as a propitiation (a substitutionary sacrifice) for my sins. God chose to punish His own son so that I would not have to suffer the eternal consequences of my sin. It's as if the murderer on death row is not only pardoned by the governor, but the governor takes his place on death row and sets the prisoner free! How awesome it is that the God of the whole universe would take the punishment that I deserve! I was once an enemy of God, going my own way in rebellion to His commandments. But by believing that Jesus died on the cross for my sins, I could now have peace with God.
Romans 5:1 “Therefore having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ”
All my sin and wrongdoing my whole life was so ugly and I felt so guilty about it. Finally in November of 2001 my proud, rebellious, hard heart was finally soften by God. I repented of my sin and turned to God for forgiveness. I can still remember the day clearly when I realized how much God loved me. It was the fall quarter of my Junior year and I was walking through the middle of campus. The sun was setting earlier and I just felt so hopeless and alone. Suddenly it hit me, and I thought to myself, “It’s all good! Its all good!” God in His great love for me, covered my ugly sin by the sacrifice of His only Son, Jesus on the cross. No longer did I have to live in guilt. All my sin was forgiven, all of it.
Eph 1:7 “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace,”
Col 1:13 “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.“
After I had turned away from my old way of life and completely trusted in Jesus as my savior, my life changed completely. This was a much deeper change than putting on new behaviors. I had seen a lot of my friends try to reform themselves to various degrees, but they were never truly successful and most of the time they would revert to their old ways after a while, just as I had in the past. But now, God did a supernatural work in my heart that changed me almost overnight. After becoming a Christian, the very core of my being was renewed and I was now a completely new person and had new desires to obey God that were never there before.
2Co 5:17 “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. “
I no longer needed people to fill me by going to parties and drinking and doing drugs. None of that could ever satiate me. The Lord satisfied the void that only He, Himself, can fill, and for the first time in my life, I knew what it was to be truly happy.
Psalm 42:1-2 “As the deer pants for the water brooks, so my soul pants for You, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God…”
Chapter 4: Freedom!
As I grew as a Christian I was blessed with really good bible teaching at Grace Community Church under Pastor John Macarthur. I studied God’s word all the time and desired to understand what the real truth is. It’s not that I was merely a happier person, but I was a free person. Free to do what was right. Free to live as God designed. Free to enjoy all that God is! There was great joy in learning, working and recreation because everything is a precious gift from God above. And the more I did, the more I could see God working in everything. Finally, my life had really become exciting.
After six months of attending Grace on Campus, the UCLA bible study of Grace Community Church, I moved into Westwood to be closer to school and my friends. By God’s providence I ended up moving in across the street from a lovely young women named Grace Uriarte. Although we had known each other as acquaintances for a while, we became better friends and would hang out with mutual friends quite a bit that summer, while most of our other friends were home for break. I’ll let you read her testimony for more details of how we eventually got married.
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