I have been going to Christian churches for the last 30 some years. During that time, my wife and I visited over 50 churches as we continually searched for my wife's healing and people who were truly living God’s word.
One common factor among all of these churches was the consistent request for tithes and offerings, oftentimes at the start of each service. My wife and I grew accustomed to this concept, and found that we sometimes gained ‘special attention’ from pastors over the years based upon our financial success. In fact, at the last church we attended, the pastor spoke to some of his leadership about me, stating, "Take good care of him; he is a ‘big fish.’" I guess this pastor never read the word about not showing favoritism to successful people. At the church we attended prior to that, the pastor wanted to put my picture in the lobby with the title "financial advisor," yet he wouldn't show me any financial information. I refused because I did not want to deceive the congregation. I guess they never read in the Scriptures that the righteous walk with integrity.
Then came the day when I stepped into a church that made absolutely no mention of tithe or offering. This immediately caught my attention! United Faith Church in Barnegat, New Jersey became my home church from that day forward. As I grew closer to the leaders, Pastor Jerry and Pastor Janeth Santiago, I quickly learned that money did not buy power or influence at United Faith Church. I also will never forget that the heart’s condition with God is invaluably more important than money, as I remember how Pastor Jerry and Pastor Janeth Santiago returned a five figure check to me, emphasizing that God wants our hearts, not our money. Needless to say, I was shocked when I saw just how little money mattered to Pastor Jerry and Pastor Janeth Santiago.
At the start of my journey at United Faith Church, Pastor Jerry and Pastor Janeth Santiago didn't speak about money to me. Instead they only spoke the gospel and the truth in the word. Instead of only focusing on parts of the bible regarding prosperity and healing, as I had always done in the past, Pastor Jerry and Pastor Janeth Santiago led me to read the bible in its entirety. As I studied all of the scriptures in depth, I began to see just how ‘poor’ I really was... I realized that all this time, I had been chasing after the blessing and had forsaken the One from whom all blessings flow. I had been seeking the gift and had forsaken the Giver. I came to see that the one true God, Jehovah, wasn't my God. My god was money.
Because Pastor Jerry and Pastor Janeth Santiago, were uncompromising in their belief that a man profits nothing if he gains the whole world, yet loses his own soul, they showed an unwavering concern for my soul to be fully restored to God. My heart began to change and an incredible transformation started to take place in my life as I surrendered my old nature to God. No longer was I driven by a desire to make money. The Lord replaced my desire to make money with a desire to teach others about the true treasures of God!
Even my future plans began to radically change. Like most businessmen, I always knew when and how I would retire. I had always planned the typical retirement dream to escape the cold weather for six months in Florida and enjoy the warm weather for the other six months in New Jersey. As God’s mighty, all-consuming word began to establish purpose in my heart, I discovered that there is no ‘retirement’ in the kingdom of God! The true abundant life with God is an adventure that never ends. This year, the Lord has directed my wife and me to sell our Florida house because United Faith Church has become our true house, and ministering in the Kingdom of God in the Barnegat area has become our true line of work. We’re just starting our careers!
I am a member at United Faith Church with Pastor Jerry and Pastor Janeth Santiago because I truly believe God led me to them. It takes a powerful move of God and the Lord using the right people to change the heart of a prideful man who has attained so much of what the world has to offer. I have spent significant amounts of time with Pastor Jerry and Pastor Janeth Santiago over the last eight years. I have never seen them do anything where their personal gain came before service to the Lord. I continuously see the true love and servant-hood of Christ in them. These are the kind of people I spent my life searching for, Christians who have laid their lives down to serve the Lord and who have the power of God working through them. I am truly blessed to have found pastors who LIVE the word. What a loving God! He is amazingly good to His children.
When a person begins a relationship with Christ, there is an excitement and a new-found joy that is inexpressible. This is how the start of our marriage felt. We were elated as we said heartfelt vows to love one another. Granted, we had no clue how to be a husband and wife, and like most people, we came into our marriage with a lot of baggage from our past and our own ideas of what marriage should look like. We had no idea of how God had wanted us to communicate or love one another. Whenever we tried to fix the problems we had in our own strength, we failed. We found that the real problem in our marriage was much greater than the sum of all of these shortcomings put together. Our real problem was the selfishness of our hearts. Over time, we saw more and more clearly that just as we needed Jesus Christ to save our souls, we needed Jesus Christ to save our marriage.
Thanks to the everlasting mercy of God, Jesus made a way for us through discipleship at United Faith Church with Pastor Jerry and Pastor Janeth Santiago in Barnegat, New Jersey. Many think of discipleship as simply training someone to read the Bible and pray to God. Thanks to our pastors, we found that real discipleship is about relationship and is completely practical, applying the word of God to every aspect of life, including marriage.
Pastor Jerry and Pastor Janeth Santiago began to teach us the most beautiful truths about marriage from the word of God. They modeled these truths in their everyday lives and taught us to do the same. Who knows what might have come of our marriage had it not been for the consistent and unwavering commitment, time, prayers, and love that our pastors have poured out to us over the last seven years. There is simply not enough space or time to write all of the wonderful truths that God has taught us about what it truly means to love one another as Christ loves the church and has given up His life for her. We are so grateful!
In our marriage, we have finally come to learn the secret of true love that lasts forever… believing in and obeying the greatest commandments: to love God and to love one another! If these truths are not firmly established and practiced, no marriage can ever be what it was purposed to be, which is an amazing representation of Christ’s relationship with His church. Just to share a glimpse of the transforming power of God in our marriage, we have come to a place where God’s greatest commandments are in our house and in our hearts.
Above every other concern that life brings, our primary focus each and every day is to ensure that we are both growing in our relationship with Jesus Christ. We have committed ourselves to bless one another daily by speaking the truth in love to one another, by knowing and delighting in one another, by embracing, obeying, and sharing the word of God, by staying in fellowship and accountability with our pastors, brothers, and sisters in United Faith Church, and by placing one another’s welfare above our own. Daily, we expect to grow closer to God and one another, and we are! By God’s grace, we and the other families in United Faith Church are walking in this love, and the unity and harmony that has blossomed out of this journey is nothing less than incredible! We can say with confidence in God’s perfect word that our marriage will continue to grow stronger and stronger in the love of Christ!
If you’d like to know more about how the Word of God can help you to develop a strong marriage, visit unitedfaithchurch.org.