I grew up in a typical Adventist home except for the fact that my parents divorced when I was just 4 or 5 years old. My brothers, sister, and I grew up with my dad and attended SDA schools. We were a distant and somewhat unemotional family. Coupled with my parents' divorce, these factors led to a sense of abandonment and rejection. I desperately clung to my belief in Christ from an early age because that was the only place I found hope. I have vivid memories of crying to God and feeling he was close to me when I was still quite young.
Unfortunately, as I was being taught Adventist doctrine as I grew up, I began hearing things that were upsetting to me. I can vividly recall being told that Jesus and the angels would not be with me if I went into a movie theater or bar. I even recall a picture of angels hiding their eyes as they stood outside a bar and cried for the man inside. God would not be with me always, even unto the ends of the world. I also remember a very specific discussion on the need to be perfect to get into heaven because I would have to stand before God without an intercessor, and perfection was the standard. I never would know when my name would come up because Jesus was up in the most holy place judging us right now. Needless to say, these beliefs just added to my fear of abandonment, and I never really felt assured of my salvation.
I seemed to hit a wall in my relationship with Jesus. I felt God, not just my family, would abandon me, too. I kept looking for the assurance people talked about, but I was never able to find what I was looking for in the Sabbath school lesson or books I read (mainly from the Review and Herald Publishing Co., because they were the only available books to read). I persevered in the Adventist lifestyle, going to Adventists schools, marrying an Adventist man. I did all the right things and looked the part of a successful Adventist, but I was not any more assured of my salvation nor was I any closer to God as a result of my careful choices. I would pray, though, that God would help me have the relationship I longed for so much and never seemed capable of achieving.
Then, in the fall of 1997, my husband was asked to play the drums for a new outreach program called "Oasis" at Kettering Seventh-day Adventist church in Kettering, Ohio. Being the supportive wife, I started to go with him each week. The message being taught there was not at all what I heard on Saturday mornings. The concept of grace and a life outside the rules and regulations (legalism) of Adventism were being taught. I started reading the books that were being used by the team to prepare these programs and my heart began to fill.
We were blessed with friends that were also questioning some of our Adventist beliefs. Greg Taylor, a former pastor at the Kettering church, had left Adventism by this time. Upon his departure he shared a letter on the Internet entitled, "An Open Letter to Our Friends and Family." (This letter is currently posted on www.formeradventist.com.) Because he had been a former pastor here in town, his letter had a big impact in our church community. This letter, while we personally hadn't read it at that point, was the basis for many of our debates about what we believed regarding Adventism.
Gradually, the years of conditioning and teachings of error began to fade away, and God's simple truths shone through. I had found what I was longing for all my life. I began to have a different view of the "Great Controversy." Yes, there is a war, but the battleground is for my heart, and God wants me to be alive and vibrant, not fearful. My heart is the treasure of great value. He is not up in heaven looking critically at me to see if I make even one mistake but is desperately fighting for my heart.
I was like Cinderella, a worthless, dirty, servant girl, and Jesus is my "Prince-Charming," my Rescuer, my Savior. He not only rescued me, He died for me. He died that my heart can be made whole and alive again. Several times Jesus uses the analogy of a bridegroom and bride to help us understand his love for us. His is a love that is not dependent upon my perfect behavior, what I do or where I go.
I had bought a lie just as Eve had. I had been deceived. I was trying to please God so he would not abandon me. I was keeping the commandments and working so hard at this impossible goal that I ended up ignoring God's gift of grace. Just like the Pharisees, I could not fully recognize Jesus as my Savior. I was still under the law and trying to earn my way to heaven.
As my understanding of grace and my relationship with God grew, I was amazed at my previous acceptance of obvious error. I also became angry as I came to know of Adventist pastors that did not stand up for the truth they knew-or worse, knowingly preached error. I truly believe the Adventist Church knowingly perpetuates error.
Thankfully, God led us to a church where I have been able to grow continually in my understanding and love of Jesus. I know so many Adventists that do not believe in Ellen White but continue to attend Adventist churches. I wish I could give them just a glimpse of the blessings I have received since I left Adventism. I want to say to them, "Why would you stay in a place that stunts your growth and shrivels your heart when you could live a life full of adventure and freedom?"
I am no longer afraid of God leaving me or of not being good enough. I do not feel the trials that come my way are punishments from God or His abandonment of me.
I have found something of great value to teach my children. They don't need to be perfect and follow a long list of rules, which I assure you they cannot do. My husband and I teach them the message of God's love and grace. I cannot imagine trying to raise my children under the dysfunction of Adventism now that I know the "Good News," not only for their sakes, but for mine. God has changed me by his Holy Spirit to be less selfish and more patient. Because I have been given grace, I now can extend it to my children and husband. God has changed our hearts by his love.
The most meaningful compliment I have ever received was from my mother-in-law. She was visiting us after we had left the Adventist church. Naturally, as an Adventist herself, she was concerned about our departure from Adventism. After spending a few weeks with us, she shared her thoughts and feelings before she left. She said that after observing our family, she no longer felt that we were "being led astray". Her fear was relieved because of the change for the good she had seen in our home. The Holy Spirit had changed us. The fruit of the Spirit was a bigger witness than any of our words.
Wow, I was so humbled.
Last year during our "40 Days of Purpose" study at our church, we were asked to give an analogy describing our view of our lives. In the past, I viewed my life as shooting a class-5, white-water rapid on an inner tube all by myself-no guide, scared to death, and honestly not sure if I would survive. And by the way, I'm not a very good swimmer.
Now I view life as the same class-5 rapids, but I'm in a raft with a Guide I trust. The ride is still sometimes frightening (that's what makes it exciting), but this time I can't wait for the next set of rapids. I may be surprised by the twists and turns of the journey, and it may be wet and cold at times. Just like a ride at an amusement park, however, I know that my arrival at my destination is assured.
Now, when I see dying patients at the hospital or have a friend who is hurting, I have true hope to offer them instead of "...well, if your believe the 27 fundamental beliefs and are baptized and have confessed all your sins, even the hidden ones so you will be blameless, then, if you are good enough, then and only then, will God take you to heaven." Now I can say, God loves you now, just as you are. He died fighting to save you, and He won! He loves you as a filthy, selfish and sinful person. He wants desperately for you to love him and believe in him. Your heart is a treasure of great value; it is priceless. Don't believe the lie of Satan that you are not good enough or perfect enough. God's grace is sufficient to cover all your sins and faults. Your heart is a battleground, and this is war. You will be hurt. The question is, who is winning?
"God did not send His Son into the world to condemn it, but to save it. There is no judgment awaiting those who trust Him." John 3:17 & 18a (NLT)
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