Rain pummeled the metal roof and siding of our home as gusts of wind whipped the treetops outside my window. A blaze of lightning cast skeletal shadows on my bedroom wall. As thunder clapped I quaked and pulled the covers around my face. God must be angry tonight, I thought.
The journey from faith to assurance
By Cheyenne Francis
Rain pummeled the metal roof and siding of our home as gusts of wind whipped the treetops outside my window. A blaze of lightning cast skeletal shadows on my bedroom wall. As thunder clapped I quaked and pulled the covers around my face. God must be angry tonight, I thought. No doubt I had been the one to stir up His wrath. “God,” I whimpered, “go ahead and take me like Jonah, so that my whole family doesn’t have to die.” Long after the summer storm subsided, my young heart still quivered. What if a tornado had ripped our house apart, or I had been struck by lightning? Surely I would awake in the wrong resurrection, only to be consumed in hell. That’s what happens to people who don’t obey God, and I surely hadn’t figured out how to keep from disobeying Him.
Searching for God’s Love The Bible stories Mom read us at bedtime said God loved people; but He also seemed rather free with His punishments. For example, the stories of Jonah, the Flood, and Sodom and Gomorrah told about those who experienced God’s wrath. My Sabbath school teacher talked about God’s love, and I’d grown up singing “Jesus Loves Me”; still, I couldn’t quite figure things out. For all His professions of love, God certainly did have strict rules. I was supposed to obey because I loved Him, but so far I hadn’t been able to generate enough love to keep me from even the simplest infractions, such as bickering with my brother. Outside Sabbath school and children’s books, love seemed often ignored in my circle of Adventist friends and family. Everyone, it seemed, knew about God’s love, but the people I looked up to felt that those who harped on love also had a tendency to downplay obedience. Not wanting to be guilty of that, they focused instead on pertinent “present truth” topics that pointed out the signs of the times and helped us get our act together. They didn’t waste much time on such basics as love.
Recognizing God’s Love In the middle of all this I read the book My Life Today, by Ellen White, and subscribed to a junior-teen magazine called Young Disciple. Through them I began to understand salvation and God’s true intentions toward me. I saw in the lives of Bible heroes, reformers, martyrs, and missionaries that following God brings the best kind of happiness. I learned about surrendering my will to His will, and the power He gives to overcome. To my great surprise, it actually worked in real life! I learned how to study my Bible to understand God’s true character. As I pondered the cross and Christ’s earthly life, I understood why we sang “Jesus Loves Me.” Slowly God revealed Himself to me, and slowly I gave myself to Him. With a new perspective on love and obedience, I began to believe I could be saved. Now that my view of God had shifted, I even found myself wanting to please Him. I’d never been happier! Soon I noticed God’s love surfacing in everyday life. I started seeing His love in nature, in answered prayers, in small daily blessings. Now that I understood that Jesus wasn’t asking something impossible of me, that He overcame for me and now enabled me to live victoriously, His love seemed more relevant and, frankly, more genuine.
Fundamental Love Still, wasn’t love elementary, and shouldn’t I be moving on to something more complicated and challenging? That’s what I’d been taught. Yet I began to see that “elementary” also means “fundamental.” Love isn’t merely beginner’s stuff—it’s the foundation that gives stability, meaning, and purpose to every aspect of life. Love is the agent that enables us to understand God and become like Him. Ellen White wrote: “The first step toward salvation is to respond to the drawing of the love of Christ. . . . It is that [men and women] may understand the joy of forgiveness, the peace of God, that Christ draws them through the manifestation of His love. If they respond to His drawing, yielding their hearts to His grace, He will lead them on step by step, to a full knowledge of Himself, and this is life eternal.”1 She also wrote: “Such love is without a parallel. . . . Theme for the most profound meditation! The matchless love of God for a world that did not love Him! The thought has a subduing power upon the soul and brings the mind into captivity to the will of God.”2 Yet how little I let God’s matchless love subdue the barriers locked around my soul. How often I went to secondary sources for approval, acceptance, and a sense of well-being. How much I belittled and sabotaged myself when I could have experienced worth and stability built on the strongest foundation imaginable.
Challenged to Hold On I didn’t recognize the chasm in my heart until I experienced a year that shook my inner foundations. God used common events (albeit traumatic ones) to show me that I had been depending on others rather than on Him. That year I broke off a serious relationship, moved away from my home and workplace of eight years, and began examining my childhood family experiences in an objective light. With supportive friends and church family members now hundreds of miles away, my family ties in a jumble, and a state of shattered, aching confusion in my heart, I found my soul desolate and tattered. As I floundered for peace and inner stability, begging Christ for help, a glowing theme started shining through Scripture. It had always been there, but now I paid attention to the best, most unfathomable news in the Book: I have incalculable worth, based not on my performance, talents, or circumstances, but on the devoted, abiding, unshakable love of God. “Since you were precious in My sight, you have been honored, and I have loved you” (Isa. 43:4). “The Lord delights in you” (Isa. 62:4). What else could matter in view of that? In amazement and gratitude I began highlighting in pink, like little love notes, every Bible verse that showed me God’s love and my worth to Him. Old, familiar passages quickly took on new, radiant beauty. It took me more than a decade to realize it, but now I know that while I’ll never comprehend my worth to Him, I can believe it and build my life on it. “Live in contact with the living Christ,” wrote Ellen White, “and He will hold you firmly by a hand that will never let go. Know and believe the love that God has to us, and you are secure; that love is a fortress impregnable to all the delusions and assaults of Satan.”3 Now when I’m discouraged, tempted, or lonely, I open my Bible and look for pink texts, or for new verses to highlight. I trust those promises more than my feelings, more than my circumstances, more than anything else in the world. I know without doubt that I am cherished. This is the message we are called to live. Even though we can’t explain His love, can’t describe its vastness and tenderness, we can show those around us—our families, friends, coworkers, even the people we meet in shops and businesses—how much they are loved. Love flows from Christ’s heart, melting indifference and making everything relevant! The awesome love of God is the most powerful message we have to share with the world. And the best way to share it is to live it.
1-God’s Amazing Grace (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1973), p. 99. 2-Steps to Christ (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1956), p. 15. 3-Thoughts From the Mount of Blessing (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1896), p. 119.
I am scheduled for major but non-urgent surgery in the next few months, and I may need a blood transfusion. Do Seventh-day Adventists agree to blood transfusions? Are they safe?
Adventist pastors Bogdan Scur and Shawn Brace are ecstatic about Christ’s presence in their lives. This interview shares that thrill with you. You may also listen to the podcast,1 where Scur, Brace, and Elizabeth Talbot (Jesus101.tv) discuss this subject together. Brace and Scur first explained why, in a world of many moral teachers, they are so fascinated with Jesus Christ.
Brace: I am so fascinated with Jesus Christ because He is so fascinated with me. And all humans, including me, are supremely loved by Christ. He values us more than He values Himself. We owe our very existence to Him—through both creation and redemption. And after you taste this love, you cannot help being fascinated and drawn to Him. Scur: Indeed, Jesus is so superior to every other moral leader. He is the only perfect, faultless human being and flawless moral leader. His wisdom is original, while the wisdom of all other moral leaders is derivative. But I am even more fascinated by who Jesus Himself was and is. He is both the true God and a full human being. He is the beloved Son of God and the Savior of the world.
What does reading your Bible have to do with believing in Jesus? Brace: The Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, reveals the heart of Christ and the heart of the Godhead as a whole—a heart of love. Reading it helps me understand His love and respond better. Paul says that “with the heart one believes” (Rom. 10:10). When I encounter Christ through His Word, my heart is stirred to respond to His love by faith. The Bible is a way for me to continuously encounter Christ’s love and be compelled by it. Scur: Jesus Himself tells me that all of the Scripture testifies about Him. This key principle lets me see all of Scripture as either preparation for the gospel of Jesus Christ, the gospel of Jesus Christ itself, or implications of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Does everybody have to be converted? When you think about Christ’s righteousness, what about all the good people who have obviously dedicated their lives to good causes, such as peace, but don’t care about Jesus Christ? Aren’t they all on the same side? Jesus is the Prince of Peace, isn’t He? Scur: Yes, He is. And precisely because He is, He is the one who defines what peace is. Without Him we do not know what life is, or how to love God and each other. Without Him we do not understand what peace is and how we should work for it. Brace: Instead of thinking about “should” or “shouldn’t,” we need to ask what will bring an individual the greatest happiness and fulfillment. We know that there will be people in heaven who never consciously heard of or responded to Christ’s love (Rom. 2:12-15). But why rob them of the opportunity to experience the great joy, peace, and fulfillment of meeting and surrendering to the loving Christ? Of course, it isn’t for me to decide who is or isn’t converted. But I can always share the hope within me and pray that everyone who hears will be attracted to a deeper understanding of and encounter with Christ and His ways.
I once heard a member of one of my churches say, “I brought myself into this church.” Is it OK with you that people bring themselves into God’s church? Brace: The reality is, as sinful human beings, none of us have even an ounce of natural inclination to come to God, much less know how to do it. Scur: We are much too occupied pursuing our own selfish interests and building our own kingdom. Any inclination to God and faith is a gift of grace and the work of God in our lives. We do not bring ourselves into the church. We are led there by God. Brace: John Wesley, to whom Adventists owe a great deal of theological understanding, called this “prevenient grace.” Such a teaching—which is a very biblical teaching—says that, if left to ourselves, we would never even concoct the idea or inclination to seek God, much less go to church. Note this from Ellen White: “Christ teaches that salvation does not come through our seeking after God but through God’s seeking after us.”2 Scur: Very often God uses other people to lead us to faith. We see somebody who beautifully, though not perfectly, exemplifies the life of a disciple of Jesus, and we get the overwhelming desire to live such a life ourselves.
I wonder, is this what you’re saying? Salvation is all of God. There really is nothing humans can do. My earnest church member was probably sincerely wrong because it’s all automatic. People should neither brag nor worry, because everybody is going to be saved: Jesus turned on the salvation switch on the cross. Is that it? Brace: The word “yield,” and such other kindred words as “let,” “allow,” “surrender,” etc., are words Ellen White uses a great deal. Yielding is our “part,” if we can put it in such terms. Our “job” is not to resist what Christ has already started for us at the cross. Through the cross, Christ justified our lives (since we should all be dead right now because of our sins) and draws us all to Himself (John 12:32). If we do not “resist [we] will be drawn to Jesus” and brought to repentance.3 It takes greater effort to run away from God than it does to let Him draw you. Many will be lost at last because they choose to resist and reject the drawing power of God’s grace. Scur: There is a role for human behavior. We do not save ourselves, but we accept or reject what God has done to save us. We still have a free choice. Our salvation is not automatic. Even though Jesus did everything to save us, He does not stifle our will.
What does trusting in Christ do for you today? Brace: Trusting in Christ does everything for me! When I realize that faith works by love (Gal. 5:6) and that “the love of Christ compels us” (2 Cor. 5:14), I recognize that Christ’s love and faith is the fuel that propels all my actions. My life now becomes the way in which I express my gratitude, love for, and faith in Christ through limitless cooperation with His desires for me—call it obedience, if you wish. Scur: Trusting in Christ is changing my marriage, my parenting, my relationship to my colleagues, and many other aspects of my life. Jesus Christ is reordering my thinking, my communication, my attitudes, my feelings, and everything else that I bring into my relationships.
A final question: where do you think this passion of yours for Christ will take you? Scur: I fully expect that this passion will take me deeper into the mystery that is Jesus Christ. Jesus is too good a Savior and too benevolent a Lord not to take me closer to Himself. Brace: Believing in Christ is not simply a good life insurance policy. I’d like to think that—like Moses, like Paul, like Jesus Himself—I would even be willing to give eternity up if it meant someone else’s gain. I follow Jesus not for what He can give me in the future, but because of the incredible gratitude I have for what He’s already given to me in the past. I don’t covet future reward or even present safety, because I don’t deserve anything else good. So, ultimately, I have no idea where this passion will take me! And that’s kind of neat!
1-Soundcloud.com/adventistworld/fascinated. 2-Ellen G. White, Christ’s Object Lessons (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1900), p. 189. 3-Ellen G. White, Steps to Christ (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1956), p. 27.
“One interest will prevail, one subject will swallow up every other—Christ our righteousness.”1
For all we like to use the term, there probably is no such thing as a “self-fulfilling prophecy.”
The circumstances we label with that phrase are often those that might more aptly be titled “the power of an idea whose time has come.” God’s gift of prophecy, invading human history and experience, nonetheless invites and sometimes even requires human participation. The prophet hears and accepts God’s call upon the life: he or she responds in faithfulness, and God’s message is preached and taught. Listeners recognize the divine source of the words proclaimed, and by their cooperation help to set in motion the revivals and the reformations that change the course of nations, reshape institutions, and share the gospel in places it has never been heard—all as predicted in prophecy.
One hundred twenty-five years ago God’s messenger to this movement—Ellen White—passionately predicted the theme that would dominate the conversation of God’s end-time remnant. And while the Lord has always had among us witnesses who held high the light shining from the cross, there can be no doubting that the past decades of our history as a people have been marked by a growing spotlight on the righteousness of Christ. From pulpits, in our evangelistic outreach, in personal conversations and correspondence, one interest has, in fact, begun to prevail—the all-sufficiency of Jesus, what Ellen White so frequently termed “the loveliness of Jesus.”2
Your church has made this theme the foremost of its emphases for the next five years, and thus this issue of Adventist World is specially focused on that “subject [that] will swallow up every other.” Read with an open heart. Expect the best as you trace again the best news ever told.
1-Ellen G. White, “Be Zealous and Repent”, Review and Herald, Dec. 23, 1890.