Raised in the 1960’s and 70’s in a rather typical Seventh-day Adventist home, my five siblings and I were left to picture God as old, cold, and hard. We learned about John 3:16 and that was great, but what always came through to me at the end was that I was bad, I needed to get good, and I better get to work on that right away because Jesus was coming soon. If we did what we were supposed to do, we had a shot at getting into heaven. Or else.
This was not an attractive proposition. Based on what I understood (or didn’t understand) about the nature of God’s love for us, it is no wonder that I became an atheist by the time I was 45. But that is getting ahead of the story.
By the time I was in my teens, I wasn’t much interested in God or religion; I wanted to be happy and feel good. I turned to drugs, rock and roll, and a number of destructive habits. I knew in the back of my mind that this was sin, but I didn’t much care. By the time I was in my 20’s, my life had become an endless circle of trying and failing to find happiness, or at least some level of contentment. One late night/early morning, after accidentally watching an episode of It is Written, I decided to go back to church – a Seventh-day Adventist Church.
I really did give it my best shot. On the outside I looked pretty awesome – theology student, urban missionary worker, etc. I was a fantastic rule keeper. I was pretty sure I had conquered all sin except for one – appetite. Once I started eating, it was very hard to stop. Something compelled me to continue eating. I tried fasting a few times, but it made no difference. I was out of control when it came to food, and I knew I would never able to conquer that one.
Now I know that it was because I had no idea who God was or how much He loved me. I was trying to earn his approval so He would save me. I had also never learned to submit every thing to God. (Deep down, I doubt I wanted to, anyway.) After 3 ½ years of failure, I gave up. I didn’t see the point of continuing if the formula didn’t work. So I left the church.
Almost immediately, I returned to my openly sinful life, and it was worse than before. Three years later, even though I was “functioning” (I was able to hold down a job), I was drunk every day. I was taking whatever drugs I could find and afford. I remember waking up in the morning still drunk. I would head off to work thinking “I’m done with this drinking.” By lunch time I was saying to myself, “At least I am not going to get wasted today.” But as soon as I was off work, I was sitting on the bar stool, starting my night of “fun.” I was defeated and accepted that I was not going to survive much longer. So I might as well go down in flames.
Then God stepped in and, by His grace, He got me into a rehab center in 1993. I was able to stop all the substance abuse, except for nicotine and caffeine. (I was pretty sure that those didn’t counted.) God did not require me to be converted or even acknowledge Him. All I had to do, it turns out, was to admit that, if there is such a thing as a God, then I am not it.
When I got clean and sober, I did believe in some sort of nebulous god-like force in nature, but I didn’t really believe in a personal God. Although I didn’t see it then, I now recognize how gracious our God is in looking after us even when we do not acknowledge Him.
Sober But Still Sick
But I was still sick with sin. I had several relationships of varying lengths, and none of them lasted, mostly because of my inability to stay. I always had a good reason to leave, or so I convinced myself.
I avidly consumed movies, TV, music, and video games. Most of my favorites were dark in every way. I ate whatever I wanted – too much of the wrong things. I am sure it looked like I was trying to kill myself. I was addicted to lust – illicit sexual relations, prostitution, and pornography (online and otherwise). Despite my relentless search for happiness, I was miserable.
In 2007, I had surgery to remove a malignant brain tumor. As I was getting ready to be wheeled into the operating room, I believed that it would be OK with me if I didn’t survive the surgery. At some point before that, I had become agnostic so I thought there was probably no such thing as an afterlife – that when we die, that’s it. I figured my life had been OK so what was the big deal? 1
It wasn’t too long after that experience that I gradually became an atheist: I was completely persuaded there was no God. There was just one thing that I could not get past as an atheist – Daniel 2. I tried to ignore that detail.
God Steps In
So that’s where things stood on the afternoon of August 22, 2014. I hadn’t been to church for years, though I sometimes considered attending for the possibility of meeting a woman. I hadn’t read the Bible for years, except when I wanted prove something. (Often that “proving” was to put a Christian on the spot regarding the Sabbath.) I was just as sin-sick as ever. That day was a Friday and I was due to start my final year at Washington State University in pursuit of an accounting degree. I had all my books and was ready to go. There was nothing in my life at that time that was causing me any significant amount of stress.
Since all my classes were online, I had become accustomed to taking a nap in the afternoon. Sometimes I slept, sometimes not. That day I did not sleep, but that was nothing unusual. For some reason, without really thinking about it, I sat down at my computer and went to BlueLetterBible.org. I went to John 14 and started reading. If someone would have asked me what I was doing and why, I would have told them, “I have no idea.” But there I was.
I kept reading. I remember at one point realizing that if I kept reading, my life was likely to change dramatically. I kept reading. I went through Jesus’ long talk with the disciples and his prayer with our Father. I read about His heart-rending struggle with accepting the cup of suffering in Gethsemane. I kept reading – through the humiliating trials with all the mocking, scourging, and spitting inflicted on Jesus.
I read through the story of Jesus hanging on the cross. I read through the resurrection, His ascension and Pentecost. By the time I got to somewhere in Acts 3, I gave up. I fell on my face on the floor. With gut-wrenching sobs, I told God how sorry I was for being so wrong about who He is. I asked Him to forgive my sins and told Him that if there was anything left of me He could use, I was His – all His.
I don’t know how long I was on the floor, but when I stood up, I knew I was a different man. (1 Sam. 10:6) I was convinced, and still am, that God Himself, through the power of His Word and the Holy Spirit, introduced Himself to me. I didn’t hear any voices, but I knew He was offering me everything if I was willing to let Him take everything. Without hesitation, I said, “Yes.” In that moment, it was as if I had no other option. Twenty years before that, I thought I had other options besides submitting. Praise God, this time I knew there were none.
This transaction had nothing to do with a desire to go to heaven and live forever. It was the knowing that I could choose to walk with Jesus moment by moment. I had met the most amazing Person imaginable. I realized I had finally found that love and lover for whom I had been searching my entire life and I couldn’t stand the thought of being apart from Him for even one moment.
I had been a smoker most of my adult life – sometimes moderate, sometimes heavy. I was so thrilled with my new life that within fifteen minutes or so after getting up off the floor, I had to tell someone. I called my uncle who is a serious, converted Seventh-day Adventist believer who knows Jesus. We started talking. Since I had long been in the habit of smoking while talking on the phone, I smoked a cigarette while talking with him, without thinking about it. And then I smoked another one. I hung up from talking with my uncle and went out to my car for a third cigarette. As I walked, I was thinking that I needed a cigarette. Then a gentle, almost smiling, voice-like thought said to me, “Do you really need that?” I stopped in my tracks and realized I didn’t. I was practically giggling as I walked to the dumpster with my stash of cigarettes.
I never smoked again and never experienced one craving. It was the same with caffeine. The only ill effect I experienced from not using either of those substances was a minor headache the next morning from caffeine withdrawal.
Within an hour or so I realized I no longer had any interest in watching TV, playing video games, or eating a pint of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream. I had been a huge baseball fan all my life, and my team was doing very well at the time. I just no longer cared. I was amazed! (As was my non-religious, sports fan brother.) All of those soul-killing sexual habits were as if they had never existed. (Yes, even the online porn.)2 I knew that God had healed me of my need for all these things.
Having healed me, God put a yearning in me to know Him better and to learn how to be useful to Him and to others. I had a whole new outlook on the people I saw – whether family, friends, or the person working the cash register. I wanted all of them to meet my Brother.
Over the course of the next several days, I put my main computer (I kept my laptop) and everything in my entertainment center on Craigslist. I gave away half of my clothes. I couldn’t wait to divest myself of anything attached to my former life.
Remember, that day was Friday. There was a Seventh-day Adventist Church within walking distance of my apartment. The next morning, I was sitting in a pew for the early service. I desperately wanted to fellowship with others who were crazy about Jesus.
I was living in Portland, OR, and within three weeks, through the leading of the Holy Spirit, I packed up everything I owned into my 2003 Buick Century and headed to the Florida Keys 3,500 miles away. There I volunteered for a Seventh-day Adventist radio ministry (streaming worldwide at WHJN.org) run by a long-time friend and former boss, Juanita Kretschmar.
Six months later, I moved back to Oregon and moved in with my parents. During that time, I took a two-week training course to do literature evangelism. When I got home, I started knocking on doors. Any of you who have experienced this will understand what joy it is to let Jesus reach people through this ministry.
Several months later, I took a call from Adventist Volunteer Services to go up to Nome, Alaska, U.S., to work at another Seventh-day Adventist radio ministry, KQQN. I am still here in Nome.
The Rest of the Story
This part is hard to write about because I still can’t believe it myself, let alone expect anybody else to believe it. Something supernatural happened on that Friday afternoon. It is true that I was given the extraordinary healing of all those habits. I was also given a gift that is at least as valuable as the healing. That gift is the freedom to choose moment by moment whether or not to engage in sin.
August 28, six days after I as converted, I started a journal. This is the first thing I wrote: “There is a clear enmity between my new self and the old. Sinful things that I once sought after and longed for, I now abhor. This is beyond miraculous.” Not too long after that, I realized that I could honestly say that I would rather die than choose to sin.
That doesn’t mean I am without sin. I am constantly coming up short when it comes to following our perfect Pattern. I continually have to claim the blood of Jesus for the forgiveness of my sins. The source of these sins is the self monster that lives within me. My daily life is shot through with pride, self-sufficiency, intolerance, self-justification, and the incessant demand for approval, applause, admiration, and credit. That is merely scratching the surface. Self causes me to behave in ways I do not want and causes me to fail to do things that I do want. Romans 7 is so familiar to me; I am that man. “I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin.” Romans 7:25
Unlike the choice of deciding not to knowingly sin, victory over self can only be won by daily submitting everything to God. This is a choice I make every day, asking for the saving grace of God and claiming the promise that He is cleansing me from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9) The victory is called sanctification and that “is not the work of a moment, an hour, a day, but of a lifetime.” 3 While that work of God is daily progressing, I can joyfully claim the righteousness “which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith.” (Phil. 3:9) Assurance of all this is ours because God’s word “shall not return to Me void.” (Isa. 55:11)
One last thing: Parents, never stop praying for your children! I am thoroughly convinced that if it had not been for the fervent prayers of my earthly father, there is a good chance the Holy Spirit wouldn’t have had the spiritual authority to reach me. Your praying gives God more opportunity to save your children. Never stop.
The point of my story is that God is a miracle worker. Even though I thought I had long ago grieved away the Holy Spirit, He found a way in. It is because of this that I can’t stop praising Him. All glory to Him!
- The surgery and treatment went very well. No sign of disease since. ↩
- A brief note regarding online porn. I talked earlier about my addiction to food. Online porn addiction was like that, only on steroids. It was the one thing I knew I could not live without. Even though I knew deep down that it was killing my soul, I could not wait to get my next “fix”. There are resources for dealing with this issue – use Google. I’m sure some of these work for some people. But I know that the only source of ultimate healing is the One who says, “Wilt thou be made whole?” John 5:6 “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:9 “How long halt ye between two opinions? If the Lord be God, follow Him…” 1 Kings 18:21. ↩
- Ellen G. White, Acts of the Apostles, p. 360 ↩