By Nikki Stevenson
In the 1998 film, “You’ve Got Mail” Joe Fox (Tom Hanks) writes to his secret email pen-pal, “Don’t you love New York in the fall? It makes me wanna buy school supplies. I would send you a bouquet of newly sharpened pencils if I knew your name and address.”
I’ve always loved that line. Isn’t it funny how seasons can connect us to memories and feelings? This time of year always elicits feelings of deep joy in me as well as anticipation for what the Lord is doing as LAM and all the presenters and conference volunteers prepare for the annual Former Adventist Fellowship Conference. It always surprises me how the change in the afternoon lighting, the shifting weather, and the blooming wildflowers and magnolia trees fill me with a sense that something wonderful is coming. At this time of year I begin to pray in new and specific ways for those God is calling out of Adventism and to Himself.
There is no mistaking that God began preparing the hearts of my husband and me long before we attended our first conference in 2010. In fact, as early as December, 2006, God began causing me to question my beliefs about Him.
One frightening day, our five-week-old firstborn child, Joshua, was admitted into Loma Linda University Medical Center with spinal meningitis. On that first night I was told he might not live, and thus began two weeks of tests and treatments. Carel and I spent Joshua’s first Christmas with him in the hospital, and following his discharge, we had another two weeks of pic-line treatments at home with piles of follow up doctor’s appointments and DNA testing due to other blood abnormalities.
During those weeks we were visited by many well-meaning Adventist friends, relatives, and church leaders. Nearly all of them at one point or another told me to “have faith” or to “trust God”. There was never any qualifier or context added to these statements; they were just left hanging in the air with the assumption that I understood what I had to do.
I remember many nights walking the halls of the hospital wondering how my faith could have any bearing on the life of my child. Faith in what? In healing? In what I wanted his outcome to be? In the fact that God is good and a good God wouldn’t let him die? What about the other babies there without parents caring for them? Whose faith was responsible for their healing?
Other questions began to emerge. Was I being punished for the sins of my youth? In fear I would plead for forgiveness while holding my weak son in my arms as I prayed in the children’s chapel, begging the Lord to spare him. My questions about God and His character continued to haunt me. Would God take my son from me because I wasn’t obeying well enough?
I spent many long nights with my fears and questions exposed during the most vulnerable moment of my life, and I wondered how so many non-Adventist Christians I’d heard speak at interdenominational Women’s conferences seemed to become stronger in their walks with God through their struggles while I was becoming inescapably aware of my lack of knowledge about who He was. If I could summarize my question now in a way I wouldn’t have been able to articulate then it would be, “Who is God and what is He like?” At the time I knew I didn’t have answers to my questions, but I kept quiet in my weakness because it was to my shame that I didn’t know those things. After all, I belonged to the “truest church on earth”. I began to pray to truly know who God was.
I never dreamed that would lead me out of Adventism.
A Different Jesus
One of the most shocking statements I heard at the first Former Adventist Conference I attended was when a young woman said to me, “Adventists don’t understand that they have been taught a different Jesus from the one of Scripture.” I was pretty certain that she was over-simplifying the issue and felt quite defensive—and yet I was inescapably curious about what she meant. As the weekend progressed, the things I learned about Jesus, His nature, what He accomplished, and how He interacts with humanity clashed with the way I understood all those things in Adventism. The picture I was seeing, through Scripture alone, was a different picture from the one created by Ellen G. White and the great controversy worldview.
By the end of the weekend it was clear to me that I had just spent three days learning a different gospel from the Adventist gospel; it was simply not the same message. I was introduced to a different Jesus from the Jesus of Adventism. This “new” Jesus was always fully God (not exalted to the Godhead). He was never an archangel. He was incapable of sinning, and He would keep me in salvation by His power and not by my works because He had already accomplished salvation on my behalf by satisfying God’s wrath against sin on the cross once for all. This Jesus was not investigating my sins in an ongoing judgment of believers in Heaven.
During that conference, as I read and heard the Scriptures carefully taught, I watched the Holy Spirit disassemble the religious facade in which I had actively, willingly, and proudly participated. I sat there with guilty hands that had participated in building and teaching idols that cut others off from the truth of Scripture.
I was undone. My world was undone, and as I sat there and looked around, I saw that I was not alone. The people around me were also undone. Many of them had repented and now lived under the Lordship of this amazing Jesus, but even they were still brought to tears over the depths of deception they’d once embraced. Others, including me, were just beginning to see how blinded we had been, and we were faced with a decision.
Suddenly I knew that God was answering my prayer to know Him. It was time; my days of ignorance has passed, and I knew I was at a crossroad. I had to decide either to run far away from this gospel I’d been shown, or I had to confess that I had been worshiping inside a deceptive religious system that created a twisted gospel and a false Trinity which mimicked the gospel and Trinity of Scripture. To submit to the gospel of Scripture meant life, but it also meant worldly loss. To remain in the false system of Adventism meant to participate in its deception with my eyes wide open to its reality and to reject the true message and calling of Scripture—but it also meant I would be able to keep earthly my life as I’d known it. While the consequences laid out before me were catastrophic to the life I’d known, there was no other option but to follow Jesus where He led.
He did not leave me an orphan.
Learning the truth
During the four years between my son’s hospitalization and the 2010 FAF conference, the Lord exposed my husband and me to the things He needed us to “see” before we would ever have the courage to attend such a conference. His hand was clearly over us, and He was working all things together to get us to that moment that would begin the lifelong journey in Christ that would answer the questions of who He is and how He loves and interacts with humanity. One doesn’t just leave Adventism and know the answers to all these things. We will spend the rest of our lives, former Adventists or not, getting to know the truths of who God is—truths found perfectly preserved for us in His eternal Word.
Since being born again God has not only shown us the truth about who He is but also about who we are. He has walked us through many hardships and difficult realizations about our lives. He has taught us to trust Him and to rely on His sufficient Word as we walk through trials. What I have come to see is that during those times of trials, when left alone in my weariness, the lies I once believed about how God interacts with humanity come to my mind, and I can hear myself questioning what He is up to in my life. I have learned to repent of these thoughts and to turn to Scripture to study what is true about God. I have come to deeply love studying His attributes and the names of God.
As an Adventist I believed the 10 Commandments were the transcript of His character. As a believer I know that He has revealed Himself in all of Scripture and most fully in Jesus, the Son of God. It’s in Scripture that we come to know who God is, and it’s in knowing who God is that we find life and hope and peace that sustains us through every hardship.
This year the Former Adventist Conference is focusing on the Doctrine of God. I can’t imagine a more important conference for former and questioning Adventists to attend, or to follow on live stream. Why is it so important to study the doctrine of God?
“And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” John 17:3.
When we come face to face with the Trinity, we come face to face with reality. When we see what is true about God, we begin to see what is true about ourselves and about our lives. When we submit to the Word and the truth of God, all the other lies and sinful practices of false and adulterous religion that defined us become repugnant and powerless, and the chains begin to fall.
So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” They answered him, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?”
Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”
So as the early spring sprinkles the Southern California hillsides with wildflowers during these last weeks before the conference, you will find me in earnest prayer for all those whom God is preparing to come to hear the Word faithfully taught and for those who are charged with teaching it. I pray that those who come and who know the Lord will know Him more deeply through His Word, and that those who have not yet known Him according to His Word and His testimony about Himself will see Him, repent, and be saved.
“Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving. At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ…” Col 4:2-3a