5 Things I Wish I Knew When I Was Baptized

I’m very glad that I became a Seventh-day Adventist in 1968. Over the decades since, there’s been a lot of upside. But I’ve also experienced too much spiritual insecurity and unnecessary guilt along the way. Things could have been so much better if I knew these five things when I was baptized.

1. Understand the message of the Cross.

The cross did not persuade God to forgive, it revealed the forgiveness that has been in His heart from all eternity. The apostle Paul wrote, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8 NIV; John 3:16).

The truth of the Gospel is that within His own heart God has already forgiven everyone on earth for whatever sins they have committed in the past, are committing in the present, and will commit in the future. The key phrase here is “within His own heart.” God forgave us all the moment sin entered the world (Gen 3:15).

The question now is whether we will allow Him to apply that forgiveness to our life by admitting our need and trusting His promises. It is like the story of the Prodigal Son. In his heart, the father forgave his son the moment he left. It was then up to the son whether he would see the error of his ways and return home to re-join the family.

Our response earns us nothing. We can only receive what God’s amazing grace has made available.[1]

2. You can be sure of your salvation.

For many years I experienced what some people call “Yo Yo Christianity,” up and down, in and out of salvation. I’d pray in the morning and ask God to forgive all my sins and feel confident that I was saved. In the afternoon I’d mess up spiritually in some way and feel lost until I asked for forgiveness again. I was haunted by the question, “Suppose I commit some sin and die of a heart attack before I ask to be forgiven?” Insecurity city.

The answer was to understand that giving my heart to Christ is like getting married. When a husband and wife have an argument, it doesn’t end the marriage. They need to pay close attention to their relationship, but divorce is not even on the radar. Likewise, when I act in some un-Christlike way and sin, the Savior doesn’t say, “Well that’s it, kid. You’re out. It’s over!” As long as our marriage to Him is intact, so is our salvation. He remains with us through all the ups and downs of our spiritual journey.[2]

With this relational understanding in mind, I no longer kneel down at the end of the day and go over my sins like a checklist Forgive me for this, and that, and the other.” In prayer, I simply review with God how the day went, both good and bad, and try to learn what lessons the Holy Spirit has in mind. Repentance becomes more of an ongoing attitude of humility before God rather than a sin-by-sin transaction.

We can always be assured that the Savior will utilize all the resources of Heaven to keep us close to Himself because He is the greatest, most intense, tenacious, Lover in the Universe (Romans 1:17; 1John 1:9; 5:13).

3. Avoid the “Howard Hughes Approach” to spiritual growth and sanctification.

Howard Hughes was one of the wealthiest men in the world and also one of the most eccentric. He had a phobia about germs and spent his later years trying to remain healthy by avoiding germs at all costs. Toward the end, he barricaded himself in a penthouse apartment, closed off any possible access point for germs, and had his employees pass him food by means of a highly orchestrated sanitary ritual. He got thinner and more depleted by the day and eventually died like a shriveled up old prune.[3]

Spiritual life can be like that by thinking that our main focus needs to be on avoiding sin. We wind up asking, “Is this thing a sin? Could that be a sin?” It eventually becomes a very dark, constricted, self-oriented path. For instance, when I started pastoring, I used to wear black suits, black shirts, black ties, black socks, and black shoes just to avoid the possibility of being ostentatious or prideful. (I couldn’t find any black underwear.) When I was finally liberated, I overcompensated and bought a plaid suit, pink shirt, and paisley tie.

My liberation came when I learned to adopt an entirely different approach to spiritual well-being. Howard Hughes could have been one of the healthiest people around if instead of avoiding germs he focused primarily on taking in all the positive things in life — fresh air, exercise, healthy foods, sunshine, laughter, plus generously giving of himself to help others. If he did that, no germ would have had a chance! So it is spiritually. Yes, we need to avoid sin, but the best way to do that is to take in all the wonders of redemption, relish all the good things each day offers, and reach out in service to those in need (2 Cor 3:18; Col 2:6).

Rejecting the Howard Hughes approach opens the door to an expansive, joyful, large-hearted view of Christian living. It is like the difference between black and white TV and color.

4. Sabbath is about much more than a day.

After I accepted the Sabbath, I used to continue burning the candle at both ends all during the week, just like before, and then spend Sabbath trying to recoup. Mega stress and rat race, followed by the blessed seventh day. After several years of that crazy cycle, I made a connection I’d never made before. I heard a sermon about tithing where the pastor stated, “Tithe belongs to God, but He should also be Lord of the remaining 90%.” Tithe simply establishes a principle that should impact all the rest of my finances. What clicked mentally was the connection to Sabbath.

Tithing is a reminder that Jesus is Lord of how we spend all of our resources. Sabbath is a reminder that Christ is Lord of how we spend all of our time. Sabbath is a weekly opportunity to review our week and reset our priorities. It reminds us that spiritual, mental, and physical health cannot be a one day endeavor. Its principles cannot be compartmentalized into one-seventh of our lives (Col 3:17).

Genesis 2:1-3 describes the creation of Sabbath, but it’s in the wrong chapter. It actually belongs in chapter 1 with the rest of creation week as its culmination. The first week is a continuum that reaches its crescendo on the seventh day and needs to be viewed as a whole.

Sabbath is a touchstone not a stand-alone. Sabbath preparation involves all the days leading up to it, not just vacuuming on Friday afternoon. It’s a package deal.

I have always been very grateful that I have a divine mandate as an authoritative reason to keep the Sabbath day. I am also glad that a holistic understanding of that same mandate provides the rationale and incentive to properly orient the other six.

Simply put, I have come to realize that I am not a good Sabbath keeper if the rest of the week is filled with overwork, undue stress, and lopsided priorities (Ephesians 5:15-17; Psalms 90:12).

This same understanding should compel Adventist institutions that claim to honor the Sabbath to put in place policies that prevent burnout and foster a work environment where employees can thrive.

5. Know that you are called.

You are “called” by God to minister to the same degree as the pastor. There are no higher or lower callings in scripture. The pastor is not engaged in a more spiritual calling than you are. According to 2 Peter 2:9 we are all Priests, “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”

Because of our mutual high calling, there is no such thing as sacred and secular for the Christian. We don’t go to our secular jobs during the week and then do something sacred on Sabbath by going to Church or giving Bible studies. For Christians, all of life is a sacred endeavor. Pastors are God’s ministers to the church. Everyone else is God’s minister to the world. Whether you are a spouse, teacher, clerk, fireman, nurse, homemaker, musician, babysitter, engineer, cook, waitress, truck driver, secretary, administrator, etc., you are engaged in a ministry that is just as spiritually valuable and sacred to God as that of the clergy (Romans 8:28-30; 1 Cor 1:22-25).

For example, if you are a plumber, you don’t need to leave Bible tracts under each customer’s sink in order to be a witness. You are a spectacular witness by the honesty, excellence, and timeliness with which you do your work and the exceptional kindness with which you treat customers. After all, Jesus spent decades making furniture (Col 3:17, 23; 1 Cor 10:31; 1 Peter 4:10).

I pastored for 10 years then went through burnout, got very sick, and, under doctor’s orders, needed to quit. I suffered from tremendous guilt until I looked more carefully at 1 Peter 2:9 and learned that God calls Christians to minister for Him in myriad ways. People used to say to me, “Too bad you left ministry,” and I’d reply, “I left pastoring, but I haven’t left ministry at all.”

I cherish the following two prayers from Pastor Davida Crabtree:

“Creator and creating God, we raise before You in prayer all who work as hairdressers, barbers, and beauticians, who by their creativity and skill seek to help people feel good about themselves. Be present to them and grant them patience in their many interactions with the public and co-workers. Grant them a sense of ministry in their listening to the lonely and hurting, in their ability to transform mundane interactions into meaningful relationships, in their ability to give joy and feelings of self-worth simply by their work.”[4]

“Creator God, You are the source of all Energy and Power. We bring before You this day those who work with the power of electricity, who seek to channel, transform, and convert a dangerous energy into power for good. Guard them and keep them safe. Give them patience with tracking problems to their source, and caution in their work. And grant them a sense of ministry in their making our lives safe, in their striving for excellence, and in their dealings with people.”[5]

A prayer in the same vein as these could be offered for whatever your chosen life work may be.

Notes & References:

[1] The multi-faceted cross is also substitutionary, atoning, and sacrificial.

[2] Ellen G. White, Steps to Christ (Mountain View, CA; Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1956) 64

[4] Davida Foy Crabtree, The Empowering Church (Washington, D.C., Alban Institute Publication, 1989) 6, emphasis supplied.

Kim Allan Johnson retired in 2014 as the Undertreasurer of the Florida Conference. He and his wife Ann live in Maitland, Florida. Kim has written a number of articles for SDA journals plus three books published by Pacific Press: The Gift, The Morning, and The Team. He has also written three sets of small group lessons for churches that can be viewed at www.transformyourchurch.com (this website is run by the Florida Conference of Seventh-day Adventists). He is also the author of eight "Life Guides" on CREATION Health.

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/10439
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Lots of things that I wish I had known back in 1976! :thinking:

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I was baptized in 1969, the year following yours, and based on my experiences along the way, I can say your article is well said. Keep up the good work.

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Lots of things I did not know in 1982 but I don’t regret anything, those were stepping stones of where I stand today.

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"For Christians, all of life is a sacred endeavor."

This really should be emphasized and taught over and over again. It really puts everything that we do into perspective…thank-you for the article.

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Great writing! I am thrilled with your growing experiences you shared.

My greatest understanding has been to realize that ALL humans seek connection. Connecting with God, our Creator, and fellow humans in various aspects/relationships is a great need we have as humans. Living without connections leads to unhealthy relational experiences, bad decision making, and more.

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I have been very strongly rooted in Adventism, receiving its influence since age four, then spending all my school years at the same one school (in Brazil), until finishing college (Theology, class of 1972). But there were two things that Adventism would never teach me: Assurance of Salvation, and the process of God’s grace.

About four years after trhe Glacier View fiasco, and after re-studying my personal theology, I (literally) excommunicated myself and joined a Baptist Church for 3 years - that’s when I finally learned properly about those two issues. Then, moving to the US at the end of 1989, I joined the Seventh-Day Baptist Church in Riverside, CA, where I stayed for four more years before re-joining the SDAC that Smuts van Rooyen @Boksburg was pastoring here.

Though, hard journey. But I am glad I got a healthier understanding of those issues.

Thanks for the essay.

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My thing: I can have an encounter with God.

Not mediated by the church, or by reading the Bible, but directly.

I was baptised at 16 and could happily give you a passable Daniel seminar at that age. Apart from that I knew nothing. Then, at 22, God smacked me hard in the face at a time of deep personal crisis and I perceived the reality that can sadly be hidden by the theology. I’ve spent the last 35+ years trying to figure it all out. A couple of years ago, and 350 miles into walking the Camino de Santiago I had another visceral experience of God. I cannot translate this into words. I wish I knew at 16 that such things were possible.

What a long strange trip it’s been. Indeed…

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This is article is very serious and as I think about it even more, it can raise a number of questions about Seventh Day Adventism and how it as a system of beliefs and practices can impact someone’s spiritual life.

  1. Does Seventh Day Adventism teach the message of the cross before as well as after converts are baptized? In my it does it but it is not as clearly articulated. Several other things are linked to the simple gospel message which in some instances can blur the gospel message.

  2. Is the environment in which a new believer finds him/herself such a that I can be sure of my salvation? If the answer is yes, does that mean that all Desmond’s Fords efforts to lift up the gospel in SDA and to give an assurance of salvation as opposed to waiting for my fate based on the outcome of the investigative process now accepted in the denomination? Think about it!

  3. With respect to this one, the Howard Hughes approach somehow links my mind back to some of the things that EGW would say, for example the minister’s wearing of sober or somber colours in presenting the sermon in the desk or pulpit. Now we learn it is not so much about the colour of the clothes, but the person who wears them. This is very inclusive.

  4. Is Sabbath really about much more than a day accepted in Adventism in reality, or is it that we still determine someone’s fate- either for heaven or for hell by the keeping of the Sabbath of the fourth commandment? My own view is that the Sabbath if understood aright should not be an issue in the way we present it . It points us to the Creator God and in the new testament it should point us to Jesus and his relation to that day. A day for worship, a day for doing good and especially the day in which we focus on Christ, His love and His mission- to uplift himself so that all humanity may find salvation in Him.If we do these things-in particular the ones I just mentioned, we would be more Christ-like and have the correct approaches towards witnessing.

  5. With this one, it expands the concept of witnessing to include how I live in all aspects of my life- rather than passing out SDA literature or encouraging persons to attend a church sponsored event for a few weeks and at its culmination, no one sees or hears from me until the next church sponsored event comes around.

In a nutshell, the facts are that one would not necessarily hear any of these things in traditional Adventist churches because they are not necessarily embraced or advocated therein. Some people may embrace them privately, but not openly advocate such as it can lead to possible negative consequences for them.It takes the Holy Spirit to direct inquiring minds to search and accept them. When we live for Jesus, the Holy Spirit will lead us into all truth!

Andrew.

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One in five US adults experience mental illness. One in 25 US adults experience serious mental illness.

As a child, HH’s mother worried about her son’s exposure to germs, terrified he would catch polio. He was kept isolated and had no friends. His fear of germs grew throughout his life and he subsequently developed Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Ironically towards the end of his life he neglected his personal hygiene, rarely brushing his teeth and taking a bath, but expected his staff to wash their hands multiple times a day and layer their hands with paper towel when serving him food.

HH was most likely incapacitated even before he could begin life as an adolescent. So sad.

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I wish I had known back then that the SDA eschatological paradigm (Sunday Law, end time persecution) was a load of nonsense. I wish I had been taught Acts 10; 1 Timothy 4, Colossians 2:16, etc.

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Cognitive maturity is a function of growth and development. There are many things in the past that we insist we should have known but had we known it, we would have applied it. But because we did not have the capacity nor the ability, we did not think about it. No use fueling our anxiety for no reason at all. The biggest dilemma is the church has always had a push to baptize believers even before reaching the age of maturity, 25 years old. Once we reach maturity, we delude ourselves that we should have known better at the age when we were children.

What good is that? What a tangle web we weave.

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Likewise, a lot of abusive relationships, be it a parent or a spouse, coach, educator, or even religious setting, begin with a premise that one should know what one arguably doesn’t have background or capacity to know or understand.

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These are what we refer to as organizing events that we use to rearrange our past to make meanings in our lives. It can only be possible once we have achieve abstract thinking and have replaced egocentric thinking with empathy and altruistic thinking. Very rarely do we achieve this during our adolescent years. We need life experiences to develop our worldview and find our life trajectories.

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When I came back to the church in 1980, I was introduced to righteousness by faith, something I never heard of when I grew up in the church in the 1960’s and early 1970’s. I t was encouraging but depending upon who you listening to, it could and was used by many as just another step toward perfection. The church’s dogged adherance of the IJ is the proof that leadership at the top adhere to LGT. So George you are absolutely right, the church can never teach assurance of salvation i n the venue of LGT. Many of us have had to leave Adventism altogether to the get shed of that heresy, myself included.

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it is a steep and narrow way to Protestant - Pietistic Heaven ! See, I am 82 now and I remeber - My mother came out of a family living in Vohwinkel, Germany, for generations - she- "the minster’s daughter! How could she - - " The little congregation kept the Sabbath since the mid - fifties of nineteenth century. They were stiff and judgemental. They suppressed a broad spectrum of human life. Oh, there was a kind father, from here, a newly convert - so of course she formed the family “lifestyle” with a cluster of “double - binds”, but the more “dont’s” . Her multiple fears were imminent, especially about her son - she yet lived in her SDA bubble, but “knew” a lot about the dangers of the “world”. Wilhelm Reich would have found an ideal illustration for his Character - muscular - body - armour. She, a strong woman of great vitality just was frozenup to stiffness - - - just as German Pietism demanded. (Mrs. White on her visit in Vohwinkel also described the livingroom of my ancestors “Auf der Tesche” in her diary.) Even in her last Bible she had marked verses like Gen. 26 : 8 and 37 : 3 - - - her dreams never fulfilled.

And my two boys and my two grandchildren still suffer because of me being careful, hesitating, retaining, missing to say this spontaneous word or express that emotional gesture in my ecounter in my families house - and elsewhere.

Oh, we - two friends of my youth within the SDA, and me - meet and share our experience of being flooded with dangers and fears and restrictions and “standards” -
and twice the year we take the chance for a travel to Frankfurt, Germany - to enjoy an SDA atmosphere having abandonned all this junk. Or we visit Friedensau, the SDA university in former DDR.

In Austria we with horrible visions for the near future and for our kids growing up here - experience a reactionary backlash : They establish a new Tennessee here ! Supported by immigrants from Romania. (See “Salvation&Service” Vol. 60 orVol. 43)

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What is “a new Tennessee”?

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See the address : “Collegedale, TN 37315” And see “salvation&Service” Vol. 60 and 43 !
(just unse Google !)

I’m lost.

What is Vol.60 and 43?

OK. The address given is “Southern University”.

the printed opinions - guidelines are from Austra’s SDA youth ( ? ) (a minor group of “being professionally youth” ones gaining the leadership positions step by step, sponsored by a czech tycoon, undermined by immigrants from Bulgaria / Romania and Baden /Wuertthemberg Conference) high glossy print on heavy paper : To be found on Google - all the volumes online !