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.
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.
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.
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.”
“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.”
A prayer in the same vein as these could be offered for whatever your chosen life work may be.
Notes & References:
 The multi-faceted cross is also substitutionary, atoning, and sacrificial.
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.
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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/10439