NHAPPY WITH A LIFE THAT LACKED direction and purpose, I dropped out of college and enlisted in the Army. Far away from parental restraint and godly grandparents, I started hanging out with the wrong crowd and following its rotten lifestyle. On one particularly shameful occasion, I violently threw my GI (government-issued) Bible into a Dumpster. If there really was a God, I reasoned, He would prove His existence by zapping me on the spot.
Three years later I was back in college, intellectually and morally challenged by such anti-Christian books as Charles Darwin’s Voyage of the Beagle and Thomas Paine’s The Age of Reason. The sad outcome was 10 miserably confused years. I used “intellectual honesty” as my excuse for refusing to attend church with my wife, Penny.
But nagging, unanswered questions wouldn’t allow me a good night’s sleep. I decided I must discover the truth that would answer life’s biggest, age-old questions: Where did we come from? Why are we here? Where are we going? I also had questions about the origins of evil and the problem of human suffering. I wanted to know the one real truth; a multiplicity of truths was ridiculous!
I invested $829 in a 54-volume set known as Great Books of the Western World. The writings of the greatest thinkers over the millennia, I reasoned, would surely provide necessary clues to the answers of life’s questions. I had only to organize the puzzle pieces and assemble the big picture. I would at last be at peace with myself and the world.
Thoughts about God and religion didn’t enter my mind. Yet I soon learned that God recognized in me a heart willing to know the truth. He knew me so intimately that He spared me the time and expense that I would have invested in poring over great books written by great men, only to arrive at the conclusion that mere mortals, unaided, cannot grasp the vast spiritual truths needed to resolve the timeless questions.
I’ll never forget seeing the movie The Exorcist. I was completely unnerved by the thought that demons play a role in earthly affairs. Nothing in my past prepared me for that frightening realization. I remember lying in bed that night, shaking uncontrollably in abject fear of dimensions unseen.
Late one August evening I uncharacteristically decided to stay up late to watch Tom Snyder’s Tomorrow Show. Guest author Hal Lindsey jerked me wide awake as he discussed reasons that he felt his best-selling book, The Late Great Planet Earth, was enjoying such amazing success. He underscored the inerrancy of Bible prophecy; how it was the only Book whose divinely inspired predictions were 100 percent accurate.
The following evening I began reading The Late Great Planet Earth.
The material on prophecy was riveting, and Lindsey concluded several chapters with simple invitations to accept Jesus Christ as personal Savior. I felt myself being quietly, peacefully drawn into God’s very presence. After reading a mere 69 pages into this 180-page book, I became convinced that God alone had the answers I had been seeking for all along. I felt urged by Heaven to confess my sins and seek the peace of which Lindsey wrote about so convincingly.
I was not disappointed. I knew with absolute surety, then and there, that God heard my prayer. I was on my way to being a real Christian. That night I converted to Christianity. I hadn’t known a night’s rest so peaceful in my whole life! That night, alone with God, I reached a turning point.
I have often considered the unusual chain of events that prepared me to accept God’s outstretched hand. I was making a sincere attempt to know the truth about life’s big questions by my Great Books self-help scheme. Then came the scary movie, shocking enough to frighten a grown man into the stark reality of human helplessness against the forces of evil. Finally came Lindsey’s book.
Also, in the back of my mind was dear old Grandpa, who died with his prayer list in his hand. It took five years for God to answer his dying prayer!
Ready for Anything
In God’s mysterious providence I soon came across a long out-of-print book, The World’s Great Religions. It was one of those coffee table-sized publications, replete with full-color photos and illustrations. I briefly reviewed the basic tenets of Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, and Judaism before turning to Christianity. I was trying to justify my decision not to affiliate myself with any creed or denomination, so I examined the section on Christianity with great care. As I read, the conviction deepened that something must be terribly wrong or there wouldn’t be such a confusing array of faiths, each professing to have the truth. This seemed alien to me, unlike anything Jesus Christ taught.
The book included a two-page spread entitled “Christians, Their Practices.” This handy chart provided a comparison between 10 large and six smaller Christian groups, including a capsule examination of the 10, comparing each on the basis of key features.
This chart absolutely captivated me. It allowed me to make informed comparisons using the various categories to compare and contrast the 10 featured church bodies: (1) Roman Catholics, (2) Eastern Orthodox, (3) Lutherans, (4) Presbyterians, (5) Anglicans, (6) Baptists, (7) Methodists, (8) Congregationalists, (9) Disciples of Christ, and (10) Latter-day Saints (Mormons).
After sifting through all this information and carefully comparing each denomination’s characteristics against what the Bible teaches, I mentally crossed off all 10 groups from my admittedly preconceived ideal of a Bible-based church. At the bottom of the spread, the chart concluded with brief thumbnail sketches of six smaller groups: the Coptic Church; Seventh-day Adventists; Church of Christ, Scientist; Jehovah’s Witnesses; Unitarians and Universalists; and Friends (Quakers).
Once again I rather easily ruled out all of them except one. All it said about Adventists was that they stress the imminent end of the world and the second coming of Christ, who will destroy evil and reign on a purified earth. The brief sketch seemed vaguely biblical, but I needed more information.
The unusual description intrigued me to the point of looking in the Yellow Pages for the nearest Seventh-day Adventist church. Honesty would not permit me to scratch off the last possible candidate until I learned firsthand more of its belief system. Less than four months since my conversion I cooked up a strategy.
The Last Lap
While waiting at a service station for an oil change, I casually strolled over to the Warren, Michigan, Seventh-day Adventist Church, less than two blocks away. I simply popped in on Pastor Edmund Grentz and asked him point-blank if he could tell me more about Seventh-day Adventist beliefs.
Though surely surprised by such a direct question, the pastor calmly and expertly related the story of a great controversy between God and Satan, a controversy initiated by Satan in heaven, later transferred to Planet Earth shortly after Creation, and still being waged for every living soul.
Questions for Reflection
1. Think back to a time in your life when you questioned God, or were faced with a Bible teaching that was difficult to grasp. What unusual means did God use to help answer your questions?
2. Is “truth” a concept, or a person, or both? How does your answer influence your search for understanding of God and His will for your life?
3. How are those who are blessed with a deeper understanding of spiritual things at risk of spiritual pride? How does one protect against it?
4. What recent discoveries have you made in your Bible study to indicate that you’re still growing in your understanding about God and His ways?
Pastor Grentz’ ready grasp of the whole sweep of the Bible--Old and New Testaments--made a powerful impression on me. I felt as though God was rewarding me for making an honest-hearted inquiry. Everything the pastor said accorded perfectly with my recent reading of the entire Bible. As a soul long hungering and thirsting to know not merely any truth but the truth, I felt a thrill of joy going through my being.
After listening in rapt attention, I finally excused myself to leave, knowing my car should be off the lift by now. As we passed through the foyer, Pastor Grentz casually handed me a church bulletin. “By the way, we worship on Saturdays here,” he said. “We believe that the seventh-day Sabbath of the Bible is the proper day of rest. You’re more than welcome to visit.”
This comment struck me like a thunderbolt. I knew absolutely that God had led me there that day to discover the one major church on earth that believes in and observes all the Ten Commandments.
The excitement of these rapidly unfolding discoveries was exceeded only by one thing in my entire life’s history up to that time: my conversion of only a few months previous. I soon attended Seventh-day Adventist services faithfully on the Lord’s true Sabbath. After three more months of intensive study with Pastor Kenneth Lee and his wife, Rosalie, I joyfully entered the baptismal waters with my patient wife, Penny, in the East Detroit church.
Before I even became a church member, Mrs. Lee gave me a copy of the book The Desire of Ages by Ellen G. White. As I devoured this exquisite volume, no one had to tell me that its author had the gift of inspiration. I soon purchased the entire Conflict of the Ages set of the Ellen G. White writings and began systematically drinking in its message. When I eventually came across Ellen White’s comments on topics such as the danger of reading infidel authors such as Thomas Paine, I felt as though her words were penned especially for me. After all, just a few years earlier I’d nearly been derailed permanently from Christianity because of Paine’s and Darwin’s writings.
When I knew I needed help, God filled a gaping God-shaped hole in my heart. In answer to my need, I not only found in the Bible the voice of God to my soul, but in Christ my soul hunger was satisfied. A Scripture passage that especially resonates with me on this point is: “And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart” (Jer. 29:13, KJV). Evidently God accepts any honest-hearted approximation of seeking truth in general, or Him in particular!
Keep praying for the lost sheep in your family. I’m living proof that God knows each of us intimately. With unerring omniscience He knows just the methods needed to lead us in the path of life eternal. If He could do this for me, He can do it for anyone. All the praise belongs to Him.
Jerry Stevens is an editor at Christian Record Services in Lincoln, Nebraska.