We Have This Hope

Sadness grips me as I trace these lines. For the second time in a week, the world of fashion and television has been struck by the tragedy of a self-inflicted death. Earlier this week, Kate Spade—fashion designer, businesswoman, and founder of Kate Spade New York—was found dead in her Manhattan apartment by her housekeeper, hanged by her own hand.

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God is Love

God is love (1 John 4:8, King James Version). He is also all-powerful (Genesis 18:14; Luke 18:27; Revelation 19:6) and all-knowing (Psalm 139:2-6; Isaiah 40:13-14). Love inherently depends upon the presence of others and cannot be rightly revealed by one being alone. Love, when expressed in the presence of one, can only be directed to the self and would only produce pride, or self-love. Therefore, a God of love cannot exist alone.    

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The Longest Trial in History

Not long ago, a friend of mine was relating to me a sermon that he had just listened to where the preacher related a question that someone had asked him. The individual wanted to know why God would allow Satan to be loose after the millennium. In response, the pastor said half-heartedly, “if you can tell me why God let him loose the first time, I’ll tell you why He let him loose the second time.”

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Finishing the mystery of God

When the seventh angel sounds, Christ receives the "kingdoms of this world," in Revelation 11:15. What is the mystery?  It’s "Christ in you." Paul wrote, “To whom God would make known what [is] the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27). The mystery is having Christ in His people, but it seems strange that in Revelation just before the seventh trumpet we would begin to have Jesus living in us. 

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The voice of God in the General Conference (Part V)

Considerable discussion has taken place among conservative Adventists regarding Ellen White’s statements across the decades of her ministry concerning the authority of the General Conference. The assumption has been promoted, based on a few passages, that while Ellen White in her early ministry saw the General Conference as the voice of God on earth, that in later years she changed this position due to departure on the part of the brethren from various aspects of divine instruction.

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The atheist who found God

I thank God for the biblical Seventh-day Adventist movement and message. If it were not for these, I am sure that I would not be a Christian. I am also certain that I would not be alive today. The message of Jesus through an understanding of prophecy, the true character of God in the Great Controversy, a complete system of truth and gospel message through the sanctuary, and much more about our message convinced me God is real. Not only is He real, He is personal. Not only is He personal, He has a specific plan for this world and my life (and yours). If you have ever had any doubts about our message, I can assure you, you will find nothing else like it anywhere. You will not find anything as broad, deep, wide, intimate, personal, sensible, reasonable, convincing, relative for our times, or as loving as the wonderful picture of God we see through the Advent message. What a privilege that God has revealed Himself to us in these times from Scripture in a way unlike any other age in history. I did not have the privilege of being raised in a Christian home. Having the last name “Peppers” as well as having firey red hair wasn’t a very positive combination in childhood. Though often the butt of many jokes, the tables turned as I got older. In high school, I was the small-town celebrity. I became a star in the football world and was the first ever in my town to receive a football college scholarship. By my senior year, I weighed 265 pounds, bench-pressed 450, leg-squatted 700, and leg-pressed 1,800 pounds. One of the strongest and fastest players in the whole state, I was recruited by dozens of major universities. Academically in the upper 10% of my class, I was a top student.

At that time, a particular verse accurately described my life: “Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom,
 Let not the mighty man glory in his might,
Nor let the rich man glory in his riches; But let him who glories glory in this,
That he understands and knows Me,
That I am the Lord, exercising lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness in the earth.
For in these I delight,” says the Lord (Jeremiah 9:23-24). 

Though I was glorying in my wisdom, might, and later riches, I was not the least bit satisfied with life. Though I had a bright future ahead and had everything that people said you needed to be happy, I was miserable. Though I was popular, I was lonely. It seemed like no matter how high I climbed up the ladder of success, something seemed missing. I began to drink with the other guys in high school, and drinking soon went from weekend fun to a daily need. By the time I was in tenth grade, I became known as the school drunk. I would bring bottles of liquor to school and drink when the teacher turned her back. I was making a real mess of my life. However, my football coach sat me down one day and appealed to me not to throw my life away. For the next two years, I became that model student and player mentioned above, though I was still empty on the inside.

During my senior year in high school, two things radically changed my life. The first was a knee injury that ended my high school football career. Playing the biggest rival of the season, the college I wanted to attend sent recruiters to watch me. The field was soaked due to a rainstorm, and I stepped into a mud-hole that twisted my knee and tore my ACL in half. Lying on the field, I knew my high school career was over. All my hopes began going down the drain in an instant. Life can change in a moment, and the things you trusted in the most can crumble. When that happens to you personally, where do you turn?  Do you have something greater than yourself to lean on? 

The second thing was my parents’ divorce. After twenty years of marriage, my father decided that he wanted out. I was 16, and my sister was 11. When he left, my mother became very emotionally unstable. She often took heavy medications just to numb her pain. She would come home from work, change her clothes, and then go out till late at night looking for my father. We stayed at home or went to friends’ houses. One day, I came home to find her lying on the couch half conscious. Her speech was slurred, and she could barely open her eyes. I called my dad to ask what to do. He came over, talked to her, and left again claiming to go get some medicine. When he didn’t return after a long time, I called an ambulance.

After rushing her to the hospital and pumping her stomach, it was discovered that she had taken 25 sleeping pills. Because of her emotional pain, she tried to commit suicide and never wake up. I believe now that God spared her life that day. Later, my dad confessed that my mom told him when he was at the house she had taken the pills, but he left her there hoping she would die. He wanted her out of his life so that his life would be easier. At this point, I became so angry that I told him I never wanted to see him again except to spit on his grave. I was broken and confused. I sank into a deep depression that took a miracle to escape. It’s very real how the things we count on in this life to be forever will rapidly or slowly dissolve. It’s a certainty that nothing this world offers is certain or for keeps. Yet, there is a God whose love and promises never fade. They are there fresh every day, no matter how bad our circumstances may be. I didn’t know that  truth then, but I would soon discover it.

After recovering from my knee injury, I pursued my dream of college football. I played for two years at a large university in Missouri. It was a great disappointment and nothing I had imagined it would be. All the glory I gained through my earthly might, wisdom, and riches left my heart empty. I wanted something more, but I didn’t know how to find it. I began to study various philosophies and religions to no avail. After a long search that led me to more emptiness, I became deeply depressed again. Most days took all the energy I had to get out of bed. Nothing brought peace to the pain I was experiencing. It seemed that life had no purpose, and I didn’t want to live.

I had everything the world said I needed to be happy: money, popularity, women, education and more, but I was miserable. I became violently angry and bitter toward my family and everyone else about my life’s circumstances. I began to drink again which quickly reignited into a heavy habit. Angry and depressed, I questioned how a God of love could allow me to experience such negative things. That thought I could not get away from. If He really cared about me, why would He allow these unfortunate circumstances? Attending a state university, I was majoring in Geo-Archaeology, so I took several courses in anthropology and evolution. I read some seemingly convincing articles that led me to reject any concept of an existing God. I embraced atheism hard. For the first time in my life, I believed that there was no moral restraint, life was random, and we were just here by chance.

Following this mindset, I thought I had found freedom, but it was only temporary. Like Solomon of old, “I did not withhold my heart from any pleasure.” I did anything I thought would bring a thrill. Those things cannot be mentioned here. It was pleasurable for a season as sin is, only until it had sunk me into such a hole that I could not escape. I hated any thought of God. I railed and cursed Christians to their face. I laughed at them and scorned their church services. I hated them. At a time when my mother started attempting to reach out to God to begin putting her life back together, I told her all the reasons why God didn’t exist. I would beat up my little sister telling her there was no God to help her, even holding a knife to her throat on many occasions. I influenced many people away from God during those four years of misery. I really hit the bottom of human existence. I was without hope to the uttermost--but thank God that we serve a Christ who can save those to the uttermost those who come to Him.

Reaching the epitome of despair, I hated my family, the world and myself. I convinced myself that I would be better off dead than alive. I planned to commit suicide, but I wanted to do it in a way that would make my family feel responsible and guilty for the rest of their lives. I thought to write a letter stating that it was their fault before going through with it.

As I contemplated for a few weeks a suicide method, another strange (divine) thought began to fill my mind. “Why not study the Bible?” I did not hear a literal voice but just a faint thought that I could not shake away. “Why in the world would I study the Bible? I don’t believe that nonsense. It’s just a book of fairy tales.  I’m an atheist!” However, as I thought more about it, I developed a plan. I would study it, prove there is no God or purpose to life, and then commit suicide. That would solve every problem for others and me.

So, I sat down to study the Bible – to prove it wrong. Only I had not taken  one factor into account: God. My uncle, who was a new Adventist and the only one in my family at that time, gave me some Amazing Facts Bible study guides. I had told him over a year ago not to give me any more literature. I was an atheist and wanted none of it. He had respected my wishes up to that point, but after I made the agreement with myself to study the Bible, he told me that he was “impressed” to give them to me. I was astonished. How could that be? It didn’t matter though. I was determined to go through with my plan. I took the studies and went home.

In my college apartment, I pulled out an old Bible that my grandmother had given me years ago. I had kept it only because I cared about her. I also pulled out those guides and began to go through them. What I found greatly troubled me. I began to see credible evidence that God exists. I saw archaeology that confirmed the Bible’s historical accuracy, but even more so, I saw how prophecy confirmed the inspiration of scripture from God. It revealed that He is the God of the future as He unfolded world history through the ages before it even happened. I began to realize that if He was able to know the rise and fall of world empires through centuries, I could trust Him to guide my life.

I realized I had to make a decision. Either I would believe that the Bible was the word of God or reject it despite the evidence. I went to my atheist college professors asking them to give an answer to the prophecies that I had studied, but they didn’t know what to say. They could not refute the evidence I had discovered. I then made my decision to believe. After accepting that the Bible was truly inspired, I began to read the Gospels. Never in my life had I heard such words of purity and hope. Jesus became to me everything that I had looked for my whole life: peace, joy, and love. Oh, how I wanted Him more than anything, but I didn’t think it was possible because of all my sin. How could He love me? Panicked that I was too far gone for Him to accept me, I began to pore over the scriptures to find hope. God led me to a verse that changed my life forever: John 6:37 – All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out. This was the assurance I needed that He would never cast me away as long as I was willing to come to Him. I was overjoyed. Right there, I knelt down and invited Christ to forgive me for my sins, accepted Him as Savior and Lord, and received a new heart from Him. It was the greatest moment of my life. I sensed that weight of sin lifted away, and I was as light as a feather.

Immediately, my life changed. With Christ living in and through me, having justified me and beginning the process of sanctification, He gave me immediate victory over tobacco, alcohol, pornography, and many, many other things. I was truly free in Christ – not free to continue in sin, but free to live victoriously in Him. I began to witness to everyone around me telling them what Jesus had done for me. I felt like the demoniac whom Jesus healed and sent home to share the good news. Most thought I was crazy. All of the atheists I worked with laughed at me, scorned me, or threatened me. They attempted several times to get me fired from my university job, but God intervened each time. When my college graduation was on Sabbath at 10:00 am, and I chose to go to church instead of my graduation, my whole family ridiculed me. However, I desired to be faithful to the One who was so faithful to me while suffering on the cross for my sin and now lives to make intercession for me. How could I honor myself above the time dedicated to worshiping Him? He was and is my best friend. No one on this earth can take His place in my heart. I spent hours in prayer and Bible study with Him every day. The more time I spent with Him, the more real He became.

After graduating from college, I attended the Amazing Facts Center of Evangelism. During my last semester in college, I was so broke that I had to get food assistance. I wanted so badly to attend AFCOE that I prayed for weeks. After working a humanly impossible miracle in one day, God placed $5,000 in my hand to attend. I couldn’t believe it, but it happened. My father also said that he would never support me to go to AFCOE, but he later purchased a car to get me there. God uses the most unlikely means to accomplish His will so that we always know and remember it was His power and not our own. What an awesome God we serve!

Since AFCOE, God has taken me places I expected never to go. I have been to over a dozen countries as a missionary, a Bible worker, an evangelist, an AFCOE teacher for five years, and now pastor. I thank God that He has used me to lead several hundred people to accept Christ and join His remnant church. It has been such a joy to help others experience the Christ that has done so much for me. I never thought it possible to have such hope, but through Christ, all things are possible! I can truly say as in Jeremiah 9:24 that I am no longer glorying in anything of my own except that I understand and know Him.

In 2009, God tested my faith severely as I was diagnosed with cancer. This was one of the greatest challenges of my life. My life hung by a thread, but God once again miraculously intervened. Humanly speaking, I should be dead, but I know that God has a plan greater than death. He is the life and the resurrection. The full cancer story is one that will have to wait until another article. However, He has carried me completely through two types of cancer in two years to be cancer-free today. God taught me so much through that ordeal, and I learned to trust Him even more. Trials will always increase our faith when we are willing to trust Him in the good as well as the bad. They are opportunities for His glory to shine when we ask Him how He can be glorified rather than why it is happening to us.

As the gospel of John, if I were to write everything that Jesus has done for me, it would fill a whole book. These aren’t even all of the main things, but heaven is a place where every story will be told. I am so thankful for the Seventh-day Adventist church, a church of truth and love. It is God’s end-time, remnant church of Bible prophecy. Our message is solid, pure, and Christ-centered.  God is waiting only for each of us to allow Him to fulfill that message in our life. He is faithful and will do it. I have no doubt of this. Though the church will pass through the fire of the end times, she will come out clean and free of spot when Christ comes. His image will be completely restored in those who cooperate with Him, and we will reflect His character on this earth before He returns and for eternity. We must never underestimate the power of the Holy Spirit. Let us not be doubtful, but believing. The greatest hope we have is of Christ’s soon return. The only thing that will matter in that day is what He has done in your heart today and every day from now till then. Everything else will be a flash in the pan including your bank account, reputation, and pride. The bottom line will be if we trusted Him enough to allow His character to become ours. We will either have a new one fit for the new earth, or the old one that will perish with the old earth. Behold, He stands at your door today – what is your answer? Will you open only the front door, or every door in the heart to Him? Will you surrender every area of your life to Him just now and live every day as though He were coming today? 

Having faith in God while waiting

waiting“Wait on the LORD: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the LORD.” – Psalm 27:14 Wait on the Lord. Waiting is one of life's most difficult challenges. Impatience is a common thread in the history of humanity, and in today's fast-paced society addicted to instant gratification, waiting even just a little bit has become agonizing. We often grow tired of waiting and either give up whatever it was we were waiting for or try various other methods to achieve the result we wanted.

This mindset can leak into our spiritual life, and impatience in spiritual matters can pose a threat to our faith and trust in the Lord. The longer we wait, the greater the opportunity for our courage and conviction to waver. The human heart, after all, is a frail thing.

There are some among us who are waiting on the Lord to work in our life. It could be guidance with which college to attend, what degree to pursue, what career to enter, or what man or woman to marry. It could be help with broken relationships, health problems, financial issues. During the wait, we may struggle with a wide range of high and low feelings, such as confidence in the Lord and discouragement when He seems to be quiet. We know from the Scriptures that the Lord hears us when we pray to Him. In Isaiah 65:24, the Lord promises: "...before they [His people] call, I will answer; and while they are yet speaking, I will hear." We know this, of course we know, but there are times when our weak humanity overwhelms us and we feel lost, alone.

Waiting is hard, even for the Christian.

So what do we do? Do we give up? Give in? God forbid!

Waiting is never easy, but there is always a reason. Even though we cannot see it while we are in the present, the Lord knows exactly what we need and when. If we look back over those times in our lives where we thought the Lord was not answering our prayers, when the waiting seemed to be unbearable, we are able to see the Lord's hand guiding us through. That alone should give us courage to push onward and endure any future waits.

However, if you struggling right now, perhaps you will find comfort in knowing that you are not alone. Whatever it is you are going through, others have experienced it and, through the strength of the Lord, overcame the agonizing wait (Philippians 4:13). Some testimonies have been recorded in the Scriptures. In 1 Corinthians 10:11, we are told: "Now all these things happened unto them for examples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come."

For those waiting for a life-changing event, remember that exiled Israel had to wait 70 years for the fulfillment of the Lord's promise through the project Jeremiah to bring them out of exile. (Jeremiah 29:10-13)

For those waiting for the right marriage partner, Isaac was forty-years-old when he married Rebekah according to Genesis 25:20.

For those waiting for a child or struggling with infertility, Sarah, Hannah, the mother, of Samson, and Elisabeth all endured the agony of infertility before the Lord blessed them with a child. And according to 2 Samuel 6:23, Michal, the first wife of David, never had children.

Whatever it is that you are waiting on the Lord for – no matter how long it seems that silence is your only answer, no matter how dark your current situation may seem – hold fast to the promise of Romans 8:28.

Real quickly I want to diverge onto a tangent, and this is very important. There are three things that we, humans, tend to do that make waiting worse: worry, coveting, and running ahead of God.

Let's look at the first: worry. Worry has a way of getting inside our minds and taking root very deeply. Some individuals, for whatever reason, are more pre-disposed to anxiety than others, and anxiety often has more than just psychological effects. Some people experience physical pain associated with high anxiety. Worry, anxiety, is not healthy physically, emotionally, or spiritually. It causes us to chronically view life from a negative perspective, overlooking all the blessings by focusing in on only the bad things. If left unchecked, this anxiety can damage our relationship with the Lord as well as our relationships with others. The apostle Paul wrote to the believers in Philippi with these encouraging words: “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God” (Philippians 4:6).

The second, covetousness, is similar. Covetousness often begins with a harmless, passing thought, perhaps along the lines of: "I wish I had a good job like that." or "Why not me?" It settles into our hearts and minds and pumps out poison into our lives. Without realizing it, we grow dissatisfied with what the Lord has done for us and greedily long for the blessings the Lord has bestowed on others. James 1:14-15 gives us insight into how this transformation occurs in the heart and mind. “But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death.” Like worry, this discontent will weaken our faith and trust in the Lord.

The third way we tend to worsen our situation is by running ahead of the Lord. After waiting a certain amount of time, our impatience leads us to doubt the Lord or come to the faulty conclude that the Lord must be waiting for us to act first. It is just like that saying, which is often erroneously attributed to the Bible but actually originating from ancient Greece, “God helps those who help themselves.” We use human logic and reasoning to talk ourselves into doing something that is not guided by the Holy Spirit. The end result often only complicates the situation. For example, after waiting for years and years with no apparent answer from the Lord, Abraham and Sarah tried to bring about the Lord’s promise of a child themselves: Abraham took Sarah’s handmaiden Hagar as a second wife. The history of God’s people was complicated by the misunderstandings and hatred that sprung up between the descendants of the son of promise, Isaac, and the son of man’s way, Ishmael. Proverbs 3:5 tells us clearly “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding” and Proverbs 14:12 warns: “There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death.”

So how do we strengthen our faith and deepen our trust in the Lord while we are waiting?

I believe the key to this is coming to understand that even though we may be waiting for the Lord in whatever situation of our life (family, career, health, whatever it may be), we cannot be idle. The apostles, in the upper room, were waiting on the Lord but while they waited, they were not idle. They put away their differences, selfish desires, earnestly drawing together and pouring our their hearts to the Lord in prayer. And the result? The Holy Spirit fell upon those waiting and many were reached for the cause of Christ.

Even though we may be waiting on the Lord, we need to have faith that He has a plan for our lives. We need to keep our faith in the Lord on fire NOW through studying God’s Word, praying, fellowshipping with believers, witnessing to those within our sphere of influence, and living every single day for the glory of the Lord.

Remember, it is the little moments that happen every day that often make the biggest difference. We often wait for the Lord to give us a grand mission—a call to ministry, an opening as a missionary to a far-off place, whatever the dream may be—and while He may do that, He also expects us to live every day in faith. That includes sharing the Gospel in any capacity that we are able to in the "short term". We have an individual personal responsibility to witness for Christ NOW, not tomorrow or in ten years.

Think of it this way: the Lord has placed you in this exact time and place for a reason, even if you cannot see it. In Acts of the Apostles on page 109, Ellen White spoke of "a large class [of people] who need to be taught by such missionaries as Philip—men who will hear the voice of God and go where He sends them. There are many who are reading the Scriptures who cannot understand their true import. All over the world men and women are looking wistfully to heaven. Prayers and tears and inquiries go up from souls longing for light, for grace, for the Holy Spirit. Many are on the verge of the kingdom, waiting only to be gathered in."

The first priority in our life should always be sharing the message of Christ with those in our sphere of influence: our family, friends, co-workers, neighbors, and community. Let nothing else, not even what we may be waiting for, get in the way of this prime directive. In the end, having a career, marriage, children, etc. will mean absolutely nothing if we did not use what the Lord blessed us with to win souls to Christ. And what a glorious message we have to share! No other branch of Christendom has been given the privilege, and responsibility, of sharing the first, second, and third angels' messages.

In Evangelism, page 119, we read: "In a special sense Seventh-day Adventists have been set in the world as watchmen and light-bearers. To them has been entrusted the last warning for a perishing world. On them is shining wonderful light from the Word of God. They have been given a work of the most solemn import,—the proclamation of the first, second, and third angels’ messages. There is no other work of so great importance. They are to allow nothing else to absorb their attention."

And in Christian Service on page 145, we are told: "Let every Seventh-day Adventist ask himself, “What can I do to proclaim the third angel’s message?” Christ came to this world to give this message to His servant to give to the churches. It is to be proclaimed to every nation, kindred, tongue, and people. How are we to give it?"

Even though we may be waiting on the Lord to move in our own lives—whether it is help with finances or health issues, concerns for wayward children, which person we should marry, or what job to take, we cannot forsake our duty to share the good news of Jesus with those around us today, right now.