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?