Welcome Home…Maybe? Part Two
By Pastor Gregory Matthews, Feb 11, 2015, Published by permission from the author. As Susan listened to the idle talk of the patrons of the bar one of the men mentioned God. Another joined in. Something that was said triggered long-lost memories in Susan’s mind. With the Spirit of the living God helping her, she began to give a witness to the Christ she had once known. By the time she had finished, Susan had resolved to return to God herself.
At this point, Ralph entered Susan’s life. He had lived a full life for God. Ralph was a prominent businessman and the pastor of a small community church. As he and Susan discussed marriage they decided that their home would be centered on Christ. Considering this, Susan reached back into her background and shared with Ralph what this would mean to her. Ralph agreed to attend the Adventist church with Susan and they were married.
Anna, Ralph’s daughter, could not understand the change she saw in her father. She went to Susan for answers. The answers did not make sense to her and Susan began to doubt them herself. With tears streaming down her face, Susan fell on the floor one day. She called upon God to reveal himself to her and to open his word to her understanding. The answer was immediate: “Here I am. I have never left you. I will give you a hunger for and an understanding of my word.”
Susan arose from the floor of the bathroom that day a new person. She dedicated an early morning hour to the study of the Bible. She now learned that God had won the battle with sin. God loved and accepted her regardless of her past. On Calvary, Christ had won the battle against sin.
This was hard for Susan to understand; it seemed out of harmony with the Adventism that she had once experienced. God was still leading, and Marla came from the local church to work with Susan. Marla had also traveled the road of a prodigal. She shared her spiritual journey with Susan and introduced Ralph and Susan to the tapes and writings of Morris Venden. This was a new perspective to them. Susan began to share this perspective with her children. A daughter, Cynthia, joined the church and married a local leader in the congregation.
I wish that I could tell you that at this point that Susan had finally reached a time of spiritual peace. But my story is real life and Susan had not yet reached that place of spiritual nurture. The local members were not as ready for Susan as she was for them. What Jesus did for us on Calvary was so central to Susan’s spiritual life that she sometimes got in the face of people who did not see spirituality as she did. Some of her doctrinal understanding lay on the edge of Adventism. For example, she honored the Sabbath, but the manner in which she kept it offended some. As Susan evaluated Adventism in the context of the local congregation she decided that in honesty to where she was spiritually, she would worship in that congregation, but she would not formally become a Seventh-day Adventist. So that is what she did. She faithfully attended services each Sabbath. But, she did not join the denomination.
About this time several Adventist-oriented, but private, discussion groups arose on the Internet. Susan turned to one of these for spiritual growth. That experience was a mixed one. Some told her she was a child of God, welcomed her and sought to lead her spiritually. Others told her she was eternally lost because she had left the true church and was no longer a formal member. Paul[i] publicly told her that when Christ came the second time he would stand on the wall of the New Jerusalem and wave at her on the other side. The message Susan received on the Internet was mixed and flavored with rejection.
This feeling of rejection became complete with the break-up of daughter Cynthia’s marriage. Emotional and physical abuse was charged. The local congregation sided with the husband’s family, who provided substantial financial support to the church. Children were left in need. Coupled with this were problems that developed in Susan’s own marriage. At this point in time, Susan decided that she could no longer attend the local Adventist church. She resolved that she would never again place her trust in any human organization. She would depend only on the Lord.
Then, three major medical crises in a twelve-month period made it unlikely that Susan would ever attend any church again. At that time her association with Adventists became limited to the Internet. Susan was a prodigal who had returned to Christ, but not to the Seventh-day Adventist Church. She was indebted to the Adventists who gave her that early start. There were grandparents and in-laws who took her in when she was abandoned and in need. God used those people and others. They exemplified the love of Christ as they related to her. They are likely part of the reason that Susan returned to her fundamental heritage. There are clearly those who have fulfilled the ministry of Christ to reach out with the love of Christ to those who have struggled with sin. A Seventh-day Adventist minister traveled to visit Andrew, her second husband, in the last few hours of his life.
The power of the resurrected Christ has been felt in the lives of people who have shared Susan’s journey. One former lover remains free from alcohol and serves in a leadership position in his local Adventist church. Cynthia remains a single parent. Her life has been a struggle. She is on a spiritual journey and the God who continued to seek the salvation of her mother continues to work for Cynthia, too.
As for Susan, her life was ended by cancer on April 12, 2002. I spoke with her by telephone a few hours before she died. Her confidence in Christ remained firm. She had heard the voice of Jesus say to her: “Welcome home.” She rests in confidence that on that resurrection morning Jesus will welcome her with open arms and there will be no one who will say, “Wait a minute!” When the news of her medical condition was published on the Internet, there was a great deal of support for her. People who had disagreed with her doctrinal positions publically supported her, and wished her well. This included the person who had previously been most negative toward her. As she discussed this with me, she shared that it brought her great comfort. She died feeling loved.
[i] It must be noted that at a later time Paul publicly asked Susan to forgive him for making that statement. She forgave him.
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