I remember the moment I first heard the words Seventh-day Adventist. I was 12 years old, and I remember it as if it were yesterday. My mother–calm. Me–panicked. “You will be going to Mid-Rivers SDA church school next year.”
I’ll be what? What’s an SDA and why would I want to go to their school? The more I listened to her speak, the more grim the news became. Thoughts raced through my head even as I felt my arms crossing in defiance across my chest. 14 students? One room school? What, did I get transported back to 1876? Is this even legal in America?
This was a changing point in my life.
I don’t have any amazing transformational story. No angel appeared; no donkey spoke. I am one of those conversion stories that aren’t often retold. I decided to follow God a million different times for a million different reasons—most of them involving Adventist Education, all of them involving Christian love.
As I grew as a Seventh-day Adventist Christian I experienced all the “stages of Adventism” as I now call them.
1. I was introduced to a loving God that I fell in love with over time. Jesus loves me, yay! Now what?
2. Stage two began shortly after stage one. I began to study and learn about prophecy and the end of time; thus began my descent into fear & end-of-the-world driven faith. God is coming soon, I need to go read my Bible so I can withstand the trials!
3. After several years of that, I graduated into a focus on obedience & the law. God requires obedience, and our Laodecian church is just too relaxed these days! Every time I heard a sermon that focused on the love & grace of Christ I would be actively afraid that if too many people believed in this idea of a God that just ran around forgiving everyone, the entire church would drift into lawlessness. That somehow we would all use that grace to excuse our disobedience. Instead of focusing on the character of the savior that I loved, I paid close attention to my dress, my music, my language, my entertainment, my gossip, my actions, and my use of jewelry. It wasn’t for several years that I realized there was one common denominator–me.
4. Finally, after many years of getting to know my savior better, I graduated to a faith based on Jesus, grace, and love.
So, what’s the point? We have a problem, Christians have a problem, and Zaccheus is the answer.
Zaccheus was a tax collector and people didn’t like him. He wasn’t misunderstood. He was an awful person. He spent his entire life cheating people out of money, stealing from them in the name of the law. People didn’t like him, and they were justified in their distaste.
So, they did what anyone would in their situation. In order to evoke a change in Zaccheus they ostracized him. They ignored him. They said mean things to him. They talked poorly about him behind his back. In short, they tried “behavior modification” by judging and disowning him.
I kept reading. I saw this amazing, revolutionary religious man walk onto the scene and call that awful, lying, cheating man down out of a tree. I saw my savior go to his house and eat with him. Talk to him. Love him. And then, for the first time in Zaccheus’ life, I saw change. After one day, one afternoon with Jesus, Zaccheus was forever altered.
So, my question is this: what are we afraid of? Loving too much? Do we really believe that if we are cruel enough, if we judge enough, if we point out sin enough, people will change? No. Love & grace are not to be feared; they’re to be embraced.
We should follow the example of the only perfect man to walk the Earth, and love. Because at the end of the day, love was all that changed Zaccheus, it was all that changed me, and it was probably the only thing that changed you.