“Hey are you going to Bible study tonight?” I was asked one day, suddenly thrown on the spot. 

“I’ll…ummm…have to think about it,” I stammered in response to my friend.

It was a very simple question that came with so many hidden complexities. I knew, of course, what Bible study they were talking about. I had heard at school that Pastor Mic Henton, the youth pastor from College View Church, hosted a small group of people at his house on Friday nights. It was open to everyone, but I never really had a reason to go. 

I had first interacted with Mic through school. I remember him walking into 7th grade Bible class, with his sandals he almost always wore and the small Bible he always carried in his back pocket. He was full of energy and had unashamed and contagious enthusiasm for Christ. He was very welcoming, so he wasn’t the reason I hesitated. 

To be honest, the real reason I wasn’t sure was… because it was my choice. Up until then, I had never chosen to go to anything religious. Bible classes had always been required. I had gone to church for as long as I could remember. Even community service projects at school were never optional. All my life, the constant cycle of religious activities had been something I had to do. 

So for the first time in my life, I had control over whether or not I spent time with Jesus. At first, I wanted to decline. To get a break from all the constant religion. Yet, for some reason I ended up going. Looking back, I honestly don’t know why I chose to go. But I think it was because God was already working in my heart.

“Jesse! You came!”

I remember the first time I walked up the cement steps of Mic’s house. My arms were so close to my body I was practically hugging myself. My legs were shaking, and my heart was beating hard. I felt like an outsider. I felt like I didn’t belong here. That I was the fakest Christian there and that everyone would see how bad of a person I was. 

Somehow I managed to summon the courage to open the door and step in. At the split entryway, I took off my shoes and walked downstairs where a golden light was emitted from a doorway. I followed the laughter and conversation until I came upon the group of people crowded around a table of food. I remember everyone looking up from what they were doing to look at me. 

Suddenly, Pastor Mic exclaimed, “Jesse! You came!” All of my self consciousness suddenly vanished. The room seemed brighter. And for the first time in awhile, I felt closer to God. I no longer felt like a pretender. Jesus felt so real to me that night that I genuinely wanted to know God. 

But this moment would have been impossible without Adventist education. It was through religion being repeatedly forced on me that I came to appreciate chosen religion. You can force anyone to something, but actions based on genuine conviction will always be stronger than insincere effort. C. S. Lewis says, “Why, then, did God give them free will? Because free will, though it makes evil possible, is also the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having.” 

I used to wonder why God exposed Adam and Eve to a choice that would condemn future generations. But looking back, I now truly see how He chose to out of love. Ken Poirot, motivational speaker and author, says, “True love is built on free will and free choice, not control and manipulation.” God gave us a choice because of His love. And we love God in return out of our choice, not through force.