The Danger of Missing it by a Mile

There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.”
(Proverbs 14:12, 16:25 ESV)

Wrong Way

So I found some of my old writings on a zip disk leftover from my college days.  I took time to read them and took a quick trip down memory lane to see how I might have changed.   As I was reading I couldn’t help but notice a subtle but profound difference that has taken place.  Somewhere in my writing I transitioned from knowing about God to being a quest to know God.  As the son of a pastor and a student minister studying religion I was living in a world where everyday I was brought face to face with the Word of God and gleaning doctrine divorced from personal relationship.  I was a faithful student of God’s stats, but not his friend.  I could have told you the important nuances of a Bible passage and had a great grasp on how to use all the study tools, but it didn’t do me any good.  I didn’t grow closer to God, I loved his word, but I didn’t love Him. I look back and I thank God for his kindness toward me in leading me to repentance and real faith in Him.

Just knowing about God caused me to act in such away as if winning a theological argument with another religion student or science major was what it was all about.  I studied God’s word to bring me more personal glory.  I would risk relationships to show others how superior in Bible trivia I was.  Yet when I came to know God, I left it all, and fully embraced the embarrassment of confessing that I had known God’s stats, but missed out on knowing him.

I have seen several pastors hit grand slam sermons out of the pulpit and strike out at home with their own children because their children understood their dad was a phony.  I have seen kids walk away from their parents religion because dad and mom were more concerned about what people would think rather than what God thinks.  Pride is a dangerous thing.  It can keep you in church and out of heaven.

God, I thank you for your grace in reminding me that I need to offer my pride to you again today.  It is a dangerous thing to learn about you and not know you.  Thank you for interrupting my life with your grace so I wouldn’t be content to study your word without the hope of knowing you.  Give me strength to cast down any idol that would stand in the way of knowing you.

Forgiveness

The idea of forgiveness can be a hard one to handle.  It is not always easy to forgive or even to ask for forgiveness.  Sometimes it seems like it is easier to harbor a grudge or exact our revenge than to forgive.  However, forgiveness is not just an option but it is a mandate for the Christian life.  We are told repeatedly in the New Testament that we are to forgive others as we have been forgiven in Christ.

Forgive me Father, for I have sinned...

Peter once asked Jesus just how often he was supposed to forgive his brother.  He thought he was being generous when he asked, “Up to seven times?”  Can you imagine his shock when Jesus replied, “up to seventy times seven.”  Then Jesus told this parable.

“Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’ So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”  (Matthew 18:23-35 ESV)

The point of this parable was to show the heart of God in forgiveness.  God does not forgive grudgingly because He is obligated.  He gives it freely!  Our God is a benevolent God!  He lavishes His grace and mercy upon the most unworthy people.  Just as the master did not owe his servant forgiveness of the debt, but had compassion and forgave the debt anyway, so God forgives us our debt of sin through Christ.

But when we are recipients of such extravagant forgiveness we are supposed to live with the memory of that forgiveness and let if affect the way we deal with others.  This servant got it all wrong when he saw the extravagant grace the master was capable of, yet still forced his fellow servant into prison to pay up.  When you receive abundant mercy you are to show abundant mercy.

In the same way there was another time that Jesus told a story of extravagant grace to teach us about forgiveness.  Do you remember the story about the lost son found in Luke 15?  A young man goes to his father and asks for his inheritance and leaves home.  Once he has been away for a while and has spent all his money he finds himself feeding pigs and even eating their slop just to get by.  He remembers his father’s house and how well the servants there have it and he determines to go home, not looking for forgiveness, just a place to work so he can be clean and eat a good meal.  But when the father sees him in the distance, he runs to the boy and orders a feast in his honor.  We understand the father in that parable to be God and the lost son to be a repentant sinner.  The boy had taken his inheritance and gone.  He did not deserve a feast.  He did not deserve a warm embrace.  He did not deserve his father’s forgiveness.   Yet, when he topped that hillside and the father saw his form in the distance … he ran!  When a repentant sinner comes to God, God is always quick to forgive.  He lavishes his grace upon us when we do not deserve anything from his hand.

The character of God is marked with the ability to forgive great debts and likewise the character of a Christian is marked with the ability to forgive and seek forgiveness.  Paul admonishes the Colossian believers in Colossians 3:13b, “even as Christ forgave you, so you must do.”  He also told the Ephesians in Ephesians 4:32, “be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.”  Each time the appeal for forgiveness is based on the character of God to forgive us.  We should forgive others, because we have been forgiven a greater debt.  In forgiving others we are displaying the character of Christ!  We are called to a lifestyle of extravagant grace.

We are to be like God in our forgiving.  This is tough stuff.  It is not really easy.  I wish it were.  The thing that enables us to forgive is not found with in us, it is rooted in the character of God!  I am free to forgive others debts against me because I have been forgiven my debt.

My Story (Part 4): Waking up from a Dream

flickrcom-photos-indigogoat-174393301One night I had a dream.  In my dream there stood a small round table with a porcelain stature of Jesus praying.  I remembered the statue from my childhood.  It was on of the figures that had always been in my parents house.

In my dream there was an open magazine with a picture of Satan.  The kind of picture you see at Halloween with a red face, horns, and a pitchfork.  Yet the eyes had been cut out and taped on the statue of Jesus.

I was indignant and mad.  I can remember saying, “Who has done this thing!  Who dares to defile this statue of Jesus?  This is blasphemy!”  And just at that moment as still, small voice said, “It is you!”

In that moment I understood the weight of my sin before a holy and righteous God and knew that he would be good and right to send me to Hell.  I felt in that instant more terror than I have ever known.  I was sure that I was going to Hell.  Yet I awoke clutching the covers in a silent scream.  My mouth hung open,  my lungs had sized, my breath was caught in my throat and I was unable to actually produce a sound.

I understood then that I was lost, but tried to rationalize with myself that it was just a dream.  I contemplated how silly it would look like for me to admit that I wasn’t even a Christian.  Pride keeps many men and women back from what would truly be theirs in Christ.

A while later I was leading a college group through a Bible study on the 7 churches in Revelation.  As I studied the scripture I came to the Church at Laodicea (Revelation 3:14-22).  What I read changed my life.  I realized that I was standing naked before God and instead of trusting in Jesus Christ to remove my sin and my shame I was trusting in works that didn’t really matter to God.

I understood it like this.  God had given me a conscience and his word that exposed my wrong motives.  Like a mirror would show a person that they are naked and need clothes.  But instead of Trusting in Jesus and asking God to change my heart I was trying to answer the guilt over my sin by doing good things.  That would be like a naked person painting over a mirror.  It wouldn’t really change the fact that they were naked, it would just make it harder to see in the mirror.  There was nothing I could do to make myself right with God other than go to Him, tell him I was sorry for what I had done, and ask him to change my life.

I shared with Avia that I was lost and she quoted Isaiah 64:6 confirming that there was truly nothing I could do to make myself right before God other than humble myself and ask for his forgiveness.  The next day I met with an evangelist to learn another Evangelism strategy.  This one was called Christ-Centered Evangelism and rather than focusing on heaven it focused on Christ.

Brother Ed the Evangelist was teaching me about praying for those who have not yet come to God on his terms and lead me to read Romans 10:1-4.  As I read, he could tell something was wrong and he asked me if  everything was okay?  I couldn’t help but blurt out, “by the witness of these scriptures I am lost.  I have a zeal for the things of God, but I don’t truly know Him.”

Later that night after searching my heart, I asked Christ to be the Lord of my Life.  I told my pastor and came before my church fully expecting to lose my job.  I didn’t care.  I wanted everything to be right before God and men.

Jesus Christ changed me.  He saved he makes a difference in the way I live.  I am not a perfect person.  I continually make mistakes, but I know God accepts me based not upon what I have done, but what he has done for me.  I want the whole world to have peace with God like I do.

For more on the Christian message and how you to can have a relationship with Jesus Christ check out  2 Ways to Live

My Story (Part 3): Lost in a Religious World

flickrcom-photos-harmony19490-36241501621 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness’ (Matthew 7:21-23).

Lost in a Religious World

I found myself at the age of 16 rejecting an opportunity to attend the Alabama School of Math and Science in order to move with my family to Missouri.  I was trying to run from all the bad things I had done and ended up being a self-righteous snob.  I had an earnest desire to prove that I was a good person and a secret desire to make up for all the wrong I had done.  I was engaged in religious activity and very involved in a student group 30 minutes away from our house (back when gas was $1.16 a gallon).

I also started a small student group of about 8-10 kids in the basement of my father’s new church (an aging 25 member congregation).  I was a great self-starter but lacked substance and depth.  I learned a lot about student ministry from the way I failed when I was just a 17 or 18 year old kid trying to lead a group of my peers.

In the fall of 1997 I moved to Mobile, Alabama.  My first weekend in mobile I was invited to speak to the youth at a friends church in Gulf Shores.  The next weekend I was at Lafitte and quickly became a student ministry intern.  Things progressed quickly and just over a year later I was appointed associate student minister and then very quickly I was appointed student minister.

Building a Resume of Deeds

I had a passion and a desire for the things of God (Romans 10:2-4), but all the while I was building an impressive resume for God to accept me based on my good works.  Not realizing that my deeds did not mean as much to God as my heart (Isaiah 64:6). I worked hard to be a good communicator and studied to know much of the Bible.  You would have been hard pressed to find anyone my age more knowledgeable about the things of God.  Yet I still missed it.

I became good at telling people how to become a Christian.  Most of the places I spoke (outside of Lafitte) would see two or three students make decisions saying something had changed in their life.  Every week at Lafitte the same kids were “rededicating” their life and never changing and many of the converts I saw in those early years never became fully devoted followers of Christ.

The saddest part is that I really thought I was a Christian.  One of the things I enjoyed doing was learning new ways to present how to become a Christ follower to people.  I went through FAITH, EE, and several other presentations.  One of the key type questions in these presentations is to ask people “how does someone get to heaven?”  I always answered my instructors that it was “by doing good works” and they would correct me.  Yet, they never question me further because I was a poster child for someone interested in “Christian things.”

My list of religious deeds was long.  I lead a student group. Helped lead and developed a prayer group for reaching international students at UM.  I had opportunities to speak at several student events all over Alabama.  I helped feed the homeless on a regular basis.  I walked the streets of downtown mobile passing out religious literature.  I had been on Mission to East Asia.  I had spoken in  many churches.  I partnered in founding a conference that celebrated a protestant Christian History.  But without Christ…. I was lost and without hope (Philippians 3:4-11).

It wouldn’t be until I woke up from a Nightmare that I would come to understand just where I stood with God and what needed to be done to set things right.

Want to know more about the Christian message and how to become a Christ follower?  Click the link below.  Be sure to read the whole thing.

Who Do You Think that I Am?

My Story: A Trial that Proves a Faulty Faith (Part 2)

flickrcom-photos-flakstad-2681169006When I was 14 years old my life took a sudden and unexpected turn.  My family had moved from Montana to North Alabama.  My father now only worked one job being a full time pastor.  We were settled into the school system and began  enjoying life in the south.

Then I came home one day to find out that my dad had had a stroke and was in the hospital.  We visited him over the following weeks.  Many times I chose not to go because I didn’t want to see my father in such a helpless position.   He began the road to recovery only to be asked for his resignation a few months later.

At the time I blamed myself.  Around the same time he had taken me out arrowhead hunting one afternoon and he ended up being late to an important meeting.  I internalized what I perceived as the attack on my father as being my fault.

A Different Kind of Suffering

In the times past all the suffering that we had endured seemed impersonal.  My parents had seen two miscarriages.  We almost lost my mom and brother when he was born.  We were poor and trusted God to meet our needs. Yet, now I was faced with what appeared to be a very personal and direct attack on all that I understood to be right in the world.

There is no greater insult to a young man than to defame his father in front of him.  I chose to reject God and the church.  I hated God and rebelled against him in all that I knew to do. I did not know it, but my faith was being tested to prove I was not all that I thought I was (I Peter 1:6-7, II Corinthians 13:5).  I had been riding the coattails of my parents faith, but there comes a time when each person must trust Christ on their own (Ezekiel 18:21-32).

My Rebellion

I had a friend who would drink and so I asked to be included the next time he went out.  I began getting drunk on a regular basis.  I was mad at God for letting my dad get fired and I was mad at the church for being so full of hypocrites.

For a time we  would hang out in my parents back yard getting drunk in a cabin on the river.  We didn’t have a great way to dispose of the alcohol containers (I’m sure my dad would have noticed them in the trash can), so we cut a hole in the bottom of the cabin floor and stuffed all the empty containers in the hole.  Eventually there was no more room to hid the beer cans and vodka bottles.  My dad found out we were drinking and we had a “come to Jesus” meeting.

I hated disappointing my dad and knew a great way to get out of some of the trouble I was in was to “repent” of my sin.  I was genuinely sorry for what I had done, but mostly I was just ashamed that I had gotten caught  (I Corinthians 2:10). I set about to hide my shame by building a reputation of good works.

At age 18 I became a student minister.  I thought that if I was just good enough, God would be pleased with me.   I was wrong (Ephesians 2:8-9). I thought I could earn God’s favor, but its a gift that has to be given.

It would be years before I would really discover what a relationship with God was really all about.

Want to know more about the Christian message and how to become a Christ follower?  Click the link below.  Be sure to follow it to the end that is where the truly good news is shared.

Way of  the Master

My Story: A Godly Heritage (part 1)

flickrcom-photos-hamed-258971456Richard and Barbara Hill had suffered two miscarriages between my sister’s birth and mine. My birth was anticipated with much fear and joy.  I was born on April 27st, 1979.  My mother named me Jonathan meaning “gift of God.” Though I do not remember them ever saying it, it was evident in the way we were raised that my parents believed that all children are a gift from the Lord (Psalm 127).

My Father

My father was a gentle but strong man.  Most of my childhood he was a church planter in Montana.  He would pastor a small existing church, lead a bible study that would develop into another church and work a full time job.  Montana was not known for its job market and often my dad would take seasonal low paying jobs just to help our family make ends meet.

Despite the overwhelming drain and stress of being overworked and underpaid my father was the priest in our home.  He lead us with a family devotional in the morning and family prayer time at night.   He was the first to discipline us, but always with love…I never saw my father lose his temper (Ephesians 6:4, Proverbs 22:6 & 15).

My Mother

In my denomination women are encouraged to take seriously the highest office of influence over a man (motherhood).  My mother has influenced my walk with Christ more than any other individual.  She did it by being a Godly mom (I Timothy2:12-15, Proverbs 31).  Often I would rise early to use the bathroom in early hour of the morning and catch my mom in our living room with her bible open having a daily quiet time.

More than just the habits my parents exhibited I saw their faithfulness in the small things.  I remember having a desire as a young man to be so like my mom and dad that I asked how I could memorize scripture.   My parents loved God and they loved to be with the people of God.  Every time we were gone on a Sunday we would be in a church service at another location on our way to where ever we were going (I John 1:7).   To this day I can count on one hand how many Sundays I have not attended worship service in my life.  Not because I am trying for perfect attendance but because we so loved God that we couldn’t help but want to be with His people.

Trials

I saw my parents face trials with a patient endurance.  There were times that the ends would not be meeting and we would see God provide for us in miraculous ways (like a giant bag of pinto beans or a check in the mail).  My parent’s faith was unwavering and I learned by observation what it looks like to face difficult and dark days with an eye to see Jesus Glorified (James 1:2-4, Hebrews 12:1-2 )

I was off to a great start, but later around the age of 14 I would face a trial of my own that would expose my complete lack of faith in God.  I was trying to live in the world of my parent’s faith, but came up short when the pressure was on.  It was time I learned just where I stood in the world apart from God and without hope.  Check back tomorrow as the story continues with…

For more on the Christian Message Check out 2 Ways to Live

My Story (Introduction)

flickrcom-photos-linnybinnypix-1189889644God did something to me a few years ago and I now have a story to tell.  I want to share my story with you for several reasons.  Some people want to catch up and know what life has been like in the Hill House these last several years.  Others of you want to know what, if anything is really different than the Jonathan you used to know.  Still more of you have only known me as a Christian and you wonder what was life like before you met me.  Most importantly I want to bring honor to God and tell the world the story of how he saved me and he can save you if you are willing.

Introduction:

Over the next several days I will be blogging my story (complete with scripture references).  My goal is to show you what God has done in my life looking through the lens of God’s word.  The title of each blog and day it will be posted are listed below.  Tune in this week to get the full story.

How I Learned that God is Faithful

161992803_f87db32131_mSo I shared the story of how God touched my life with a group of men on Saturday night.  I talked about how I grew up in a small town in the middle of nowhere in Montana and the adventures I had as a child.  In the midst of it all I got to share my favorite memories from my childhood.

The truth is I have a terrible memory.  My younger brother can remember tons of stuff that failed to register with me as we were growing up.  What I do remember is this… God is faithful!

God heard my mother’s prayer to have a child after 2 miscarriages and gave me to her.  He heard my father’s prayer over my new born brother and mom when it looked like he might loose them both  (she had birth complications in a one doctor town in the middle of a blizzard in Eastern Montana).  He provided for our every need (especially when we were poor).  We would gather together as a family and pray about our circumstances and money would come in from a friend out of town or God would bless us with 60 lbs of Pinto Beans (you had to be there to hear the story).

Later after my father had his stroke and was fired from his church I rebelled.  I ran from all I had heard growing up.  Each night I that I would come home drunk I would have to pass by my mothers room where I would hear her praying for me (she didn’t know what all I’d been doing).   God was faithful and heard her prayers and eventually brought me to a point where I met Jesus Christ as  my Lord and Savior.

I learned that God is faithful through the prayers of my parents.  I’ve read the bible through 2 or 3 times now and understand every word to be true, but I saw it first in my parents simply trusting God in the midst of difficult circumstances. I pray that my daughter sees God’s faithfulness in my actions and response to circumstance.

I share more about my story in a series of blog posts.  You are welcome to check them out here.

3 Discipleship Questions

Ok so I am working on a strategy to help people who become Christ followers to grow in their relationship with Him (aka discipleship for new believers).  Please feel free to comment and discuss in the comment section below.

  • What are the first 5 things a new believer should learn/know how to do (regardless of their background)?
  • How would you coach a new believer who is a teenager living in a house with unbelieving parents or siblings?
  • (If you are a believer) How were you discipled when you became a Christ follower & who discipled you?