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ESCAPE to GODA Desperate Search for His Presence
By Jim Hohnberger Tim Canuteson Julie Canuteson
Nelson BooksCopyright © 2007 Jim Hohnberger with Tim and Julie Canuteson
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe Glorious Pursuit
It shall come to pass That before they call, I will answer. Isaiah 65:24 NKJV
"Jim, what are you doing way up here anyway?" Warren asked.
I could read his thoughts. Clearly he was convinced that I was wasting my life in the mountains when I could be making big money down in the city. Warren had come to look for wilderness property, and, even now, Warren, his pregnant wife, and I were bumping over backcountry roads in my truck to look at a piece of land for them.
"Well, Warren," I began, "you see, I'm a Christian, and we came here because-"
"Stop right there, Jim!" Warren cut me off. "I'm not a Christian, and I don't believe in Christianity. I don't want to hear another word about it!"
The sudden hostility was unmistakable in the close confines of my vehicle. How can God reach a person like this? I thought. Nonetheless I felt constrained to say something more, and with a silent prayer I responded, "Warren, all I need is a couple of minutes of your time, and I will never say another word about Christianity. Warren, the God I've come to know in these mountains loves you so much that even though you are rejecting Him, someday when you need Him, He will be there for you. Someday you're going to need my God!"
If things were cold in my truck before, after those words they were downright frigid. It seemed I had made things even worse with my comments. We finished our business and Warren drove off, but the memory of our conversation reminded me of my own estrangement from God. The echo of my own words rang in my ears: "Someday when you need Him, He will be there for you. Someday you're going to need my God."
I certainly wasn't raised understanding my need for God, although my family did consider themselves Christians. When did I start pursuing God? As I reflect back over my life, I realize this might well be the wrong question to ask, for I was not the pursuer, but let me start at the beginning.
The stories my family tells of my birth come vividly to mind, and they run something like this:
"Sir," said a tired-looking doctor to get the attention of a man who appeared, if possible, to be more tired and worried than the physician.
"Yes?" Henry responded hopefully. His response seemed out of character in the worn waiting room with its lingering smell of tobacco smoke and the ever-present scent of fear and expectation, which haunts such rooms.
"It's a boy!" A ghost of a smile danced about the physician's sturdy face. "A nine-pound, five-ounce baby boy!"
"How's my wife?" Henry asked, already animated with the news of his son.
"It was a hard delivery." Concern was evident in the expert's face. "You may see her now," he answered before the question was asked.
My parents always looked at each other in a special way at this point in the story, and all of us understood both that the situation had been difficult and that the crisis had drawn them together even closer.
Reminiscing, I realize that as I lay in my mother's arms, I had no idea that at birth I had become a participant in the great conflict between God and Satan. Only much later would I come to see that even as I lay in the womb, God, in His infinite wisdom, had set in motion an individualized plan to awaken in my heart a longing, a need for Him. He knew I was being born into a world that was at odds with Him, in rebellion to His principles, His will, and His ways.
God knew I was to be born with a nature damaged by man's experimentation with sin. God also knew I would naturally follow my own impulses and inclinations and that the very thought of yielding my will and way to Him would be totally foreign to me. He knew all too well that Satan would oppose every effort He made to pursue me. In spite of these odds, God set His plans for me in motion.
After waiting thousands of years for Jim Hohnberger to be born, He now had the opportunity to try to win my love. God was in pursuit of me as He is every one of us. It is a glorious pursuit of love, born out of the heart of God.
My parents, Bernice and Henry Hohnberger, were pleased with me, their third child, and they took me home to their modest house in Appleton, Wisconsin, determined to do all they could to see I grew up to be an honest worker and a good citizen. As an infant, I had no conception of a loving God, but God still was speaking to me through my parents. They taught me my first lessons about the character of God through their interactions with me.
Parents stand in the place of God to young children, and by obeying parents they learn to obey God. Thus began the great tug-of-war in my life, in childish conflicts with my parents. As my selfish will made its demands, my parents either gave in and allowed some indulgence or stopped me from demanding my own way. At the time, none of us fully understood the implications-sometimes Satan won a conflict and sometimes God did-but always I was growing and learning.
Inside each of us from birth is the desire to find fulfillment and happiness. Unless guided by wise parents and the grace of God, this all too often means that we seek fulfillment in things. Things are not wrong, for when God made the earth, He filled it with things that bring pleasure, but the temptation is everlasting for people to place value upon the things rather than the One who is the Giver of such things.
Think back over your own experiences of Christmases past. After tearing the gaily colored ribbon and paper away to find some desired toy, you could scarcely express thanks to the one who had given such a gift. Perhaps you mumbled a few words of thanks under your mother's prompting, but all your eyes could see was the treasured possession. The possession had taken the place of the giver.
For me, it was my new double-chrome-plated, three-speed Schwinn bicycle. Oh, how I loved that bike! It was the finest in the neighborhood. Eventually, that love evolved into an affair with a fire-engine-red Pontiac convertible. I was slowly being trained by the world about me to equate happiness with the things I possessed.
Things consist not only of possessions, but positions, people, power, pride, and pleasure as well. Multitudes believe happiness and fulfillment come from attaining a prominent position invested with power and pride. Still others believe that being married to a certain person or visiting exotic locations will bring lasting joy. Others desire a life of pleasure seeking and freedom from responsibility, hoping that this will bring true happiness.
All these things become a real source of competition for the affections of our hearts, which are what God desires. God sees all this, and His pursuit of us begins before we even have a desire to find fulfillment in Him: "Before they call, I will answer" (Isa. 65:24 NKJV).
Praise God that He plants within our hearts a desire for true fulfillment that the world's methods can but dimly satisfy. There are evidences all around us of apparently successful people who have found wealth, power, and fame-everything that the world says should bring happiness. Yet these are some of the most miserable people on earth, and they often end their own lives in the wretchedness of drug-induced suicides.
In this controversy for human souls, the devil uses all the world's glitter and gold to seduce us. His methods use deception to make even our worst choices look good. But in this battle for our hearts, God never lies. He never misleads. He says, "Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me" (Rev. 3:20 NKJV).
God appeals to our intellect, our reason, and our conscience. Our response has to be voluntary. He doesn't want robots. God has placed a desire for Him within our hearts, but our response to that desire is entirely up to us. God never forces our will.
I didn't know I had a problem with self wanting its own way. It was all I had ever known. Still God pursued and courted me for thirty years until I finally felt my need of Him. While I will describe the process more fully in the chapters that follow, I want you to understand that God does not give up on us. It took another ten years until He had gained my affections, and then another six or so years until I finally surrendered the citadel of my heart and was His. This doesn't invalidate my earlier experiences with God, but instead demonstrates that for most of us, the process of change is gradual, and it took me years to move from my first responses to God's pursuit to a wholehearted surrender to His love.
As I gradually moved toward becoming a surrendered Christian, I found my past experiences hindered me to the extent that I easily fell back into the old habits of trying to find fulfillment in the things I had, rather than in an experience with Christ. I honestly thought that intellectual assent to truth was what constituted being a Christian, and the more knowledge I had and the more closely my life matched my idealistic concepts of the way a real Christian lived, the more I was becoming a better Christian.
My Dream Property
One of the ideas I had garnered from my study at that time was that the closer we could live to God's ideal for man when he was created, the better our lives would be. God placed Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Therefore, I longed for real country living.
When an acquaintance offered me a chance to visit his country estate, I toured the woodlands, fields, and garden area with delight. He was justly proud of his place, and I couldn't help telling him, "If you ever decide to sell, I want to have the first opportunity to purchase."
"That's awful nice of you to say, Jim, but I'm never going to sell it."
"That may be, but I'm serious. If you ever sell, I want the first opportunity to purchase."
"Jim, I am never selling ... But all right, I'll give you first shot if anything ever changes."
About five months later, he called me at the end of a week. "Jim, you'll never believe what's happened. I've been offered a dream job. The only problem is I have to relocate to Madison. You wanted the first opportunity to buy my place-well, it's yours. Be at my place tomorrow morning at ten, and we'll see what we can work out. A lot of people want this place, and I have to leave quickly, so you will need to decide fast!"
I automatically agreed to meet, my spirits soaring with the idea of owning such a property and then dropping like a rock when I realized that the next day I was to be in church. I couldn't bring myself to conduct a business deal on the one day I devoted to worship. I wanted that ideal property so badly. I wanted it because I thought it was what God wanted for my family, but I didn't conduct business on my day of worship.
In my mind, I struggled over and over with what to do. What kind of deal could God work out if I refused to negotiate? Could I trust Him even if I missed out on the property?
The next day, I decided to show up a little late for church. After this man's kindness in offering the property to me first, I felt I couldn't cancel on him in an impersonal manner over the phone. With my more mature understanding today, I wouldn't have tried to conduct any business on my day of worship, but in my understandings then, even refusing to negotiate was a huge step of faith for me. I was at his house a few minutes before ten. He was all smiles until I told him I wasn't willing to negotiate that day due to my religious convictions. I told him, "I'm sorry, but I'll just have to let this opportunity go by."
"Jim," he responded, "I would never want to get between you and your religion. When would you be willing to meet?"
I don't know why, when we want God to work a miracle for us, we are so shocked when He does. My friend's willingness to delay astounded me. I knew many people wanted his place. I would have been even more shocked had I known that all along he was sure I couldn't afford it, and he was just fulfilling his word. Under those conditions, it was an extraordinarily kind and noble deed that spoke volumes about his character.
After suggesting we meet on Monday, I spent a rather stimulated Sunday anticipating the next day's activities. When we met, we came to terms rather easily, but he needed a five-thousand-dollar binder to accept the offer. The problem was I didn't have it, but I wrote him the check anyway. Then I went home and called the manager of the bank and told him what I'd done. "So you see, Stanley," I concluded, "I need your help."
"I'll say you do. He's here, by the way. He just presented the check to one of the cashiers. In fact, she just brought it back to me wondering what to do."
I was in a panic. I had planned on having a day or two to get things worked out. I had a great business relationship with the bank and did all my personal and business banking with them. I even insured the bank president and counted him a friend, so I really didn't think there'd be a problem, but I hadn't planned on the seller being quite this eager. There was the world's longest pause while the banker let me sweat, then he said, "Don't worry, we will honor the check."
This was one of the first times in my life I placed God higher than something I wanted. In so doing, I began to understand that God does not want our things, but if those things have usurped the throne of our hearts, they must be dethroned. God wanted to provide me the property I desired, but oh, how much more He wanted me to trust Him in a personal and intimate way. He was teaching me that even though I had but a tiny bit of knowledge about following Him and even though I was trying to follow Him in a very legalistic, doctrinal way, rather than in a surrendered relationship, when I needed Him, when the chips were down, He was going to be there for me.
We often hesitate to give up our things to the Lord out of fear for their safety. This is especially true when those treasures are long-cherished idols. But we need have no such fears. Jesus came not to destroy but to save. Everything is safe when we commit it to Him, and nothing is really safe if we don't.
Six Months Later
I was traveling in the Midwest. While I was visiting with a family, the phone rang. The woman of the house said, "Jim, it's for you."
"Hi, Jim. It's me, Warren."
"Warren," I almost shouted, my mind traveling back to our conversation in the truck. "How did you ever find me out here?"
"It wasn't easy," he said. Suddenly the self-confident voice changed as he said, "We had that baby, Jim."
"Wonderful! What did you have?"
"I had a son ..." his voice trailed off.
"What's the matter, Warren?" I asked.
"Jim," he said, with anguish in his voice, "my son was born with three holes in his heart. I need your God, Jim! I need your God!"
Warren's need had swept aside his anger and fear. His story brought tears to my eyes as I was privileged to share with Warren the glad news of God's glorious pursuit for every human heart.
When I first asked my future wife, Sally, out on a date, her potential responses were limited: she could accept or refuse. To be sure, to accept carried more risk. But to refuse would have been to forgo a lifetime of sharing the joy of a heart in tune with hers and a marriage made in heaven. What a sad alternative that would have been!
And so it is in this glorious pursuit of a loving God for the throne of our hearts. There are not a dozen possible responses-just one good choice and one very poor alternative. My choice has been to pick up that pursuit, which will not end till I stand face-to-face with the one I have come to know and love.
Excerpted from ESCAPE to GOD by Jim Hohnberger Tim Canuteson Julie Canuteson Copyright © 2007 by Jim Hohnberger with Tim and Julie Canuteson. Excerpted by permission.
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Table of Contents
Contents1 The Glorious Pursuit....................1
2 Religion-Is It Enough?....................10
3 A Life of Simplicity....................26
4 A Bundle of Choices....................46
5 Where You Are-God Is....................68
6 Seeing Him Who Is Invisible....................82
7 Selective Hearing....................106
8 Our Greatest Enemy....................130
9 Do You Really Believe?....................146
10 God As My All in All....................159
11 The Fourth Pivotal Point....................174
12 The Hesitant One....................186
13 Failure Is Not an Option....................194