Except The Lord Build The House

The Personal Testimony of Brad Hill

From my earliest childhood memories throughout my life, the Christian faith has been a huge influence in my life. I was raised in a Christian family. Everybody that I knew well went to church. Almost everybody I knew went to a Baptist church. The people that I looked up to the most were active in church. I wanted to be a Christian like everyone else that I knew. In Pontotoc County, there seems to be churches everywhere, both in town and throughout the county. Pontotoc is known all over the country for its religious stand for prayer and Bible teaching in schools. When I graduated from high school, I went to a Baptist supported college. As you can readily see, my life has been literally steeped in Baptist, Christian, religion.

When I was in the fourth grade, I decided that now was the time to ask Jesus into my heart and join the church. I did not see my self as lost. Instead, I wanted to be the first one in my age group to join the church and get baptized. There was very little else on my mind or my heart. Once I went down to the front of the church to talk the preacher, everybody was happy for me. I remember getting baptized and thinking about being in the water and sloshing around but nothing else. I remember one of my teachers commenting to me the next day at school that she was proud of my decision to become a Christian.

As I grew, I listened to Christian music, paid attention while at church, and even liked to pretend to be a preacher. However, as I grew I became more and more aware of how serious the thought of eternal life was. For awhile, I wanted to be like one of the crowd. Things were getting more serious than that. I wanted to go to heaven. To be honest though, the thought of heaven being like church going on forever and ever was not a real motivator. It was the thought of hell that was the motivator. I was so afraid of going to hell. I had seen a film at a county church on hell and that film kept haunting me. Other things would bother me too. While I was in the tenth grade, I participated in the Evangelism Explosion course offered at church. One of the first things that we were asked to do was write out and be prepared to give our testimony. I did not have one to give. I do not remember what I did, I guess I made up one. Also, there were verses that gave me trouble. One was, 2 Corinthians 5:17, "Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new." There was nothing about me that I could testify was new. The other verse was John 17:3, "And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent." I could only say that I knew about God or about Jesus. I had read and studied about God but I had not met Him and did not know Him as His child. From the time between the fourth and eleventh grade, I cannot even guess how many times that I would pray, "God, if I'm not already saved, please save me now."

I was tired of doubting my salvation and wanted God to do something to help me. What I am about to describe to you was not salvation. However, for about fourteen years I called the experience salvation and since it sounded good to many people and since they knew me to be a "good Christian boy", everyone accepted it. I realize now that it was my attempt to build a colossal structure like the Tower of Babel. I did not realize it before I got saved because I was spiritually blind and could not see the truth. I call this a colossal structure because in a sense, I could get in it like a castle or fortress to protect myself against any doubts. But since God did not build it, it was also a fortress that kept God out. God, however, has no problem bringing fortresses down like mine if He wants them down. Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 10:4-5, "(For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;) Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ." This was a stronghold of my imagination that had to come down for me to even be saved. I was thinking that because of it, I was saved. The question you may have is, "How did you build it?" The answer is mainly through works and words.

I was alone at home one weekend night watching television. The movie was a very evil movie that should not have been on television. It was on though, and I watched it. After it was over, I instantly felt afraid because I had watched it. I wondered, "Could I really be a Christian and watch something like that?" I regretted so bad that I had watched it and prayed that God would forgive me for doing it. I really began to fear about my salvation. For the next thirty days, I wrestled with whether or not I was saved. I did not know. I prayed, "God if you really live me, you will confirm to me that I am saved and I will not have to go to some preacher to tell me to repeat some prayer that he directs me to do." After thirty days of praying and searching the scripture, I came to Ephesians chapter two, verses eight and nine. I was sure that God gave me what I had been asking for. I felt that He said, "Do you believe that I can and will save you?" I realized that salvation was all of God and none of me. Furthermore, I knew that if it was totally of Him I could never lose salvation. I had the peace that I was looking for. The ironic thing is that I look back over my life and I have been building a testimony based on my works and not grace. Oh, if you had told me that I would have thought that you had lost your mind. I thought the very verse Ephesians 2:8 would have proven that I understood that. The truth is, I lived my life to please and impress others. Obviously, I did a good job. I have been so concerned about not letting people see the real Brad that even I began to believe that which was not there. I kept the laws of God before men and my confidence was in their confidence for me. But, I did not keep the laws of God before God. Those two things make pharisaic and filthy at the same time. I was like the people Jesus told in Matthew 23:27,"Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchers, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead [men's] bones, and of all uncleanness."

My testimony really suited me and I held on to that experience so tight. I had always wanted to have a testimony like it. For ten years nothing ever challenged it. I went to a Southern Baptist college. I took religion classes and was around all kinds of people. I went to college to prepare to become a preacher. After my first year in college, I became disillusioned and felt that maybe God did not want me to be a preacher so I changed my major to chemistry. I got my chemistry degree and went on to graduate school and got a degree in biochemistry. I then went to Houston, Texas, to work at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. After working there for a while, I decided that I was tired of it and ended up moving back to Pontotoc, Mississippi, to work for my parents in the auto parts business. During all this time, my life was like a religious roller coaster. I never, however, let myself doubt for one minute that I was saved. I was quite proud that when everyone else seemed to have problems with their salvation from time to time, I did not. Then Brother Terry Owen come to work with me.

I had never met nor even heard of Brother Terry and I had no idea what he would be like. Almost immediately after meeting him, I could tell that he was extremely wise and discerning. We talked a lot about salvation and although I agreed with him and thought that I knew about salvation, I began to realize that I could learn from him. Some things we talked about were difficult for me to grasp and yet I somehow knew these things were true. Whenever we talked, he backed up everything he said with scripture. Over the course of about three years, I realized that almost on a daily basis I was reexamining my testimony. I had told him my testimony and he said that it sounded okay to him. However, we had never just sat down and really examined every point of it. The idea of that scared me. I did not want to sit down uninterrupted with Brother Terry and tell him my testimony. I knew that he might tell me that based on some point in my testimony according to the scripture I could not be saved. That would destroy everything that I had been living with.

That would mean admitting that for fourteen years I had been living a lie and had been deceived. That would mean having to face all the people that were convinced beyond any shadow that I was saved and hearing their disbelief. After preaching since college as a guest speaker in churches around the county, I would have to say, "I really never knew fully what I was talking about." It would be shameful and humiliating. Furthermore, most people would not even accept it. That would even be adding insult to injury. Humbling myself to admit that I was lost and then hearing that I was confused, brainwashed or just crazy. I could think of other reasons not to go to Grace Baptist. I dreaded the difficulty of leaving the church that I was going to at that time. The thought of telling the pastor and the members of that church why I was leaving did not exactly strike me as appealing. And finally, I was concerned about Karen. I did not know how she would make it. I knew that Karen had been struggling with doubts about her salvation on and off ever since I had known her. She was fighting hard to maintain that she was saved when she was a very young little girl. I knew based on what I knew Brother Terry believed and what Karen was saying would not mesh. But God obviously worked it out.

On Sunday afternoon, February 25, 1996, Karen said that she needed to talk to someone about salvation and she wanted to talk to Brother Terry. I knew two things would happen. She would find out that she was lost and that we would be going to Grace Baptist Church from then on. Those two things troubled me. I knew that our lives were about to take a radical turn. I hoped it would be a good turn, but I was afraid of the way people would take it. As I look back on my life, I have always been more worried about what man thinks than what God thinks. Sure enough, those two things happened and on March 10, 1996, Karen was saved when she threw herself on the Rock of Salvation. She said she was 'broken but gently'. It was a great time. Everyone was excited. Brother Terry started telling me that as soon as Karen and I got our testimonies printed up, we could read them to the church. I was confident at that time that I could write my testimony. When I started writing it, I began to get worried. I could not remember as much as I thought I could about it. I improvised by filling in with truth that I had learned. I submitted it to Brother Terry to read. The next day he said that he wanted to talk to me about my testimony. That was on Tuesday, April 9, 1996. Wednesday, I preached in church but I was nervous. I knew he had some questions that reading my testimony brought. Thursday we had men's prayer meeting. Friday, Brother Terry asked me if Karen and I could go with him and Connie to Tupelo for supper and then come back and talk about my testimony. I said yes. When we got to the house and sat down, he told me that this may be tough and if I did not want him to question me he would not. I told him it would be okay. He said that because we were friends he felt like he owed it to me. He said that my testimony was almost too good. He said that he had heard his sermons in my testimony. I told him that since I was saved 14 years ago, I could not remember things as good as someone like Karen who had written every detail down as soon as she got saved. He said that the questions would be direct but that they would help either confirm or deny that I was saved. Either way, it would help me.

"When did you know beyond any doubt that you were a sinner worthy of hell and that you had come to the end of yourself?" was basically the way he put it. "That is, at what point did you know you were undeniably lost?" That was the first weak point in the fortress.

For the life of me I could not remember that. I could only assume that I had come to that realization. I could remember vividly that I wanted God to give me assurance that I was saved. I could remember that I wanted Him to settle my worries. I could remember that I wanted Him to give me something that I could hold on to. Then came a second weak point.

I remembered that after the thirty day period, I thought, "Now if I was not saved before this, I am now." I did not know if I as saved or not and I wanted God to tell me. In other words, I was not sure what I was. Brother Terry said that is what Holy Spirit conviction is all about. He convinces you that you are lost and undone and are hell bound. If that had not happened, then I had not had Holy Spirit conviction. Immediately, I knew he was right. I had always believed in holy Spirit conviction that way. I have even preached that truth. I guess I thought that even if I could not remember it, it must have been there.

Sunday, April 14, 1996, was the day of Karen's baptism. I wanted to be excited but I was struggling. Sunday night, Brother Terry preached on how 'we are crucified with Christ.' He said that although we do not have to be literally crucified on a cross, there are some things that we all go through to get saved that con be seen in the crucifixion of the Lord. There is a similarity between the death of the old man in us and Jesus' death. He talked about the agony in the garden of Gethsemene. He talked about the arrest. He talked about the standing before the accusers. The pain. Surrendering His spirit to the Father. He talked about death. As I listened, I realized that there was no way that a person could forget going through that. That was why I could not remember. I had not gone through it. I finally realized that I had been deceived. I felt ashamed and foolish.

After thinking about it, I remembered Brother Terry talking about Jesus' arrest and how He went peaceably. I wanted to surrender and agree with the truth. On Wednesday, April 17, I told Brother Terry before the service that I was turning myself in. I said that I could not remember getting lost because I never got lost. However, I was not broken over this. He told me not to worry. Godly sorrow was up to God, I could not produce it and I need not try. As it says in 2 Corinthians 7:10, "For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death." Sure enough, Brother Terry was right. God started methodically taking all of my stored up defenses down piece by piece. He did this in different ways but the result was the same. The burden of sin and lostness I was carrying now was getting greater and greater. On Wednesday, April 24, I came upon Jeremiah 2:13 which reads, "For my people have committed two evils; they have forsaken me the fountain of living waters, [and] hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water." I knew that was me. The testimony that I had relied on for all these years was nothing more than a cistern that I had hewed out with my own hands and it was not holding water. I also knew that in doing that I had turned away from the living waters, that is, Jesus. I began to realize more and more that I had been deceived; primarily by myself. The Bible says in Proverbs 14:12, "There is a way that seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof [are] the ways of death." The way that I was going seemed right to me and to others who knew me. On the other hand, God has been drawing me to this point all of my life despite what I did. There is no doubt that He has blessed me so much. He has given grace to me in different ways all of my life. He has given me a certain level of discernment. He has let me understand trough. He has even given me the opportunity to preach to others. He let me see my wife get saved. Indeed, He has been good to me. He has kept me safe and alive. I could have taken so many wrong roads. I could have ended up anywhere. But God has always kept me by His power for a reason. But just because He has done all of this for me, does not mean that I was saved many years ago. I was like Ruth gleaning in the fields of Boaz. She gleaned a long time before she became his wife. I was waking up to what I was.

I became more and more convinced of how deeply pride was rooted in my life. No one , I suspect, would have thought me to be a prideful person because of how polished I lived. I lived quietly masquerading who I really was. God was also making me painfully aware that I was living a lie and that in doing it, I was a liar. I fact, He showed me that lying really did not bother me and I did it more that I thought.

On Sunday, April 28, 1996, I was saved. The day started out like most Sundays. On the way to church I listened to some music. One of the songs was "I Want to See" by Ray Boltz. I was thinking that I would like to be saved today. I really did not expect to be though. Before leaving for church, I remembered that Karen had been saved about two weeks after God started dealing with her. This day would be just about that time frame for me. I got into church and Brother Terry was teaching the closing message in a series on Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. During the course of the lesson, I felt compelled to turn to Revelation 21:8. The verse reads, "But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death." I say there and I could see myself as each one of those kinds of people. I could think of specific examples of how I matched up to each one. I was lost and could not help myself or anyone else. I knew that Karen could help people but I could not. I wanted to be saved for me but also for others. The Sunday School hour ended.

Brother Terry started preaching his sermon in the second half of Sunday morning services on the grace of God. God got to moving in that service like nothing I or Karen had ever seen. I had thought before that I would watch for God displaying his awesome presence and I would go to Him and obey Him. Everybody was so thankful to God for His grace. I knew I should be thankful too, but I was very low over thinking about being a sinner. Then Brother Terry said that even the lost people should thank God for His goodness to them. Brother Terry showed that God has displayed his grace to everyone to some extent and, for that, all should be thankful. The particular scripture reference was Titus 2:11, which reads, "For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men." I thought, "But God, I thanked you the other night in prayer meeting before these people for being so good to me even though I was lost. And I still thank you. Do I have to come to the alter to thank you. I've done that before and nothing happened." Then Brother Terry told about when Peter had been fishing all night and had not caught anything. Jesus told Peter to go out again and throw out the nets. Peter thought it would be a waste of time. But what Peter did was crucial. He said, in Luke 5:5, "Master, we have toiled all night, and have taken nothing: nevertheless at thy word I will let down the net." Peter obeyed Jesus and his life was never the same after that. Then Brother Terry told about the story of ten lepers from Luke 17:11-19. It reads,

And it came to pass, as he went to Jerusalem, that he passed through the midst of Samaria and Galilee. And as he entered into a certain village, there met him ten men that were lepers, which stood afar off: And they lifted up their voices, and said, Jesus, Master, have mercy on us. And when he saw them, he said unto them, Go shew yourselves unto the priests. And it came to pass, that, as they went, they were cleansed. And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, and with a loud voice glorified God, And fell down on his face at his feet, giving him thanks: and he was a Samaritan. And Jesus answering said, Were there not ten cleansed? but where are the nine? There are not found that returned to give glory to God, save this stranger. And he said unto him, Arise, go thy way: thy faith hath made thee whole.

Brother Terry then turned to John 1:14-16 and began to teach about 'grace for grace'. And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth. John bare witness of him, and cried, saying, This was he of whom I spake, He that cometh after me is preferred before me: for he was before me.

And of his fullness have all we received, and grace for grace.He explained that God gives men grace and then will exchange that grace that He has given for more grace. I understood the principle like this: God gives me a dollar. I give it back to Him and He gives me ten dollars in exchange for the dollar. I began to think, "What if that tenth leper had not returned to thank Jesus for being so good to him? He would not have gotten saved!" He was not only cleansed of leprosy but he was made whole. The word 'whole' here means 'rescued' or 'saved'. Everything was happening real fast. I was a sinner and wanted to be saved. God was moving mightily in the service. I felt I could not sit in that seat any linger. In essence, God had given me a promise. I could exchange the grace that he had given me all my life in the form of, "Thank you" as the tenth leper did and I could be saved. That statement may sound like I thought that I had to perform a work to be saved. I did not think that. I did believe that I needed to be obedient. I had to get where I thought God wanted me. Self tried to hang on one last time. I tried to talk myself out of going to the alter. For some stupid reason I was still resisting God after all He had done for me. Finally, I left my seat and the Bible I had been tightly gripping and got down on my face at the alter. I knew that Jesus was there. In fact, I specifically remember Him manifesting Himself as Savior/King. That is also significant. All my life, I wanted Jesus to be my savior but I did not want Him to be Lord and Master over my life. By revealing Himself as the King as well as the Savior, the message was clear. I was not getting saved on my terms. For Him to be my Savior He would also be my King. I began to weep and thank God for His goodness to this sinner. It is important to say here that God did not break me until I obeyed Him and got to the alter. That is, I did not work up tears on my own nor did I break my self. I told Him that I was like blind Bartemaeus and that I wanted to see (that is, I wanted to be saved). The fight was over. God won! In dying I found life. As it is written in Matthew 16:25, "For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it."