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You’re my hero, Eric Stillman

October 11, 2011 by Eric Stillman 0 comments

In December of 1997, I sat down with a small group of teenagers from NewLife at Mike and Melissa Smith’s house in Glastonbury. A 21 year-old senior at UConn, I had just recently been hired as the youth pastor at NewLife, and this sit-down was my first “meet-and-greet” with the teens of the church. I remember telling them about some of the people I regularly ate meals with in the UConn cafeteria, and the daydreams I had about challenging the smart atheists to consider the reality of Jesus Christ. In my daydream, I would clearly and cleverly outline the truth of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, and skillfully answer every argument thrown my way. Soon, it became clear that the whole cafeteria was listening intently to our conversation. And so, in my daydream, I would stand up and tell all who were listening about the gospel of Jesus Christ. And as the crowd responded in affirmation, I would leave the cafeteria, leading the hungry-for-God crowd up the hill to where our Christian fellowship met. And as person after person committed their life to Jesus, the prettiest girl in the Christian fellowship would come up to me and say admiringly, “you’re my hero, Eric Stillman.”

The point I was trying to communicate to those teens was that Jesus, not Eric Stillman or anyone else, was the only one worthy of worship, the only one who could truly transform their lives by His love and power. As a 21 year-old, it was so clear to me that even in my most seemingly holy moments, I knew that I was filled with self-centeredness and a desire to be worshiped above God (seriously, if I was brutally honest with myself it was ridiculous how many of my daydreams of good intentions ended with pretty girls saying “you’re my hero, Eric Stillman”). I knew, as the prophet wrote, that “all our righteous acts are like filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6), and that, as Paul wrote, “nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature” (Romans 7:18). I was then, and always will be, a man of mixed motives, never sure whether he is singing worship songs for God’s ears or for the ears of others, preaching sermons to give glory to God or to gain glory for himself. No wonder Jesus told us to go into the privacy of our own rooms when we want to pray to God (Matthew 6:6).

But the good news, I have learned, is that God takes my offering, mixed motives and all, every time. He does not wait until my motives are pure, but accepts my worship and service even when it is not entirely done for His glory. I know this because of what Jesus tells us in Luke 15, the story of the Prodigal Son. This parable is about a young man who is tired of living on his father’s estate and so he asks his father for his share of the inheritance, essentially saying “Dad, you’re as good as dead to me.” And the son goes off to a far-off land, and has an awesome time spending all of his money in wild living. But after the money runs out, he finds himself broke, alone, and starving, longing to eat the food that the pigs are eating. And so he sets off for home – not because he knows he is wrong, I believe, but because he’s hungry and knows that in his father’s house, he’ll be taken care of (if his money had not run out, I guarantee he would have still been out partying). But with no money, and no food, he heads for home, ready to tell his father that he has sinned, and that he would like to work as one of his father’s hired hands. And in one of the most beautiful and unexpected scenes in all the Bible, the father, seeing his son from a distance, runs to him, hugs him, welcomes him home as his son, and throws a party to celebrate the return of his lost son.

Our God is a God who loves us and accepts our offering and our heart, mixed motives and all. While it is important to examine the motives behind what we do, for by doing so we learn humility as we see the truth of our messed-up heart, we can not let the realization that our motives are mixed paralyze us into inaction and despair. Instead, like the Prodigal Son, we set our eyes and our path towards the Father, to be with Him and to serve Him with what little we have to give. And our gracious and loving Father, forever merciful, accepts us and rejoices over our meager offering of devotion. All praise and glory is due to our great and holy God.

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