devos from the hill

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Remain in His Presence

God has blessed Mars Hill with an incredible team of men and women who love Jesus – the risen, reigning, and returning King. Together, we passionately pursue Him as we work to see the Great Commission fulfilled. Together, we study the Scriptures. We embrace and celebrate the mystery of faith and the magnificence of our AWESOME God. And we long for our Savior’s return, when we will know fully as we are fully known.

The Holy Spirit has breathed unique wisdom, discernment and gifts for service into each member of our staff. That said, we are delighted to commence a new series of devotionals, in which each member of our staff will be sharing insights from their inimitable journey with our Father.

We hope that God’s redemptive work in our lives will resonate with what He’s doing in yours.

Today’s Devotional is from team member, Jean Ngo.
Jean is serving Mars Hill as Ministry Partnering Director.

The following is insight I gained from the Smashing False Idols Evangelism Conference 2007 with Tim Keller.

Perhaps it’s something none of us want to admit but do you remember a moment when you got really angry with another person?   What should you do in that moment?  Should you cry out to God for help?  Plot revenge?  Run and never look back?  Let’s explore this issue in the book of Jonah.

In Chapter 1, we find the prophet fleeing from what God commanded him to do:

“Arise, go to Nineveh the great city and cry against it, for their wickedness has come before Me.”  But Jonah rose up to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. 

One reason proposed for why Jonah flees is because of fear for his own safety.  All of us have encountered moments when we hold back sharing what we would like to share for fear of that person hurting or rejecting us.  In Jonah’s case, going to Nineveh and sharing what God said held the potential of offending an entire city of 120,000 people.  It seems reasonable to think Jonah feared for his safety.  However, there may be another reason…

Upon deeper reflection (and with the help of a great fish), Jonah prayed (2:8-9):

Those who regard vain idols Forsake their faithfulness, But I will sacrifice to You With the voice of thanksgiving.  That which I have vowed I will pay.  Salvation is from the Lord. 

In Chapter 3, Jonah went back and did what the Lord told him (vs. 4-5):

Then Jonah began to go through the city one day’s walk; and he cried out and said, “Yet forty days and Nineveh will be overthrown.”  Then the people of Nineveh believed in God; and they called a fast and put on sackcloth from the greatest to the least of them.

God showed great mercy to the people of Nineveh humbling themselves (3:10):

When God saw their deeds, that they turned from their wicked way, then God relented concerning the calamity which He had declared He would bring upon them.  And He did not do it. 

That should be the end of the story, right?  The protagonist did his job…the people of the city repented…and God saved the people.  The End!  No.

It might surprise us that Jonah actually gets angry with what happened.  In Chapter 4, vs.3, he asks the Lord to take his life from him, for death is better to me than life.  Jonah is deeply disturbed God spared the city from destruction.  Why? Continue reading

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From Blessing to Bondage

Where are you in the cycle?
Lesson 39 from The HOPE Study Guide


For over a thousand years, the Hebrew people attempted to live as God had commanded them. But many times they drifted away from God, sometimes even following false gods. When they did not turn back to God, He would discipline them, often by sending a foreign nation to invade their land and rule over them. The Hebrew people would then acknowledge their unfaithfulness, and call to God for deliverance. God would then raise up a leader to free the people from their oppressors. And the people would renew their commitment to live according to the ways of God. From blessing to bondage to blessing to bondage, over and over, again and again, the Hebrew people had been called to show the world what God was like. But because of the sin that infected the world, they could not walk in the ways of God without falling.

– The HOPE, Chapter 7


As we delve into this lesson, it is important to keep in mind that The HOPE is a summary overview of the Bible. An 80 minute video could not possibly cover the entire Bible. The HOPE excerpt above describes what happened over a period of more than a thousand years. During this time numerous kings and prophets made their mark on Hebrew history. Their stories are recorded in many books of the Bible. However, if you had to describe this period of time in one paragraph, the excerpt above would be an accurate one.

This excerpt describes a cycle that was repeated often in the history of the Hebrew people. One writer has described this cycle as follows:

from faith to obedience
from obedience to blessing
from blessing to abundance
from abundance to selfishness
from selfishness to judgment
from judgment to bondage
from bondage to brokenness
from brokenness to faith …1

After the Hebrew people saw the miracles of God in their Exodus from Egypt, they had the faith to obey God. They were quick to commit to whatever God asked of them. God promised to bless them when they obeyed, which He did. In fact they were blessed to abundance. And so the cycle began, and continued for centuries.

This cause and effect progression is not only descriptive of the Hebrew people; it can apply to any nation or individual in relationship with God. Notice that there is a differentiation between blessing and abundance. Abundance usually means having more than we need. From God’s perspective, having more than we need brings the responsibility to use our surplus to glorify God by blessing others. To do anything less is selfishness. In the case of the Hebrew people, judgment followed selfishness. There is a verse in the New Testament (Hebrews 12:6) which tells us that God disciplines those whom He loves. God’s judgment of the Hebrew people was motivated by His love for them. His judgment often resulted in bondage to another nation, which brought them to a place of brokenness and an awareness of their need for God! Continue reading

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Be Fruitful and Multiply or Not

God’s way to blessing is the only way to blessing.
Lesson 24 from The HOPE Study Guide


And God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth.”

– Genesis 9:1

Now the whole earth used the same language and the same words. And it came about as they journeyed east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there…And they said, “Come, let us build for ourselves a city, and a tower whose top will reach into heaven, and let us make for ourselves a name; lest we be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth.”

– Genesis 11:1, 2&4

When the water finally subsided, the ark came to rest on a mountain, and the animals went their own way. And so it was that Noah and his family escaped God’s judgment of evil in the world, not because they were without sin, but because they believed God. And God blessed Noah and his sons and told them to be fruitful and multiply, and fill them earth. The number of Noah’s descendants increased greatly, but they remained as one people. They did not fill the earth as God commanded. Instead they built a city. Then they built a tower reaching to the heavens. God was not pleased.

– The HOPE, Chapter 4


Have you ever longed for a fresh start? Well after the flood, Noah and his family experienced one of the most remarkable fresh starts in human history. They had a blank slate on which to begin a completely new story for their lives. And furthermore, God spoke a blessing of prosperity over them (Genesis 9:1,  7). God then promised never to destroy the world with a flood again …and He sealed His promise with the first rainbow (Genesis 9:13-15)!

What an opportunity for renewal. Unfortunately, it was never realized!

God told Noah and his family to fill the earth. Instead, they gathered in one place and built a city. They wanted to be one people in one place. But that is not what God wanted. In the next lesson we’ll see God’s response to their disobedience, but for today let’s reflect on how they could possibly have missed such an incredible opportunity to walk in the way of blessing!

According to God’s story, Noah and his family entered the ark on the second week of the 2nd month of the year. They left the ark on the 27th day of the 2nd month of the following year (Genesis 8:14-15). Assuming a lunar calendar of 365 days, Noah and his family could have been on the ark an entire year!1 Linger on that thought before moving on.

When they finally stepped off the ark, what were they feeling? What on earth did they see after everything had been under water for nearly a year? Was it a strange, horrifying sight, perhaps even surreal?

Of all people, Noah and his family should have been prepared to follow God no matter what they saw.

  •  In the entire world they alone had been preserved by God through the flood.
  •  They personally heard God and saw Him do amazing things.
  •  God pronounced a blessing on them that they should have fruitful lives.

Still, after radically trusting God and having experienced His faithfulness as they did, Noah’s family failed to do what God told them to do. Either they didn’t listen carefully or they listened, but didn’t obey. You’ve probably heard the saying that there is safety in numbers. Perhaps they stayed together because they were afraid. Whatever their reason, they disobeyed God. They did not attempt to fill the earth.

From today’s lesson, consider that:

  •  God wanted Noah and his family to prosper and “fill” the earth (Genesis 9:1). That was the way to discover God’s blessing. But the way to blessing may not have looked to them like a blessing. The people feared being “scattered” across the earth (Genesis11:4). The difference between “filling” the earth (as God commanded) and being “scattered” across the earth is primarily one of perspective: one of choosing or being forced.
  •  They wanted to make a name for themselves (Genesis 11:4). That prideful motivation sounds a lot like the attitude that led to Satan’s downfall (Lesson 14).
  •  Even though they didn’t want to follow God, they still wanted to get to heaven. But they wanted to do it their way – by building a tower (Genesis 11:4).

Continue reading

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Shame and Blame – The Fruit of Sin

The victim mentality – a vicious cycle.
Lesson 19 from The HOPE Study Guide


Before Adam and Eve ate of the fruit – And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.

– Genesis 2:25

After – Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loin coverings. And they heard the sound of the Lord walking in the garden in the cool of day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. Then the Lord God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?” And he said, “I heard the sound of Thee in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid myself.” And He said, “Who told you that you were naked?” Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” And the man said, “The woman whom Thou gave to be with me, she gave me from the tree, and I ate.” Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?” And the woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”

– Genesis 3:7–13

Then she gave the fruit to Adam, and he ate. And immediately, they were aware of their nakedness and they were ashamed. Something terrible had happened. Something had changed … Adam and Eve tried to hide from God, and to get rid of their shame by covering themselves with leaves. But this did not work, for their problem was not outward, but inward. Shame is the result of sin, and sin was at work in them like a poison.

– The HOPE, Chapter 3


Before eating the forbidden fruit, there is no indication that Adam and Eve had ever known shame1  (Genesis 2:25). After they disobeyed God, they saw their nakedness and for the first time felt exposed and vulnerable. So they tried to cover themselves. Then they tried to hide themselves from God. Why? Because they were afraid. They may have been afraid of God’s response, but they were actually hiding themselves from the only One who could really help them, the very One they needed the most.

It is very interesting that God would ask, “Where are you?” God is all knowing. He knew where Adam and Eve were hiding. But His question was not just rhetorical. He was bringing Adam and Eve face to face with the result of their sin. The question “Where are you?” takes on a much greater meaning if applied to their spiritual condition more than their physical location. They were at a desperate place, and God’s question was like holding up a mirror. They needed to recognize the seriousness of their situation.

Notice what happens next, when they are “found.” Adam blames Eve, and Eve blames Satan. Shame was one of the first fruits of sin, and blame was a direct result.

ASK & REFLECT Continue reading


Sin – What Exactly Is It?

The deadly spiritual disease that infected all humankind.
Lesson 18 from The HOPE Study Guide


…just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned…

– Romans 5:12

Then she gave the fruit to Adam, and he ate. And immediately, they were aware of their nakedness and they were ashamed. Something terrible had happened. Something had changed. The evil in Satan was like an infectious disease. And through Adam’s disobedience, this disease was released into the world. It is called sin. It is a power that works within a person to destroy his or her relationship with God, ultimately bringing death to all it touches. Adam and Eve had been created to live forever in perfect harmony with God. By eating the fruit, they acted independently from God, which is exactly what Satan had done. Now they would experience death, first spiritually, then physically. And through Adam, sin would be passed down from generation to generation, infecting all humankind to this very day.

– The HOPE, Chapter 3


The word sin appears over 350 times in the Bible. It is most often used to identify an act against God (often referred to in the Bible as a transgression). One of the definitions of sin is literally, “missing the mark.”With this in mind, we could say that the “mark” is God’s way, and when we miss it, we are sinning.

Sin is also used in the Bible to describe the power that influences people to rebel against God’s authority. It is not only an act or an action against God; it is a personified power that influences us to act against God (seeGenesis 4:7 and Romans 6:12-13). Through Adam, this deadly power spread to the whole human race.

You can see why The HOPE describes sin as being like an infectious disease.It can’t be diagnosed with medical technology because it is not a physical disease. It’s a spiritual disease, and it always brings death. And only God has the cure.


Many people have the idea that all we must do to be right with God is be good. And a popular notion exists that anyone who manages to do more good than bad in life will go to heaven. The problem is that even if one lives a perfect life (which none of us can–Romans 3:23), that person would still be infected with sin, which is enough to keep us from having a right relationship with God. You see, it’s not only our “sins” that drive a wedge between us and God; it’s our “sin.” And just as we looked at Satan in Lesson 17 and determined that we are no match for him on our own, so also we cannot master sin without the power of God working in us.

  •  Are there things in your life with which you struggle, perhaps even habitually?
  •  Are there urges and desires in your life that you cannot eradicate, no matter how hard you try?
  •  Having honestly answered these questions, do you find it difficult to believe that there is a power at work within you called sin? Continue reading

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The Beautiful Side of Evil

A primary strategy of Satan: the perversion of good.
Lesson 16 from The HOPE Study Guide


Now the serpent was more crafty than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said to the woman, “Indeed, has God said, ‘You shall not eat from any tree of the garden’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “From the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat; but from the fruit of the tree which is in the middle of the garden, God has said,’ You shall not eat from it or touch it, lest you die.’ And the serpent said to the woman, “You surely shall not die! For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

– Genesis 3:1–5

And so it was one day as Eve was walking in the garden near the tree of knowledge that Satan spoke to her. She was without fear, for fear had not yet come into the world. Satan asked her about the forbidden fruit. He questioned God’s warning and His motive toward man. Eve listened and began to doubt God. She considered the fruit and ate. Then she gave the fruit to Adam, and he ate. And immediately, they were aware of their nakedness and they were ashamed.

– The HOPE, Chapter 3

Observe & Consider

The section of The HOPE we are now considering is described in greater detail in Genesis 3. Notice from the Bible passage above that Satan appeared to Eve and spoke to her as a serpent. Yet Eve, unlike you or I might be, was not frightened by this serpent. Let’s consider why that might have been.

First, up to this point in God’s story we see no indication that fear even exists in the world God has created. The first recorded manifestation of fear is in Genesis 3:10, after Adam had disobeyed God. And from Genesis 9:2 we might conclude that up until that time, animals did not fear man (or at least their fear of man was minimal). Imagine the mindset of Eve at this time, never having encountered anything in the world that would evoke fear in her!

Secondly, let’s consider the way in which Satan presents himself. The word that is translated as serpent in the Genesis passage comes from the Hebrew word nachash1, which literally means, “shining one.” Ezekiel 28:12-18 describes Satan as an exceptionally beautiful creature. 2 Corinthians 11:14 says that “Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.” From these verses it is evident that evil does not always appear to be evil. Continue reading

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Our Discontented Adversary

Satan was not content to fulfill God’s purpose. Are you?
Lesson 14 from The HOPE Study Guide


Before Adam breathed his first breath, God had created a multitude of spirit beings called angels. These creatures were given great strength and intelligence to serve God, on earth and in a holy place called Heaven. One angel was given more power than the others. Known today as Satan, this angel was not content to fulfill the purpose for which he was created. He wanted to take God’s place. So Satan became God’s enemy, leading a great number of angels to rebel against God. And so it was that Satan was cast down from his position of privilege before God.

– The HOPE, Chapter 2


The Bible and The HOPE tell us that we have an adversary, a foe, an opponent in this life. He is known today as Satan. Not much Biblical narrative is given to the story of Satan’s creation and fall. However, enough passages do exist to piece together what God wants us to know about this fallen angel who challenged God.

Many Bible scholars draw upon Isaiah 14:12-14 and Ezekiel 28:12-18 to learn of Satan’s fall. While these two passages are commonly understood as references to the kings of Babylon and Tyre, many believe they have a double meaning, referring also to Satan, the spiritual power behind those kings.1

These passages show that Satan was given much by God, yet he was not content to fulfill the purpose for which he was created. In his discontent, he rebelled – and when he did, he lost everything. In fact, Satan has become the most despised being in all of creation, and his end, as we shall soon see, is tragic and certain. He chose against God!


Do you understand the purpose for which you have been created? If so, are you content to fulfill it? Many people are not. Consider the following verses about your purposeful creation:

For You formed my inward parts; You wove me in my mother’s womb. I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Wonderful are Your works, And my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from You, When I was made in secret, And skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth; Your eyes have seen my unformed substance; And in Your book were all written The days that were ordained for me, When as yet there was not one of them. How precious also are Your thoughts to me, O God! How vast is the sum of them!” (Psalm 139:13-17).

“For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10). Continue reading

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Two Trees – Two Ways

Two approaches to God – works and grace
Lesson 11 from The HOPE Study Guide


And out of the ground the Lord God caused to grow every tree that is pleasing to the sight and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil… And the Lord God commanded the man saying, “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you shall surely die.

– Genesis 2: 9, 16-17

In the middle of the garden, there were two trees. One was the tree of life, the other, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. God told Adam he could eat from any tree in the garden, but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil he must not eat, for when he does he will surely die.

– The HOPE, Chapter 2

Observe & Consider

Thus far in God’s story, we’ve witnessed much drama, but no conflict. God created Adam and Eve and placed them in a beautiful garden where they had all they needed. But two trees stood in the midst of the garden. One tree yielded life, the other death; first a spiritual death, and ultimately a physical death.

Bible scholars throughout history have considered the meaning of these two trees. Most agree that the trees represent two entirely different ways of relating to God and life.The tree of the knowledge of good and evil is thought to represent man’s attempt to be fulfilled, and rightly related to God, through his own effort – often by acquiring knowledge and trying to do what is right in His own eyes. The Bible says the end of this approach is death.2

However, the tree of life is, according to theologian John Calvin, a reminder to man that “he lives not by his own power, but by the kindness of God; and that life is not an intrinsic good, but proceeds from God.” 3 The tree of life represents the life–giving favor which flows from God – favor we do not merit and cannot earn, but can only receive in humility and thanksgiving. Continue reading