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Sticky Russian

One afternoon, many years ago when my daughter was only about six years old, she shyly peered around a corner at met and softly called to me, “Daddy.”

“Yes, honey,” I answered.

“Do you want to play a game with me?” she asked.

I took a long look into her searching eyes, a short glance back at my project (which I had been staring at for hours), and then looked back at her and said, “I would love to, sweetheart.” The fact that I needed a break had less to do with it than the fact that right then she needed some time with me (a point, I confess, that we dads all too often let slip through our fingers unaddressed).

She had evidently taken it on faith that I was going to join her because after she had led me to the dining room table and had me sit in a chair especially chosen for me, she slid a pile of her princess cards to me. She in turn held some cards fanned out in her hand while a pile of cards lay on the table between us.

“So what are we playing?” I asked. She looked over her cards at me and smiled.

“A game I made up,” she said. “It’s called, ‘Sticky Russian’. So do you have any fours?”

“Um…,” I answered scanning my hand. “No… no fours. So what happens now?” I asked.

“You say, ‘Sticky Russian’, Daddy,” she answered. “Then I pick a card from the middle.”

“Oh, okay. Sticky Russian,” I said. She drew a card but apparently found a match. She laid down a pair of sevens and then looked up at me for me to take my turn.

While we played, I finally ventured a question that was on my mind, “So why do you call this game, ‘Sticky Russian’?”

“Because that’s what I call it,” she said grinning broadly. All righty then… it’s hard to argue with that kind of logic.

We played out our hands, sometimes getting matches, sometimes not and having to draw from the middle when the opponent announced, “Sticky Russian”. I didn’t fudge any in my plays, just so you know, but I was hoping that she would win. So, when we finally matched all the cards, I counted out the pairs and found that she had two more than I did.

“Good job!” I said. “You won. You have more cards than I do.”

sticky-russian

“No, daddy,” she explained.  “I lose and you won.  Who has the most cards loses.”

“No, daddy,” she explained patiently, shaking her head gravely. “I lose and you won. Who has the most cards loses.”

 

“Oh,” I said, surprised.

“Good job, daddy,” she said as she started gathering up her cards. I thanked her for the game, kissed her on her head, and then returned to my work, unable to shake the feeling that there had been a lesson in that little visit together.

What was largely noteworthy, as far as introspection goes, was the fact that I assumed that the one who had the most cards would be the winner. While I did play very aggressively with my children when they were younger, I was nevertheless taken aback at the end of our little game when it was revealed that the one who had the most was the loser.

Why didn’t I know that? Because I simply didn’t ask I suppose. But in life the rules about who is going to “win” and those who are going to “lose” are already spelled out for us in the Word of God. Granted, many of us prefer to run on our assumptions (which is what I was doing in our little game of “Sticky Russian”) or just don’t have a clue as to where to look to learn the rules of life, but they have been given to us nonetheless.

The Bible tells us that we are big-time “losers” if we do not have Jesus Christ. At the end of life we will ultimately have only our sin and its “wage”, which is death (see Romans 6:23). But if we do “have Christ”, then we have stripped from us our sin (the ugly progeny of our selfishness), are healed of the spiritual oppression with which it afflicted us, and are adopted into the family of God.

But just what does it mean to “have Christ” anyway? Well, this is really another way of saying that Jesus has us: our hearts, our minds, our will, our actions.

“Then (Jesus) said to all, ‘If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me.  For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it.  For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself” (Luke 9:23-25 ESV).

Great question for today, isn’t it? Just what good is it to have everything you thought you always wanted in this life and yet find in the end that not only do you forfeit an eternity with God, but have lost beyond recall all the “might-have-beens” that your life could have accomplished if only God had your heart?

I’m afraid that many, many people are going to spend their lives striving and earning in this life all kinds of prestige, experiences, and material things, and yet will wake up when their time is done and discover that they have really lost, wishing that they had given themselves instead to Christ Jesus.

Let it not be so for you. Reflect on Jesus’ love for you and His appeal to you to trust Him, receive Him as Lord and Savior, and then to follow Him wholeheartedly.

“Whoever does not take his cross and follow Me is not worthy of Me.  Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for My sake will find it” (Matthew 10:38-39 ESV).

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

Unplowed Ground…

Once, when reading the story of a burglary in a small community similar to our own, I began to think of what can happen for a person who has no sense of God’s presence in his life. A person who can storm into a house, bully a sick and elderly person or a terrified child (as it was in that particular story), can hardly be said to really believe that a good God exists or that He is attentive to His creation.

Consider the depths to which a person can sink when he or she believes that there are no consequences for his or her actions or thinks that “no one will ever know”! What holds such a person back? The Bible says in Psalm 14:1 that “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’ They are corrupt, their deeds are vile….” The result of a contemptuous disregard for God is corruption and deeds reeking of the stench of vileness! If there is no belief in God, the human heart cannot help but sink into the swirling maelstrom of selfishness and evil.

Of course, we must have the right kind of “belief”, too. Belief in a harsh, tyrannical deity can leave us vainly trying to “perform” for His favor or trying to earn a salvation, the price of which cannot be met by human effort. That God is sadistically “just waiting for a chance to toss you into hell” is not a very encouraging thought!

On the other hand, it’s almost as bad to believe in either a sugary, wishy-washy God who’s just too big a “pushover” to ever confront us for our being “naughty” or a God who’s nearsighted and just a bit deaf, without His glasses or batteries for His hearing aid. If this last notion is what we subconsciously believe about God, we’ll feel as though we can simply do anything we please confident in thinking that “God isn’t ‘man enough’ to stop me”.

In response to such reoccurring “dumb ideas about God”, the Bible announces two equally vital attributes of the Lord that both complement and uphold the other. The first is that God is perfectly righteous and, consequently, judges sin. Consider the fierce but encouraging words in Proverbs 24:19-20, “Fret not yourself because of evildoers, and be not envious of the wicked, for the evil man has no future; the lamp of the wicked will be put out.”

“No future hope?” Does it really mean that one’s wickedness can result in his being “snuffed out?” Well, yes. It means exactly this if his wickedness runs to its ultimate and logical conclusion. It is a fatal error to not realize that God takes human wickedness seriously. “The Righteous One observes the house of the wicked; He throws the wicked down to ruin” (Proverbs 21:12 ESV).

But sadly, as crime and immorality escalate, it is abundantly clear that we are collectively failing to realize this truth. The evidence isn’t only in the crime in one’s neighborhood. It is also evidenced every time we nonchalantly shrug off integrity in the workplace, when we’re lazy in the care of the health and well-being of our families, or when we turn away those in genuine need though they cry out for help.

Consequently, the only response that one can expect from a perfectly righteous and holy God is a perfectly righteous and holy judgment.

The second attribute then is our only hope. For though our individual and collective rebellions earn us a wage of judgment, He lays before our feet a season of grace, a window of opportunity to turn from our own way and follow Him. “Have they no knowledge, all the evildoers who eat up my people as they eat bread and do not call upon the LORD?” (Psalm 14:4 ESV).

“Sow for yourselves righteousness; reap steadfast love; break up your unplowed ground, for it is the time to seek the LORD, that He may come and rain righteousness upon you.” - Hosea 10:12

“Sow for yourselves righteousness; reap steadfast love; break up your unplowed ground, for it is the time to seek the LORD, that He may come and rain righteousness upon you.” – Hosea 10:12

What should we do in this short but wonderful era in which we might choose to turn to Him? Our response should be what is said in Hosea 10:12, “Sow for yourselves righteousness; reap steadfast love; break up your unplowed ground, for it is the time to seek the LORD, that He may come and rain righteousness upon you.”

Such grace is not cheap: it cost God His very best so that the shower of His righteousness might completely cleanse the horror of our sin. God’s very best was the sending of His Son to receive upon His own body His Father’s judgment of human wickedness. May we individually and as a people respond to such an offer of grace by turning from that which will only drown us in destruction to that which offers us life beyond the limits of our imagination.

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

I arose one morning to my early prayer time with crowds of questions and requests on my mind for the Lord. After greeting Him with a few perfunctory praises and thanksgivings (although I was sincere, I rushed through them in order to get to the items on my agenda), I began to unleash my arsenal upon God, increasingly frustrated because as I prayed I could not discern any particular leading in regard to my queries nor even much encouragement for simply persevering.

I hate to admit that I left that time more or less annoyed with the Lord, feeling bereft of wisdom and empowerment that I felt I needed to face the issues that I had presented Him.

After breakfast I completed a few tasks that required attention, but then hastened back to some more time with God in prayer and His Word so I could renew my imploring. I was identifying with Habakkuk a little bit as I felt sorry for myself.

“O LORD, how long shall I cry for help, and You will not hear? Or cry to You ‘Violence!’ and You will not save?” (Habakkuk 1:2 ESV).

Far more important than my questions are the questions that God Himself plies to me.

Far more important than my questions are the questions that God Himself plies to me.

But as I finally began to settle down and be quiet in that time, letting the noisy and clamorous thoughts fade away, I was struck by the realization that far more important than my questions are the questions that God Himself plies to me. Instances from the Bible in which the Lord asked questions of His child came to me and reminded me that my worrying and struggling (evidenced in my ongoing pleas to God to “work in this situation” and “move in that situation”) were the discordant notes of a fellowship with God that still needed much fine tuning.

“Son of man, can these bones live?” (from Ezekiel 37:3); “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” (from Isaiah 6:8); “What are you doing here?” (from 1 Kings 19:8); “What is that in your hand?” (from Exodus 3:2); “Is anything too hard for the LORD?” (from Genesis 18:14); “Where is your brother?” (from Genesis 4:9); and “Where are you?” (from Genesis 3:9). These and countless other passages chronicle the Holy One’s engagement of someone nearly lost in his or her circumstances and/or guilt, working to overcome each one’s near-sighted sensibilities so that he or she could walk in harmony with His love and will.

Thus I am reminded that the point of my quiet time with Him in prayer and mediation of His Word is not so much about struggling with Him in the tempests of doubt that are my questions and anxieties, but is rather about listening heartily to Him so that He can shape and direct my will according to His own.

“Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” (from John 6:5); “Does this offend you?” (from John 6:61); “You do not want to leave too, do you?” (from John 6:67); “Have I not chosen you, the Twelve?” (from John 6:70); and “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” (from John 8:10) are all questions that the Lord Jesus asked of those whose lives He had drawn into relationship with Himself. And in each case, the question was asked, not because Jesus did not know the answer, but to redirect the spiritual eyes of His child.

The better thing to do then in our prayer time is to discard our habit of volleying question after question and request after request to the Lord. Petitions and intercessions have their place, but let them come after we have given God His time, and the opportunity of speaking first to us. As we learn to listen for His voice we will discover that many of our own questions will be answered, or perhaps that they were non-issues to begin with.

“Why are you worried, my child?” He may say to one. “What need have I revealed to you do I now wish to answer through you?” He may say to another. “I have been faithful to death for you; will you now be faithful to Me in front of your friends?” He might ask of another. What question might He be asking of you even now in your life? Is He asking something of you? Sometimes He awaits a direct response of obedience from us.

But the questions that God asks are sometimes unanswerable (at least by us – as attested to in many that He asked Job), but they still have a point and a valuable treasure within them if we will patiently trust the One Who asked them. Rest assured: what we do not know, He knows; what we cannot see, He sees; where we are weak and afraid, His strength is more than enough to sustain us and grant us victory in all that He has asked of us.

Seek now to turn a listening ear to God and learn the joy of trusting and obeying Him! Let Him speak and lead you through what would otherwise be an overpowering jungle out there! Let your strength be renewed by the confidence that God is Master of all creation and that His agenda is to draw you deeply into His love!

“By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments. Whoever says ‘I know Him’ but does not keep His commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps His word, in him truly the love of God is perfected” (1 John 2:3-5a ESV).

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

I found myself this week reflecting on the tsunami disaster that struck twelve years ago this week. Thousands upon thousands upon thousands… dead. Within mere hours, in a cataclysm of monstrous proportions, a tsunami literally wiped countless numbers of people off the face of the earth.

Unsuspecting tourists, among the extremely vulnerable, perhaps intended to relax and enjoy the beauty of the Indian Ocean shoreline. Yet death came.

All along the 3000 miles of the coastal rim surrounding the Indian Ocean, children were walking along the beach, sitting on the floor of their village homes or playing in the streets… then death came. Even those wrapped in the arms of mothers or fathers were savagely ripped away and lost.

There were no easy explanations or cliché speeches one could share that would take away the hurt or mend the brokenness of all these lives even in the years that have followed.

Nor are there easy explanations or trite sentiments that I can express that erase the pain of tragedy today when it hits on a colossal scale as it did in 2004 or when we are alone, privately reeling from a personal loss whether the passing of a beloved child, the unexpected advent of cancer, or financial ruin so severe that there seems no recovery.

There is nothing that can be written here that would cause us to wake, when crisis and trauma afflict us, from what we wish was only a bad dream. Death and pain are permanent residents of planet Earth and at times gallop madly through our lives, trampling everything and everyone in their path.

roaring-wave

While God has never promised us that we would not face death, pain, loss or sorrow, He joins us in this path that we walk.

But in spite of all the horror hurled at humanity by our broken and ravaged world, however and whenever it happens, God does not look on passively. While He has never promised us that we would not face death, pain, loss or sorrow, He joins us in this path that we walk. He grieves with us over our sorrows; He is pained by our hurts; and He laments our losses as if they were His own. He knows pain and loss intimately even as He Himself looked death boldly in the eye and willingly embraced it for our sakes.

Yet… on the other side of loss, there is hope. On the other side of grief, there is joy. On the other side of death, there is life.

“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling. Selah” (Psalm 46:1-3 ESV).

Where do you turn when the world turns upside down? Where do you turn when you lose everything you ever wanted or ever needed? Where do you turn for hope?

And what do you say when it is someone else who has suffered so? Do you tell them to “just get over it” and walk away? Do you turn your eyes away, so afraid of facing pain yourself that you try to keep your distance?

May it not be so. If God had done that, we would never have had a Savior. “By this we know love, that (Jesus) laid down His life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth” (1 John 3:16-18 ESV).

If you are a child of God, your purpose is to be an extension of His heart, a receptacle through which His love may pass and enter a beaten and battered world.

Be a vessel of comfort for someone who grieves. While it’s likely that there isn’t much you can say to make everything okay again, your loving presence in the life of someone who hurts can touch a broken life with comfort.

Be a source of help to someone who is struggling to survive. In your church or in an outreach center near you there may be found avenues for helping others who do not have enough.

God, speaking through His prophet five centuries before the Lord Jesus was laid in a straw-filled manger, said of Christ, “Behold My servant, whom I uphold, My Chosen, in Whom My soul delights; I have put My Spirit upon Him; He will bring forth justice to the nations… a bruised reed He will not break, and a faintly burning wick He will not quench; He will faithfully bring forth justice. He will not grow faint or be discouraged till He has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for His law” (Isaiah 42:1, 3-4 ESV).

Still in the business of lifting up bruised reeds and rekindling smoldering wicks, the tender heart of God even now seeks to bring hope to the islands: the islands spread all over the Indian Ocean as well as the private little islands of the struggling souls of those with whom we work and play every day. Let us then be His hands and feet in this New Year.

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

A Season of… Greed?

I don’t know about you, but I am very much fascinated by what makes people tick. I cannot resist peeling away layers that camouflage or conceal that which is underneath. Consequently, I am intrigued by what appears in people when they find themselves in situations that strip away pretense and rhetoric.

It is my personal conviction that the Christmas season proves itself to be one of those “situations” in which folks really find out what they’re made of.

Some folks, who hunger for something meaty (so to speak) in everyday living, slow down a bit and reflect on the love of God and one’s place in His plan for the world. They’ve come to value things that endure or at least know the vanity of pursuit of shallow values and goals. Such ones are inclined to share tangible expressions of the love of God in acts of kindness and generosity for people who are sick, or are in genuine need, or are otherwise lonely and/or forgotten. Setting aside their wants, they make time and share even sacrificially with others as God opens doors of opportunity. They remember that there was once a Christmas present given for all the world in a time of spiritual and moral darkness and they reflect on just how much it has meant for all who have received it in the centuries that have come and gone since then.

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16 ESV).

They share because God has shared with them. The only race that they are running is the marathon of making a difference in the lives of others and somehow connecting the lost and lonely of the world to the inconceivable grace of God.

But for some, Christmas is a “situation” in which things other than love, joy, peace, hope, and thankfulness are exposed.

Consider an event several years ago in which a poor Walmart employee in Queens, New York, like an unarmed man at the gate, was trampled to death by a modern day equivalent of the Huns crashing through the doors of his place of work in Long Island. The 34 year-old man died facing hordes of mindless shoppers who were so savage that they ripped off a metal part of the door frame (leaving it looking like a crumpled accordion) as they trampled anyone caught in their path. So fierce was the mob’s assault that some of the Wal-Mart co-workers who strove to rescue him were injured and taken to the hospital.

Let’s all be horrified, but let’s not act surprised by a violent progression of events. The madness of after-Thanksgiving Day shopping has long been a joke (and often the comedic story line in movies and television shows). But now it turns out to not be so funny.

Whatever dreams that this poor man may have had for the holiday season were cut short. Whatever family members he left behind had a bitter loss for the sake of someone’s shopping list. I hope that I am not the only one who is ashamed that greed has besmirched a holiday named after our Lord. If some have gotten the gist of Christmas, the hope that it represents for all humanity, and the love it reveals of our God, it seems all too evident that countless numbers have not. It doesn’t matter if we merely “talk the talk” of the holiday season (or even sing the carols of Christmas); values are played out in our choices, especially when we don’t have time to think about what others may think of us and we are simply do what we feel like doing.

We are in our nature a greedy people. Why would I think that? Because we consistently make greedy choices in those situations that allow us to act naturally. Circumstances come to the stew pot of our lives and stir up what’s really in us. While pride, selfishness, hatred, and immorality too often come to the surface, chief among them is greed: we want what we want, and we want more than we have.

Again, for some the soup spoon of circumstance brings love, generosity, and patient humility to the top. These men and women (and even some children) give without regard to getting. They give because they’ve permitted God to put something of His love into their hearts. It’s these folks who really get Christmas, not those trying to get the best bargains at the store.

If anything (including shopping) is capable of stripping away from us kindness, patience, ethics, honesty, and love, we have a serious spiritual problem. Think of even the “small ways” that our “true selves” are revealed if we’re racing without regard for others to be first in the checkout line or pull in front of someone else to get the closest parking spot to the door. Are such behaviors and attitudes truly becoming to the children of God and the Savior Whom we represent to the world? I think not.

Besides, those who learn best how to give are also the ones who really get the most from this season of celebration. They’re the ones who really have the most to celebrate: the love of the Son of God Who came to give His life is not just Savior, but Lord of their hearts as well.

Keep Christ in Christmas indeed! But remember that to keep Him in Christmas, you must also keep your heart in His hand!

The Christmas season is a celebration of God’s Son’s first advent into the world. He came as a Servant so that we might have eternal life and, in turn, become servants of God as well.  As He has come to serve us by saving us from our sin, let us now each one go and serve others by following His example and putting them before ourselves.

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

Hope Spent Well

Christmas is doubtlessly a busy season for most of us. It can be overwhelmingly full of the chores of shopping for gifts, cooking for family get-togethers, and decorating our trees. Not that it’s all bad, mind you. We love the excitement and expectancy of the season as we sing our Christmas carols, hang our Christmas lights, and send out our Christmas cards all while we wait for the fun of receiving our gifts and enjoy (hopefully) the giving of them.

But perhaps what we love best about this time of year is the rekindling of hope in our hearts like a cold and dark fireplace suddenly springing to new life when a small and hidden ember bursts into a cheery blaze that once again warms a home.

Perhaps what we love best about this time of year is the rekindling of hope in our hearts like a cold and dark fireplace suddenly springing to new life.

Perhaps what we love best about this time of year is the rekindling of hope in our hearts like a cold and dark fireplace suddenly springing to new life.

Hope is an essential ingredient for life, its sweet savor making bearable and even pleasurable a dining table set with circumstances that we would otherwise find unappealing and even revolting. Without hope, peace is an illusion, joy is hollow, and faith is empty. Hopelessness can be a spectral wraith haunting not only our dreams but also our waking moments, draining our labors of purpose and our suffering of meaning.

It is probably obvious that hopelessness is rampant today. It not only wounds and wears upon those who have been overcome by sickness of body, but also men and women who are sound in body, but are afflicted with illnesses in hearts and minds that others cannot see. Hopelessness not only holds drug addicts in its ruthless and merciless grip, but also successful business people who have come to realize that they have acquired plenty of material benefits but have not acquired any lasting fulfillment from them. Hopelessness not only torments victims of years of cycles of abuse, but also those who themselves possess power and prestige but have found such baubles to be pointless in affecting change in lasting and meaningful ways.

Hope is something we desperately need, but so rarely find and sustain in the dark watches of winter and in the long seasons of trials of this life. It is like the hoped for oasis in a sprawling desert after finding only mirages along the way. Hope is essential to every one of us no matter who we are or where we’ve been. But ironically everyone who is now tortured by the pangs of hopelessness once actually had hope… but such hope was placed in the wrong things.

Our hopes are placed wrongly in our political leaders as we look to them to remedy our society’s hurts, yet they fail… either from their own corruption using our trust to advance their selfish ambitions or from their own limitations as we find them simply unable to do all that they promised.

We place our hopes in education, but we find that head knowledge cannot change hearts as it becomes clear that hurt, fear, prejudice, and violence continue. In a similar way, some of us place our hope in media in the belief that it can inform and inspire people to action. Often it does, but we have learned (from nearly a century of broadcast news) that often it is the wrong kind of action and that it is sometimes no more than a propaganda machine, uncommitted to truth but a skewed perception of things that leads us astray.

There are so many other things in which we hope, yet time and again we find that we have reached for mere phantoms. And each time we close our hands upon a promise that evaporates into nothingness, we are left a little more calloused and suspicious and even reluctant to endure the pain of once again placing our hope in something or someone.

The ultimate tragedy is that when we are finally met by the Source of true hope, we often dare not believe it. On the day that God shows up in our circumstances, wooing us by His Spirit to forsake sin and become His child forever, we feel so burned and disappointed by our pasts that we listen to the lie that, “Surely this is not true. God cannot or will not love me.”

This happens so often to us who have resisted His call and spent ourselves on things that appealed to our spiritually childish inclinations, flashier and easier substitutes for Christ’s call to forsake all and follow Him. The world is not lacking in its proposed alternatives to Jesus nor is the devil lackadaisical in inventing them.

Yet there is no path surer than that of Christ though it lead us through valleys under the shadow of death. The Living Word Who became flesh effectually offers you hope because He both desires for you to be His victorious child and also has power to achieve it.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him was not any thing made that was made…. By Him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities – all things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together…. If God is for us, who can be against us? He Who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him graciously give us all things?” (John 1:1-3, Colossians 1:16-17, Romans 8:31b-32 ESV).

Hope spent in what is eternally able to deliver us and fulfill us is hope spent well. Hope that is misplaced is always eventually a disaster. Christmas is a season of hope, not because of gift-giving, nostalgic traditions, and families spending time together, but because it marks the occasion of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, leaving the glory of heaven so that you and I might be saved from our sin (*Matthew 1:21).

The Lord, speaking of Jesus says, “Here is My Servant Whom I have chosen, My beloved in Whom My soul delights…. The nations will put their hope in His name” (Matthew 12:18a, 21 HCSB, citing the prophecy in Isaiah 42:1-3).

So let the story of Christmas turn your eyes from mere temporary things to the eternal hope of heaven. If you will allow God to kindle within you His divine spark, it cannot be snuffed out however furious the winds of discouragement may blow. Hope, therefore, may be one of the greatest gifts given to you this season… or any season.

Copyright ©  Thom Mollohan

Thanksgiving is an enormously wonderful time to stop and intentionally offer up the praise of a heart full of gratitude to the One Who has not only created us, but surrounded us with an abundance of blessings. How tremendous also is the privilege of honoring our being blessed by God by using our abundance to bless others, as we pour the overflow of God’s grace from our lives into the lives of others around us!

On the other hand, if your holiday season is characterized by difficulty and loss, Thanksgiving may seem an especially difficult occasion to express thanks. After all, it isn’t easy in your human nature to be grateful when you are frustrated or burdened by your circumstances. Nor is it easy when the uncertainty of the future wheels over your head like a giant bat of worry casting its dark shadow of fearfulness over your path in life. Neither are we quick to be grateful when pain or loss come to roost in our homes.

But take heart! It is no trite thing to say and believe that “God is in control!” You have One in your corner Who is bigger than the universe, cheering for you even if no one else is. In a day when a lot of people felt forgotten by God, Jesus came along and announced that “My Father is working until now, and I (also) am working” (John 5:17 ESV). Human nature hasn’t changed all that much: we still wrestle with that same doubt, the same temptation to think that God has forgotten us, the same inclination towards despair when we’ve used up all the “liquor of self-sufficiency.”

In the early 1600s a young man named Squanto (also called “Tisquantum”), a member of the Patuxet tribe of Native Americans along what is now the coast of Massachusetts, was tricked and kidnapped by an English captain named Thomas Hunt. Along with 23 other Patuxet and Nauset Indians, he was cruelly treated and stowed down in the dark and dank hold of a ship and taken to Maluga, Spain, where Hunt attempted to sell them all into slavery. Some local Friars in Maluga, learning of Hunt’s plot, took Squanto into their care by which they “disappointed this unworthy fellow (Captain Hunt) of the hopes of gain he conceived to make by this new and devilish project.”

Although far from home and his loved ones, Squanto learned about hope in Christ as he was taught from the Bible and as he witnessed the loving and selfless work of those in whose care he resided. Eventually these Christians found a way to get him started towards home and secured him a place to stay in England. While staying in the home of John Slaney in London, he attended church and learned the English language. In 1619, he returned to North America accompanying an English trading expedition. But when he arrived, he found only the ruins of his village and no signs of his people anywhere. He learned from neighboring tribes that a plague had killed everyone in his tribe: he was the last of the Patuxet.

storm-at-sea

It is hard to thank God in all circumstances, but He is the only one Who can turn great tragedy into great good.

Meanwhile, an English ship carrying 102 colonists (mostly Pilgrims seeking religious freedom) sailed for two months from England, anchoring after a tumultuous journey in what’s now called Plymouth Harbor in November of 1620. It was a long, cold few months for the Pilgrims who were not prepared for the harsh New England winter. Forty-five colonists died and 8 of the 30 Sailors would never return home.

 

What was their surprise when an Indian named Samoset strode out of the forest to greet them with halting English phrases! How much greater was their astonishment when he returned a few days later with Squanto who spoke nearly perfect English! Squanto chose to remain with the Pilgrims, adopting these newcomers who now lived on the ruins of his old life (figuratively but also literally for they had built their settlement on the remains of the old Patuxet village). He taught them how to find food on this land that in the gray of winter had seemed so inhospitable and helped them make peace with the Wampanoag Confederation of Indian tribes surrounding them.

Who would have guessed that Squanto’s hardships and trials would prepare him to be the instrument of grace that would help establish and preserve a new nation? And who could have guessed that God would meet Squanto’s own loss and brokenness by bringing into his life a new people with whom he could start again? And who would have thought that this little band of people would produce the first genuinely American document in the “Mayflower Compact” which would set the stage for American democracy, that is, “government by the people for the people?”

Is God still working today? Yes indeed! The same God Who created the Cosmos from nothingness with just His Word, is the same God Who provided a helper and preserved the lives of members of the Plymouth Colony. The same God Who sent His own Son into the world to bear its sin so that those who place their faith in Him might be saved is the same God Who lives and works today in the universe with no person too small that He doesn’t see them and know them.

Yes, it is hard to thank God in all circumstances (see 1 Thessalonians 5:18) but He’s the only One Who can take great tragedy and turn it into great good. Are you shut up in a lonely and dark place in life? Are you far from the home that His love is for those who will receive it? Are you deep in a pit of sorrow and pain? Has loss and grief beaten you down until you feel nearly overcome?

If so, place your hope in God because “we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose” and that “in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him Who loved us” (Romans 8:28, 37 ESV).

Copyright © Thom Mollohan