Archive for December, 2012

When I visited West Africa several years ago, it was pointed out to me by the man guiding me that Christmas was not much observed by Africans (at least in comparison to Americans and Europeans). “Oh, we sing some of the songs, but it is not much of a celebration here. Instead, we mostly focus on celebrating the new year.”

I thought that interesting. He said he did not really know why, but I suspect that it’s simply because the fervor that we know and “love” is in part kept intense by the unequaled amount of media attention given it (from books like “A Christmas Carol” which helped to dramatically shape subsequent cultural perspective in the west on Christmas to the enormous amount of marketing that regularly takes place to motivate the holiday shopper).

But since I am not a sociologist, I’ll refrain from overanalyzing things and try to not offer explanations for such differences and instead reflect for a moment on the wonder of closing out one year and entering another.

Suffice it to say that there is a certain sense of awe associated with the ending of one year and the beginning of another. Not because there is anything magical or mystical associated with the calendar we use:  neither our traditional Gregorian calendar nor the supposedly “end-of-the-world” interpretation of the Mayan calendar have any particular handle on God’s timing of things.  In fact, some friends of ours who just came back from a visit in Central America this past month report that modern day Mayans say that only “those crazy gringos” would think there was anything more to it than the start of a new calendar cycle (much like our turning the page to January 2013). 

In any case, the start of a new year can be powerful simply because it is the ending of one year and the beginning of another.  And the start of something new is always an opportunity to take stock of our lives, our direction, and our relationship with God.  This makes it a great time to ask some important questions. 

For example, are you happy with life? If you say “yes”, then I hope it is because you are growing in Christ, not because you have everything in this life that you’ve ever wanted. We can be content with our circumstances for all the wrong reasons, and whatever our reasons are, they are definitely the wrong reasons if they obstruct the love and the will of our God in our lives.

What does 2013 hold for you? Who can say? Only God sees what’s ahead in the road of your life. But you can rest in knowing that if you will “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, that you will have all that you need” (from Matthew 6:33). Will there be pain and loss? Possibly. But keep in mind that “God works in all things for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose” (from Romans 8:28).

And though difficult situations may indeed be in the road ahead, remember that there are riches of blessings in store for you. Some may be material (when so many suffer from want right now). Some may be physical (when so many struggle with sickness). Some may be relational (when true friends are rare treasures to be found). And some are definitely going to be spiritual (you are, after all, a child of God if you have repented of sin and trusted Jesus as your Savior and Lord).

Are you happy with life? If you say "yes", then I hope it is because you are growing in Christ, not because you have everything in this life that you've ever wanted. We can be content with our circumstances for all the wrong reasons, and whatever our reasons are, they are definitely the wrong reasons if they obstruct the love and the will of our God in our lives.

Are you happy with life? If you say “yes”, then I hope it is because you are growing in Christ, not because you have everything in this life that you’ve ever wanted. We can be content with our circumstances for all the wrong reasons, and whatever our reasons are, they are definitely the wrong reasons if they obstruct the love and the will of our God in our lives.

“In all these things we are more than conquerors through Him Who loved us.  For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:37-39 ESV).

Celebrate this New Year with thankfulness for God’s faithfulness in 2010. Look forward to what He has in store for you as you trust and obey Him. Give Him your heart, your life, your devotion as you enter this 2013.

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

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Have you ever noticed that the close of one year and the start of another have a knack for making folks feel somewhat sentimental about the passing of time? Our clocks are ticking, the days are passing, and the years are running by. On New Year’s Eve, hosts of people will be watching as the seconds run out and it’s time to flip the page of our calendars to yet another year.

But even when it isn’t the ending of one year and the start of another, we seem still to be a people preoccupied with the timing of things. We esteem punctuality, for example, and are often greatly annoyed when others are late (or if we’re running late and worry that others may become annoyed with us). I note that we’re especially conscious of this in the US and attitudes about setting times for things outside our country may require more specific explanation than is required here. When I was in Africa, for example, saying that we’d be meeting at 3 in the afternoon might mean folks arrive anywhere from 3 pm to a few hours afterwards – without anyone being considered late!

Nevertheless, here we worry about timelines, deadlines, appointments, and schedules. And it seems to me that our preoccupation with timeliness has a way of influencing our attitudes about God, His working in the world today, and even His plan for each of us.

It probably wouldn’t be unreasonable to assume that most Christians in the US have struggled at times with what we assume to be a lack of involvement and even interest of the Lord in our personal affairs. Perhaps we’re struggling with a difficult relationship, a burdensome job, finding a job, making ends meet, a serious physical affliction, or even the loss of a loved one. In the midst of traversing the dark and lonely trail of our painful trial, we cry out to God and it seems that He doesn’t answer. We cry out again and the heavens seem silent and we continue to wallow in our season of suffering. We wonder where God is and because He fails to show up at the various deadlines that we offer Him, we conclude that He isn’t real, isn’t paying attention, or doesn’t care.

But we fail to see that the Sovereign God of the universe has His own timetable by which He works… a timetable that isn’t concerned with synchronizing itself with our agendas or wish lists. Yes, He does care, but He economizes the timing of His work with a maximum effect in mind. Yes, He hears us when we pray and will often answer speedily. But at other times, He’ll say, “Wait, child. You’re not ready yet” or “Soon, when all is in place.”

There is a necessity for the child of God to kneel before his or her God and say not only, “Not my will, but Yours be done” (see Luke 22:42), but also, “Not my time, but Yours.”

Consider the message of the Christmas season: God’s own Son, Jesus, coming to earth, being born of a virgin, to one day lay His life down for all sinners who will come to Him in faith.

“But when the time was right, God sent His Son, and a woman gave birth to Him.  His Son obeyed the Law, so He could set us free from the Law, and we could become God’s children” (Galatians 4:4-5 ESV).

“When the time was right” God sent His Son. God donned human flesh when and only when all was ready. He did not come until the right conditions were in place: sin’s corruption everywhere was apparent, religious traditions were exhausted, political institutions were structured for the rapid spread of the Gospel, and the hearts of many were ripe for the gentle yet piercingly beautiful appearance of grace. Though many had longed for His appearing for generations upon generations prior, He did not come until it was the RIGHT time.

He Who coordinates the movements of all the starry host with the march of human history, will also “at the right time” bring about His blessings for your life, His answers to your prayers, and completion of His plans for your life.

He Who coordinates the movements of all the starry host with the march of human history, will also “at the right time” bring about His blessings for your life, His answers to your prayers, and completion of His plans for your life.

Consider the implications of the Lord’s righteous handling of world affairs for our own private little matters. If you wrestle with God’s timing and despair because He seems to tarry, find rest in the truth that He Who coordinates the movements of all the starry host with the march of human history, will also “at the right time” bring about His blessings for your life, His answers to your prayers, and completion of His plans for your life.

After all, “He knows His plans for you, plans to prosper and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (from Jeremiah 29:11). Do not listen to the whispering lies of doubt hissing in your mind and fainting heart: He has neither forgotten nor forsaken you. “Be confident of this, He Who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion” (from Philippians 1:6).

Christmas may be over, but its message never fails and never fades. God has remembered you. He offers you a hope through His Son, Jesus Christ, that will endure for all eternity no matter how evil or oppressive or desperate the times may seem. So let your heart even now make its way to “the Lamb born in Bethlehem, the Savior Who takes away the sin of the world!” (from John 1:29).

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

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Time to start putting the lights away. Off come the decorations. Down come the stockings with which we adorn our fireplaces. And away with the trees that have stood in our homes during the Christmas season. Now begins the arduous process of undoing Christmas holiday decorating (unless, of course, one’s habit is to keep the decorations up until January 6th, the Epiphany – also known as the 12th Day of Christmas).

But either now or later, as those decorations begin to come down and the trappings and trimmings of Christmas celebrating are moved out of the way, it is very much hoped that we don’t get carried away and also pack up for the year those immaterial things that we say we cherish during the Christmas season.

Though our tinsel is tightly wound up and packed away, our hope should not be. Though our ornaments are each carefully placed within their boxes and stored again for a year, peace should still be our aim. In spite of the unplugging of the tree lights for another year, the light of God’s love should yet be shining in our hearts. And though stockings have been emptied and are neatly folded in a drawer some place, our joy should yet remain full to overflowing.

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!  According to His great mercy, He has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.  In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials” (1 Peter 1:3-6 ESV).

It does not matter that nativity scenes are plucked from our yards; their central figure should yet remain in the center of our own lives – Jesus should still be the One about Whom we gather to worship, bringing gifts as we come. Nor should we consider Him Something that can be packed away, but Someone Who perpetually deserves our love and devotion.

We now come to the point of having to apply what we said we believed over the past few weeks – not because we’re “guilt-ed” into it by sentimental movies, pious Christmas caroling, and the warm-fuzzies associated with the season, but because we really do believe they’re true.

We now come to the point of having to apply what we said we believed over the past few weeks – not because we’re “guilt-ed” into it by sentimental movies, pious Christmas caroling, and the warm-fuzzies associated with the season, but because we really do believe they’re true.

Having said that, we now come to the time of the year where the “rubber hits the road” (or should I say, “the reindeer hoof hits the roof”). We now come to the point of having to apply what we said we believed over the past few weeks – not because we’re “guilt-ed” into it by sentimental movies, pious Christmas caroling, and the warm-fuzzies associated with the season, but because we really do believe they’re true: that the virtues we celebrated are truly worth possessing and demonstrating and that the object of our faith really is Who He says He is.

Permit me to risk an observation that I absolutely believe is true but may well give a bit of post-Yuletide indigestion: millions of people are “Christians” during Christmas who have no interest in God at other times of the year. Many of us treat Christmas like some treat St. Patrick’s Day. How often have you seen the cliché, “Everybody’s Irish on St. Patrick’s Day.” I am not concerned about the latter but enjoy the fun that people find in their suddenly being “Irish” and having to wear green for a day. I am extremely concerned, however, by the thought that there are folks whose faith is tied up only in the days associated with the Christmas season. I would rather you find the holiday utterly frustrating and meaningless than to find in it shallow satisfaction and false fulfillment.

What am I saying? I’m saying that Christmas is about our being called from sin and death back into the loving arms of a loving God Who condescended to become completely human, sharing in our weakness, feeling our hurts and sorrows, yet pointing us to the Father, sacrificing His Own life, and rising from the dead – that through faith in Him, we might have eternal life.

“Jesus, though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men… in every respect (He) has been tempted as we are, yet without sin… And being found in human form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross… Therefore God has highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father…. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Philippians 2:6-7, Hebrews 4:15b, Philippians 2:8-11, Hebrews 4:16 ESV).

What is this need that the Scriptures of God is talking about? It’s the need we have for eternal reconciliation with God which brings with it the healing of our hearts as we daily walk with and live for Him. And when is this “time of need”? It’s now. God is not Someone Who can be put off. His invitation to know Him, be forgiven and set free from sin is a “limited-time” offer – or at least, we should consider it so: open now to any who’ll heed it, and yet not guaranteed for tomorrow.

The days remaining in this year are rapidly running out. So also are the days in which we each may personally respond with acceptance the invitation of God’s love. Don’t let your days run out, but receive this wonderful gift of gifts.

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life…. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (John 3:16, Romans 6:23 ESV).

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

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BabyOn December 1st, 2006, the Associated Press ran a brief story by Tom Breen about a nearby community having on display a stable, a star, a set of shepherds, camels, and even a palm tree. The story suggested that responsible authorities were so overly paranoid about being accosted by overzealous scrooges beating the “separation-of-church-and-state” drum that they were oblivious to the obvious omission of baby Jesus from the manger. The irony was apparently so profound that Jay Leno seized the opportunity to comment on it during his monologue on the following December 4th as he pointedly noted that the community has the separation-of-church-and-state dilemma tied up even in its name, since the word “saint” is part of it.

Of course, the Christ child missing from the midst of all that Christmas décor remains a great metaphor for our society today: I fear that our impulse is to want all the trimmings of Christmas, but only if we don’t have to keep Jesus in the middle of them. But this is the problem. Not having Jesus in the center of Christmas renders the whole great affair totally useless, a great and colossal waste of time. Taking the Savior out of the Nativity makes as much sense as taking the word “Christ” out of the word “Christmas” and with no “Christ” in “Christmas” you are left with nothing more than a “mas” of unresolved heartache, hopelessness, and, worst of all, sin.

As I reflected on the story of the missing Christ-child, two thoughts surfaced in my mind. The first was triggered by an editorial by Nat Hentoff of the Washington Times in reference to C-Span’s airing of oral arguments on whether or not Congress can ban partial-birth abortions. The reported language of the discussion was mostly sterilized and did not clearly depict what actually happens in the brutal and gory procedure although I understand that both lawyers and justices on a couple of occasions in the discussion DID forget to say “fetus” and instead said “baby” (subliminal admissions that I’d argue demonstrate that we do in fact understand that we are talking about the wanton killing and dismemberment of human beings).

Whatever language we might choose to describe these great offenses against God and humanity, I can’t help but muse that not only was a child missing from the decorative manger scene in a little town like the one I described earlier, there are countless children missing from our streets, our schools, our homes, and our lives. What these children might have been, who they could have become, what they may have meant to us can only be known in the mind and heart of God. As I pen this column, I am in mourning.

The second thought that came to me was in the form of a question. What if Jesus, in sympathy for the little ones that we’ve “chosen” to “terminate”, was to boycott our churches, our towns, and our homes? What if He, in deference to our supposed right to “choose”, chose to simply not show up. If you in any way truly do associate Christmas with Sovereign God’s intervention into human affairs with hope, then there cannot be any more appalling a thought than that God not only doesn’t feel like hanging out with us, but finds the idea unacceptable of subjecting Himself to mortal form, human suffering, unjust rejection, false accusations, and even a horrible death on a criminal’s cross.

Christmas without the centrality of Christ would be like having a victory celebration knowing that you haven’t really won the game and must just go through the motions of pretending to be happy. Or it might be like having a birthday party only to discover that everyone wishes that you had never been born. The world without Christ Jesus as its center is a hopeless, hapless mess just wallowing in the shadows of horror.

But I think that there are some who genuinely understand that Christmas really is about the joyful and amazing intervention of an awesomely holy God. It’s a celebration of His circumventing our eventual self-destruction by interposing Himself on the altar of divine justice. There are some who perceive that we not only need Jesus’ presence in the Christmas story, but also His active and living presence in our churches, His guiding and nurturing presence in our homes, and His holy and merciful presence in our hearts.

And He in turn would remind us that He did not stoop down from His glorious throne and endure all that He did so that we could live our lives for ourselves. No, Christmas is an incredible opportunity to consider and honor the best gift of all. Let us respond to His love with an attitude of joy, a heart full of gratitude, and a life full of trusting obedience. Let us remember how precious is the gift of life and what a treasure our children are. Let us spend ourselves in serving God and in reaching out to each other, particularly to those in need. Let us be infinitely more eager and thrilled with experiencing God’s presence in our lives than in having scored yesterday a Sony Playstation 3, X-Box 360, or Nintendo Wii in time for Christmas.

“…My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for He has looked on the humble estate of His servant… for He Who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is His name.  And His mercy is for those who fear Him from generation to generation.  He has shown strength with His arm; He has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; He has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate; He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He has sent empty away.  He has helped is servant Israel, in remembrance of His mercy” (Luke 1:46b-48, 49-54 ESV).

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

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“There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.  And the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon Him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD.  And His delight shall be in the fear of the LORD….  In that day the root of Jesse, Who shall stand as a signal for the peoples – of Him shall the nations inquire, and His resting place shall be glorious” (Isaiah 11:1-3a, 10 ESV).

Amid all the turmoil and troubles of the world, there is very little rest to be found. Even as we draw closer to the day in which we celebrate our Savior’s birth, it seems that we hasten and bustle more than ever, reluctant to take our own advice and remember the real “Reason for the Season.”

Yet there is only one true imperative for the Christmas season and it is not that of accumulating all sorts of gifts for our loved ones, let alone those we’re not sure about. It is not about decorating our homes or places of work with attractive holiday ornaments or even about pulling together the “best Christmas pageant ever!” It isn’t even necessarily about gathering our families together for an annual Christmas get-together. While these things aren’t necessarily bad things in of themselves, they have so obscured the real priorities that we should have for the Christmas season – that of genuine celebration of the love of God in Christ Jesus – that even Christians are caught up in the stress, worry, and distractions of the world.

But the season of Christmas should be a time in which we reorient our lives and realign ourselves with our genuine mission and purpose in this world… that of knowing God and bringing glory to Him.

Let’s face it. When else during our busy year are we going to do it? Christmas has culturally become the one point during our twelve month cycle in which we collectively have any real impetus to rethink life. Will we do it in January? No, we’re too busy paying for Christmas, getting back into the routine of work after however much we got behind in December, and for breaking all our resolutions. Will we do it in the spring? There’s not much chance of that since we’re wrapping up our school year academics or are getting ready for spring lawn care. “What about the summer?” Are you kidding? With vacations and the doing of summer activities, we generally have no inclination to slow down and reconsider our lives from an eternal point of view. The fall offers little hope, too, as school gets revved up again along with all kinds of sporting events and activities making their demands of us.

The only season in which our society even pretends to suggest that just maybe we’re taking things too fast and might need to consider a new lease on life is the Christmas season. Ironic, isn’t it? Especially if your habit is to “run with the wolves” in frantic spending for Christmas gifts, ever running the risk of getting the wrong size, the wrong color, or a technological gadget that becomes obsolete before you get it out of the checkout line.

So where does one turn for the new beginning that Christmas offers us? How do we transition from merely acknowledging that we should get a new start in our living? We do as Isaiah 11:1-3 suggests and rally around the banner of Christ. The Reason for the Season is not a “what” but is instead a royal and wonderful “Who”. So let us don the rags of lowly shepherds, pick up our shepherd crooks, and gather too around the manger to worship the One named Jesus.

Let us our bring such gifts as we have, though they may not be gold, incense, or myrrh, and let us like Wise Men lay them before the One Who has been sent from the Eternal Father to us in our hour of need. Let us shrug off the shroud of sin and the rags of self-righteousness and instead embrace the life and hope that Jesus is to all who will receive Him as Lord.

When will we turn to Him if we do not do so now? Perhaps we’ll say things like, “I would like to do those things, but I just can’t right now. Maybe I will when things slow down for me a little bit.” Meanwhile, the clock ticks on and our schedules and the pressures of life refuse to relinquish their ruthless holds over our lives. We’ll mentally and perhaps even verbally agree that we’re off track and need to make some changes to how we live our lives but we’ll postpone making those changes and neglect the daily disciplines of choosing to live as Christ would have us live.

But why miss out on the “glorious place of rest” that Christ desires to be for you? Why fail in finding your true purpose in life by spending your time, energies, and talents on things that do not last forever and have no eternal value? Why live selfishly and not see for yourself how the love of God at work in and through your life can change in small but important ways the world that you can’t help but agree is “going to @#!*% “?

This is a moment in which we must each decide to forgo running the rat-race, and choose instead the path of the Good Shepherd. This is the hour in which we must say, “Enough is enough. I want something more than what I have right now; I want the abundant life that God has waiting for me.” This is the time to say no to not only the frantic hustle and bustle of the Christmas season, but the endless and pointless running-around that we’re caught up in when we’re not walking with Jesus.

The Savior is indeed a “glorious place of rest” for all who will follow Him in truth. Start making simpler choices for yourself for this holiday season. Connect with other Believers who agree with your earnest desire to truly know and experience the peace of Christ. Work with your family to spend less time serving yourselves and find projects that enable you to serve God by serving others. The world around you is a battered and beaten wreck – maybe even in your neck-of-the-woods. So let those around you know about your “place of rest” and let them see how your life raises up the Banner of Hope for all people that Jesus is. Let your attitude, your words, and your actions raise that standard and let His light be seen in you this Christmas.

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

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To one who has not yet an ear to the wind of God’s voice or perhaps possesses a heart that still hasn’t opened to the truth of God, the figurative “jump” from looking at life from an earthly and temporal point of view to the perspective of the spiritual and eternal realm may be a hard one indeed. For one such as this who might have lived in the days of Jesus’ first physical arrival on earth (the second yet forthcoming), the deep of night surrounding the Judean countryside and wrapped about little Bethlehem would truly have seemed silent.Little Child

But the silent night of Bethlehem turns out to have been in fact a night full of noise and light… much of which perhaps would have escaped the notice of all of the race of mortal men but for the ones to whom God’s special messengers stooped down and “tapped on the shoulder.”

The human race, besieged by both a merciless deafness of spirit and a profound blindness of the soul, could not have anticipated the Hope that had come into the world, wrapped in not only swaddling clothes but also the fragile, yet perfect flesh of the newborn King of kings!

What blazing and radiant light must have dazzled in the night sky above those poor, unsuspecting shepherds! Any who may have turned in for the night would have been suddenly wide awake, shielding their eyes from the brilliant glory of the Lord that shone about the holy angels that had come to proclaim the Savior’s birth!

On any other night their ears would have found only the silent sounds of a slumbering world, yet what amazing noise there must have been as the harmony of that great host of heaven’s citizens lifted up together their mighty voices in song!

But, in spite of the glorious splendor of both the glowing countenance of the heavenly choir and the matchless melody of their awesome music, the loudest noise yet ever heard on planet earth was the crying of a wee little baby born in a barn. That same voice would, in time, cry out again as the life of its Bearer ebbed and flickered out while lifted up on a cold, cruel cross. That same voice, the voice belonging to “the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David” (Revelations 5:5), will speak again and all the turmoil of the world will be stilled under His perfect and holy lordship (see Revelations 19:11-16).

That night in Bethlehem wasn’t so silent and still after all. The hand of God was moving, the love of God was flowing, the power of God was working… and the world was too deaf and blind to take much note of it all. Even after two thousand years have passed, we seem to languish still in deafness and blindness, unaware that the hand of God is STILL moving, the love of God is STILL flowing, and the power of God is STILL working.

Does heaven seem silent to you? Does its light elude your sight? Have a care to not listen with your earthly ears nor to look with mere eyes of flesh. His love for you was proven once and for all on the cross that He endured to pay for our sin. His love for you is steadfast and sure for the heart of God is steadier and more trustworthy than are the foundations of the earth itself. His love for you is far more profound and deep than is the bottom of earth’s oceans.

So don’t look for Him with either eyes or ears of flesh. Don’t judge Him with the distorted evidence that your limited circumstances supply you. Take Him at His word. Trust Him with your life. Turn to Him without delay.

After all, isn’t that what Christmas is REALLY all about? Isn’t it REALLY about how God’s love interrupted humanity’s race towards self-destruction? Isn’t it about God’s refusal to NOT wash His hands of us but to reach inside His creation in order to build us a bridge that we could not build for ourselves? Isn’t that what we are REALLY celebrating when we celebrate Christmas?

In the houses of our hearts, let us for a moment strip away all the things that are cluttering up our lives, and instead look to place Jesus at the center. If we take away presents from under the tree, the lawn ornaments, the lights on the eaves of our houses, what do we have left? If we take away turkey dinners and sugar cookies, not to mention piles of Christmas cards, what is it that remains? Can we even have Christmas without these things? Can we do without ol’ Saint Nick, His reindeer, and magical talking snowmen?

Yes… of course we can. Those things are fine and fun… but let us not allow them to so enthrall our hearts that we fail to see the light of Jesus which shines still though the world is darkened by hate, greed, malice, lust, and envy! Let us not fail to hear the music of His voice as He speaks into our lives His words of hope, invitation, and transformation, though the voices of the world jabber and shout at us all day, every day.

Allow this Christmas to be an occasion for seeking God’s face, His love, His power, and His lordship. Let it be as much a start for something new in your life as was the arrival of the Christ Child in the little town of Bethlehem so long ago.

“Simeon took Him up in his arms and blessed God and said, ‘Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace, according to Your word; for my eyes have seen Your salvation that You have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to Your people Israel.’” (Luke 2:28-32 ESV).

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

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A Stable StartImagine the sweet smell of fresh hay wafting through the cozy closeness of the most famous stable in human history. Instead of the lonely and wide open road on a cold and clear night, there is both a warmth and a comforting reassurance that comes even from the presence of barnyard animals housed within, in spite of their shuffling hooves and snuffling noses.

A young woman enters the scene, a little lady who has been chosen by God to bear into the world His Incarnated Word. Supported and cared for by her loving husband, she settles down perhaps with something that is a little like a sigh as she resigns herself to her surroundings. Yet, into this humble and gentle beginning, the Ancient of Days intersects the mortal with His divinity, the temporal with the eternal, the common with the holy.

But it isn’t such an unreasonable postulation… that of God Almighty allowing His Son to be born in such crude circumstances. Maybe we feel that if WE had been in the Father’s shoes, we would have arranged for Jesus to be born in a palace… or at least a Holiday Inn Express. Certainly we would not have condescended to His amazing and wonderful arrival taking place in a barn!

Yet… God chose to do just that. Don’t think for a moment that God was caught off guard by the fact that all the rooms of Bethlehem had filled up: the little Savior was NOT born in a stable because His Dad simply forgot to get a reservation for when they arrived in town.

There truly was, in a sense, “condescension” (God “DESCENDED to be WITH us”). It wasn’t in His being born in a stable, but was rather in His leaving the glory and light of heaven to come into the shadowy dominion of the mundane. Even if He had been born in a dazzlingly glorious palace, it would been so far beneath what He had always known in heaven that it would doubtlessly have been laughable to all of heaven’s citizens who were “in the know”, seeing how the best of human effort compared to the majestic and awesome mansions of heaven.

Yet, when the angels came and announced the birth of Jesus to shepherds who “tended their flocks by night” (Luke 2:8), they did not laugh. They sang. Their eyes were not drawn to what tends to draw our eyes. Whether baby Jesus was born in a stable or in the house of Herod the Great or even Caesar Augustus was of no consequence to them. It was enough that He entered the world.

No… His coming to earth in a stable stall was about cutting through human frivolity and getting straight to the matter of connecting the mercy of God to the need of ALL humanity. Unthinkable in any typically worldly sense is the goodness of God. It isn’t just for the “rich”… it isn’t just for the “religious”… it is for anyone who turns in truth from his or her own waywardness, seeks the incomprehensible forgiveness of God, and embraces God’s will for trusting and holy faithfulness in our lives.

“Born in a stable
    So that all might be able
       To receive His amazing love!

And slain on a tree
   So that we also might be
       Given hope of heaven above!”

“And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.  And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear.  And the angel said to them, ‘Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all the people.  For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, Who is Christ the Lord.  And this will be a sign for you: you will find a Baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.’  And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom He is pleased!’  When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.’  And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Baby lying in a manger.  And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this Child.  And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them.   But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.  And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them” (Luke 2:8-20 ESV).

Allow the message of Christmas to pierce the night of your own soul and bring the dawn of God’s grace into your life. Seek the Savior Who came and died so that all men and women everywhere – including you – who will turn to Him in faith might be forgiven and released from the bondage of sin and given the gift of eternity.

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

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Yes, it is Christmas time and the dangers of entering into a crowded department store are grave and nearly certain. Such perils include (but obviously aren’t limited to) getting swept into streams of mindless bargain hunting or getting stampeded by folks on their way to grab fifty percent off mail-in-rebates. This isn’t counting the very act of parking itself as twenty cars race NASCAR style for the one available spot that’s closer than the next zip code.

Still, my family and I decided to venture a daring mission to get a gallon of milk, a gallon of orange juice, a carton of eggs, and two frozen pizzas while picking up some over the counter medicine for one of our children. After we had developed our plan of attack, I dropped off my wife and children and then proceeded to search for the fabled available parking space (which I thought surely was only a myth).

My first objective was successfully realized (eventually) and I quickly went inside to find my family at the place we had agreed on. After I found them, we implemented the next phase of the plan (to divide and conquer our list)… while she looked for the medicine (and talked to the pharmacist regarding certain questions we had about it), I and one of our sons commandeered a shopping cart and headed off into the wild lands of the grocery section. We made good time, got our milk, orange juice, eggs, and pizzas; then we headed back to the pharmacy section looking to be reunited with our beloved family members.

When we arrived, we were dismayed to find that they were… unfindable. Hmm. I knew that we hadn’t passed them by (I was allowing for that contingency by carefully scanning the faces of all the people we passed). Maybe, my son agreed, the others had gone looking for us but taken a different route to the sections we had been in previously. So… we turned around and backtracked to the dairy section. When we got there, they were still nowhere to be seen, so we advanced again more slowly to the front, deciding to just wait there… hoping that eventually they would come to the front.

As we neared the front of the store, my son and I met a lady with whom I had worked for awhile at the university. We greeted one another and I commented that we were looking for the rest of our family. She laughed and responded with, “Is everyone lost but the two of you?”

I nodded my head solemnly, took my leave of my friend, and continued on my way to the front of the store, my son patiently plodding along beside me. Just as we arrived, I spied in the distance my wife and three other children slowly advancing to our position where we were joyfully reunited. We then proceeded to checkout and had a happy conclusion to the evening’s endeavors.

Meanwhile, the interesting comment that my former co-worker had made lingered in my mind, “Everyone’s lost but you.” Yes, I thought, it’s possible to be very lost, and yet not know it. As far as the Christmas story goes, the book of Matthew in the Bible records a very poor, wretched “king” who was tragically lost and yet could not see the hope of grace even when it stood in front of him.

“Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, ‘Where is He Who has been born king of the Jews?  For we saw His star when it rose and have come to worship Him.’  When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him” (Matthew 2:1-3 ESV).

Being disturbed, of course, means being unsettled. Folks usually don’t like the feeling of being unsettled because it means being thrust from that which is comfortable. It also means that whatever illusions of safety and security that they may have are in danger of being dispelled. Herod and his friends were disturbed because the tall shadow of a king worthy of worship was being cast over their petty rule. Too bad for Herod that he missed the opportunity of grace that had been extended to him.

See, being “disturbed” isn’t always a bad thing. It can rouse us to our need or the needs of others and cause us to mobilize our energies and resources to things that require action. Herod had enough “faith”, so to speak, in spiritual things to take the Word of God seriously (via the report of the chief priests and teachers of the Law in verses 4-6), yet he registers no real faith at all in the God Who spoke those Words. So enamored is he with his own supposed greatness and so accustomed is he with “eliminating threats” that instead of genuinely seeking out the Lord so that he could worship Him in spirit and in truth (see John 4:23-24), he merely feigns submission so that he may sabotage God’s plan and murder the little King of kings.

But for all his guile, strength, and (imagined) glory, Herod’s efforts prove fruitless and the plan of God marches on, undeterred and unhindered by man’s pride and self-will. Even though Herod may have been thinking in his heart, “Everyone’s lost but me; I know where I am and am happy with what I am,” he was lost. And for all the shock value that news of the newborn King inflicted upon him, he would not allow the Prince of Peace to heal his disturbed and diseased heart, seeking only to restore the small and petty happinesses that he thought that he had secured for himself.

This is a good time of year to allow those things that we find “disturbing” to have the effect of aiming us to Jesus Christ. Instead of ignoring the Word of God, writing off the accountability prescribed by it and shrugging off the promises of love and peace proclaimed by it, we must each subject ourselves to it. The central theme of the Christmas story is that Holy God sent His Son, His Love encased in human flesh, to earth in order to disturb us, shaking us free from the bondage of sin and death… a feat only made possible in the life, death, and resurrection of this amazing King Who once lay in a pile of hay in a crude stable. Of course, any time is a good time of year to respond to the grace of God. As the Lord shakes you, striving to awaken you from spiritual sleep, and you find yourself “disturbed”, remember that it may be that God is loving you into being “found”. If so, let the light of His love lead you to this King so that you too may worship Him.

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

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I frequently make the observation that a sovereign God, Who personally interacts with humanity and involves Himself in the affairs of His creation, will in no way be hesitant about intruding into your life. If we can for a moment pry ourselves out of a mindset of self-centeredness, God’s freely summoning us from our own agendas to attend to His instead makes complete sense.

Sometimes we have some room to determine whether or not we will accept such interruptions or reject them. Sometimes, however, His interruptions are thrust upon us and we’ve only room to decide if we shall embrace them or resent them, required to walk on difficult paths and suffer troubling circumstances no matter what we might have chosen for ourselves.

Of course the Scriptures are replete with examples of this pattern. Abraham, Moses, Jonah, Job, Matthew, John, Peter, Paul, and dozens of others, all personally experienced an unexpected encounter with the Living God Who didn’t mind crowding out their finite plans and ambitions with His own amazing agenda. It was a good thing that He did, too, for each of them. Whatever things they may have thought that they wanted or might have hoped for were as petty and small in comparison with God’s plans as are driveway gravels with a treasure chest full of baseball sized diamonds.

Mary, the mother of Jesus, for example, found her own life thrown into such an upheaval that it would have been very much the human thing to do to despair.

“In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary.  And he came to her and said, ‘Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!’  But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be.   And the angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.  And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call His name Jesus.   He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High.  And the Lord God will give to Him the throne of His father David, and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.’  And Mary said to the angel, ‘How will this be, since I am a virgin?’  And the angel answered her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the Child to be born will be called holy – the Son of God….  For nothing will be impossible with God.’  And Mary said, ‘Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.’ And the angel departed from her” (Luke 1:26-35, 37-38 ESV).

If you’ll look carefully, you’ll not see God playing a tape from the Mission Impossible television series, “Your mission, should you choose to accept it…” in spite of the fact that Mary was being irresistibly pulled into an “impossible mission.” First of all, the Lord was moving in her life in a way that did not require her “help” to be achieved. The Scriptures say that Mary was a virgin, for instance. I believe them. I have met some folks who have trouble believing it but it seems to me that disbelieving this is a sign of jaded cynicism within us, fostered perhaps by a world of disappointments and lies.

But I have to say that the miraculous conception of Jesus is much more in keeping with the entirety of the Bible and in character with God Himself than would be any attempts the world may make in trying to “de-mystify” the Virgin Birth. The gray matter in our heads has been coached and coaxed to always try to deconstruct Biblical reports of God’s supernatural workings in the world. Thus, when reading the Bible about Jesus being conceived without the physical involvement of an earthly father, our “eyes of flesh” begin to read between the lines. We think, “Yeah, right. She got pregnant and was trying to cover her tracks.” This was, sadly, the very idea that was entertained by Mary’s peers and even briefly by her betrothed husband.

Now, to choose to disbelieve in the Virgin Birth just because it seems impossible is a dangerous game. The implication is that you’re not convinced that the “power of the Most High” is real… or worse, that God is detached from His creation and effectually powerless to work in our world or intervene in our lives. And if we were to choose to believe something like that, it would then naturally follow that whole Scripture story is untrue… or that enough of it was untrue so as to make the whole thing unreliable.

But that isn’t why one should believe in the Virgin Birth if he’s not inclined to implicitly trust the Bible anyway. Consider this… Jesus’ coming into the world and His mission had one specific aim… that of laying down His life for ours so that our sin could be forgiven justly. But if Jesus had been born naturally with an earthly father as has been every other living person on planet earth (save Adam), then how could His sacrificial death work for anyone but Himself given that we are all heirs of and participants in a corrupted human nature? Also, if He had had an earthly father, how could He be called the Son of God?

Oddly enough, this is exactly the sort of detail to which God pays attention. For all these very important issues to be resolved, there was only one solution. The Lord would do what seems to human logic to be an impossible feat: He would cause a virgin girl whose heart was tender to His calling conceive a baby in whom the contamination of our sinful selfishness had not entered. Remember that God is not nor has ever been restricted by human logic nor has He ever been worried about conventional wisdom. Simply put, God is jealous of His glory and in working out such a great salvation for humanity, was going to make absolutely sure that these “little things” that you and I in our practicality would never have worried about much. Given then the assumption that God always works to perfectly reveal His glory and also that His limitless power can accomplish anything He chooses, I therefore find it much more reasonable to agree with the Bible’s claim that Mary was a virgin when Jesus was conceived.

Now, back to the original point. How do YOU respond to God’s interruptions in your life? What will you do right now with the knowledge that God desires to work personally in your circumstances? Will you challenge it? Will you turn your eyes away and spurn His invitation to experience His power and grace in your life? Will you choose to trust God with your circumstances and believe that He seeks to use them to draw you closer to Himself? Will you surrender your will, pride, and desires to Him so that He can produce a legacy that will help others also to know Him personally and experience His love at work in their own lives?

May it be so. May you yield your life to Him and trust His goodness. May you come to Him and know from first hand experience the blessings of the Most High. “Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord” (Luke 1:45 ESV).

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

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Christmas Eve has come at last. Children everywhere hold their breath, their hearts pumping and their eyes shining as they wait for all the glory of Christmas morning to be unveiled!

In an instant, presents under the tree will be seized and their wrappings and trappings shredded. In an instant, all those things hidden beneath will be revealed for what they are, received and enjoyed inasmuch as they are desirable to their recipients.

Childhood is the learning-lab for most of what we come to expect in our spiritual lives. Oh, that we would wait as eagerly for the unwrapping of all the gifts of God’s love in our everyday living! The work of Jesus on the Cross opened up to us all the riches of heaven, clearing the way for an overabundance of God’s blessings in everyday life!

“How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called the children of God! And that is what we are!” (1 John 3:1a).

Be ready then to receive the good things of God… namely, forgiveness of sin as we repent and turn in faith to Christ Jesus; peace as we cease to fret and fume over our troubles and circumstances; joy as we celebrate new life and open access to the Father through Jesus Christ; and hope as we believe that our God, Who is forever faithful and true, is ruling all things in Creation to their appointed end according to His ultimate will.

“…Be encouraged in heA Christmas Eve Reflectionart and united in love so that you may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that you may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in Whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (from Colossians 2:2-3).

Are you rich? Indeed you are if you have placed your faith for salvation in Christ. It may seem that so many of the gifts of God in your life are still wrapped and under the tree (so to speak) but in His time He’ll have you unwrap them as He reveals in new ways His love, protection and providence for your life.

Ultimately, when He calls His children home, those who’ve placed their faith in Christ will have a great “unwrapping”… “Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when He appears, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. Everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure” (1 John 3:2-3).

This Christmas season, as you busily unwrap or watch others unwrap their Christmas gifts, carefully and with wonder “unwrap” the gift of each new day by trusting that there is a gift of great value within it for you from God.

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

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