Archive for January, 2013

I was recently given the privilege of being privy to a conversation being held by a trio of ladies who were comparing notes on how the turbulence of the current economic situation was affecting them.

I appreciate both the candor with which they spoke as well as their not objecting to my listening (which was the only role that I had in the discussion). I was struck at the outset by the similarities of their various situations with dozens of others I have met in the past few months.

It is doubtful that anyone could disagree with the perspective that these are hard times indeed for a lot of people. Without betraying any details as to the specific situations that were mentioned (although, as I said, it seems that many folks are experiencing similar circumstances), I heard them share with each other some very important nuggets of wisdom that the Spirit of God has impressed upon them. I just hope that more of God’s people will hear and apply these suggestions which are more than mere “helpful hints”.

The first nugget of wisdom to be unearthed was their simple acknowledgement of the presence of God in their situations. I don’t recall that it was said that way exactly, but it was there framing their talk. The pondering of what God was up to, the wondering what He would do next, and how through their circumstances, they and their families were learning about Him, His love, and His will for their lives.

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice!… The Lord is at hand” (Philippians 4:4, 5b ESV).

Life's hardships can be fertile learning opportunities!

Life’s hardships can be fertile learning opportunities!

A lot of folks, when sifting the ashes of broken dreams through their fingers, conclude that God simply is nowhere to be found. But the fact is, “the Lord is near.”

The second thing that these ladies seemed to glean from their difficulties is a humbleness of heart that allows them to be “teachable”. Their circumstances are not optimal, but loss in their lives has given them an ability to appreciate things to which they might not have paid any attention before.

Not only that, but another related nugget was discovered: the realization that God is actively involved in their lives, steering them through competing sea currents of what appear to be countless randomly occurring circumstances. These turn out actually to be the divine hand of God at work accomplishing an infinitely perfect will for their lives.

Maybe because what they thought that they wanted in life is no longer unfolding for them, and perhaps because what they thought they had is taken away, their hearts and wills are broken free from things that might otherwise restrain them from experiencing God’s blessings He holds in store for them. But now, not knowing how their situations will turn out, and not knowing how they are going to make it, they have learned to trust and depend on the God Who had not only made them, but provided His own Son as Savior.

“Do not be anxious about anything…” Philippians 4:6a ESV).

As a result, the next bit of wisdom (and a profound one at that) came to the surface, that of the necessity of prayer. Prayer is the breath of the Believer, the lifeline that daily links us to Him as we root ourselves in His Word. They shared about their struggles in prayer, and how God unexpectedly responds to them.

“…But in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to” (Philippians 4:6b ESV).

It seems that they are learning in their experiences that prayer is something more than a mere religious exercise. It is both a wells-spring of comfort from friendship with the Father, as well as a practical method of engaging our circumstances. In other words, prayer DOES make a difference in the physical universe, not because of the strength of our prayers, but because of the strength of the One to Whom our prayers are directed!

And don’t be too proud to share with trusted Christian brothers and sisters the weight of your worry and woe. In fact, this is a matter of faith in which we demonstrate whether or not we really believe that God is truly the One Who answers prayer. Besides, what is going on in your life is very possibly a “display window” for God’s faithfulness and mercy to be demonstrated. By trying to keep it “personal” (just between you and the Lord), you’re very possibly trying to keep the lid on God Himself.

A few other thoughts seemed to come from their talk that we would do well to consider. One was that when we pray and God answers, be prepared for Him to answer in a way that we do not expect. We need not worry that when we pray it’s like talking to a treacherous genie in a bottle who wants to twist our words around and ensnare us with our own faulty semantics. The Lord may choose to specifically answer our prayers, but He also reserves the right to choose to answer our prayers according to His wisdom. This may mean our not getting exactly what we asked for or that we “settle” for something other than what we thought we wanted or even that we wait far longer than we had dreamed possible. But He knows what we need better than we do (see Matthew 6:32).

“The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7 ESV).

And another word that these three shared was to be careful to not let frustration fester in one’s heart until it becomes bitterness. Instead, they talked about dwelling on the goodness of God which overarches our temporary problems. “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me – practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you” (Philippians 4:8-9 ESV).

Finally, they talked about directing their heartaches and disappointments towards constructive pastimes (like actively ministering to others in need).

“It is good to share in the trouble of others…. God is looking for what may be credited to our accounts… Our gifts (material or acts of service) are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice pleasing to God” (from Philippians 4:14, 17b, 18b).

Rest assured that as we surrender ourselves to the will and love of God, our circumstances, burdens, problems, or lack of wherewithal mean very little after all. Why?

Because, “my God will supply every need of yours according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19 ESV).

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

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Every Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Americans all over this nation pause and reflect on the life and message of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The subjects of equality and justice are on our minds as we rehearse the message and mission of this great American. It is this noble charge that we as Americans, regardless of our color, have been given for our fellow Americans, regardless of color.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr

Let us not forsake the high and holy calling of brotherhood with others who are His children, whatever their skin color, gender or nationality.

Let us be careful, however, to not fall short of the aim of such noble virtues as equality and justice. Dr. King’s dream wasn’t merely that equal access to America’s storehouse of opportunities be opened up to all its citizens. No indeed. Such equal access was (and is) representative of something much more profound and beautiful… that equality is only truly meaningful when it underscores God’s aim for unity and brotherhood for all His people.

On August 28, 1963, Dr. King spoke words that still hold enormous power for us, “I have a dream that one day… the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slaveowners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood…. I have a dream that one day… little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls and walk together as sisters and brothers.”

“…As sisters and brothers.” And such does God intend.

Sadly, human nature generally runs contrary to the designs of its creator as self-will sets itself against the divine. Even in the church, when we forget who we are as brothers and sisters of the household of God, and we begin to war with one another (whether over racial differences or even over the splitting-of-hairs so celebrated by many of us), we have chosen a way that is set against the way of God. Frankly, this is an area in which Christians in America are famished for renewal for in 1 John 2:9 it is written that, “Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness.”

But it is good to know that, in the face of a world that likes to war with itself, the purposes of God remain and His provision refuses to be depleted. If we will surrender our prejudices and pride to Him, He will make a way for our fellowship with Him to be infinitely sweetened and deepened by the unfettered fellowship that we can have with one another.

See, God has a dream, too. His dream is that His people would “love one another. As He has loved us, so we must love one another. By this all men will know that we are His disciples, if we love one another” (from John 13:34-35). I have no doubt that this is why Jesus prayed in His last great intercessory prayer before His crucifixion, “… I pray also for those who will believe in Me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as You are in Me and I am in You. May they also be in Us so that the world may believe that You have sent Me. I have given them the glory that You gave Me, that they may be one as We are one: I in them and You in Me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that You sent Me and have loved them even as You have loved Me” (John 17:20-23).

Although there is so much that is not right with the world, let us not turn our backs on the pursuit of equality and justice, especially when God’s aim continues to be unity among His people. Let us not forsake the high and holy calling of brotherhood with others who are His children, whatever their skin color, gender or nationality. May “the peace of Christ rule in our hearts, since as members of one body we were called to peace” (from Colossians 3:15) for we know that “there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Galatians 3:28).

May the spirit of fellowship and unity that His Spirit washes upon us, open your heart and mind to the joy of true brotherhood that Christ brings to His people.

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

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Receiving a personal letter from an old friend is always a treat for me. And, of course, the closer the friendship, the greater the significance of the letter and the deeper its reach into my heart. Much of the delight is no doubt the offspring of the knowledge that someone special to me was thinking especially of me. And some of it comes perhaps from simply having an opportunity to reconnect with that old friend, celebrating our companionship and the building of memories in former days, not to mention the sharing of our victories and disappointments in the present, as well as our hopes and fears for the future.

If such earthly letters can bring pause to a human heart, injecting into it much needed joy and encouragement, then how much more can a man or woman of God find an abundance of delight in the love letters of the Lord?

His Scriptures wonderfully declare the affection that God has for you and for me, clearly and passionately unveiling His tenderness, love, and jealousy for His people’s hearts. And if our sometimes small and careless exchanges of affection are nothing more than “sweet nothings”, the Words of God are “sweet everythings”, recording for us His love and faithfulness through what He gave up just so that we can be with Him forever.

“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in Me.  In My Father’s house are many rooms.  If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to Myself, that where I am you may be also” (John 14:1-3 ESV).

What story does your life tell? What kind of “love letter” from the Lord is your character, your courage, and your compassion?

What story does your life tell? What kind of “love letter” from the Lord is your character, your courage, and your compassion?

I thank God for the “letters” that He sends to me everyday as we visit each other in the reading of His Word. I thank Him also for the “letters” that He sends out into the world, appealing to those who have not yet given to Him their hearts. Christians (men, women, and children who have turned from sin and self and through faith in Him have received Jesus) become such “letters” as they choose to give God room to lead them. They truly become “handwritten notes”, signed with the signature of God Himself as He reveals His goodness through them. “… You are a letter from Christ… written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts” (2 Corinthians 3:3 ESV).

Just think! Through your life, God Himself can send messages of love, affirmation, hope, and peace. His promises from His Word can reach the people of the world as you permit yourself to be led and shaped by them! The best sermon that anyone could preach then is not merely spoken by the mouth but is articulated through everyday living. The little choices that we make, the little attitudes that we adopt or tolerate within ourselves, and the little deeds that we do to give God glory, all suddenly have a great deal of power and importance and aid us in those things that we don’t consider “little” but deem as significant or meaningful. They tell the story of how God is so important to us that we would desire for Him to exert His lordship over ALL facets of our lives.

In the same way, the best articles that are written are not written with pen from ink but in our learning to deny self and to instead identify with Christ as we make our number one priority the exaltation of Jesus in all that we say, all that we do, and all that we are. The page of every day of our lives has the potential for telling anew the good news that only can be found in the incredible and beautiful story of Jesus’ love, His death and resurrection being the only answer to life’s problems and the world’s woes.

“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.  And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.  For this comes from the Lord Who is the Spirit.  Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart….  In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, Who is the image of God.  For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.  For God, Who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 3:17-18, 4:1, 4-6 ESV).

What story does your life tell? What kind of “love letter” from the Lord is your character, your courage, and your compassion? Will you choose to respond to God’s love with trusting obedience and compassion towards those who have never personally entered into His loving mercy? How will Who God is affect how you live your life this day? May it be a day of new beginnings as you seek to decrease that He may increase through you (see John 3:30).

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

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Today when folks can only strive
          To just get through and stay alive,
When gloom and doom are all the norm,
          And hearts are cold that once were warm,
The embers of all Christian hearts,
          Though cooling off, may find new starts.
The hopes we have, like living trees,
          Reach up, adorned with dreams like leaves;
We stroll along beneath the shade
          Of plans that our hearts have made.
But scorching winds, then icy hail,
          Of life’s troubles, come like a gale,
And level hopes and rip apart
          Those dreams we keep close to our heart.
What can we do?  What can we say
          When such troubles shroud our way?
Is light by darkness overcome?
          And will we find that hate has won?
Is there no God Who hears the plea
          Of tortured souls in agony? 
But truly there is waiting yet,
          For those whose eyes on God are set,
A better land, a greener green,
          Than any that our eyes have seen. 
Such troubled times just seed the ground
          With greater glories only found
In plowed up fields of broken lives
          Where silver tears may fill men’s eyes. 
A golden joy waits just ahead
          Though our hope seems all but dead.
To blazing fire our God will fan
          Trusting heart of a faithful man.
Hold on, dear one.  Just wait and see,
          What joys He has reserved for thee.
Stay the course and trust the One
          Who for you has sent His Son.

 Copyright © Thom Mollohan

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One of the most profound assurances that we have as Christians today is the fact of God’s help in living the Christian life. On the one hand, we as creations of God are commanded to walk in God’s ways. “You shall be careful therefore to do as the LORD your God has commanded you. You shall not turn aside to the right hand or to the left.  You shall walk in all the way that the LORD your God has commanded you, that you may live, and that it may go well with you…” (Deuteronomy 5:32-33a ESV).

On the other, once we’ve placed our faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior and allowed His sacrifice on the cross of Calvary to atone for our sins, we are declared to be the children of God (see John 1:12-13). And as children of God, we are given the very resource we need (in fact, the ONLY resource) to give us victory in the holy commandment to walk in all His ways – that is to say, to live righteously.

The provision that He promises us is the Person of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit of God is the ongoing expression of God’s presence and power to the world as He continually works in the midst of the world, representing the holy authority of the Father/Creator as well as the incredible atonement provided us by the work of the Son’s substitutionary death and glorious resurrection. And, by the way, I am greatly offended that the significance of the word “atonement” is smeared by a movie with the same name. I lament that our culture has so far disconnected itself from the life-saving power of Jesus’ atonement for us that we can trivially attach it to a movie filled with the confusion that our morally bankrupt society constantly generates.

At any rate, we need to recognize that, yes, we are all called to live holy lives. But also that God has made a way for us to live it, lest anyone think that God has called us to something that is impossible and that He is, therefore, unfair.

Both salvation itself and the spiritual life that follows after require a divine strength that is not native to us. Consider the account of Jesus walking on the water in Matthew 14:22-33. The disciples, Jesus’ closest friends and associates during His earthly ministry, were sailing to the place that Jesus had sent them. While they were on the way, winds stirred up the water into strong waves that beat against their boat. Then Jesus was spotted… walking towards them on the surface of the water. Afraid that some sort of haunting was taking place, they began to cry out until the reassuring voice of the Savior calmed their terror.

And then, wonder of wonder, Peter’s heart was stirred up like the waters around them. When he asked Jesus to call him out onto the water also, the Lord invited him to join Him. Peter took incredible steps of faith, not satisfied with the mediocrity of religion but hungering for a higher life… a life of relationship with the holy Son of God.

Most Christians fall into two categories: the majority of these are like the disciples that remained in the boat, glad that their Lord is Jesus and content that He is in charge (just as long as they can stay in the boat). But some step out of the boat. Some want more and know that, since Jesus is the only One Who can provide that “more”, they have to get out of the routine of religion and go somehow into circumstances with which they’re not comfortable because that’s where Jesus is: comforting and healing, helping and saving.

But for every Christian who dares to really “step out”, there is also the windy-blown sea wave of trouble, grief, or temptation that distracts the eye from the Savior’s face.

Don’t be afraid of sinking. Instead, count on it! Because when we finally find ourselves sinking, we also may count on the hand of our Lord reaching out and catching us!

Don’t be afraid of sinking. Instead, count on it! Because when we finally find ourselves sinking, we also may count on the hand of our Lord reaching out and catching us!

For that is, of course, what happened to Peter. The Gospel of Matthew records that although Peter victoriously walked on the water once he courageously stepped out of his boat, he began to be afraid once he started to look at the tempest about him. And having once begun to look at those circumstances, he began to sink.

And here’s the point. We all sink at some point because at some point our eyes deviate from the countenance of the Savior and we are overcome. So don’t be too hard on poor Peter. Jesus alone has the right to lament our human weakness, “You of little faith. Why did you doubt?” (from Matthew 14:31). At least Peter got out of the boat, and most of us have yet to do so for fear that we too may sink.

But take heart! Don’t be afraid of sinking. Instead, count on it! Because when we finally find ourselves sinking, we also may count on the hand of our Lord reaching out and catching us!

“But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, ‘Lord, save me.’  Jesus immediately reached out His hand and took hold of him…” (Matthew 14:30-31a ESV).

Most people who don’t step out in serving God for fear that they won’t be able to “cut the mustard” are not really making a statement about themselves, but indicate instead a lack of faith in God’s ability to handle us in our weakness. If you are “holding back” in serving God because you’re saying things like, “I am not capable of doing that, Lord” or “I’m not going to try because I’m afraid I’ll fail”, then you’re saying that God really doesn’t know what He’s doing (remember that Moses tried that line of reasoning in Exodus chapter 4).

“… The Spirit helps us in our weakness” (Romans 8:26a). “The Holy Spirit convicts the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment…. The Spirit of Truth will guide you into all truth… and will take what is Mine and make it known to you” (from John 16:8, 13, 14).

Step out onto the water and find that the Lord’s hand is strong and ready enough to catch you in your time of “sinking”.

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

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As they took their blades and cut the gnarled wood of the thorny acacia tree (also called “shittim wood”, see Exodus 25:10-22 and Exodus 37:1-9), the men who had gone out into the desert in the cool of the early morning sighed in relief.

Their search for wood that was usable was a long and arduous one. They had already spent days searching for acacia bushes with wood that was sufficient for their need. Bezalel, the craftsman that God had instructed Moses to appoint as the artisan in charge (see Exodus 31:1-11), seemed impossible to satisfy. At times, he and his assistant, Oholiab, could hear the workmen grumbling. Bezalel would shake his head, bemused by their impatience, but was adamant that the wood that they needed had to be just right: strong, yet flexible enough to yield to his hand as he worked with it; mature enough to actually be large enough to use, yet free of blemish and corruption.

“I think that we are like the acacia bush. Our God could have chosen any other ‘tree’ in the world, yet he chose one with thorns and obstinate branches. Though our thorns prick the flesh of His mercy and His compassion bleeds sorrow as we strive against Him, He forbears our waywardness.”

“I think that we are like the acacia bush. Our God could have chosen any other ‘tree’ in the world, yet he chose one with thorns and obstinate branches. Though our thorns prick the flesh of His mercy and His compassion bleeds sorrow as we strive against Him, He forbears our waywardness.”

The reason, of course, that it was so difficult to find what he was looking for was that this was the Sinai Desert. The only wood that could grow here was the acacia bush and it was dead more often than not from the terrible thirst that lay upon the land even in the wadis (rain gulleys) that offered the barest of shelter from the sun’s blazing rays. Someone had suggested sarcastically that if they needed wood so badly, it might be easier to return to Egypt and get the wood there from the Nile River valley.

Bezalel was glad that Moses had not heard that comment. After the golden calf incident and the tragic events that followed (see Exodus 32), Moses’ heart seemed already to have been nearly broken. No, Bezalel knew what he was doing. Besides, Bezalel reminded them, whatever they used had to be harvested and given freely by those whose hearts were in it (from Exodus 25:2). And after they had searched carefully, taking their time so that their offering would be pleasing to the God who had delivered them from their slavery in Egypt, they found just what they were looking for.

After they had scrutinized the wood that they were going to use for the assignments that God had given them, some of the assistants simply shook their heads. “Perhaps,” said one who had good intentions, “it would have be better to use cedar or oak… almost any other kind of wood would be easier to use. We could trade for it with the Edomites, our brothers.”

“No,” replied Bezalel, “the Lord told Moses that we were to use acacia.” And then he smiled. He realized that he perhaps didn’t know all the reasons that acacia was chosen by the Lord, but he knew that the acacia bush could teach them much.

As they began to craft the wood, they painstakingly stripped the coarse and thorny bark from the acacia limbs. Bezalel and Oholiab scratched their arms and cut their hands so much that their hands seemed always to be bleeding. Sometimes the wood would prove unwilling to comply and so would splinter and crack. At other times they discovered hidden blemishes that compromised the wood’s integrity. But in the end, they were able to craft the wood into the necessary shapes and piece them together until they had completed the chest that God had told them He desired. The ugly, stubborn acacia wood was transformed into a new thing. When they then began to overlay the wood with gold, Bezalel’s assistants began to get excited. He and Oholiab smiled at their enthusiasm, and reminded them what it had cost them to accomplish the job as they held up their scarred hands.

Finally, the chest was complete and the lid, with two beautiful figures ornamenting its surface, was placed atop it. There was an ominous feeling that they were in the presence of the holy, and they were overcome with awe and felt so profoundly humbled that the Holy One had used them and their talents for His glory. “Indeed,” said Bezalel, “it was for this reason that we have been given such talent.” His assistants gazed at the Ark of the Covenant and gave praise to God.

Bezalel then remarked to the men standing around him, “I think that we are like the acacia bush. Our God could have chosen any other ‘tree’ in the world, yet he chose one with thorns and obstinate branches. Though our thorns prick the flesh of His mercy and His compassion bleeds sorrow as we strive against Him, He forbears our waywardness.”

Oholiab, moved to tears, answered, “Yes, He has brought us out of the dry places of sin and given us new life and new purpose that we could never have known had He allowed us to remain in the arid places of our bondage to Egypt… and, more importantly, our bondage to our own selfish ways.”

“Ah, and see what else He has done,” smiled Bezalel. “He has covered us with the glory of His love and presence. Like the gold on the acacia wood, the Lord’s divine calling overlays our people with a beauty that is not native to us.” The men gathered around him could only agree. Bezalel led them in a song of thanksgiving and then led them into the next project that the Lord had given them.

“Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God.  But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin….  Now may the God of peace Who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great Shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do His will, working in us that which is pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to Whom be glory forever and ever.  Amen.” (Hebrews 3:12-13, 13:20-21 ESV).

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

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