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(Part Three: adapted from Exodus 4:1-18)

Although caught inextricably between terror and adoration, Moses yet found within himself holdouts of doubt and self-reproach that refused to completely surrender to God’s invitation to join Him in delivering His people from their Egyptian slave masters. He remained rooted to the same spot on which this curious conversation began, completely oblivious to anything but the flames within the bush which continued to leap up but still did not damage leaf or twig. There was a moment of quiet as if the Lord were giving him opportunity to voice his fears.

“But,” Moses finally said, “what if they don’t believe me? What if they won’t listen to me? What if they think I made it all up and say, ‘The LORD didn’t really appear to you’? I’m not exactly a shining example of credibility.”

The Voice spoke, resonating not only in the air and settling in his ears, but also in the ground on which the man stood. As that amazing Voice again turned Its focus to him, Moses was once again struck by Its “other-worldliness”, shedding into Moses’ dark mind and heart a glow of holiness and glory.

“Moses,” said the Lord. “What is that in your hand?”

Moses glanced down at his hand and saw nothing particularly interesting. It was just a wooden staff, well worn from its years of use as a shepherd’s tool. “A staff,” he replied.

“Throw it on the ground,” God said, as the flames writhed in the branches of the bush. Moses only paused an instant as he wondered over this strange command. Why was God telling him to throw his stick to the ground? Why wasn’t God answering his question? Nevertheless, he raised his arm and cast to the ground the stout wooden staff that he’d been carrying for years.Encounter

The rod clattered to the ground, but even before it had come to a complete rest, it began to writhe and coil. Cold shivers ran up and down Moses’ spine and he began to step backwards, away from his staff. What had once been his staff lifted one of its sinuous ends and stared at him with cold, glittering eyes. It unrolled its coils and began to slither towards Moses as it spread its fanlike hood.

Moses backpedaled and instinctively ran to other side of the burning bush, his heart thumping like an earthquake in his chest.

The Voice of the Lord came to him again. “Moses, everything is all right. Reach out and take the serpent by the tail.”

“The tail?” Moses thought. “I can think of ways to pick up snakes and ways to not do it. This is one of the ways to NOT do it. I can’t see anything that will keep it from coiling up around my arm and biting me… more than once!” But the Lord’s voice prevailed and Moses cringingly found himself approaching its tail.

The viper attentively followed his movement, its head turning to face him, but otherwise didn’t react to his approach. Moses’ hand, beset with tremors of fear, reached slowly out. “Well, now or never,” he thought. His hand quickly grasped the snake by the tail, but instead of cold scales, his hand closed upon the familiar texture of the wood of his staff. He glanced towards the snake’s head and all he saw was the staff that he had always carried to care for his sheep.

“This is so that they may believe that the LORD, the God of their fathers – the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob – has appeared to you,” said the Lord. “In this same way, I will fill your life with My power and authority, Moses, and you will seize hold of the destiny that I have crafted for you. It’s time now for you to care for My sheep.”

Moses stood numbly staring at the staff in his hand. “I’m so unworthy,” he thought. “I’m a rebel and a murderer. I’m even a deserter. I can’t be the one to send.”

But once again, the Voice spoke and spoke even to the deepest torments afflicting Moses’ heart. “Put your hand inside your cloak, Moses.” The man slowly slid his hand beneath the layers of his cloak until it rested against his chest. An icy chill began to creep into his fingers and the skin of his hand tingled and then settled into a strange numbness. He became acutely aware that he could no longer feel the cloth of his cloak pressing against his hand. He drew it out with a start and gasped in horror: the skin on his hand had turned completely white, pale as corpse’s flesh. “Put your hand back in your cloak,” said the Lord to the trembling man. Moses complied and then withdrew it once more. This time it was normal… as if nothing had happened.

“Unworthy?” he mused. “My past had left me as dead as the flesh on my hand a moment ago. I was mottled and diseased with selfishness, impatience, and murderous thoughts. Can the Lord heal my heart also? Can He cleanse my soul like He did my hand?” The flames in the bush danced and Moses understood that God could indeed heal his heart and restore his soul.

“These miracles will signal for My people that I am with you, Moses,” said the Lord. “They will strengthen them so that they will listen to you. And if these two signs aren’t enough, don’t worry: I will even do greater things than these.”

Moses then voiced his last objection… the only thing he could think of that might still excuse his going back to Egypt. “O Lord,” he said. “I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you started speaking to me. I just don’t talk very well.”

The Voice of God spoke again, but there was a subtle change in Its tone, a sternness that unnerved Moses. “Who gave man his mouth? Who makes him deaf or mute? Who gives him sight or makes him blind? Is it not I, the LORD? Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say.”

A stubborn persistence welled up inside of Moses . “O Lord,” he mumbled. “Please send someone else to do it.”

With that, the fires in the bush whirled up and crackled angrily in the branches of the bush. “I have sent Aaron to meet you, Moses. I have prepared him to help you in this assignment that I’m giving you. I will help you both to speak and will teach you what you are to do.”

The Lord spoke with such insistence and majesty that Moses could simply refuse no longer… nor did he want to. After all those years of hungering for more than his marred past and lonely exile could promise him, God had met him in this unexpected encounter and changed the course of his life.

“Moses, take that staff in your hand and go. You’re going to be using it to demonstrate My power and My love to the world.” Moses walked away from the bush, but not away from God. As his feet carried him to the top of the hill, he marveled over his confidence in the Lord’s presence. As he crested the hill, he paused a moment. He took a deep breath and then stepped into destiny that God had waiting for him.

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

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(Part Two: adapted from Exodus 3:11-22)

Moses raised his head and peered at the blazing bush before him. With the impact of what he had just heard detonating all kinds of feelings of disbelief, terror, and good old-fashioned amazement, he simply couldn’t manage to find his own voice. The Voice of the Lord, however, had just pronounced an unexpected destiny for him and now there simply were no words to adequately capture the jumble of conflicting feelings and thoughts exploding within him.

Encounter“Ah… um,” he finally managed to murmur. “You mean, uh… me? I, uh, well, um, You know that I ran away… don’t You? And also, You know that I killed a man over there… right? I mean, I just figured that You of all people would have known about that…. And besides, who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt? They probably won’t even remember that I’m a Hebrew. They won’t just welcome me back, I’m sure. Between them and Pharaoh, who probably still has a bounty on my head, I could get killed!”

There was a stirring sound and the flames within the branches of the bush flickered brighter, swirling out towards him as if reaching to him. The Voice spoke again. “I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I Who have sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship Me on this mountain. When you have done all that I have in store for you to do, you will return here, along with your brothers and sisters, and you will all worship Me here.”

The implication of what the Voice was saying was not lost on the man who cowered before It. God had remembered His people. And He was now intervening in His creation’s mad race towards self-destruction once again and was, at the same time, reaching into Moses’ life. In this incredible encounter, God was announcing promises that would fulfill not only the ones uttered before for the people of Israel, but were personal and specific to Moses’ life as well. It was as if the Lord was squelching any suspicion that could possibly have arisen in Moses’ mind that God could ever forget His promises or forsake those who belong to Him. Not only was God sending him, He was also guaranteeing that Moses would survive, succeed, and then return to this very spot… the place that God had first spoken to him.

But as much as Moses’ heart leapt within him to the sound of God’s voice, little leeches of doubt clung to him and sapped his willpower. “But,” he pondered aloud, “suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is His name?’ Then what shall I tell them? I just can’t go to them and tell them that ‘What’s His Name” sent me, can I? I know that there’s nothing to the statues, stories, and kings that the Egyptians worship, but they have names for all the idols to which they bow. And as far as we go, our own eyes have been looking inward so long because of our own troubles, that we’ve really gotten out of touch with You. We don’t even remember what You’re like.”

Although the flames were continuing to glimmer patiently in the deep shade of night while Moses was speaking, they seemed to burn a bit brighter and more glorious. God spoke again, but this time with a majesty at which had never even been hinted before in Moses’ wildest imaginations. “I AM Who I AM,” said the Voice. “This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I AM has sent me to you.’”

A sense of overwhelming awe came crashing over Moses and he hid his face again. Infinite and immeasurable, the perfect and holy glory of God Almighty flickered through those few words.

Utterly beyond earthly reckoning, they described the essence of the One Who was and is absolutely sufficient within Himself. Ageless, timeless, and limitless in power, knowledge, and love, this amazing and living God was now speaking with him in the back hills of Midian. God Himself was reaching forth His fingers to continue a work that had been begun hundreds of years before when His same Voice called to a man named Abram to set out from the land of Haran to “go to a land that He would show him” (see Genesis 12:1).

“Moses,” the Lord continued, “Tell the Israelites, ‘I AM, the God of your fathers – the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob – has sent me to you.’ This is My name forever, the name by which I am to be remembered from generation to generation.”

Even as God spoke to him, Moses was struck by how different the Lord was from what peoples around the world thought and believed about the divine. The Lord was so perfect, with such incredible glory, amazing power, and unimaginable compassion! And such REALNESS! God wasn’t simply different from what other peoples in the world worshiped, He was more than even Moses and his people had ever imagined or hoped. The Lord wasn’t just a god for only the part of world from which Abraham had come; He was alive and well in Egypt, hearing His people cry out. He wasn’t just a god of Moses’ ancestors or merely the god of a nation of people, He was here in Midian too and had met Moses, declaring His lordship over even his broken life.

“Moses,” God said. “The king of Egypt will not let you go unless a mighty hand compels him. So I will stretch out My hand and I will do amazing things. Then he will let you go. And after all these years of their working as slaves for the Egyptians, I will even work in such a way that those who have oppressed My people will look favorably upon them and give them silver and gold. Even though they have been slaves, when they leave Egypt, they will not go empty-handed.”

Hope was now thoroughly awakened in Moses. “I can’t believe it,” he thought. “My people are finally going to find release. They’re about to wake up and see that the Lord has remembered them and has a special destiny for them!” But then, a nasty spark of doubt flared up in his mind again. “But why me?” he wondered. “Why do I have be the one? I don’t think I can do it.” But even as he thought these things, he sensed that the contents of his heart were already known to the One speaking to him.

To be continued…

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

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(Adapted from Exodus 3:1-10)

The afternoon and evening had nearly spent their allotment of daylight as Moses approached the base of Mount Horeb. He was already closer to the land of Egypt than he’d been in years and he found inside himself a strange and uncomfortable stirring as he drew nearer to where he had grown up. Having lived so long in the country of Midian, Moses had nearly forgotten his former life, but images of his past came unbidden to his mind and a troubled heaviness grew in his gut.

Though he had thought them as good as buried in the past, to his mind arose the images of the swirling desert sands, the cruel rays of the sun beating down, and the crack of a slave master’s whip as it cut open the flesh of a Hebrew slave. He remembered the rage that exploded within him as one of his own people fell to the ground too weak and weary to continue the grueling labor of crafting bricks for their Egyptian overlords. And he saw once again the back of the slave master to him… too easy a target to ignore, and too marked with guilt to pass by. He had thought that no one would know and that no one would see as he himself lashed out and struck the man down, killing him. He had hoped that no one would spy him burying the man’s body, covering the evidence of his loyalties with a blanket of sand.

But the incident had been seen. What he had thought was hidden was somehow known both to his own people and to the people who oppressed them. The Egyptian’s body, like Moses’ memories, proved too easily uncovered and the fact of his crime inescapable. And not only had it been seen, it was also reported, provoking Pharaoh to put a price on his head. Even the people, for whom he’d intervened, lashed out at his impulsiveness instead of rallying around him as a hero. So what choice did he have but to run away?

Forty years later, haunted and bound still by the brashness of that moment, he now tended sheep, spending each day in the effort of finding something green to feed his wooly charges in the parched vastness of the Sinai Desert.

As the glow of the evening sun finally faded and the shadows of night grew in length and breadth, a glimmer flickered over the crest of a small ridge nearby, giving it a red-gold aura.

Wondering if he had led his sheep into the path of other shepherds, he cautiously approached, slowly trudging his way up the incline until his eyes reached the summit of the hill and could see down into the small wadi (gulley) before him. It looked like a campfire… but he realized that it wasn’t; it was a bush ablaze with flame, its dry branches and leaves sighing as if a wind were passing through them. “How strange,” he thought. “It doesn’t look like it’s burning up.” His feet seemed to take on a life of their own and he found himself trudging down towards the bush, like a moth to a candle’s flame. As he drew closer to it a feeling of suspense began to grow inside him. Little did he know that he was about to have a watershed moment far more significant than his having murdered an Egyptian slave master.

As his eyes gazed intently into the flames roaring through the branches of the acacia bush in front of him, an emotion that was both awe and a sense of thrill ran through him and it seemed that he stood at the brink of something extraordinary. Encounter

And then… a Voice spoke. It spoke directly to him and somehow It even knew his name. “Moses!” It murmured. Moses was stunned. Where was the Speaker? In the flames? But how could that be? That was impossible! And Who was it that was speaking to him? “Moses!” the Voice repeated.

Moses finally found his voice and answered in a hoarse whisper, “Here I am.”

The flames in the branches of the bush did not abate, but only reached higher, licking the night sky with their brilliant inferno. Still the bush remained unsinged without even a faint scent of its burning reaching the terrified man’s nostrils. The Voice spoke again. “Do not come any closer. Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” Moses reached down hastily, and frantically tore off the thongs holding his sandals in place. He stepped out of his sandals and, with knocking knees, stood before the Voice. “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob,” said the Voice. As what the Voice had said began to sink into Moses’ mind, as well as recognition of just Who this was Who was speaking to him, he began to cower in fear and threw his face downward towards the ground, his arms shielding his eyes.

But even as he did so and the shock of this unthinkable encounter overloaded his mind, there was a tone of graciousness that resonated within its words. “I have seen the misery of My people in Egypt, Moses. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am burdened for their suffering,”

As the message infiltrated Moses’ mind, his heart stirred and leapt within him. His own heart’s burden, shouldered by God? Could He… did He really care? The man, kneeling in the dry and gritty dust, found moisture building in his eyes. A tear ran down his cheek.

“I have come to rescue them,” the Voice soothingly said. “I have come to bring them to a new land, a good and spacious land flowing with milk and honey.”

More tears trickled down Moses’ face as he listened to the words of deliverance spoken by the mouth of God Himself. God had remembered His people. God had heard them cry out in their hurt and had remembered His promises to their ancestor, Abraham. After all this time, God was going to deliver His people from their bondage. And not only was He going to save them, He was going to give them a new home and was going to take care of them. Moses could hardly believe his ears. He found that the trickle running down his cheeks had turned into a wellspring of joy and thanksgiving.

“Moses,” said the Voice. “It’s time to go. I’m sending YOU to bring my people up out of Egypt.” Moses choked and his head snapped up in amazement and horror. “Huh?!?” Surely he hadn’t heard right.

To be continued….

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

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One area in which it is evident that God is truly alive and well within the hearts of His people is in their attitude regarding the poor. Of course, it may be important to define what is meant by “poor”. For some, the word refers to diminished access to the wants and comforts that others enjoy. And while there is perhaps some room to debate the lack of fairness in a society where some can enjoy privileges that others do not, this is not really the idea captured in the Biblical usage of the word “poor”.

“Poor” in a Biblical context refers more implicitly to the condition of not having sufficient means or resources to survive. In that sense, the number of “poor” in the United States is relatively low compared to most of the populations around the world. This is not to say that the US does not have “poor” people, but there are perhaps a number of people in the US who regard themselves as “poor” who, compared to the average citizens in a typical undeveloped country, are blindingly rich. They have a roof over their heads, food in their refrigerators, and more than one change of clothes. Think of what a luxury a refrigerator is for most of the world’s people! But consider also that many of these “poor” additionally have a television, access to transportation, the opportunity to learn to read and write, and rudimentary health care services.

For the poor, there continues to be real need as well as real opportunity for the people of God to make a difference.

For the poor, there continues to be real need as well as real opportunity for the people of God to make a difference.

The truly “poor” among Americans are those who, for one reason or another, do not have access to such luxuries. For such as these there continues to be real need as well as real opportunity for the people of God to make a difference.

Should Christians be concerned? Should they somehow be mobilized to action with the attitudes of generosity and hospitality?  Should they be conveyers of compassion and hope for those who are desperately cold, hungry and without shelter no matter that CEOs file bankruptcy while flying in their private jets from one of their many mansions to their board meetings at posh resorts?

Yes, they should. For as important as church attendance, prayer, worship, and tithing might be, among them in importance is the reaching out to those who are truly poor.

“They seek me daily and delight to know my ways, as if they were a nation that did righteousness and did not forsake the judgment of their God; they ask of me righteous judgments; they delight to draw near to God. ‘Why have we fasted, and you see it not? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you take no knowledge of it?’ Behold, in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure, and oppress all your workers. Behold, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to hit with a wicked fist. Fasting like yours this day will not make your voice to be heard on high. Is such the fast that I choose, a day for a person to humble himself? Is it to bow down his head like a reed, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? Will you call this a fast, and a day acceptable to the LORD? Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh? (Isaiah 58:2-7 ESV).

It is not for a government to take on the burden of the poor (especially for a nation whose government is increasingly hostile to Biblical Christianity), but for the people of God to compassionately lead out in helping, sharing, and reaching the poor with not only resources but loving wisdom in the using of those resources.

The danger for Christians today in America is the perpetuation of apathy regarding the poor. Now that our government has made promises to undertake the cause of the poor and haphazardly executes laws that could arguably do more to promote poverty than alleviate it, the church is especially in danger of the temptation to relinquish its opportunity (and calling) to show the compassion of Jesus to those who are not only in physical need but in spiritual need as well.

And do not think for a moment that our government can do the job. If some can claim that “you can’t legislate morality,” I would most certainly argue that “you cannot legislate compassion.”  But even if the government’s aims were actually practical (the redistribution of wealth from the wealthy to the poor), such action will never have the spirit of compassion of Jesus behind it. The poor will be quietly relegated to the shadowy and quiet lines of administrative bureaucracy, coldly served and satiated. Never unearthed and never met will be those deeper hungers that lie beneath the surface of their cry for food cards, clothing vouchers, and free healthcare.

Watch out! Don’t be one who waits on the government to solve the problems of the poor! That job is for you and for me! Besides, what about needs that lie beyond the soil of the “sovereignty” of the United States? They are not beyond God’s reach. And if you belong to Him, then they are not beyond yours! Ministry to the “poor” has been and continues to be a hallmark of Christian ministry.

“For he (God) who worked through Peter for his apostolic ministry to the circumcised (Jews) worked also through me for mine to the Gentiles (non-Jews)… When James and Cephas (Peter) and John… perceived the grace that was given to me, they gave the right hand of fellowship to Barnabas and me, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised (Jews). Only, they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do” (Galatians 2:9-10 ESV).

Even as the Gospel has long since moved out from Jerusalem and the rest of Judea into the wider world, the admonition to “remember the poor” continues to be an essential component of genuine Christian faith. You and I can serve God by “remembering the poor” today. With God’s Spirit helping you, you can learn the joy of serving Him by helping those who suffer today from desperate need, in our towns, our county, our state and nation, and around the world.

 Copyright © Thom Mollohan

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One of the things I find truly remarkable about Jesus’ earthly ministry is the fact of His catalytic presence and the controversy that constantly followed. Everywhere He went, things were not only challenged, but were shaken to their foundations and changed. As He walked and talked, lives were met with an authority so absolute that those lives were never the same again. As He healed and appealed to the crowds that gathered around Him, complacency was stirred up to active response by His passionate zeal to usher men and women into the Father’s favor. Some accepted, by God’s grace. And some rejected, still by God’s grace in order that no one could claim that God coerced people into compliance.

A catalytic presence

Jesus’ life and death are still controversial to each of us today.

Rest assured that His presence continues to reap the same effect today. His Spirit moves in the lives of men and women and even children whispering in their ears, “Come, follow Me” (e.g., Mark 1:17) just as literally as did Jesus with lips of flesh prior to His lonely walk to the cross on which He would die.

His life and death, you realize, are still controversial to each of us. His life trumps our tendency to rationalize our condition. Through the testimony in His Word of His day-to-day living, we realize that there really is more to life than just “getting ahead”; more to the Lord than strict adherence to a moral code; and more to love than warm fuzzy feelings.

And His death? Well, it remains a grim reminder of the fact of our rebellion against God and the destiny that awaits us apart from His forgiveness and substitutionary sacrifice for us. It not only reveals that “certain something” about our hearts that we try desperately to hide from the world and from ourselves, but also clearly underscores our immense indebtedness to God should we avail ourselves of that sacrifice through faith.

Jesus died for you. Through faith in His death and resurrection, you may receive Him as Savior. But not Savior only. To receive Him as Savior, you must also submit to Him as Lord. But don’t be afraid. While the immensity of your indebtedness to Him would be unbearable (how could anyone “repay” Him for what He has done?), He shoulders that responsibility Himself by His own Spirit’s dwelling within us as we daily submit to His love and leading.

And as we do so, we find that His “catalytic presence” abiding in us is still challenging, shaking, and changing lives. Was this His plan all along? Naturally. Jesus Himself said, “”Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.…You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Luke 24:46-47 & Acts 1:8 ESV).

Of course, this message of which we are witnesses has a way of soliciting either of two responses. The first, obviously, is one of rejection. Perhaps in the form of out-and-out hostility. Perhaps a sneering condescension. Or maybe even an incessant attempt to postpone a personal response (which is still rejection) because of fear or a reluctance to “let go” of one’s own agenda.

But the second potential response is the sweet humbling of a person’s heart as he or she allows the strong arms of God to lift the weight of condemnation from his or her shoulders. It always has been and always will be one of life’s greatest experiences to see a human life come under the grace of God, transformed and set free from the weights of entangling selfishness and sin. And what is even more beautiful is the fruit of joy and peace that is harvested in a life as it abides under the Lord’s will for him or her.

It occurs to me, as my mind prayerfully considers Jesus’ invitation for us each to become genuine disciples, that there really isn’t any other option. Not because we are “being made” to follow Him, but because nothing else has the lasting appeal that knowing Him does.

Consider today what Jesus means to you. Does His love have practical meaning for the way you live your life? Does His presence come shining through you, influencing your decisions, attitudes, and priorities? If you’ve not yet received Him as Savior and Lord of your life, why not do so today and finally begin living the life for which you were created all along?

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

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I was just contemplating the gifts we give to one another as expressions of our love.  In our day and age, I can’t help but think that we might be prone to misunderstanding the point (and real blessing) of such gift giving.  Here are a couple of things to consider as you either give gifts to someone else or are the recipient of gifts. 

A gift of true love is never given to buy or win the affection of the beloved.  It is given as an expression of delight and devotion of the one who gives it.  If the gift is slighted or rejected, the giver may persist in his expressions of love, yet every effort turned away runs the risk of being the last for there is little joy in spurned affection. 

Conversely, a gift loved for itself, one that usurps the place of affection rightfully belonging to the giver, is misplaced and disgracefully received.  Nothing is more a display of contemptuous ingratitude as love for a gift over the giver. 

God does not give us blessings in order to win us over, but they’re given as sure signs that we are the “children of God” indeed.1  The blessing of being given gifts of God is not the gift itself (however wonderful and timely it may seem), but in the fact that the Holy Countenance of God Himself is turned toward us… in love.  He Himself, therefore, is the greatest gift of all.  In token of this, He gave us Himself through the Person of His Son and He gives us Himself still in the Person of His Holy Spirit. 

If ever we love “things” in place of our God, we can be sure that such things are at risk of being stripped from us.  God is, after all, a jealous God.2  He would rather we be naked and hungry when finally we enter into our eternal home with Him then for us to be blissfully content with all manner of comforts and conveniences as we stroll along into the waiting fires of hell.  

1 Matthew 7:9-11
2 Deuteronomy 5:9

 

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

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Valentine

Today’s traditions have very little to do with the actual person that is their namesake, Valentinus who died in the third century for the sake of his love for his Savior, Jesus Christ!

The time of year is upon us again in which the tradition of gift giving is lavishly underway. Of course, with last Christmas very solidly behind us and the next comfortably far off, the gifts during this particular season are predominantly candies, flowers, and cards, all enthusiastically adorned by red and pink hearts. School aged children across the land are enjoying the giving and receiving of decorated foil or paper suggesting that the recipient is a special friend, indeed each one providing a tiny spark of thrill as the recipient opens it to see who the sender is and what they say (or don’t say).

Husbands and wives search industriously for new and meaningful ways to communicate the special worth of their spouses and express their love for each other. Considering how widely the topic of love is being discussed on internet blogs, published in popular media editorial pieces, and serving as the themes and plots of our television shows, men and women everywhere, awash in our collective fascination with love and romance, find within themselves either warm-fuzzy thoughts of someone special or aches caused by the absence of one.

Of course, today’s traditions have very little to do with the actual person that is their namesake. Valentine (or Valentinus) was a Christian who lived during the third century. Claudius II (also known as Claudius Gothicus or Claudius the Goth) was the Roman emperor at the time and had such a particularly nasty disdain for Christians that he outlawed conversion to Christianity and endorsed the persecution of those who were Christians. Valentine, in the habit of being helpful to other Christians, was subsequently imprisoned and eventually brought before the emperor after he was caught being “helpful”.

Ancient accounts suggest that Claudius was impressed by Valentine’s dignity and loving character. But Valentine had the audacity to be authentic in his relationship with God and was convinced that Claudius also ought to seek out the eternal life that Jesus Christ brings to those who place their faith in him. Claudius, who failed to be convinced, preferring the worship of the Roman pantheon of “gods”, gave Valentine the ultimatum to either renounce Jesus Christ or be executed. For love of his Savior, Valentine declined the “last chance” that Claudius gave him. Tradition says that he was sentenced to die the next day, February 14th, by clubbing, then stoning, and when neither of the first two methods worked, by beheading.

Given that Thursday is St. Valentine’s Day and that so much of what so many are thinking is turned towards the subject of “love”, it seems only fitting to spend some time reflecting on the topic, not only because it is what motivated Valentine but is also the paramount theme of the Bible. In fact, genuine Christian faith cannot be in any way truly “Christian” unless it finds as its central theme the subject of love.

Another little tidbit of trivia that escapes many today is the Biblical understanding of love. The New Testament was written in a colloquial (everyday) form of ancient Greek. The Greek words for “love” in the language used by the eyewitnesses of Jesus’ earthly ministry and those who comprised the Church in its infancy did not have as much of the ambiguity that English seems to have… at least when the word “love” is used. We use it to describe the passion of a young man and woman who are perhaps preparing to marry as well as the life-long commitment and promise of husbands and wives who have spent their lives together. We then use it for the earnest devotion of father or mother and his or her child. But we also use it for describing the affection we have for our fondest flavor of ice cream or our favorite place to shop.

But only two of those Greek words appear in the Scriptures. The first is “philéo”. Philéo is the love of strong friendship. It is a stronger form of love than all other Greek concepts of love (with one exception). It is the love of dear and committed friendship that has us both throwing ourselves into the welfare of another but also supplies us the rewards of security, comfort, and the warm sandy beach of acceptance.

The other kind of love, however, doesn’t supply us with any obvious return. It’s called “agape”. Agape love is the love that one decides to lavish on another, no matter what, and is not dependent on being returned. Agape is often called “gift” love because it has no strings attached and is based, not on reciprocity (getting something back), but on the persevering choice of the one who is doing the loving. In other words, agape is a self-sacrificing love and not an emotional one. Someone might think that I’m describing “co-dependence” but this love isn’t co-dependence. It is a secure kind of love that is capable of a steadfast concentration upon the welfare of another, and, for the sake of the loved one, draws boundaries and makes tough choices when it is in the loved one’s best interests.

If the thought of that kind of love is new to you, or your vision of what love is limited merely to concepts of romance (in the Greek called “eros”), fondness (Greek: “storgé”), or even solid and meaningful friendship (“philéo”), take a look at the kind of love that God has for you!

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.…. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (John 3:16, 1 John 4:10 ESV).

This is a strangely profound kind of love to many of us. It’s so profound, in fact, that we tend to revolt against it. He sent His Son? To die for me? So that MY sin could be forgiven?

The truth is “sin”, which is rebellion against God’s will in our lives, makes us unlovable. But God doesn’t love you because you’re a superstar. Nor does He love you because you’re just really cool to be around. He doesn’t even love you because you’ve done some pretty neat things and… well, you’re just a lovable kind of person! He loves you because He is love and in spite of some pretty ugly things in your heart, He has chosen to make incredible sacrifices for you. And He has done it for you whether you accept it or not.

Now… what you do with it (whether or not you will choose to place your faith in His Son) has everything to do with whether or not it has power for blessing in your life. My hope and prayer, of course, is that you’ll receive His forgiveness, embrace His love, and celebrate the hope to which He calls you through Jesus, His Son. I hope that this St. Valentine’s Day will be more than just a romantic holiday for you and your loved ones, but an incredible time in which your eyes are opened to how precious and dear you are to the One Who created you and sent His Son to redeem! May you, like Valentine, become convinced that there is something so genuinely amazing about God’s love that you want it more than anything else in the world.

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

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