Archive for March, 2013

The miracles of Jesus’ atonement for our sin on the Cross and His resurrection from the dead are indeed mysterious events in human history. There is something about their nature as miraculous events that is, of course, eye-catching and mind-boggling (from merely the material point of view), but there is also something incredible about the “why He did it” that simply begs exploration and inquiry.

In fact, that He could and would do such a thing is so strange a notion (from a human point of view), that a man named Isaiah wrote over seven hundred years before the fact, “Who has believed what they heard from us? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?” (Isaiah 53:1 ESV). Isaiah was, just so you know, writing about the death and resurrection of the One sent from God centuries before it actually took place.

Both angles of doubt still nag people in regard to Jesus’ death and resurrection: HOW He could overcome basic “laws” of physics and biology are beyond what we are generally willing to believe because the mystery of God’s power defies our feeble senses and lies just outside the neat ways we typically like to order our ideas of “cause-and-effect”. WHY, however, is perhaps even more incredible as it thrusts upon us the mystery of God’s love which defies our corrupted understanding of love as being either a means to get what we want (using others) or as a weakness that makes us vulnerable to exploitation (neither of which is true in God’s case).

Whether we judge Jesus’ credibility based on our limited ability to perceive His power which exceeds all the energy that can be found in the universe from one edge to the other, or we underestimate Him because all our encounters with “love” throughout our lifetimes have been tainted (or, worse, non-existent), we judge Him on limited (and therefore insufficient) evidence. No wonder Isaiah opened that passage with those words, “Who has believed?”

If we do perceive the reality of His death and resurrection (the historical fact of which has withstood efforts of skeptics to disprove over the course of two millennia) or if we do not recognize and acknowledge it, there remains the fact that He has both died as an atoning sacrifice for the sins of men and women everywhere and has also been raised from the dead: a lack of personal knowledge and/or experience in no way disproves the fact.

I would even go so far as to say that the mysterious qualities of these facts have less to do with eroding believability than with underscoring the transcendent and awesome nature of the Author of them.

“For He (referring to the Messiah) grew up before Him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; He had no form or majesty that we should look at Him, and no beauty that we should desire Him.  He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces He was despised, and we esteemed Him not” (Isaiah 53:2-3 ESV).

Who do you know today that is like this “Messiah”? Who do you know that is willing to forgo credit and acclaim and is even willing to take the abuse and criticisms of a people that are not only ungrateful and unappreciative but are hateful and filled with contempt?

“He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.  But He was wounded for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities; upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with His stripes we are healed” (Isaiah 53:4-5 ESV).

We know of Jesus meekly tolerating the false accusations of those who were jealous of the hope that He proclaimed. And history recounts to us that crowds thronged about Him as He humbly endured the torment of public humiliation as well as the torture of the cat-o-nine tails and then the nails of the cross. Many who stood by as He died laughed at His pain and sorrow, assuming that His suffering was deserved, if not because He was a liar, then because He was weak enough to let them do such deeds to Him.

Yet, it was for us that He walked that road to Golgotha. It was for us that He permitted hateful hands to strike His innocent flesh. It was for us that He clung to the cross until He breathed His last. Love held Him to the cross, not nails.

The wonder of His love

The death of Jesus, God Incarnate, is indeed a mystery. Yet, as we search it and plumb that mystery with both eyes and hearts open, we begin to see and understand just how great God truly is. The majesty of God is found in His power. This is true. But it is also discovered in the wonder of His love.

“All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.  He was oppressed, and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so He opened not His mouth.  By oppression and judgment He was taken away; and as for His generation, who considered that He was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people? And they made His grave with the wicked and with a rich man in His death, although He had done no violence, and there was no deceit in His mouth” (Isaiah 53:6-9 ESV).

The death of Jesus, God Incarnate, is indeed a mystery. Yet, as we search it and plumb that mystery with both eyes and hearts open, we begin to see and understand just how great God truly is. The majesty of God is found in His power. This is true. But it is also discovered in the wonder of His love.

“Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush Him; He has put Him to grief; when His soul makes an offering for sin, He shall see His offspring; He shall prolong His days; the will of the LORD shall prosper in His hand. Out of the anguish of His soul He shall see and be satisfied; by His knowledge shall the Righteous One, My Servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and He shall bear their iniquities.  Therefore I will divide Him a portion with the many, and He shall divide the spoil with the strong, because He poured out His soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet He bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors” (Isaiah 53:10-12 ESV).

Because Jesus died and paid the penalty for our rebellion against God, He is truly our Savior. The power of that salvation comes home to each of us inasmuch as we are willing to turn to Him in faith and let that power cleanse us and set us free from the condemnation of our guilt. Because God is so thorough in His faithfulness, He sent word to us through the Scriptures what His plan for our salvation would be and then sent His Son to die in our place. And then He completed the miracle by raising Him from the dead, vindicating Jesus’ humble obedience to the Father, and showing us that the “end of the story” is NOT really the end when it comes to faith in God. The cross was a doorway to a new beginning for both Jesus and for all who place their faith in Him.

In a similar way, let the miracle of Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday (Easter) be a doorway for you to experience anew the miracle of God’s love and power. It is the best and brightest hope that anyone anywhere can have in a world writhing with the shadows of fear and suffering.

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

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Bartholomew walked excitedly along with the other disciples as they followed Jesus out of the village of Bethany on their way into Jerusalem.  As they walked, there came unbidden to Bartholomew’s memory the somber forebodings that Jesus had uttered several days before.  “Hmm… what was it that He had said?  Something about being arrested, flogged, and even being killed” (see Mark 10:32-34).

“Well,” he mused, “whatever Jesus was talking about, He must have been mistaken.”  And as he walked, he smiled to himself, nearly bursting with excitement as his mind was flooded again with the images of the jubilant crowds from yesterday and hearing once again their cries of “Hosanna!  Blessed is He Who comes in the name of the Lord!” (Mark 11:9).

“Finally,” he murmured quietly, “everything that is wrong is going to be set right again.  Our people are finally ready for our king.  Our world is finally ready for its Lord.”

And even as he thought those thoughts, Jesus’ strides came to a standstill.  He half turned and glanced back at Bartholomew, a sad smile ever so lightly touching His mouth.  His eyes shifted from the disciple towards a fig tree standing by itself in the distance, its branches in full foliage, the sheen of which announced that it was laden with figs.

“I’m hungry,” Jesus said simply.  He left the road and made His way towards the tree.  His disciples exchanged the sort of look that they did when they weren’t quite sure what new corner of the Kingdom Jesus was preparing to show them.  So they simply re-shouldered their packs and hurried after Him.

When they approached the tree, however, they could see that instead of reaching up for the juicy fruits that the leaves suggested, Jesus was simply looking up at its branches.  When all the disciples were gathered about Him, He reached up, and pulled a branch down so that all could see its lack of fruit.  Again, Bartholomew saw a haunting look of sorrow in the Lord’s deep eyes as they turned to look at him.

The Master released the branch allowing it to spring back into place, its leaves rustling audibly in the heavy air that was quickly becoming hot as the morning progressed.  Jesus sighed heavily and then spoke to the tree in a voice that His disciples could clearly hear, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again” (Mark 11:14).

At first, Bartholomew was confused.  Jesus wasn’t One for being petulant.  After all, He Himself had corrected John and James when they had suggested bringing fire and destruction down on a village that had given them a chilly reception (see Luke 9:51-56).  The lines on Bartholomew’s forehead deepened as he sought to understand.  “So what is He do-…,” he started to say to one of the other disciples.  But then he realized that, as was often the case with Jesus, there was another point to what was happening.

That same sad smile flickered briefly upon Jesus’ lips as He looked at Bartholomew.  Then He turned and headed again towards the city.  Once they had passed within the ancient walls of the city, Jesus led them straight into the temple, halting in the main entrance to watch the scene before him.  The disciples stood beside Him quietly, sensing something stirring within Him… something that they had felt before but had rarely seen manifested.

As Jesus stood and beheld the people gathered inside the temple’s walls, instead of worship of the Living God, all that could be discerned was the worship of money.  Here where the love for God and the celebration of His goodness should have been wafting through the airs like a sweet perfume, there was only the stale odor of the ordinary pursuits of the world.

Without warning, Jesus suddenly launched Himself forward and began to run from booth to booth, knocking over the tables of the merchants and money exchangers and releasing the animals being sold for sacrifices.  The resulting confusion was astounding.  The voices of some were raised in outrage, while others shouted out in fear and alarm.  The clatter of hooves, the slap of many feet retreating, the fluttering of  wings as doves were set free, and the clinking of piles of coins hitting the ground and rolling across the floor, all added to the confusion.

And then, when the Master stopped and stood still, wiping the sweat from His forehead, He spoke fiercely to those who dared still to approach Him.  “Is it not written, ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations’?  But you have made it a den of robbers” (Mark 11:17).

Bartholomew looked over to where members of the ruling Council stood, observing Jesus’ cleansing of the temple.  While there was neither awe nor love in their expressions, Bartholomew could easily see what they were thinking for their eyes dripped with jealousy and self-righteousness:  “This Jesus is a threat,” their eyes reported venomously.  He could see the murder in their hearts as they balefully watched Him.  Bartholomew swallowed hard and turned away from them back to the Lord Who was now teaching those around Him about the mysterious and amazing love of God.

The next morning, when they again approached the city, Peter stopped and pointed over at the fig tree that they’d visited the day before.  “Master,” he cried.  “Look!  The fig tree You cursed has withered!” (from Mark 11:21).

The leaves of religion were on display, but was there any real fruit? Was there any of the fruit of passionate devotion of God to fulfill the desires of the holy and righteous One that religion professed to honor?

The leaves of religion were on display, but was there any real fruit? Was there any of the fruit of passionate devotion of God to fulfill the desires of the holy and righteous One that religion professed to honor?

Jesus looked at Peter and smiled.  “‘Have faith in God,’ Jesus answered.  ‘I tell you the truth, if anyone says to this mountain, “Go, throw yourself into the sea,” and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him.  Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.  And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins” (Mark 11:22-25).

In that instant, Jesus had seized a “teachable moment” in Peter’s life and instructed him about praying in faith, according to the will of God.  He even gently reminded Peter of the need for keeping free from the chains of bitterness and hate, so that one’s intimate fellowship with the Father could remain unhindered and untainted.

But for Bartholomew, it was also a teachable moment.  There had been no fruit on the tree the day before when the Lord came calling.  There had been no fruit though the leaves of the tree suggested otherwise; indeed, they had even advertised it.

What, he wondered, had the Lord found as He had come calling upon His people?  The leaves of religion were certainly on display, but was there any real fruit?  Was there any of the fruit of passionate devotion of God to fulfill the desires of the holy and righteous One that religion professed to honor?

The eyes of Jesus fastened upon those of Bartholomew and gazed sadly at him.  Bartholomew’s heart suddenly filled with a deep ache of regret as he was struck by the horror of what empty worship is to God.  His eyes shifted towards the ground and he found himself weeping.

But then the words of Jesus seemed to whisper again in his mind, “…I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.”

He looked up at the face of Jesus and spoke, “Lord, I know what I would ask… I ask that there be real fruit in my life and in Your people’s lives.  Let there be the fruit of true worship and loving service.  And may others know, by that fruit, that You are Lord indeed.  That is what I ask.  This is what I believe You will do in my life.”

Jesus smiled but now had no trace of sorrow in His face.  “This is exactly what the Father desires to do for you, Bartholomew.”  Then the hand of Jesus clasped the man’s shoulder and he knew that his prayer was being answered.

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

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I know a lot of folks who feel insecure about their world today. Changing landscapes in the world’s political climate and our nation’s economic unpredictability, along with the burdensome difficulties and challenges of joblessness, severe health issues, and brokenness in family relationships have a way of producing in us the effect of an all-consuming anxiety. What a world of uncertainty seems to lie before our eyes!

But is the fact of such uncertainty actually very new to us? Are things so very different now than in the days in which there was a collective fear that an atomic bomb could come crashing down upon us at any moment? Or when European powers became so enmeshed in conflict that the rest of the world was drawn into war (twice)? Or when the financial world teetered off the edge into a chasm of chaos nearly a hundred years ago, creating a great economic depression?

So what is one to do when fretting over worldwide events or dealing with personal and private calamities that come his or her way? Well, in uncertain times, there are two certain truths that avail the child of God the peace and security of God’s promises. The first is that no matter how uncertain one’s situation, God Himself is certain. He is the Unmoved Mover, Who has always been and always will be. He “laid the earth’s foundations”, “laying its cornerstone – while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy”, and “gives orders to the morning, and shows the dawn its place” (from Job 38:4,6-7, 12).

In other words, storms come and storms go (literally and figuratively), but they cannot budge the One Who knows “the way to the place where the lightning is dispersed, or the place where the east winds are scattered over the earth” (from Job 38:24).

“Ascribe to the LORD, O heavenly beings, ascribe to the LORD glory and strength.  Ascribe to the LORD the glory due His name; worship the LORD in the splendor of holiness.  The voice of the LORD is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the LORD, over many waters.  The voice of the LORD is powerful; the voice of the LORD is full of majesty” (Psalm 29:1-4 ESV).

The second truth is that God’s love for His people is certain… as certain as He is. Like David in Psalm 8, we can marvel that although God’s glory is above the heavens, and in spite of His setting the moon and stars in their places, He is mindful of men, the children of men that He cares for them.

In what appear to be uncertain times, you can be a man or woman whose life has the certainty of eternity undergirding it, so step out of the confusion of what your own wisdom and strength avail for you, and step into the hope that can only be found in God’s love for you.

In what appear to be uncertain times, you can be a man or woman whose life has the certainty of eternity undergirding it, so step out of the confusion of what your own wisdom and strength avail for you, and step into the hope that can only be found in God’s love for you.

In uncertain times then, those who have placed their faith in Jesus Christ may turn their eyes from the uncertainties surrounding them and the anxious thoughts surging within them and gaze at the wonder of God’s love… revealed perfectly in the dying of God’s Son as a perfect sacrifice for the rebellious sin of men and women everywhere. But also vindicated perfectly in Jesus’ resurrection, proving that no matter how severe our storms may seem, God’s power and love triumph over all!

Are you living with cords of uncertainty entangling you? Are they choking joy and peace out of your life? If so, turn your eyes back again to God. Learn to “cast your cares upon Him for He cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7). Remember that joy and peace are but some of the fruit that God can produce in your life if you simply submit in faith to His love, surrender to His will in obedience, and seek Him with all your heart in all that you are and do.

“Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.…. He Who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him graciously give us all things??” (Matthew 6:33, Romans 8:32 ESV).

In what appear to be uncertain times, you can be a man or woman whose life has the certainty of eternity undergirding it, so step out of the confusion of what your own wisdom and strength avail for you, and step into the hope that can only be found in God’s love for you.

“My eyes are fixed on You, O Sovereign LORD; in You I take refuge. Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and Your dominion endures through all generations” (from Psalm 141:8 & 145:13).

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

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Days such as these have shaken a great many people to their core. It has proven to be an age in which faith in God is essential not only in the esoteric realm of “religion” to which we often have attempted to relegate it, but in the practical living of life. Things like material success, financial security, and popularity, in which we have blindly deposited the assets of our hope have proven time and time again to be empty of sufficient power to protect and provide for us. Not only that, but such things as politicians, industry, and banking institutions have all been abundantly sown with the insidious seeds of corruption, thoroughly contaminated by those in society who “call the shots” and demonstrate that the only interests they’re looking out for are their own.

As essential as faith is, it is a fragile thing indeed. It is a hair’s breadth of “fiery trial” that refines the faith of a person in one instance but becomes the catalyst for his despair in another.

As essential as faith is, it is a fragile thing indeed. It is a hair’s breadth of “fiery trial” that refines the faith of a person in one instance but becomes the catalyst for his despair in another.

But as Christians, instead of becoming overcome by anxiety and cynicism, we merely refocus our lives and allow Him to reorient us to the victorious life to which He has called us. We now begin to live a life of practical faith.

“We are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls” (Hebrews 10:39 ESV).

Faith is nothing more, but nothing less, than the entrusting of our lives to God. In doing so, we come to Him on His terms, and then live “in Him” as He leads, discovering that He Who called us is faithful (see 1 Thessalonians 5:24)!

We humbly approach Him through faith in the sufficiency of His Son’s death and resurrection and, in repenting of our sin, find that He credits us with His Son’s righteousness. We then live in faith as we learn that being His “children” is more than theoretical but is in fact actual. We find that He has an active and intimate interest in our thoughts and attitudes, as well as how those work out in our relationships and daily choices. And we also learn that we must live by faith in our Heavenly Father’s desire and ability to guard us and to provide for us. It is in this latter point that many Christians today are rekindled spiritually and it is through our challenging circumstances that it is being made abundantly clear that “faith” is essential.

But as essential as faith is, it is a fragile thing indeed. It is a hair’s breadth of “fiery trial” that refines the faith of a person in one instance but becomes the catalyst for his despair in another. Are there practical steps that may help you in discovering the “life saving faith” that Hebrews 10:39 describes? Here are some of the basic ingredients for cultivating within yourself that kind of faith.

First, if you really are a man or woman of faith, you are saying that you are a person who takes God at His word. If this is true, then you must make knowing His “Word” a priority. In other words, become a person who reads and reflects upon the Scriptures, studying them not only for an academic understanding of them, but also for personal transformation and practical application of His truth!

“Blessed are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the LORD!…. With my whole heart I seek You; let me not wander from Your commandments!  I have stored up Your word in my heart, that I might not sin against You…. Let Your steadfast love come to me, O LORD, Your salvation according to Your promise” (Psalm 119:1, 10-11, 41 ESV).

Second, become a person of prayer. If your first response to this is, “But I don’t know how to pray,” then happily you’re making something harder for yourself than it needs to be. When the Lord Jesus models prayer for us in His “Lord’s Prayer”, He teaches us that it is simply a conversation with our Heavenly Father, humbly offered, but courageous in its being direct. Real prayer is an earnest talk we have with our God in which He is the only audience. Through prayer we tell Him how we love Him, share with Him our concerns and burdens, and lay out before Him petitions for others as we seek His grace on behalf of others. Prayer is also an occasion in which we learn to sit quietly and listen, hearing Him speak as He “brings to mind” what He has said through His Word.

Perhaps you can see that prayer and study of His Word work best when linked together. To talk to Him and to truly “dig into” His Word effectively, it’s definitely a good idea to set aside a special place and time to do so privately. Doing either (or both) publicly is necessary at times and very beneficial, but it is in the private encounters with God in which we really begin to sink roots of faith downward into the soil of Christianity.

Next, become a person of worship. Privately praise Him daily for being God, Savior, and Lord. But join your praises with a church family as well. The greatness and goodness of God cannot be adequately appreciated in lonely worship, but is amplified as if by a megaphone when we become a part of a larger body of praise and thanksgiving! In corporate worship you will find that your spiritual life is fed and enhanced as the Spirit of God flows through the conduits of faith that surround you!

“The LORD is good to all, and His mercy is over all that He has made.  All Your works shall give thanks to You, O LORD, and all Your saints shall bless You!  They shall speak of the glory of Your kingdom and tell of Your power, to make known to the children of man Your mighty deeds, and the glorious splendor of Your kingdom.  Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and Your dominion endures throughout all generations.  The LORD is faithful in all His words and kind in all His works” (Psalm 145:9-13 ESV).

Having discussed how Bible study, prayer, and worship are all necessary parts of building your faith, for that faith to take on the dimension of leveraging for you a meaningful and satisfying significance, it now needs the power and strength that comes only through application. For your faith to grant you the sweet and savory flavor of fulfillment, you must allow your faith to overtake every other dimension of your life.

Your material resources are a great place to start. Most folks are worried about their material well being. Maybe you are, too. But here is a great place to start experiencing God’s power. If you are His child, apply what His Word teaches you in regard to material possessions. Pursue His kingdom rather than the accumulation of stuff. Don’t worry about what you don’t have, but seek His will and trust Him to provide for your needs. Remember that “your stuff” is really His stuff and that it has been entrusted to you to use for His glory. So employ a spirit of generosity (in tithing in your church but also in the helping of others in need).

Another area of life to begin the application of faith is in the area of service. Are you serving God through a local body of Believers? Are you joining with other Christians in the work of ministering to others in need? Have you ever participated in a mission trip? Are you contributing your talents and gifts, knowledge and experience to the work of God’s people in sharing God’s love? If not, stop holding back. Remember that in every area you feel weak, there is a vacuum waiting to be filled up with the power of God.

So now let the word “faith” take on a new meaning in your life as you offer yourself to Him for His glory. “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.  Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:1-2 ESV).

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

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