Archive for August, 2013

In a world where our days pass by in a flash and our lives fade away as if mere mists, the question of purpose continually dogs our footsteps, hounding us with nagging doubts and insecurities.  The Bible’s answer to the question of “What is my purpose?” is simple and succinct:  our purpose is to eternally “know the only true God and Jesus Christ Whom He has sent” (John 17:3).

What is the most powerful determinant of the sort of legacy we will leave behind?  The sacrifices we make – from the daily choices we make in the use of our time to the great “fork-in-the-road” decisions that alter (or cement) our futures.  The person who chooses to only focus on the now tends to sacrifice the future; whereas the one who chooses to put off comforts, pleasures, gain, and even pleasing others for the sake of eternity has the potential for the greatest legacy to leave behind – even if he loses his life to leave it.

Jim Eliot, the missionary who lost his life (along with several of his missionary friends) in South America in an attempt to reach a tribe that had never heard the Gospel, is credited for journaling this, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.”  He may have lost his “temporary” life, but in giving it up he gained the eternal lives of countless others.

Spiritual investments, made possible for us through the investment of Jesus’ own blood on the cross, pave the way for everlasting dividends!

Spiritual investments, made possible for us through the investment of Jesus’ own blood on the cross, pave the way for everlasting dividends!

Material investments lead to mere material returns (and all the material universe is temporary as it is destined for ultimate destruction).  On the other hand, spiritual investments, made possible for us through the investment of Jesus’ own blood on the cross, pave the way for everlasting dividends!

“I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him, have the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which He has called you, what are the riches of His glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of His great might that He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come….  Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil…” (Ephesians 1: 1620, 5:15-16, ESV).

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

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Making time to find a quiet, out-of-the-way spot to sit and read the Bible feeds the hungry heart in ways that no other spiritual activity can. Reading from it and then “digesting” it, as it were, through the activity of careful reflection and prayer nourishes, challenges, and thrills the soul as the Spirit of God moves invisibly within us.

For instance, in Psalm 145, the Scriptures revel in the fact that He “The LORD upholds all who are falling and raises up all who are bowed down” (v. 14 ESV). I cannot help but notice how timely a promise it is for so many lives with which my own touches. While the promise does NOT say that He will prevent our hurts and griefs in every instance, there is an indomitable strength that comes from knowing that the Holy One hurries to the sides of those who will cast themselves upon His care, although discouragement may stalk us and sorrows assail us.

And what or who else can make such a claim with such surety? There is no other. Creation itself tells the tale of the faithfulness of God as the sun peeks over the horizon each morning with fresh zeal and enthusiasm. Even the stars twinkle in their interstellar agreement that He Who placed them in the heavens sees the hearts and hands of each member of human society, loving in holy mercy the works of His hands – the souls of men, women, and children spread across this globe.

“The eyes of all look to You, and You give them their food in due season.  You open Your hand; You satisfy the desire of every living thing” (Psalm 145:15-16 ESV).

And how comforting to know that no matter how the orbit of our planet may wobble ever so slightly, reeling perhaps still yet from mankind’s departure from God’s perfect will in the Garden of Eden (see Genesis chapter 3), God has not resigned us to the fateful path that we embarked on in that rebellion, but rolled up His sleeves and moved into motion His great plan of salvation, intent and unstoppable in pursuit of our spiritual healing. In sending His “only, begotten Son” to the Cross, He Himself endured our punishment so that we could, if we would humble ourselves to receive it, become heirs of eternal of life with Him.

How bizarre, then, is it that humanity can continue in its mad pace for achieving nothing at all of any spiritual worth, and fail to note this awesome provision of God? How is it possible that we reject that love? Or, worse yet, mock it by patronizing it with hardly more than a nod if we should choose to wear the trappings of spiritual life and yet not truly have Him as our center for living? Bizarre indeed! For, after all, “the LORD is righteous in all His ways and kind in all His works” (Psalm 145:17 ESV).

If we truly would be a “spiritual” people (at least in any way that the Bible would describe it in a positive sense), let us bind our hearts to the pursuit of knowing Him better and set our minds to the task of actualizing His life in us. “One generation shall commend Your works to another, and shall declare Your mighty acts.  On the glorious splendor of Your majesty, and on Your wondrous works, I will meditate” (Psalm 145:4-6 ESV).

And since He is truly “righteous in all His ways”, let our hunger for more than mediocrity propel us to new heights in our walk with Him as we commit our deeds, our thoughts, and even our desires to His keeping, and submit them to His will. Let us disentangle ourselves from the first trap of worldliness which is simply the reverberation of unrighteously pursuing our own ways in crass presumption. As we beat our own drums, so to speak, we deny Him in our vain attempts to redefine morality (and thus imposing our will upon His) or follow our own agenda for life. Such efforts only advertise our inclination to be in charge and lord of our own lives.

His wonderful works

“The LORD is good to all, and His mercy is over all that He has made.” – Psalm 145:9 ESV

But neither let us fall into the second trap of worldliness which is the bad fruit of failing to trust Him. Inasmuch as we refuse to be convinced of either God’s ability to faithfully shepherd us through life, or His willingness to do so, we are spiritual sittings ducks. Unless we “take the plunge” and trust God through obeying His will for us, we can never fully enjoy what it really means to be a child of God.

Let us now immerse ourselves in the amazing assurance that the Bible would render us as we take hold of God’s promises therein. “The LORD is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.  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” (Psalm 145:8-12 ESV).

At the end of my life, whether it’s today or seventy years from now, there is no firm foundation upon which I may build my life other than the one sealed with the shedding of the Savior’s blood. Let me not waste my moments seeking security in things that will pass away nor let me squander my opportunity to invest in an eternal inheritance through patterns of selfish living. For we each will ultimately find that there is no kingdom that will endure throughout all eternity other than the one whose King is Jesus.

“Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and your dominion endures throughout all generations” (Psalm 145:13a ESV).

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

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Of the many dangers in the world, there are many that lurk within our own hearts. Wily and deadly, these “creatures” dwell inside us, dormant perhaps when it is dangerous to reveal their presence deep within us, but subtly involving themselves in our attitudes, speech, and actions, as they seek to increase their influence into all other areas of our lives. Pride is one such foe. So are Bitterness, Discouragement, and Envy. One particularly ugly but devious fiend is the one called Hypocrisy. A bane of real spiritual life and fruitfulness, this cousin of Pride covers our cankered hearts with pretense, and seeks to thwart the cleansing effect of God’s forgiveness and the healing power of His grace.

Hypocrisy can set up within us a stronghold with walls that are mortared with satisfaction over our accomplishments, our deeming them as evidences of our worth. Its roof is an overarching sense of having achieved our own righteousness as if we have somehow placated God with our own “goodness”. Yet far too many “good deeds” that we have done are not the “crowns of glory” we had hoped that they were, but are in reality “headdresses of shame” because we do not recognize within ourselves hidden agendas and false motives in our actions.

Hypocrisy is revolting to God because it robs God of His glory (focusing on our righteousness and not God’s) and because it thwarts the progress of others in their pilgrimage to know God. Hypocrisy distorts our perception of God and paints Him with unholy hues that turn off and turn away others who do not yet know Him. Further, it wearies other Believers who genuinely seek after God with the ugly litter of inconsistencies that it dumps on to their paths.

“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father Who is in heaven.  Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others.  Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.  But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father Who sees in secret will reward you.” (Matthew 6:1-4 ESV).

That the Scriptures encourage and exhort us towards the doing of good deeds, it cannot be denied. But they pointedly remind us that we are doing them for an audience of only One… the One Who has promised to take note and remember our sincere pursuit to please Him as we quietly and humbly serve Him in the serving of others.

If we are sincerely doing good deeds for God’s glory, we care not that we are praised by others:  we would have done them anyway.

If we are sincerely doing good deeds for God’s glory, we care not that we are praised by others: we would have done them anyway.

So in the good deeds we do, we care not that we get credit for them if we are sincerely doing them for God’s glory. Nor do we run about “tooting our own horns” as we settle for the “rush” of “pats on the back” that others may give us which rapidly fade like smoke.

God forbid that we settle for such infantile spirituality by hungering for the immediate gratification of others’ praise and acclamation. Yes, it is very good to give affirmations and praise to others, knowing that such encouragement may help strengthen weary backs for the difficult path of life. But it is not good to hinge our own faithfulness to God on whether or not we’re constantly getting recognition. And it is especially contemptible when we set up the idols of self in our lives by magnifying our own “goodness” or accomplishments in order to reap the good feeling it gives us as it undermines the work of God in others’ lives (through criticism and belittlement) or sets their feet on paths that lead them into similar idol making (as they emulate those they may mistakenly believe are more spiritually mature).

“And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites.  For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others.  Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.  But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father Who is in secret.  And your Father Who sees in secret will reward you.” (Matthew 6:5-6 ESV).

This does not, of course, prevent one from praying in public when such prayer is called for as, when in corporate settings, one voice is lifted up to represent and focus the prayers of many. Nonetheless, such public prayer is not the benchmark of spirituality, nor does it endear us to our Maker. In a similar way, if one must help another in a forum that makes their deed be seen by all or not help him at all, the choice is clear: the help must be offered. The point isn’t necessarily that we obsessively run from having witnesses, but that we take care to not do them for any witness but our God. If we don’t sincerely serve God when others aren’t looking or we’re not praying in our own quiet “prayer closets” when others can’t hear, then we are not really serving or worshiping Him; we are serving ourselves.

The service or act of worship that helps to usher us into a deeper and more fruitful relationship with God is the one that is done whether or not anyone else ever learns of it. Just know that the bottom line for spiritual integrity is this, “If no one else were to ever know that I prayed or gave or did this thing to help another, would I still do it? Is God truly so enthroned in my life that His favor and the hope of His reward in the words, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant’, moves my heart towards faithfulness and obedience (see Matthew 25:21 & 23)?”

“…The hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship Him.  God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:23-24 ESV). Be renewed today with a true desire to know God and to seek His good will above the mundane praises and rewards on which the world thrives.

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

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“Bless the LORD, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless His holy name!  Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits, Who forgives all your iniquity, Who heals all your diseases, Who redeems your life from the pit, Who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy, Who satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s” (Psalm 103:1-5 ESV).

Sure signs of truly experiencing God are a heightened appreciation of the holy, a deeper delight in worship, a graver regard for the burdens and sufferings of others, and a diminished sense of our own self-importance. In fact, as the awareness of the beautiful presence of God washes over us, our sensibilities are shaken and challenged: those things that we have esteemed in the past are measured anew against the Person of Jesus Christ. If our worldly loves have disproportionately absorbed or commandeered the expressions of our devotion (e.g., our time, our resources, or even our attitudes), we must pause to reconsider our priorities. On the one hand, we may choose to either continue on in life as we always have, His holiness and mercy ricocheting off us like bullets from Superman’s chest. If so, then we become calloused to further blessings from God and a little deader in our hearts than before.

But perhaps we choose instead to realign our attitudes, ambitions, actions, and activities with the truth that He has shown us through His Word and in so doing, open the way for God to disclose Himself to us in new ways and pour out upon us new opportunities to bring glory to His name.

“Blessed is the man who makes the LORD his trust, who does not turn to the proud, to those who go astray after a lie!  You have multiplied, O LORD my God, Your wondrous deeds and Your thoughts toward us; none can compare with You! I will proclaim and tell of them, yet they are more than can be told…. I desire to do Your will, O my God; Your law is within my heart.  I have told the glad news of deliverance in the great congregation; behold, I have not restrained my lips, as You know, O LORD.  I have not hidden Your deliverance within my heart; I have spoken of Your faithfulness and Your salvation; I have not concealed Your steadfast love and Your faithfulness from the great congregation” (Psalm 40:4-5, 8-10 ESV).

The supreme barometer for whether or not Christ is truly Lord and Savior of our hearts is our inclination to yield to His authority (direct or implied) in our life choices. Thus, the greatest measuring tool for discerning the depth of your spirituality is obedience to Jesus’ will and Word. When God’s Word says something in regard to the “rightness” or “wrongness” of something in your life, how you choose to respond to it will reveal to you whether or not He is your king and whether or not you are truly experiencing Him in your life.

“Let the redeemed of the LORD say so, whom He has redeemed from trouble and gathered in from the lands, from the east and from the west, from the north and from the south.  Some wandered in desert wastes, finding no way to a city to dwell in; hungry and thirsty, their soul fainted within them.  Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble, and He delivered them from their distress.  He led them by a straight way till they reached a city to dwell in.  Let them thank the LORD for His steadfast love, for His wondrous works to the children of men!  For He satisfies the longing soul, and the hungry soul He fills with good things” (Psalm 107:2-9 ESV).

Has God ever given you nourishment and strength, physically or spiritually? Has He ever refreshed your life with zeal, excitement, and a renewed sense of purpose and worth? If so, are you living life that expresses gratitude to God? Does your commitment to serve Him and to bear fruit in His kingdom cry out thankfulness and passion to please Him?

“Some sat in darkness and in the shadow of death, prisoners in affliction and in irons, for they had rebelled against the words of God, and spurned the counsel of the Most High.  So He bowed their hearts down with hard labor; they fell down, with none to help.  Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble, and He delivered them from their distress.  He brought them out of darkness and the shadow of death, and burst their bonds apart.  Let them thank the LORD for His steadfast love, for His wondrous works to the children of men!  For He shatters the doors of bronze and cuts in two the bars of iron” (Psalm 107:10-16 ESV).

Have you ever faced a darkness of discouragement and despair in life, only to finally see the light of His love and majesty? Have you ever been blinded by the fogs of doubt and disillusionment, only to have the fresh air of His love blow them away into the nothingness that they really are? If He has, why then would you withhold from Him an offering of praise and adoration? If you have truly been set free from the power and penalty of sin, how does your character and countenance portray your heart’s desire to please and honor God?

“Some were fools through their sinful ways, and because of their iniquities suffered affliction; they loathed any kind of food, and they drew near to the gates of death.  Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble, and He delivered them from their distress.  He sent out His word and healed them, and delivered them from their destruction.  Let them thank the LORD for His steadfast love, for His wondrous works to the children of men!  And let them offer sacrifices of thanksgiving, and tell of His deeds in songs of joy!” (Psalm 107:17-22 ESV).

Does it take calamity or loss to soften our hearts to embrace His loving lordship? Too often it does. For example, how often do we, the moment we get heavy burdens lifted from our shoulders through answered prayer, go back to our old ways of life or former patterns of thinking and choosing? Do we sometimes go to church meetings on Sundays to get a spiritually charged “good feeling”, but then on Mondays, resume our old ways of doing things and assume again our former roles in our circles of influence and acquaintance? If so, then the unimaginable brilliance of God’s holiness seems to not have broken through the cloud cover of our busy, busy minds. We’re still what we once were.

But if we recognize the fact of His presence, embrace His love, and fall down on our knees yielding our will and ways to His kingly authority, we rise up and set our hands and minds to tasks that matter to Him, and forgo the glory and comfort we once sought for ourselves. We really are new creations. We really are servants of the Living God.

“He raises up the needy out of affliction and makes their families like flocks.  The upright see it and are glad, and all wickedness shuts its mouth.  Whoever is wise, let him attend to these things; let them consider the steadfast love of the LORD” (Psalm 107:41-43 ESV).

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

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A teenage boy that I know has a t-shirt that I’ve seen him wear on several occasions. It is solid black with its only adornment being a globe representing the world drawn in silvery gray brush-strokes. Beneath it in bold white letters are the words, “In it, not of it.”In it, not of it

You may suspect, as I do, that a lot of people, when wearing a t-shirt with a message emblazoned across it, have no real conviction as to whatever message might be on it but wear it because they simply like the shirt. Or they need something to wear and it was the closest somewhat clean thing available. Or they wear it because they just want to fit in. But in some cases, people wear such things because they do in fact represent an attitude that the wearer holds close to his or her heart.

In this case, from my knowledge of this young man’s life, I believe that he believes in what his shirt says. Now he and I have never discussed this, but it occurs to me that his shirt’s message has a two-fold purpose. The first might be that it’s simply a reminder to its bearer that as a Christian he has not been called to live a “worldly” life, but rather a “godly” one instead. And perhaps the second purpose is to remind other Christians of the same thing, an encouragement in a sense to others to take seriously God’s call to walk with Him. And if it should have a third purpose (and I suppose I’ll someday ask the wearer if it does), maybe it is to challenge the ideologies swirling around him that stand in stark contrast against the principles of the Christian faith.

In any event, it is definitely provoking. I have found that there is a strong tension among Christians today between the call to live a “godly” life and the impulses and pressures to live just like the rest of the world.

For the moment, my assumption is that it is easier to understand what it is meant by “worldly” than it is by the expression “godly”. And I’ve become acquainted with a variety of expressions of such interpretations. First off though, is there really such a thing as a call for the Christian to live life differently than the world?

The Scriptures, God’s Word to us, do compel us that we are not to live according to the ideas and attitudes that are common to the cultures and societies around us. “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind” (Romans 12:2a ESV).

But just what does it mean to live a “godly” life? And how does living a “godly” life really work?

Living a “godly” life simply means to live a “God-like” life. We do not live according to the pace set by a secularized or pagan society which, by definition, is estranged from God, “For although they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks to Him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened” (Romans 1:21 ESV).

Some perhaps have assumed that “godliness” is the same as hard-core asceticism. It’s not the same thing. Denial of self so that God’s ways can be lived out through us does not mean taking upon ourselves taskmasters of rules and laws since these actually set us up for pride and/or condemnation.  We cannot live according to the rigorous and legalistic demands of a religion based on human righteousness because, as the Bible indicates in Isaiah 64:6, all our “righteousness” is like filthy rags in contrast to God’s holiness.

Neither does godliness permit us to live according to our sensual impulses. “Those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.  To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace” (Romans 8:5-6 ESV).

Living a “godly” life means that we come to know the mind and heart of God by prayerfully reading His Word and allowing His thoughts and purposes to supplant what selfishly arises within us (whether its pride or fleshly desire that contends for supremacy in the living of our lives). It means also that we are less affected by what is “pressure cooked” into us from our culture than what God’s Spirit cultivates within us. And all of this only really happens when our lives are joined with like-minded Believers who share in our journey to walk with God through faith in Jesus Christ.

A pastor has no more genuine capacity for personal holiness than does a used car salesman (isn’t that good to know, especially if you’re a used car salesman)! A monk has no greater opportunity for living a life pleasing to God than does a carpenter (even a carpenter who makes a habit of hitting his thumb with his hammer)!

What it means then for you and me to be “godly” is that we walk closely with Him in whatever context He places us and then make our daily choices in keeping with what He has revealed to us regarding His will for our lives. We are godly when we seek to give Him first place in all our plans. We are “godly” when we forgive others as He has forgiven us. We are “godly” when we give thought to the poor and needy around us, the orphans and widows in our churches and communities as living extensions of His hands in this world. We are “godly” when our commitment to do the “right thing” (be righteous) prevails over the temptation to compromise and “sell out” in our business dealings. And we are “godly” when we remember our promises and covenants, doing everything it takes to keep them, ranging from promises to our neighbors to return their borrowed lawn care tools to the promises we make our children, from fulfilling a job contract to honoring the vows we make in our marriages.

Godliness simply means to think thoughts, do things, and live life in general on God’s terms. It’s essential, too, that we learn to do so. The church’s only hope of really pleasing God today is to make its top priority the living out of God’s Word in practical ways on a daily basis. If there is no real power in the lives of Christians and the church seems to have little effect on the culture around it, it is because we’ve lost interest in living life on God’s terms. Let’s get back on track. Let’s make God’s ways our ways and find that they really were the “right ways” all along!

“Make me to know Your ways, O LORD; teach me Your paths.  Lead me in Your truth and teach me, for You are the God of my salvation; for You I wait all the day long” (Psalm 25:4-5 ESV).

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

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